6 September 2021
I would like to speak with you today about the Interim Governance Proposal that will be the subject of a Zoom webinar this Wednesday night (September 8). It is 5 days ahead of a wide-ranging discussion next Monday night (September 13) on the proposal; and one week ahead of a Business Meeting to be held on the following Wednesday (September 15) at which a member vote will take place. All Victorian Freemasons may participate in that vote.
Three opportunities to hear, discuss then vote on these interim changes.
This is all about an INTERIM structure for the next year or so, that will take us out of the caretaker mode we have been in since December when all Board members, except one, voted to dis-establish the Board of General Purposes. Over the next year we will be discussing more permanent changes, including reform to our Constitution. The 2022 decisions will also involve many discussions, and every member will have the opportunity to be seen and heard.
At the end of last year, the Board moved to delegate its powers and responsibilities to me as Grand Master on a caretaker basis. Our Grand Registrar, VWBro. Ian Upjohn, an eminent Queen's Counsel, gave written and oral advice regarding the constitutionality of this vote, and last month he reiterated that advice, which was circulated to members by email.
The nature of caretaker governance is that no major policy decisions are made, except on urgent matters. I chose to invite a number of esteemed Freemasons to form a Masonic Governing Council to assist me in this task. Alongside me, the MGC has comprised the Deputy Grand Master, the Grand Registrar and the Grand Treasurer. As you would expect the Acting CEO and the Grand Secretary have been kept abreast of all decisions.
We have an organisation of 7,600 members, a figure that is growing for the first time in years. We have many assets and investments that must be managed to best possible standards. The time has now arrived for us to enter the next stage, an INTERIM stage, for the next 12 months or more.
Since I was installed in June last year, we have had The Ethics Centre deliver its report on how we should best move forward. From the start of this year, we have held a number of in-person and Zoom workshops and forums. We employed Professor Stephen Duns as the Project Manager for the independent Change Management Steering Committee, comprising a number of esteemed Masons, led by VWBro. Robert Brennand.
Allow me to emphasise that the Change Management Steering Committee has always been independent to make its own decisions, decide on its own timing, and to make its own recommendations. They are not the recommendations of the Grand Master; they are the recommendations of the members of an independent Committee.
In addition, there were a number of specialist sub-committees. The Grand Secretary called for nominations for members across Victoria to volunteer for these sub-committees. A further forum was held at the end of May, and extensive details of the group progress have been available at the Freemasons Victoria website. Robert has distributed a number of videos, including a major broadcast in June.
So, we have reached September 2021, and it's time for members to have their say on our next INTERIM step. So that everyone can be fully informed, an online webinar is to be held at 7.30pm this Wednesday, September 8. It will seek to inform, and to answer questions lodged by members, lodged as recently as yesterday (Sunday). Apart from the Wednesday webinar, there will be a discussion next Monday night (September 13).There is a real desire to ensure that all members are fully informed before they cast their vote on September 15.
Let me address the matter of the September 15 meeting. Because of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, no-one can be at a central meeting place for us to hold a Quarterly Communication. I have had no option but to cancel the Quarterly Communication and instead hold a Business Meeting on the appointed date. This is the same outcome that was taken by the Immediate Past Grand Master in March last year, when COVID first came on the scene.
At the September 15 business meeting, members will be asked to vote Yes or No on the recommended INTERIM governance structure. There is really no constitutional requirement to have this vote, but there is a real desire for members to be able to have their say, to ensure that we are on the right track. The exact wording of the motion is being distributed early this week by the Change Management Steering Committee.
At this point, I would add the remark that it has been bewildering to see a handful of social media posts urging members to vote ‘No', before the wording of the motion has even been published. You can make your own judgement about that. In Freemasonry, our rules and traditions are that we don't reveal our own votes, we don't try and persuade others how to vote, and we conduct ourselves with candour.
As Grand Master, I am constrained by the very same rules. I will not try to persuade you to vote in one way or the other. I say: analyse the material published by the Committee. Previous leaderships have pushed for the exact same initiatives that are being suggested now by the Change Management Steering Committee. I think I can safely say that we all want clear, transparent and effective operations and decision making.
The Masonic Council – made up of all Freemasons, all elected – will be a five-member body that oversees all membership matters, ritual and ceremonial matters, Masonic knowledge, and volunteer teams. The Deputy Grand Master will chair this Council, but he will not have a vote.
The Commercial Council will oversee finance, property, investments and information technology. Masonic members will be elected. There will also be the capacity for three non-Masons to be appointed, to ensure that our organisation gets the best possible commercial advice available. Already, as an example of how this works, Freemasons Victoria engages JBWere to supervise its investment portfolio, with notable success.
The Grand Master is a non-voting observer at both Councils. He can refer any matter from either Council to a general membership vote. There are many levels of safeguards. A trustee company – Freemasons Victoria Holdings Ltd – will act as the legal entity to execute recommendations and contracts. Freemason Victoria Holdings Ltd will act as a trustee company with oversight of the Masonic Council and Commercial Council and consist of five directors: The Grand Master, The Deputy Grand Master, The Past President of the Board of General Purposes, and two independent external members. No directors – internal or external – will be paid.
A professional independent consultancy will be engaged to develop the appropriate selection criteria and assess applications against these criteria. Those candidates that meet the criteria will be put forward to vote.
Internal and external auditors will provide oversight on risks, systems of control and insurances. At all levels, matters will be managed cautiously. There will be an abundance of checks and balances.
Brethren, this Wednesday's webinar will seek to answer every question that has been lodged by members. I urge you to be fully informed with the information that has been distributed by the independent Change Management Steering Committee. And come along for the wide-ranging discussion on Monday night (September 13) too.
The vote that is to be taken next week will take place from just after 5pm on Wednesday, September 15. The time of the meeting has been brought forward to 5pm out of respect for our members of the Jewish faith who will observe the Holy Day of Yom Kippur. Candles are lit at 5.53pm, so the timing will allow those members to cast their vote electronically.
Similarly, we do not want other members to miss out on the opportunity to vote. So, instead of a 30- or 40-minute window to vote, we will extend the voting time from just after 5pm to 8pm. That gives about three hours for members to cast their Yes or No vote on their computer, device or phone. This should ensure that as many members as possible across Victoria have the opportunity to have their say.
Let me emphasise that this vote is about an interim structure. Next year, when we vote about more permanent and Constitutional change, it would be great if as many members as possible could vote. I can let you know that several weeks ago I requested the Acting CEO and Grand Secretary to investigate the possibilities of the Australian Electoral Commission or Victorian Electoral Commission conducting a postal vote. That's a matter for next year, and of course, you will be kept fully informed.
The independent Change Management Steering Committee wants to ensure that there is a member-endorsed roadmap. You, as members, will decide on the next steps on how best to run a 21st Century member-based fraternal organisation. Let us be the very best organisation that we can be.
My role as Grand Master is not to tell you how to vote. And I won't. This is not a Constitutional change; that will be discussed next year. This month's vote is about members having their say about the interim governance over the next year or so. I encourage you to be fully informed and to cast your vote according to the information you have analysed.
I'm Richard Elkington,
honoured to be your Grand Master.
Bye for now.