Kel Ryan Opinion – Make the RSL Great Again

21 Jan 2017

This is Part 2 to Kel Ryan’s previous article The RSL Must Embrace Change Or Die

“The usual thing among men is that when they want something they will, without any reflection, leave that to hope, while they will employ the full force of reason in rejecting what they find unpalatable”. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

The challenge to solving a problem is first to recognise that there is one. The leadership of the RSL is mute to its present situation despite the rapidly declining membership, an aging membership and the almost daily establishment of new, more dynamic veterans’ representative organisations.

Why is this so?

Why cannot the national leadership see what so many members of the Australian Defence community can see? Put simply the leadership is in denial. They are content with the status quo and their place in it.

Let us be clear on one thing in this developing discussion about the future of the RSL. The RSL as a national organisation must survive. It must remain as an integral part of the voice of the veteran community. There are too many good men and women working within it at the sub-branch level who are its face, its soul and often its best marketing tool. It is they that are being let down by a national leadership that has failed to articulate a vision for the RSL in the 21st century.

What is to be done?

The future of the RSL lies in it becoming a truly national organisation reflecting the organisational and governance practices of the 21st century.

Some years ago, the Queensland and Victorian branches of the RSL contributed $30,000 each to RSL National for a strategic review into the national organisation. Consultants were commissioned, views were canvassed and a report submitted. Nothing was heard of the report until this writer asked for a copy of the report. “No, you cannot have it as it was not what we wanted!

This response by the then President Ken Doolan’s sums up the challenge the RSL has in facing the future. The leadership denies the evidence as it is not what they wanted. Other such reports and studies over the years have met a similar fate.

A refresher course in the Military Appreciation process is a good place for the national leadership to start in defining the future course for the National RSL. The Military appreciation is a logical process of reasoning with the aim of determining the best or the better course of action in any given circumstance.

It requires thinking outside of the square, outside of the past and into the future. It demands a flexibility of thought that the membership is yet to see coming from the present leadership.

The RSL is a national organisation in the minds of many. A wide ranging exhaustive strategic review, including input from across the membership and from outside the organisation is a good place to start. In such a review the views of the national leadership do not warrant special deference. Constructive input from both the membership, the other ex-service organisations and the broad public must be sought. This is not a time to hunker down below the parapet, shun public discussion and hope that all will peter out. Good men and women must step forward.

The various state branches need to develop their views on the future also. Do they want a national organisation that represents to government?  Do they want a national office that is able to work in concert with the other ex-service organisations in projecting a united voice? Do they want a future for the RSL? What will be their legacy?

Now is the time for the RSL leadership to regain and to dominate in the art of political advocacy so effectively practiced by those leaders who sprang from the AIF era. They lobbied, they persevered and they forced government to listen to the voice of the nation’s warriors.
They were not mollified by countless media releases on nebulous issues or meaningless speeches. They spoke on issues that the membership wanted them to speak: the protection of their wellbeing and their service entitlements; national defence; national infrastructure; national unity; and loyalty and national pride. They, on the membership’s behalf, had earned the right to address such issues. Today the leadership is mute.

I ask that the RSL leadership not be overwhelmed by the task. The future of this great organisation is in your hands. Don’t let the membership and the broader ex-service community down by shirking the challenge.

Kel Ryan is a Life Member of the RSL and had held elected office at sub-branch and state Branch level. He has also been Chair of the Queensland Forum of Ex-Service Organisations for five years, President of the Royal Australian Regiment Association in Queensland and is currently the Vice President of the Defence Force Welfare Association Far North Queensland. His PhD research is addressing the issue of ‘advocacy and the Australian Defence Community’