The inaugural general meeting of the Small Government Society took place at 6pm last Thursday September 13.
Under the aims of the constitution, the society shall: “promote the values of enterprise and efficient government, promote the importance of initiative and individual freedom, recognise the value of government support for those in need, promote progressive social values and liberalism and encourage discussion and activity around philosophy, politics and charity”.
But this society has been seen by many as an attempt by Liberal moderate and current Union Board Director, Jacqui Munro, and her followers to create a third Liberal society on campus to accompany the Conservative club (hard right) and the Sydney University Liberal Club (soft right).
The meeting was called by Julian Crowley, a member of Ms Munro’s moderate ‘group’, after the original proposal by Ms Munro for an Enterprise and Progress Society was withdrawn amid suggestions correct procedure had not been followed and speculation the Liberal right intended to ‘stack’ the meeting.
Joining members of the moderate group, a flood of right-wing Liberals walked in led by SULC President Alex Dore. USU Honorary Secretary Zac Thompson was also present. Notable conservatives including James McLean joined the crowd and appeared to be in direct alliance with the SULC assembly.
An unusual appearance came with a Grassroots contingent led by Union Board Director Tom Raue. Mr Raue appeared to create an alliance with Ms Munro in an effort to unite against the Liberal right.
The meeting was moderated by Board Director Karen Chau and chaired by Honorary Treasurer Rhys Pogonoski. Mr Thompson appeared to question Mr Pogonoski’s authority but was overruled.
USU President Astha Rajvanshi later told Honi it was conventional for Board Directors to take the chair at contentious IGMs. “Circumstances like these are rare, and are guided by common sense principles,” Ms Rajvanshi said.
Mr Pogonoski told the meeting of the USU Board’s recent decision to pass ‘anti-stacking’ measures. He acknowledged the IGM was “unorthodox” and was “not claiming this is stacking”, but stressed that if the Board found stacking had taken place at the meeting, members would be punished.
Members of both groups expressed to Honi they were present because they were doing a favour for a friend rather than having genuine interest in the society. When asked what the punishment would be, Mr Pogonoski replied that the highest punishment would be a revoking of USU membership.
Mr Pogonoski struggled to maintain control of the large meeting with constant interruptions from the floor as there was debate about the requirement to circulate the proposed Constitution prior to the meeting. Mr Pogonoski remedied this by displaying the constitution on a projector screen for members to read.
Disruptions came from Mr Thompson, who argued latecomers should not be allowed on the electoral list. “As C&S Chair I think I’d know,” he said. Mr Pogonoski then gave an official warning to Mr Thompson for his outburst.
Both Mr Dore and James McLean posed a series of procedural motions regarding nominations. Mr Dore said, “Nominations were never called for, so therefore they can’t be closed.”
After a short recess, Mr Pogonoski attempted to announce his decision that no more nominations would be accepted. A visibly frustrated Mr Thompson interrupted and said the verdict was “against democracy”. An irritated Mr Pogonoski told Mr Thompson: “You’re bringing the organisation into disrepute.” This was followed by a heated confrontation between the pair. At one point Mr Thompson was overheard telling Ms Chau he found the conduct of the meeting “spineless behaviour”.
A short time later Mr Pogonoski announced nominations from the floor would not be accepted, as under the newly-adopted constitution nominations for executive positions are required five days prior to a meeting. He urged those unhappy with his ruling to take their concerns to the C&S Committee.
Continued challenges were called from the floor, but undeterred, Mr Pogonoski continued with the executive elections. At the announcement of Jacqui Munro’s nomination for President, Alex Dore was heard to ‘shame’ very loudly. After a second person declined their nomination, Ms Munro was elected President unopposed. The remaining positions were also filled unopposed.
It being evident they could not change the outcome of the meeting, there was a mass exodus of members from the Liberal right.
The result is sure to have further repercussions for the USU Board and meetings of its Clubs and Societies Committees in coming weeks. Honi understands grievances with the meeting procedure will be taken to the Committee meeting after mid-semester break.