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Chairmans’ ReportAustralian Special Air Service Association 2023 AGM

Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith

Canberra 14th November 2023


“It is always a terrible decision, the launching of magnificent men towards death....... each one priceless” - Brigadier ‘Pompey’ Elliot


General

For SAS veterans the past year has been dominated by challenges involving war crime allegations during the Afghanistan war, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide (RCDVS) and reform to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) designed to reduce the backlog of claims and dynamic change in Australian strategic circumstances. Our association always prefers to work professionally and collegiately with Defence and government and official inquiries, but where it is necessary to stand alone and to speak up publicly we will.


There have been some wonderful achievements. The Regiment continues to thrive with recruitment strong, renewal underway and important new roles allocated to the unit. Great strides have been made on veteran’s advocacy and support for veteran DVA claims thanks to the hard work of our volunteer advocates. The broader SAS Family particularly the SAS

Resources Fund (SASRF) have as always fallen in behind those ex-members and their families who have needed a helping hand.


The SAS Association Mission

The objectives of the Association are outlined in Clause 2 of our constitution; to provide advice and assistance to past and present members of ‘The Regiment’, to members of the Association and where possible, to their families in need; to perpetuate the close bonds and esprit de corps created by past and present members of ‘The Regiment’ and other Special

Forces Units, such as Z Special Unit, by providing the means for contact, amalgamation and trusteeship as required; to provide support to ‘The Regiment’; and to preserve the good name of ‘The Regiment’ and guard its interests. It’s worth keeping these objects in mind.


Membership

I can report that at the date of this AGM our financial membership stands at around 615 SAS veterans. A similar number are unfinancial members, affiliates, life or honorary, members, bringing the number to well over 1000 across the country who receive our communications and attend occasional events. That number again would be connected to ASASA members

directly or through social media.


Just over 6000 men and women have served in SAS Company or SASR since inception in 1957, around half ‘badged’ and the remainder in essential supporting roles. We would be connected to well over half of those surviving veterans. But that leaves many out of touch with of our support network. A way to bring them into the family is for the ASASA to provide them

and their families with better, timely information and useful veteran services. This needs to become a driving objective of our future and is mentioned later in this report.


Ordinary Membership of the Association is available to all serving and past Members who have been on the posted strength of ‘The Regiment’ since its inception on 27 June 1957, and on acceptance of the Branch executive including like units from allied nations. There is no distinction between ‘badged’ or ‘qualified’ and ‘non-qualified’. We are all equal, each respecting the important role everyone who served on the posted strength of the unit has played in our past and our future. The membership is ageing, and, on a branch-by-branch basis, a particular effort is needed to attract younger members, when and if they are ready to join.


Affiliate Members are those members who do not meet the requirements of ordinary membership and may include wives, widows or family members and friends. This membership category shall not be able to hold executive office or vote. Affiliate Membership may be granted at the discretion of the Branch committee and this status shall be restricted to that Branch

only.


How We Get Things Done

The ASASA is an association of volunteers without the funding or resources to provide full time professional services. We are represented on the most senior veterans’ body in the country, the Ex-Service Organisations Round Table (ESORT) where I as national Chairman on your behalf have access to the Minister Matt Keough and the new Secretary DVA Allison Frame. Our representatives on DVA’s Operations Working Party (OWP) Mike Carlon and on the Younger Veterans Needs Contemporary Forum Nick Russon provide additional connections with government service providers. State Branch presidents maintain connections with DVA local offices and with other veteran stakeholders at the local level. ASASA is presently a respected and valued voice to government.


National Chairman Activities 2022-23

As National Chairman over the past 12 months I have represented us at ESORT meeting is Canberra on four occasions and attended numerous ‘zoom’ and ‘teams’ meetings with DVA on policy matters. Vice Chairman Rick Moor has been available to back me up when needed. I have drafted and submitted a submission to government on DVA reform and the backlog of claims and I have met with the Secretary of DVA Allison Frame along with senior DVA officials and with the Veterans Minister Matt Keogh. I drafted in consultation with Executive our Submission to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide (RCDVS) and recently submitted a second submission to the RCDVS.


I have corresponded with the Chief of the Defence Force over his handling of SAS veterans matters and been active in the media responding to inquiries about IGADF, alleged war crimes to defend the good name of ‘The Regiment’ and its people. I have attended SAS Beret Parade ceremonies at Swanbourne and a range of other briefings and engagements at “The Regiment’. I have attended several funerals of our comrades, and after joining NSW Branch for ANZAC day in Sydney in 2022 spent this ANZAC Day with WA Branch in Perth where Assistant National Secretary Troy Simmonds led the march. The support and engagement our association has received from the Commander, the RSM and all ranks in the unit has been second to none.


I have attended four Board Meeting of the SAS Resources Fund in Perth and considered and helped to decide many requests for financial support from SAS veterans and their families. As a board member of the SASRF I have been involved in the approval of grants for a veteran forge at Swanbourne, SAS motorsport sponsorship in QLD and co funding of Kokoda Trek for younger veterans and other applications. The role the SASRF is playing in support of the families of deceased members and veterans who are TPI is extraordinary, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the staff, the board and most importantly the donors.


As National Chairman I have ensured we applied for BEST Grant funding at twice the amount of previous years to support our advocates, all of which has been transferred to WA Branch. I have ensured that we applied for a Grant in Aid (GIA) to assist with funding of our AGM and I have successfully sought donations to the ASASA. I have engaged at length with DVA,

Defence and RSL WA about a joint application for a veteran hub to be established at Swanbourne to assist transitioning SAS veterans with complex cases. I have assisted WA Branch in its pursuit of funding for work at The House including the carpark upgrade. I have personally led efforts to upgrade our website and RV magazine with great support from Rick

Simpson.


The SAS Family

The credibility of the ASASA depends upon the quality of the arguments we put forward and the way they are presented. To remain an Association of influence we need to be taken seriously by government, by HQ ADF and by the rest of the SF and SAS family. It is particularly important that the Association works cooperatively within itself, with the Auxiliary, the Historical Foundation, the SAS Resources Trust, others in the SAS family, with other ESO’s and with the Commando Association and the Commando Welfare Trust. Cooperation, teamwork, common sense, considered arguments and a professional manner will always trump angry outbursts, emotive argument, and outrage.


As a national organisation with state branches we can cover both national policy and advocacy issues and provide useful services to members and families at the local level. National Government including DVA, HQ ADF and other federal bodies including SOCOMD and ‘The Regiment’ itself, prioritise national bodies. No state branch is more important than another.

Veterans’ organisations which are divided are soon history. The National Executive and the ASASA itself is nothing more than the sum of our national membership. The closer we work together and agree to be bound by our jointly agreed rules and processes the stronger we are.


Welfare and Veteran Connections

We are a foundation member of the Alliance of Defence Service Organisations (ADSO) with more information here About us. We are connected to the Defence Force Welfare Association and other sister ESO’s like The Royal Australian Regiment Association, the Commando Association, and many other SF associations. On your behalf as Chairman, I am on the Board

and a Trustee of the SAS Resources Trust. There is a SOCOMD ESO Group which meets periodically to discuss SF veterans matters and we regularly connect with SOCOMD to coordinate with HQ SOC. ASASA works closely with and supports ‘Wandering Warriors’ on with DVA’s frontline service ‘Open Arms’. The purpose of these connections is to ensure your concerns are passed up and that service delivery and other matters of interest are passed down directly or through Branch newsletters and our magazine RV.


IGADF and the Special Prosecutor

The conduct of the war in Afghanistan particularly Op Slipper from 2005 to 2014 was poorly designed from Canberra. SF were given a difficult job to do under curious command arrangements and were bound by unworkable constraints. SASR were overused by government, to reduce casualties and the political risk linked to the deployment of larger main force elements. Overtime SAS troops were worn down. Much was asked of the few within SASR.


It has been alleged that some lines were crossed, some poor choices made in the field and that concerns raised at the time were not appropriately dealt with by command. Having mismanaged the war, the way in which government and the ADF senior command have handed the war crime allegations after the fighting has ended has been woeful and has hurt many veterans who served their country with honour. The presumption of innocence was compromised and many of our veterans have been sullied by association with alleged events with which they were not involved. Many veterans and their families are understandably aggrieved.


There are a wide variety of views within the SAS veteran community about both the substance of the allegations and the process. We should welcome the fact that the allegations have been brought out into the open by our own people to be dealt with in accordance with the rule of law. We commend those who raised the red flag. We also support those veterans who have been accused and who have a right to be heard, to answer the claims and to defend themselves.


All would be well advised to presume innocence unless a criminal court finds otherwise. It is neither appropriate nor helpful for the ASASA at a national or branch level to take sides in this conversation. All involved were good soldiers caught up in a mismanaged war and they need our help, empathy, and support. It’s important that this issue does not divide SAS veterans or the members of the association. The less said about it publicly the better. Anyone who becomes aware of a comrade in need during this process should work with the member and others to help. It will be years before it is over.


I am disappointed at the silence from former ministers on both sides of politics and generals who between 2005 and 2014 made decisions about the Afghanistan Conflict which created the environment in which these matters arose. It has been a case of poor leadership. I have written to the CDF about it and defended out people publicly. These statements will be tabled

at the AGM. I will not have the good name of our veterans or ‘The Regiment’ sullied while those in senior government and ADF leadership at the time deny responsibility and either remain silent or blame more junior officers or soldiers.


The Media

In accordance with the constitution, the Chairman is the associations public spokesperson. We don’t like publicity. Unfortunately this year the media frenzy surrounding matters arising from the IGADF Brereton Inquiry, the creation of an Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) and the charging of a soldier, the Ben Roberts Smith defamation case, and a degree of negative, ill-informed and at times sensationalist media coverage of these events has required me to respond to media enquiries. Those still in uniform have been barred from commenting. As no one else at a senior level now retired is standing up for SAS veterans during this process the ASASA has done so. I will continue to defend our people and ’The Regiment’ on your behalf. If that puts noses out of joint in Canberra, so be it. Association members are asked to not get involved in media commentary on IGADF matters and for the most part they have shown admirable restraint.


DVA and Veterans Advocacy

Responsibility for representing the ASASA on DVA and veteran’s advocacy policy issues in a national executive responsibility, but when it comes to helping member with their DVA calms at the local level it is everyone’s responsibility. Partly because of ASASA lobbying government has agreed to allot significant extra resources to DVA to reduce the back log of claims.


A network of volunteer advocates around the country, mostly older veterans giving up their time to support comrades have served us well and we are in their debt. We are grateful for the support of advocates within state branches of the Association and in outside organisations who have always been willing to step up when asked. The work of our advocates and pension offices across the country capably led by John Burrows in WA also play a key role in supporting individuals and families with their DVA claims. Dave Christie and others in NSW, Mike Carlon in Vic and advocates in other states further deserve our thanks and support. Advocacy needs to be coordinated at a local level by those on the ground with the veterans and available local volunteers’ services.


Law Reform

Many veterans are entitled to compensation benefits under two or three of the existing acts namely, the VEA 1986, MRCA 2004 and the DRCA 1988. The complexities of providing advice on these claims under multiple acts is occurring at a time when a there is a disappearing cohort of advocates, often age-related, which has created significant challenges for veterans

particularly those seeking advice for higher level claims that go on appeal to the Veterans Review Board (VRB) or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) which is now to be replaced by a new body. The blame for this can be sheeted home directly to the Commonwealth Government over its delayed response to the Productivity Commission Report recommendations in relation to important reforms for advocacy. The government now proposes to consolidate these Acts into one Act. Members can read more about that process here.


As a nation we could do better if we provided permanent people to provide advocacy services. I have argued the case to government that SAS veterans need at least 1 and preferably 2, full time advocates to deal with our more complex cases. How that is funded is up for debate with government.


Grants

DVA have a variety of grants available for us to claim. ASASA has received Grants in Aid (GIA) and BEST grants. We have done as well as we might at accessing Veteran and Community Grants (V&CG), Saluting their Service (STS) and the Supporting Younger Veterans Grants (SYVG). Details of these programmes are on the governments Community Grants Hub website and are available to Branches who I encourage to apply.


In 2021 of the approx. $4.2m approved by the government for BEST Grants to assist advocates, ASASA received only $7,353. National Executive asked for more in 2022 and doubled our allocation. The money has been given to WA Branch to support advocates. The ASASA has no funding for full time advocates. Fixing this is a major challenge listed for discussion on the agenda of this meeting.


Social Media

At the 2022 AGM the National Executive considered a national media policy. This has been developed in response to some posts on SAS linked websites and other media comments that have gone beyond reasonable criticism of decisions made in conjunction with the Brereton Report and related matters. There is no intention of trying to censor social media posts but to

make it clear that those responsible for websites and those making unacceptable comments are, as the result of a recent High Court decision, potentially liable as a publicist or contributor for any post that gives offence or impugns the reputation of another person.


Feelings ran high for many veterans over two decisions following the release of the Brereton Report, namely the removal of the MUC and the disbandment of 2SAS Squadron. Following these decisions there were some social media posts that could have resulted in significant legal consequences for the individuals concerned and those responsible for the administration

of the relevant website. It is important to remember that the damage that can be done to the Association and the Regiment from ill- considered posts can be quite significant. They have the potential to cause a rift between the Association and the Regiment on some occasions.


The ASASA does not have ownership or control of any SASR related social media site and is not responsible for their content. All veterans have an obligation to temper the language that is used and the tone of social media posts to ensure these difficulties do not arise. The media policy was distributed to members when it has been approved by the National Executive. I ask social media site mangers outside of the ASASA to use sound judgment when managing these sites.


New ASASA Website

The ASASA has never had an effective website. The need for better communications with members during difficult time has required action. I have worked with a web designer to establish a new website which will be presented at the AGM. The intent is for a national site with a page for each state branch to use for its local purposes unless a branch prefers to set

up its own state site. If approved the site will go live soon after the AGM.


Rendezvous Magazine

In collaboration with Rick Simpson and a new publisher a proposed new structure and design for RV magazine will be tabled at the 2023 AGM. The aim is to reduce the workload for the communications director to the provision of editorial material only, to reduce costs and to lift the quality and consistency of the magazine to that being achieved by other ESO’s including the Commando association and the RAR association. We are hoping to concurrently simplify and facilitate the mail out of RV copies to members. The new product is likely to include advertising to offset costs and will be linked to our website.


Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide

I am disappointed to have to report that despite our repeated requests, the RCDVS did not call our association to give evidence at a hearing. On the 7 April we submitted to the Royal Commission into Veterans Suicide which all branch presidents cosigned. On 12 April I received a computer-generated response acknowledging receipt and indicating they would get back to us in necessary. On the 31st of July I wrote to the Commissioner Nick Kaldas expressing our concern at the lack of a response and seeking an urgent reply.


Although we had some informal contact with the Commission at an event in Perth in mid-2023 we were still denied a hearing. I have written to the Chair Nick Kaldas expressing our disappointment. Denied a hearing we drafted and submitted a second submission to the RCDVS which I will table at the November AGM. I thank those veterans who decided to appear

as individuals before the Commission. Sadly those members who wanted us to represent their views on their behalf were not listened to through a hearing, a decision by the RCDVS which I feel will diminish their work and the final report.


SAS Resources Fund

The SAS Resources Trust does some incredible work supporting past and present members of the Regiment in their hour of need. The support provided to the widows and children of those who have died on operations is quite extraordinary and the Trustees take a genuine and personal interest in the education and general well-being of these families.


The SAS RF is a back stop after all ASASA and Government avenues for support to members have been exhausted. We are lucky to have it. I have arranged a briefing to National Executive by the SAS RF so that the good work being done can be better understood and communicated across the country to the broader membership.


ASASA Financial Position

The National Treasurer Dale Whelan who will step down at this AGM in 2023 has done a magnificent job on our behalf, and we have taken steps to ensure he has the software and support to get the job done. The Financial Report and Audit Report which to be tabled at the AGM will confirm a sound situation.


The AGM will hear that the Association is in a strong financial position because of a kind donation from an anonymous source and grants and as a result, capitation fees from Branches required in the past were not requested for 2021-22. That donation is not guaranteed andcannot be relied upon, therefore at this AGM a motion will be moved by the Treasurer to

reinstate a $10 per member capitation fee agreed to in the past to enable the ASASA to do its work. If we want to be taken seriously as a national ESO we need to pay out way.


ASASA Constitution Issues

Since its inception, the Association has been registered as an Incorporated Boby under the Associations Incorporation Act 2015 (WA). We are registered with the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission (ACNC) as a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation incorporated in Western Australia. These arrangements need review. Since the national body

operates across state boundaries, it needs to be registered as a national entity rather than being recognised in one state jurisdiction.


Some years ago it was recommended that we incorporate as a Company Limited by Guarantee under the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC). A draft constitution was prepared that would enable this to occur however, it would have involved a further level of bureaucracy and another layer of administration through the relevant reports to ASIC on an ongoing basis with recurring administrative costs. Subsequent investigations led to another option, for the national body to apply for registration as a Registrable Australian Body which would have the effect of enabling it to remain incorporated in Western Australia but have the capacity to operate across state boundaries. Similar ASIC compliance obligations would apply.


Our current constitution will still need some amendment to cater for this change of national status. In the coming months state branches will be asked to hold meetings of members to approve the necessary changes to the constitution. The next step will be to apply for Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) Status which means that all donations to the Association would become tax deductable. I will bring a paper to this 2023 AGM on a pathway to reform of the ASASA National Constitution.


Vote of Thanks

The role of National Chairman has been made more bearable thanks to the support and wise counsel of the National Vice Chairman (Rick Moor), Charles Stewart, (National Secretary) who sadly passed away earlier in the year and to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude, Dale Whelan, (National Treasurer) and Rick Simpson (Editor Rendezvous and Website). I thank Troy Symmonds who despite hefty work commitments stepped up from the Assistant National Secretary role to act as National Secretary up until this AGM. State Presidents and branch officeholders have always been ready to provide advice and to lend their support when needed. Thanks are due also to our national asset April Tajic, our Pension and Welfare

Officers particularly the advocacy volunteer team in WA and in each state for the many hours they put in supporting both past and present members of the Regiment.


I thank and acknowledge the support and encouragement that we have received from the Commander Luke S and RSM SASR, as well as Bruce W and Support Cell West of the Regiment for their genuine interest in the wellbeing of those leaving the Regiment and their appreciation of the role played during and after transition by the Association and the SAS family.


Passing Parade

With each passing year it is with sadness that we recall the names and the memories of those comrades who have died during the year. This year has seen some significant departures including highly respected former CO Rod Curtis MC, and many other fine men and women. Their names will be faithfully read out at our AGM followed by a minute of silence and will also be recorded in Rendezvous.


Their passing is a matter of great sadness to those of us who served with them and knew them. We remember them fondly and, on your behalf, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to their families in this time of great sadness and grief.

Martin Smith

Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith

National Chairman

The Australian Special Air Service Association

PO Box 65 Stirling SA 5152

M: +61 (0) 408854707

Email: Chairman.asasa@gmail.com

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