RARA National Association – President’s Report

National Council Meeting – 25th July 2020

  • Introduction

The 2019/20 year has been a year for many of us, we would rather forget, but notwithstanding the complex and at times difficult conditions, this period has given the Board an opportune time  to review and assess our way forward as an Association in terms of advocacy, priorities, succession planning and our reason for being. We are unashamedly principally an advocacy vehicle for ex and serving members of the Regiment but being mindful and respectful of the chain of command at serving level and for the ex-serving a representation on various forums, inside the tent, to ensure we are able to advocate professionally at the senior levels of DVA and Government. Not much needs to be said about the Covid-19 issues as it has been a part of our lives for the las six months, but suffice it to say that the veterans community seems to have come out of it quite well, where of the veterans recorded there have only been eighth recorded deaths, which is sad for the families and loved ones of those affected, but for the overall community a good result. Many of us are in the high-risk demographic and we must maintain our awareness and protocols whilst this insidious contagious virus is among us.

  • Advocacy Representation by RARC

The RARC is extremely well represented and served by members of the Board and delegates.  These appointments and responsibilities are as follows:

  • ESORT – Michael von Berg
  • Strategic Governance Board ATDP – Michael von Berg
  • Operational Working Party – Clem Russell
  • Conditions of Service Committee – RSL – Hori Howard
  • Young Veterans Forum – Chris Tilley
  • Prime Ministers Advisory Council – Michael von Berg – end of statutory six-year term Nov 2019.
  • ADSO – Michael von Berg – Foundation Director

This report which was tabled last September has been held up at PM& Cabinet level for the almost last 12 months and even at the ESORT or broader ESO community we are no wiser in which way the recommendations put forward by the PC will finally go.

It is frustrating to say the least because there is very little that I am able to report expect two recommendations we fought against vigorously and that is that the notion that DVA is not fit for purpose, in particular with the improvements and veteran centric direction DVA has been going for the last three years, and the Gold Card has been supported and any suggestion to remove this is ill founded and must be preserved.

The RARC has contributed to an overall rebuttal of many of the recommendations which we will not go into here as it would take another 15 pages, but suffice it to say we are on the case as best we can be but at the end of the day it’s the Government that will have the final say.

One of the key planks we have advocated is to look at ways best to accommodate our young veterans through the various and confusing Acts but not at the expense of maintaining the entitlements and treatment of our older veterans, where there are still many amongst us and in some cases their widows.

A key objective which will lessen the complications for all veterans is to harmonise in some way the four Acts but where no veteran subject to a single or more Acts is disadvantaged.

We will keep you posted as this all unfolds but currently it is frustrating and creating a certain tension between DVA and the ESO community.

  • The Cornell Report – Veteran Advocacy

This report like the PC report in para 3 above has now been included in the overall PC report and at this stage like the PC we are still awaiting the direction that advocacy for veterans will be going in the future.

There are not many surprises as to the principal issues which will be affecting advocacy into the future; age of advocates, retiring advocates, complications in understanding claims under four Acts, liability insurances (VITA) BEST Grants, and the notion of advocacy being contracted out to individuals or organisations that have no understanding or empathy for veterans.

The current ATDP program is a good one and we have many individuals who wish to step up but are all on hold presently pending the outcome of this and the PC report. Many are younger veterans which is what we need but we cannot hold them in abeyance for ever. With the growing claims pressure this matter is urgent

  • Veterans’ Forums

The Commissioner for Repatriation, Don Spinks, has recently sent out a survey for members of the ex-service community to fill in on their views of the current fora’s that exist and their views on them which I am not entirely happy with. It covers all fora on which the RARC is represented and as such we can all make comments, observations and recommendations, but how many actually know what these fora are responsible for, unless they bother to go into the DVA website to look at the objectives and the terms of reference.

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this and whether based on some of the recommendations of the PC, these fora continue to exist? In some fashion or form I sincerely hope so because in my view they fulfill an important role in the balances and checks of veterans and their entitlements.

All positions on these forums are pro bono and all sit on them for altruistic purposes in trying to make a difference for the better of veterans. But as we know there is a very vociferous and misguided minority out there who will do anything to bring down DVA and as we are oft called their “sycophants and lackeys”. 

Nothing in life is perfect and I put DVA and myself into that observation and yes we can all from time to time do better but we can’t do it from “outside the tent”, sniping and criticizing, about things that affect veterans. You need to be “inside the tent”, acting in a professional way and appealing for fairness, because that is what it is all about.

The next reporting period will be more definitive in terms where the various fora and direction is going.

This excellent document has been put together by Pat McIntosh and as a part of the NCM I will ask Pat to speak to it and to highlight some priorities and the way forward.

We are delighted to report that Dave McDonald has been appointed as the Manager for the National Memorial Walk. The NMW is a special place and magnificently maintained by “Dads Army” and Dave. Ted Chitham as the Board appointed advisor on all things NMW who will be working in with Dave to ensure its ongoing place in our Regimental history and that in this context is an excellent segue as to a recommended board direction, to ensure the NMW has more access in a virtual domain and place.

Those of you that may not know, the access to the NMW although available is problematical where there is the signing in of visitors who need to be accompanied on a military base. It is an impediment and a curtailment in fund raising opportunities to maintain the Walk. In addition, there are so many including CO’s of various Battalions that have never been to the NMW, so it tends to lose its significance as a place of spirituality and reflection.

The Board has managed to negotiate with the Virtual War Memorial (VWM) which is based in Adelaide where there will be a dedicated place on that site which can be accessed by anyone around the world but Australia in particular. The site will have: –

  • Introduction, Photos, DVD’s history of the NMW
  • Short synopsis of Battalion Histories
  • Names of the fallen and a comprehensive history of that individual
  • A photo of the plaque in the NMW
  • A place for leaving a dedication
  • A place for donations

This is just a short snapshot. It will enable those that are unable to visit the actual memorial can do so virtually and an appropriate communication strategy will be developed to ensure that this opportunity for NOK and friends is known by all. It does not mean that we are discouraging visitations to the NMW, in fact far from it, we believe that the VWM site may encourage more visitations. We hoped to have this up and functioning not long after this NCM if all are in agreement. The entire service by the VWM is FOC and the moderator at this time may be known to some of you as Bob” Dogs” Kearney, Vietnam 5RAR and 3RAR veteran. Declaring my interest as an Ambassador of The Virtual War Memorial which can be accessed on this link. https://vwma.org.au/explore/memorials/6225

They have already started to give you and idea as to how this will look and function.

The RARC is a foundation member of this group of currently 18 national ESO organisations. This initiative was prompted some years ago but has increased its activities where several Ministers have been suggesting that the ESO community should “speak with one voice”. This in what is a very fragmented and at times independently minded ESO environment is a bit of a pipe dream, but we thought we would give it our best shot and we are getting some traction. So much so that the ADSO will be incorporated as a limited liability company with an appropriate board.

Every major national body is a member expect for the RSL and Legacy, although we do work together on areas of mutual interest. More to report on this in coming months. To assist you in better understanding the potential power and influence of this group the members are highlighted below. There have been some additions to this letterhead.

  • Advocacy Objectives and Priorities

There is always a danger that if you chew off too much you achieve nothing. To indicate to our membership herewith in order of priority and timelines the advocacy issues we are pursuing currently.

For the purposes of this Zoom meeting we cannot go into too much detail, except to give you and undertaking and commitment that we are pursuing these independently or through the umbrella of the ADSO. Priorities are itemised as A B or C. with no particular times lines because some have been on the agenda for some years, but we continue to “beat the drum” and agitate where necessary.

  • To ensure that within the context of the Productivity Commission Report, that all veteran entitlements are maintained and preserved. (A)
  • Fairer indexation of all Military Superannuation Benefits (A)
  • The inadequacy of the TPI/SR Pensions which are now only 64.7% of the gross minimum wage. (A)
  • DVA to recognise, value and fund national ESO organisations. (A)
  • RMO’s to be reinstituted in RA Inf Battalions. Currently there are none. (B)
  • The search, identification and return of Korea MIA. Over 50% are RAR. (C)
  1. Defamation Action

The defamation action against me in defending an 8RAR members against an ACC Sgt Cooks’ questionable military service is ongoing. Its is now four years since this action was instigated and the cost thus far accumulated and paid is $100K. There is a direction hearing in August and at that time hopefully we will have a trial date or some other outcome to see where it goes. There are numerous witnesses in my defence but sadly a key witness Maj David Rankin MC MID died last week. We do however have a statement supporting our position.

  1. Succession, Board Refresh and Balance

The appointment of the three new Directors on to the board will bring better balance and appropriate representation. Delighted to have this newly elected team on board and we know that they will make an enormous contribution. In my last letter to you I stated that I would be stepping down from the Chair role but in discussions with the Board and Steve Dunn in particular I will now not be stepping down and will re-nominate for another terms at the end of 2021 to offer stability and IP until the next Chair is happy to step up. When that is in place I will simply resign and sail off into the blue yonder as I do not think it appropriate for an ex Chair to be serving on a board with a newly elected Chair. By that time let the new leadership get on with it.

  1. Conclusion

Pat McIntosh will not be seeking re-election as he has an enormous role to play as Chair of Bolton Clarke, but on behalf of all of you I would sincerely like to thank Pat for his immense contribution to our Association and guiding our future direction. Thankfully, he will not be lost to the Association totally and has offered to be in the wings in an advisory role to assist us when required.

Hori Howard will be staying on as a Director and although we are looking at a better-balanced board it is extremely beneficial and appropriate that we have a retired Maj Gen and an ex R.A Inf Corps Director (Colonel Commandant) on the Board, but more importantly Hori’s invaluable input and support.

The secretarial duties as you are aware have been split somewhat due to Trevor Dixon’s work and family requirements but very happy where Trevor is the officially appointed statutory Secretary  and Public Officer of the Corporation and for that we thank him.

Greg Decker has stepped up in the communications role and for that we are extremely thankful. Last but not least Ted Chitham as you know was a foundation Director and has also stepped back but like Pat not lost to the Association where he too is in an advisory and representative role,  involved with the NMW and our representative on  the Queensland Government’s Veterans Advisory Council (VAC).

My sincere thank you to the three new Directors that have stepped up. You are our future and once we are able to change the Constitution to enable the Board to appoint two non RAR service members we will get some more capable individuals and in particular to bring more gender balance and a strong military family presence. Not for this meeting but perhaps an EGM over the next few months.  

I wish to thank every Battalion and RAR Association and your committees for the work that you have done throughout the year and to thank you for your support. The Battalion Associations are the most important link within our organisation and their strength is our strength in being able to advocate strongly. Advocacy at political level is a numbers game. Its all about how many veterans and families we represent and the stronger we are the more attention we seem to get.

Finally, our thanks to our RAR Col Commandant Maj Gen Caughy AM CSC; Lt Gen Peter Lahey AC, Co-Patron and General Sir Phillip Bennett AC KBE DSO our Patron for their support.

Thank you all for “Keeping the Spirit Alive”.

Duty First

   Michael von Berg MC OAM
    Chair RARC and National President RARA

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