After a week of rapidly unfolding events, the University of Sydney Union (USU) is on the verge of expelling its own Vice President after he leaked information contained in an internal report to Honi Soit last week. The USU’s other Executive members – President Hannah Morris, Honorary Secretary John Harding-Easson, and Honorary Treasurer Sophie Stanton – have called a meeting for Friday, at which they will present a Special Resolution calling for Vice President Tom Raue be removed from the Board.
Last night the USU released a ‘Board Blog’ announcing the meeting and putting a lone motion on notice, which reads: “That by special resolution, Vice President Tom Raue is found guilty of serious misconduct and shall cease to hold office, effective immediately.”
Raue is accused of breaching the USU’s Regulations and Directors’ Duty Statements and disclosing information contained in a confidential Grievance Report. His troubles began after leaking details from an internal USU report indicating collaboration between police and the University of Sydney during a strike held on August 31 at the University’s Open Day. The information appeared to contradict the University’s attempts to distance itself from police, whose actions had previously resulted in picketers suffering serious injuries including fractured ribs and a broken leg.
Once a Director has been censured, which Raue was in August last year, they may be removed from the Board if evidence provided shows they have breached their Duty Statement. The Statement lists the roles and responsibilities Directors must follow, including one relating to a “fiduciary duty to the USU and its members” and another to “improper use of information”. It is these two that Raue is alleged to have breached. If a “serious breach” of these duties occurs, the Board is empowered to expel a Director. For this to happen, two thirds of the Board must vote in favour of a Special Resolution, of the kind Raue now faces.
Raue has denied such a breach had taken place. “I don’t think that releasing information in this case was improper, I think it was actually quite appropriate,” he said. “The information I revealed was extremely limited. I didn’t reveal where it came from, who said it, only the bare minimum of what I thought needed to be released for the public interest.”
Raue pointed to the USU’s constitutional obligation to “promote the interests and welfare of the Union and the members of the University community”.
“Arguably, by releasing this information…we’ve damaged our relationship with the University, but I think that our primary obligation is directly to our members and that comes before appeasing the University,” he said.
Raue is also alleged to have contravened the USU’s Handling of Grievances Policy. Section 2.13 of the policy states: “Everyone involved in the resolution of the complaint (including the complainant, the respondent, support people and witnesses) are required to keep the matter confidential. Breaches of this requirement may result in further disciplinary action being taken.” It is not immediately clear how this relates to either the Board’s Constitution or the Regulations and Directors’ Duty Statements and Raue is contesting that the information he leaked was even contained in such a report.
The Vice President is standing by his decision and has accused the rest of the USU Executive of being dishonest about their motives for proposing the Special Resolution. “From the conversations I’ve had with members of the Executive, their main concern was preserving our relationship with the University,” Raue said.
Raue was elected to the Board in 2012, finishing second on primary votes. Outpolled only by Morris, Raue finished ahead of Harding-Easson, Karen Chau, and Stanton. Earlier this year he was elected by his fellow Directors to the position of Vice President.
Asked whether she believed Raue’s decision to leak the information had been in the public interest and what harm the actions had caused, Morris declined to comment, other than to clarify procedural matters. “Outside of that I cannot answer any of your questions that are requesting my personal opinion on the motion, as this is a matter for the Board to determine on Friday,” Morris wrote in an email.
Morris did confirm that the meeting would be open to USU members and that the two Senate Appointed Directors, who are not elected by students, will be able to vote, meaning the total number of votes cast will be 13, assuming there are no abstentions.
When Raue tried to raise the issue at the USU’s most recent Board meeting Morris implored other Directors not to discuss the matter until the USU had received further legal advice. Honi Soit understands the President has been advised that, regardless of its public value, Raue’s disclosures are not protected by whistleblower laws or by the USU’s own whistleblower policies.
Honi Soit has so far managed to contact six of the other nine student Board Directors. None were prepared to comment on the record.
If removed, Raue would have his position on Board filled by Jeremy Elphick, who finished seventh in the most recent USU elections. The Board would then be forced to elect a new Vice President.
In 2011, Ben Tang and Alistair Stephenson were also expelled from the Board for breaching the spending cap during the campaigns that saw them elected. In a neat piece of historical symmetry, Stephenson had also reached the position of Vice President by the time he was expelled.
With Morris, Harding-Easson, and Stanton apparently united, Raue looks short of support on Board and will be under enormous pressure to find the votes needed to save him from expulsion.
Raue maintains the Executive are overreacting.
“I made the call that releasing the information would be in the public interest – I did so openly. Hannah [Morris ] knew what I was doing before I did it, and now she’s decided to try to remove me from Board. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.”