THE RSL might have to engage Indigenous people during Anzac Day this year to access $10,000 in bonus event funding from Perth city council.
Perth council is already planning to hand the Returned and Services League $100,000 funding for Anzac Day events but its sponsorship report points to a $10,000 sweetener “conditional upon the delivery of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion considerations including engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion factors have been part of the council’s event sponsorship assessment criteria for a few years now, but the RSL traditionally hasn’t flown Aboriginal flags or allowed a Welcome to Country at Anzac Day events.
At this week’s council briefing lord mayor Basil Zempilas said: “I remember what happened last year and there was a blowup, if you like, around the flying of the Aboriginal Flag and also the Welcome to Country.
“I think there was a position from the RSL” against having those, he said, and “that position was later changed, but then of course there was no Anzac service because of the Covid conditions.”
He quizzed council staff on exactly what the RSL would have to do to get the bonus cash.
The council’s communities manager Kylie Johnson said: “We want to work in partnership – once the decision by council is made – to look at all types of opportunities, whether that’s a Welcome to Country or or any other arrangements that demonstrate inclusion and diversity.”
She said RSLWA’s application for funding “demonstrated minimal consideration for the level of funding requested in this particular regard, so that was the reason for putting the $10,000 separately, with the aim to work with the group”.
State RSLs and the federal body have been grappling with the issue of Aboriginal engagement for years. The federal RSL’s had a longstanding protocol that only national flags are flown, and in 2020 the league put out policy saying they wouldn’t hold Welcome to Countries at their events.
Sparked by Fremantle council holding a Welcome to Country and having a Noongar reading of the Ode of Remembrance, the RSL’s policy said “while having utmost respect for the traditional owners of land upon which such sites and memorials are located, RSLWA does not view it appropriate that a Welcome to Country is used at sites that were specifically established to pay homage to those who died and who came from a wide range of cultural backgrounds”.
That stance softened a bit in 2021 and RSLWA started encouraging an “Acknowledgement of Country” at commemorations, a statement acknowledging traditional owners that’s usually briefer than a full Welcome to Country. They recommend an Indigenous veteran perform the acknowledgement, but unlike a Welcome it can be done by anyone.
The RSL’s total cost to run the city events is about $650,000, covering the Dawn Service at Kings Park, the gunfire breakfast at Governors House, the parade and the commemorative service at Perth Concert Hall.
Councillors vote on February 22 whether to set in stone the $10,000 diversity bonus, and Mr Zempilas said hopefully the RSL would understand what was required for the full funding.
By DAVID BELL