As the year progresses, several issues have made their way to the surface. In any year, there will be topical issues that appear relatively suddenly, while other issues slowly evolve over a long period. An example of the former is the Productivity Commission’s report and an example of the latter is the ongoing debate over the power of the RAIA chapters versus the power of the RAIA National Office. It is an old debate that the restructure of the RAIA attempted to address, yet the issues remain alive.
The motive behind the restructure of the RAIA was to deliver more political power to the chapters while strengthening chapter involvement in the national body. The restructure was also about accepting that we had to have a national structure to be a viable and effective organisation. A national body of 8000 members generates economies of scale that smaller state based organisations would never achieve.
There is concurrent concern with the possible restoration of state-based policies and finances. It is interesting to note that expenditure per member has an inverse relationship to the membership base in each chapter except WA, which spends 6% of the RAIA income with 8% of the membership. South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT expend more income per member and as such are effectively supported by the larger states. If the RAIA became federated with states looking after themselves these states would struggle to adequately service their membership.
Of course, there have been tradeoffs with the restructure. The "churn" of members in representative positions is significant and is due in part to the increased workload of chapter presidents. Despite this, there has been no fall off in those putting up their hands for the job.
In fact, it is generally acknowledged that good quality people in the chapters are still competing for the position.
There has also been criticism that the nationally elected councillors are largely from Victoria and NSW. Those two states have the largest numbers of members (62% of total RAIA membership) and this device does go some way to compensate for those larger numbers, and also overcomes the arguments those states originally put up for proportional representation.
It?s not a perfect system but I believe it is working. Those elected to national positions make a great contribution to the national debate.
The current system offers enough flexibility to allow the states the freedom to develop their own strategies. They must, however, be tempered from time to time in the interests of all the members.
It is a misconception that the organisation is centrally dominated because of its structure. It is true that decisions are taken and policy determined nationally by the "board" (the National Council). That body, however, is dominated by chapter presidents elected by the members in the chapters. It could be argued that the states do hold the power around the council table.
Instead it may be that we have not, at a local or chapter level, put enough effort into making the restructure arrangements work and we may now be in danger of adopting arrangements that could turn out to be inequitable for smaller chapters.
Perhaps the real issue is that members of National Council can achieve their goals only by putting up successful arguments to support a case. And, as with any democratic organisation, the participants in the debate should support the consensus decision. If your case is lost, I do not think that you can assume that it is just because of the staff, one person, or "the system" in Canberra.
To do so impugns the commitment and ability of those around the National Council table.