RSL leaders gather to deal with election turmoil

Returned & Services League sub-branch presidents from SA, NT and Broken Hill will meet in Adelaide tomorrow to discuss controversial leadership elections, weeks after three state board members quit over board governance and culture concerns.

Two new board members have been appointed since the resignations on August 21, as the South Australian state branch grapples with its existing election process.

A source has also confirmed that a complaint has been made about the South Australian state board – which represents more than 8500 RSL members in SA, Northern Territory and Broken Hill – to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

However, SA and NT RSL chief executive officer David Grenvold told InDaily that “no details of a complaint have been made to the state board”.

The meeting at the Memorial Hall at the Torrens Parade Ground tomorrow centres on board elections cancelled at the statewide annual sub-branch meeting in June, after concerns were raised about the current constitution.

Board president Cheryl Cates has since informed members via a RSL SA and NT bulletin that “the state board considers that the provisions of the current constitution for the election of state branch officers at the (Annual Sub-Branch Conference) is both impractical and undemocratic”.

The board hoped the constitutional changes, to be discussed at the meeting tomorrow, would resolve some of the issues by rectifying “a number of errors and omissions in the current constitution”, she said.

The bulletin is one of a number of updates recently sent to members, with one in early October referring to media attention and telling of the board’s disappointment “that confidential emails have been leaked to the media” and noting that the board “rejects any claims of bitter infighting amongst the board”.

The bulletin to members further said that “current board members believe they have complied with all their obligations to the South Australian Commissioner for Corporate Affairs, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and RSL Australia, and have not been contacted by any of those organisations expressing concern”.

The two new board members, appointed at the state board meeting on 20 September, include Ian Smith, Anzac Day Committee chair and co-chair of Aboriginal Veterans SA, who was appointed to a casual vacancy until the 2023 Annual Sub-Branch Conference, according to a notification sent to members.

Meredith Burgess, Magill RSL Sub-Branch president, now fills a previously vacant appointed position until the 2023 Annual Sub-Branch Conference.

Former board members Dr Paula Dabovich, Melody Earl and Jo-Anne Hanrahan issued a joint statement to the national RSL board expressing a number of concerns with state leadership following their resignations on August 21.

Among the grievances was a loss of confidence in the South Australian state board.

In her letter of resignation, Dabovich, an adjunct senior lecturer at Adelaide University who completed a Phd in examining wounded, injured and ill soldiers’ adaptations through rehabilitation and transition, said: “it is clear to me that what the board considers good governance and culture is different to my own.”

Earl, who has lengthy defence, communications and project management experience including managing communications and engagement at the Naval Shipbuilding College in SA, said in her resignation letter: “it has become apparent that I do not share the perspective of the current board leadership’s definition of healthy board culture and good governance”.

While Hanrahan, a former adviser to an assistant Defence Minister who has also worked in administration and human resources for Defence, said “after significant consideration and reflection for some time now, I have come to the conclusion that my ability to influence and contribute to the board has run its course”.

Hanrahan told InDaily she also had concerns arising from recent attempts to fill two vacant positions on the board along with the president role currently held by Cates.

An October bulletin sent to members by the RSL SA Board to members said the state board welcomed scrutiny “and will continue to focus on supporting current and past ADF personnel via advocacy, employment and wellbeing programs”.

“The RSL SA state board will not comment on the views of individual board members, past or present, but will continue to focus on the objects of the league and pursue sound governance practices,” it said.

CEO David Grenvold said the main objective of tomorrow’s forum “is to update the presidents following the Annual Sub Branch Conference held in July. At the July meeting it was determined there was a conflict between the constitution and the nomination/election by law which makes it difficult to carry out the process.”

He said the state board “has proposed a remedy which needs to be approved by the sub branches. Nomination for the two vacant elected board positions could be called this year however this will be determined by an Extra Ordinary Sub Branch Conference in December.”

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