Behind the scenes of the RSL Victoria online AGM (Image: RSL Victoria/Facebook)

If you’re a big institution with close to 200,000 members, 105 years of history and about $1 billion in property assets servicing 250 branches, you’d think it shouldn’t be too hard to run a professional annual general meeting (AGM) which is open and transparent.

But, sadly, what the pokies-captured cronies at RSL Victoria belatedly served up for five hours on Saturday was a long way short of the mark.

While the media were banned from last year’s shambolic but highly choreographed 500-person physical AGM at Caulfield Racecourse, this time it was a belated Zoom affair in which only about 150 branch-appointed “delegates” bothered to log on.

Last year younger veteran reformers had written to the elderly all-male board requesting 18 constitutional amendments, but these were largely ignored. They then requested a series of transparency measures at the AGM; most of those were refused by the old guard too.

There was a solid 90 minutes of sharp general questioning during general business last year, but this year the board abolished the normal afternoon “forum” and allowed debate only on specific items of business.

The younger veterans have coalesced around the Hawthorn RSL president Lucas Moon — a former tank driver who is now a CPA with an MBA working in senior construction industry roles — and are broadly pushing to see RSL Victoria reduce its reliance on more than $200 million a year in poker machine revenue and instead focus on its core business of advocating for veterans, particularly those from more recent conflicts.

Hawthorn RSL was successful on Saturday with a motion overturning RSL Victoria’s official opposition to a royal commission into veteran suicide, sparking a Twitter endorsement from veteran turned senator Jacqui Lambie.

On Saturday long-term president Rob Webster was returned after a three-way contest, even though he has sat on the board since 1989.

The press release hailing this outcome was light on detail, particularly on the question of the relatively small turnout of votes given that only 84 of the circa 250 Victorian sub-branches participated in Saturday’s AGM.

The returning officer was RSL Victoria chief executive Jamie Twidale. Most serious institutions appoint an independent party to count the votes.

Moon had earlier nominated for the position of treasurer but was rejected on the dubious grounds that he hadn’t served two years as an office bearer.

However, with the long-serving incumbent treasurer retiring and the position remaining vacant, the cronies in charge of RSL Victoria proposed a rule change on Saturday to abolish the position. Truly!

This was rejected by a majority of the 230 authorised delegates who chose to vote on the day, leading to a situation where Moon was nominated for the vacant position from the floor.

Mark Schroffel from Australian Veteran News takes up the story in this blog post detailing how Twidale, a former Sex Party candidate, then appeared to break the rules by declaring Moon’s nomination ineligible, even though the position was vacant and there were no other nominations.

Online AGMs are good because they deliver far greater transparency — provided a full archive of the meeting is made publicly available.

As a member of the RSL, I emailed Webster and Twidale yesterday asking for a transcript or access to the full YouTube video archive and was told by Twidale: “The minutes will be published in the normal manner and at the normal time.”

The YouTube channel on which the AGM was broadcast has apparently been deleted.

What a joke!

Minutes are for board members. Imagine if BHP told its shareholders there was no archive of its online AGM but shareholders could look at the minutes some time in the future.

Heaven forbid the likes of Crown Resorts and Woolworths are leaving the full video archive of their 2020 AGMs online, plus publishing a full transcript for ease of access.

It really does sound like the incumbent long-serving ruling faction at RSL Victoria has something to hide.

Once we do somehow get access to the detail of what happened at the RSL Victoria AGM we’ll apparently discover that questions on the impact of COVID-19 were banned because the meeting was dealing only with the 2019 calendar year accounts, which were 11 months out of date.

With the normal June AGM delayed until November 28, the 2019 calendar year financials (which were made available only on the hopeless RSL Victoria website after the AGM) are largely irrelevant given that COVID has changed the whole game.

Indeed the Herald Sun’s page seven lead yesterday claimed that RSL Victoria might be broke and has asked the Victorian government for a bailout.

With $1 billion-plus in property holdings this is doubtful, but it was a very different story to that presented at the AGM on Saturday — apparently.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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