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Members to decide on services club’s future

Geoff Helisma |

Maclean RSL Sub-Branch members will soon decide whether or not to sell the building that houses the Maclean Lower Clarence Services Club.

The Independent spoke with the sub branch’s president, Steve Walton, to shed light on various rumours being discussed by some of the town’s residents.

The sub-branch leases the building to the services club, which operates as an independent business.

Sub-branch members have discussed the feasibility of selling the building at two previous meeting; a decision is expected to be made at its April 22 meeting.

In a nutshell, Mr Walton said the “venue no longer allows us to serve veterans and achieve our mission as it was originally intended”.

However, arriving at this conclusion is manifested by what has happened historically, at both the sub-branch level and within the wider Returned Services League (RSL) organisation.

The introduction of the Registered Clubs Act in 1976 “meant RSL sub-branches could no longer run venues because we couldn’t hold a liquor licence, there had to be a separation”, Mr Walton said.

“One consequence of this; we are now restricted to two small offices in the building, instead of the run of place, which has been lost over the years.

“In a broader context, we have 50,000 service men and women who have protected our borders and served on operations overseas, since East Timor in 1999.

“These younger veterans are what the sub-branch needs to focus on.

“The demographics up here will include those who come here to work or retire – most will be retirees.

“We need to prepare ourselves to serve the needs of increased numbers of new veterans.

“Consequently, this drives our thinking about whether remaining in the services club building will allow us to fulfil our mission.”

Mr Walton said part of the sub-branch’s thinking was motivated by an investigation into the RSL’s state and national bodies, following allegations of mismanagement of fundraising under the Charitable Fundraising Act (NSW) and other issues.

This resulted in the enactment of the RSL NSW Bill 2018.

“We [the overall RSL organisation] had lost our way and had forgotten we are a charity whose mission is to support veterans,” Mr Walton said.

Meanwhile, people who fear that the sub-branch’s operations could be shifted outside of Maclean’s environs can rest easy.

“We have a strategic plan, established in 2017, that says the Maclean RSL Sub-Branch must always retain a presence in the town,” Mr Walton said.

On the issue of the services club ceasing to trade if it were sold, Mr Walton said a lease was in place until 2022.

On the services club being insolvent, Mr Walton said it “is not in trouble financially”.

Historically, the sub-branch purchased the property and established club rooms in 1948.

“In 1959 a war memorial hall was added to the rear of the club (the bar area now),” Mr Walton said.

“Then, I think, in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the back section was added.

“But in the end, our mission is to serve our veterans”, or as a RSL media release stated when responding to the RSL NSW Bill 2018 in September last year, “RSL NSW is a charity with the mission of ensuring veterans and their families are respected, supported, and remembered.”

“Our members’ votes will determine how we proceed,” Mr Walton said.