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Dramatic end to SULS election as ticket disqualified for spending cap breach

Cameron Caccamo reports on the surprising developments in the SULS election

Fetch for SULS's logo
Fetch for SULS's logo
Fetch for SULS’s logo

Fetch for SULS, a ticket running for election as the 2014 executive of the Sydney University Law Society (SULS), has been disqualified for breaching the $750 spending cap. The disqualification occurred as polls were closing on Tuesday. As a consequence, Drum for SULS, like this year’s executive, was elected unopposed.

The Electoral Officer Kathleen Heath determined that Fetch had exceeded the spending cap by approximately 25% . While no official complaints were made regarding possible spending cap breaches, both tickets were required to submit all receipts and spending declarations, including where they had purchased their materials. The breach led automatically to Fetch’s disqualification from the two-horse race.

However, the disqualification did not change the ultimate result. An informal count of votes was conducted: out of about 800 votes cast, Drum received approximately 200 more than Fetch.

Rumours that Fetch had breached the cap dogged the ticket from the beginning of the two-and-a-half-week campaign. Fetch’s plentiful posters and flyers were notably full-colour, and Honi Soit reported last week that Fetch had purchased fifteen more T-shirts than Drum.

Fetch's posters
Fetch’s posters

Fetch’s candidate for Treasurer and campaign manager Callum Forbes admits sole responsibility for the breach. He told Honi that no other ticket member was in any way involved in the accounting process.

Forbes’ explanation is that he used a printing company in Melbourne with which he had previously done business, and managed to get a “good deal” on printing costs. While he admitted that this cheap printing, when adjusted for actual market price, did contribute to his misjudgement of the budget, he refused to comment on whether he was aware throughout the campaign that he was breaching the spending cap, or if any other factors contributed to the breach.

“I certainly do apologise to all those who supported our vision for SULS, who campaigned with Fetch, who engaged with us online and who voted for us earlier this week,” Forbes said in a statement to Honi.  “My error in judgement has made a significant impact on my fellow Fetch candidates, all of whom are incredibly talented individuals and I am personally disappointed to have let down – especially [Presidential candidate] Matt Yeldham, someone I have the upmost respect and admiration for.”

The spending cap breach has left the sixteen other members of Fetch disappointed. In a statement given to Honi, they write: “We would like to make clear that we strongly condemn [Forbes’] conduct in (a) breaching the spending cap, and (b) engaging in dishonest practice in relation to the election, and that FETCH fully accepts the ruling of the Electoral Officer.”

Fetch campaign manager and Treasurer candidate Callum Forbes
Fetch campaign manager and Treasurer candidate Callum Forbes

Fetch’s other members claim that they continually asked Forbes about the state of the ticket’s finances. Presidential candidate Matt Yeldham told Honi that the team “had no reason not to trust” Forbes, who holds a Masters in Accounting and the Treasurer position of SHADES. According to his teammates, Forbes reassured them that they need not worry and that the budget was fine.

The Electoral Officer also concluded that Forbes also breached section 11(b) of Appendix 1 to the SULS Constitution, which prohibits “dishonest practice in relation to the election”. This investigation is ongoing. An adverse finding could be disastrous for Forbes: section 9(g) of the Appendix outlines that any complaint or offence from this election is to be passed on to the NSW Law Society, and could be used in determining an application to be a legal practitioner.

James Higgins, the Presidential candidate for Drum, expressed disappointment with the disqualification. He told Honi that this outcome was regrettable and extended his sympathies to the Fetch team. When asked about what this meant for the electoral process, Higgins was optimistic, arguing that a significant proportion of the Faculty did vote, even if their votes were ultimately futile, and argued that this outcome should not dissuade SULS from such a voting system.


For The Soin’s take on the SULS election, click here.