Ruxton’s legacy, a force to be reckoned with

By Eamon Hale

In January this year, DVA failed to adequately communicate changes to DVA’s Defence Force Income Support Allowance that put approximately 14,000 veterans temporarily out of pocket by up to $400 until they received the Centrelink top-up about a week later.
 While the deficiency was temporary, DVA overlooked that many veterans, some of whom are vulnerable, rely on prompt payments just to simply survive. As it is, the money we are talking about is barely enough to cover the basics of daily life, let alone any small luxuries those veterans and their families might hope to enjoy. Not to mention the impact on carefully organised routines of shopping day and direct debit arrangements.

The anxiety this has caused has been grossly underestimated and frankly, widely ignored.

The shock

Imagine waking up on pension day to discover, that for no apparent reason, your entitlements have significantly decreased. Why have my payments been cut? Will this be permanent? How will I live? What have I done wrong?

For some of these veterans, the money failing to arrive brought fear and perceived persecution. For Terry*, a former soldier, finding his bank account $400 short exactly a week after he’d made a submission to the Royal Commission into Veteran and Defence suicide made him believe he was being punished by DVA for doing so.

He immediately hopeless as the fear of life without sufficient funds became 

The fallout

Pursuing the matter, AVN received this statement from Minister Andrew Gee, “It’s disappointing that this delay with the letters has occurred. It should not have happened. The Department has apologised for the anxiety this has caused and I want to assure our ex-servicemen and women and their families that no veteran will be worse off by this change in legislation. These reforms simplify the payment arrangements for around 14,000 veterans and their families and increase access to rent assistance for our most disabled veterans with 6,900 set to benefit. I encourage any veteran who has questions or any concerns to contact the Department of Veterans’ Affairs on 1800 838 372 where help is available.”

While no veteran will be left out of pocket by this change in the long term, in the short-term bewildered veterans were left for days with a sizable hole in their finances. For many, this was not a minor inconvenience and DVA should have done much more to prepare for this change and ensure veterans were properly informed and would not be caught short. That isn’t good enough.

Australian Veteran News took this issue seriously, as did a number of smaller Ex-Service Organisations and veteran oriented Facebook pages, such as “Royal Commission Into Serving / Veterans Suicides, DVA and Defence”. But there was one Ex-Service Organisation that was conspicuously silent on this – the RSL.

The silence

The organisation that exists for the purpose of advocating and representing veterans at State and National level said virtually nothing. There was no public representation to the Government or DVA, and virtually nothing was communicated to those affected.

It is perhaps ironic that on the day veteran pensioners found they’d been short changed, the 13th of January, RSL Australia released an update titled “RSL Australia, working for you”, detailing how it “tirelessly” works behind the scenes to “ensure great outcomes for all veterans”.

The question must be asked, if the RSL does not see this issue as worth commenting on, what will it comment on? If it is not unwilling to represent veterans on issues like this, what issues will it represent them on?

Recently in a meeting, I recently criticised RSL Victoria for its lack of public advocacy, or ‘big-A Advocacy’. The response of a senior member of the Victorian State Executive was, “the days of Bruce Ruxton are gone”. He also suggested that it was no longer the RSL’s role to stand on the steps of parliament and publicly advocate.

Well, I vehemently disagree.

Back to the future

I firmly believe that in 2022 we need energised, dynamic and passionate leaders within the RSL who will loudly and publicly call out the good and bad that confronts veterans in the 21st century. I also know that we have many people with those qualities within the RSL, but something is preventing them from being heard.

This urgently needs to change because veterans like Terry deserve to be represented and supported.

The RSL is simply not doing its job if it is not prepared to give stand up and fearlessly promote the interests of Australian veterans and their families.

In 1919, Gilbert Dyett was the 27-year-old National President of the RSL. A former Captain who served at Gallipoli, stood up to Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes so skilfully that he won a raft of concessions and entitlements that made Australian veterans the envy of the world.

102 years later, the RSL isn’t even prepared to speak out about the impact of bureaucratic incompetence that affects some of its most vulnerable members.

The legacy

Bruce Ruxton died in 2011, leaving a legacy of dogged advocacy and service to Australian veterans and their families that remains an example of what can be achieved.

Bruce Ruxton was a fighter. He was hugely controversial, even in his time, but he was known for always being available to veterans was famous for his influence and his ability to seize the attention of Prime Ministers, Premiers, and bureaucrats alike.

Ruxton showed us how to do it, and now, if ever, is the time to rediscover our voice and make sure we are heard.

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  • Peter Desmond February 26, 2022  

    Vale Bruce Ruxton. I was privileged to know Bruce and to spend some time with him, including shortly before he died in Queensland. . As you say Eamon, he was a fighter and he never took a backwards step. He had his critics, even within the Services, but none to his face.
    No step was too far for Bruce, and he cared not for popularity. His daily routine was vigorous and demanding. He understood how to use the national media for the RSL’s benefit and he never ducked a fight. He understood his responsibility for all veterans, though he chose to remain in Victoria as RSL president. Bruce was one of a few who truly understood that the RSL is a State based organization and the RSL Federal HQ is just that, a HQ. only The work must be done in the States, which are all equal; and that is the strength of the RSL

    I agree that the RSL is not a shadow of it’s former strength and it no longer serves it’s former purpose.

    It is meet that we honour Bruce Ruxton.

  • Gavin Berry February 26, 2022  

    The best web site in the business. Great work. Never miss it, and always look forward to the next bulletin.

    Hard to pick the ones I liked best, they are all tops, but the one on Bruce Ruxton says it all. You have really hit the nail on the head with this one. Well done.

    Keep up the good work. You are to be commended for your efforts and the service you provide.

  • Ken.T February 27, 2022  

    The R.S.L. needs sound devoted leadership the same as the Diggers needed sound Leadership when doing their duty. It is a shame that the R.S.L, see’s no need to stand up for the needs and rights of Service Personnel any more. They leave all the heavy lifting to the smaller organisations which have emerged since the formation of the Vietnam Veterans Association back in the seventies. I can still hear a bloke from the R.S.L. at Liverpool, NSW, telling us when we returned from S.V.N, that the R.S.L, was for real soldiers, not like us who only went on a Peace Keeping mission.

    I have never stepped inside an R.S.L club since that day.

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