RSL reconsiders Anzac decision

Headshot of Elise Van Aken
Elise Van AkenGeraldton Guardian
Geraldton City RSL president Barry Stinson.
Camera IconGeraldton City RSL president Barry Stinson. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian/Elise Van Aken

The Geraldton City RSL will revisit holding a public Anzac Day dawn service and march after widespread outrage at its decision to skip the event this year.

Many locals expressed outrage in online forums after the club’s autumn newsletter revealed the news earlier this month, with Geraldton City RSL president Barry Stinson telling the Geraldton Guardian the costs of complying with COVID-19 safety restrictions would be around $25,000, making the event “almost impossible” to hold.

Mr Stinson, a retired serviceman himself, said RSL volunteers had reluctantly made the decision only to hold a private service for members and veterans after consultation with the council and senior local police.

He said the RSL had not yet had a chance to discuss the reaction among themselves or with the council, but would revisit holding a public Anzac Day service at its regular committee meeting on Monday.

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“It’s created a lot of debate, which is great, and certainly touched some nerves in the community,” he said.

Premier Mark McGowan dismissed the RSL’s decision while visiting the city on Wednesday, saying following the State’s COVID safety restrictions was not expensive.

“I don’t think that’s the right decision ... communities all over the State are doing it, including in Perth and other country towns. Geraldton should be able to do it. I’m sure we can work with the RSL to make it happen,” he said.

“We worked with RSLWA, the head office, talking with them about it. It is very easy to put on a COVID-safe event, and it happens all the time.”

Mr McGowan said Anzac Day events did not need to be exempt from COVID-19 event restrictions because it was “very easy” to hold a compliant event.

Presidents from four of the region’s other RSL sub-branches — Gascoyne, Northampton, Morawa and Three Springs-Arrino — said they were going ahead with their 2021 dawn service plans. The Perth dawn service at Kings Park and the CBD march is also back on this year.

City of Greater Geraldton Mayor Shane Van Styn called on the State Government to exempt Anzac Day services from COVID-19 restrictions, saying not doing so would be an “unAustralian absurdity”.

He said a dawn service and march in Geraldton would cost the RSL about $25,000, including fencing the intersection and sections of Chapman Road and Forrest Street outside Birdwood House to control numbers, placing QR codes inside the area and formulating the mandatory safety plan, as well as employing COVID marshals, security guards and traffic controllers.

“The State Government needs to exempt Anzac Day from the State’s now totally confusing COVID rules for gatherings over 500 people (as soon as possible) to allow for proper planning for a successful public dawn service event,” he said.

“Not many communities around the State have more than 500 people attend Anzac Day. Geraldton gets around 5000 so the Premier is not realising the rules in place about events more than 500 people apply to very few communities.

“$25,000 might not be much for a City based large ANZAC event but it is a great deal of money here in Geraldton.”

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