Mr Cooper says the incident brought up memories about the treatment of Vietnam veterans. (ABC News: Janek Frankowski)
A Vietnam veteran who was asked to leave a Tasmanian shopping centre because he was selling poppies for the RSL, said it took him back to the community’s reaction when he returned from fighting in Vietnam.
Kingston sub-branch president Mel Cooper described the incident at the Kingston Plaza, south of Hobart, on Thursday as “distressing”.
“For me it’s like going back 50 years when I came home from Vietnam: ‘yeah, thanks very much, now go home and get lost’,” Mr Cooper said.
“I’m not going to accept it. I do not accept it and won’t accept it for the young vets today — and that’s who we’re trying to look after and help them — and we’ll continue to do it.”
Mr Cooper said he and fellow volunteers had gone to the shopping centre to sell poppy pins and badges for Remembrance Day to raise funds.
He said after they arrived they were told over the phone by Knight Frank, which manages the centre, there was no room for them and they would have to go.
A spokeswoman for Knight Frank told the ABC the RSL was always welcome at the shopping centre, but spaces had to be booked because only one business or charity was allowed to set up each day.
The RSL was not moved on, she said, but was allowed to continue selling in another area.
The centre management said it was happy to have the RSL raise funds at the complex, provided it made a booking.
Mr Cooper said he had booked the days leading up to Remembrance Day when he made the bookings for Anzac Day at the start of the year.
Mr Cooper says funds raised help the RSL support veterans like one local man who has a brain tumour. (ABC News: Janek Frankowski)
“People expect us to be there and we need to be there because we’ve got expenses,” he said.
“We’ve recently purchased two motorised scooters for people who can’t get around.
“We’ve got one of our members who’ve brain tumour issues. He wouldn’t be getting out of his house it if wasn’t for us, so that’s why we need to do it, and I’m not going to allow anyone to say you can’t do it.”
The president of the Tasmanian RSL, Terry Rowe, said he was unaware of any shopping centres asking their fundraisers to leave.
RSL relies on poppy sales to help veterans
Mr Rowe said selling poppies and other merchandise in the lead up to Anzac Day and Remembrance Day was the RSL’s main way of raising money.
The money is spent on medication, food and other life necessities for struggling returned servicemen and women, and the demand is increasing, he said.
“There’s a saying ‘it’s what’s behind the badge that counts’ — well there’s a lot of work that does go on behind the scenes that we don’t promote ourselves with what we do; we just quietly go about our business without any fuss.
“Our primary aim is to help our veterans and their families out when they approach us or we find someone in need.”
Terry Rowe says selling merchandise like poppies is the RSL’s main way of raising money. (ABC News: Edith Bevin)
Mr Cooper said while they had been welcomed at all the other shopping centres in the Kingborough area, there had been several issues at Kingston Plaza over the past three years.
“Last year they offered a compromise; we could go there for three days providing we paid for two of them,” Mr Cooper said.
“Now if we had paid for them, all our profits that we need would have gone.”
He said not being at the shopping centre in the days leading up to Remembrance Day meant about $600 in fundraising was lost.
But it also meant that the community did not see them, he said.
“They [the public] thank us and that makes your day, that makes your day very much, so when someone says ‘thanks for your service’,” he said
The Knight Frank spokeswoman said the issue was caused by one of the poppy sellers and she understood the RSL had disciplined that person, something Mr Cooper denied.