Editorial: SUPRA’s silence

SUPRA’s refusal to explain why its President resigned is troubling.

The Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association
The Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association
The Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association

As some Honi readers may be aware, the 2013 editorial team is approaching the end of its tenure. As we look forward to handing over the newspaper to next year’s editorial group we would like to raise an issue that has troubled us throughout the year and which now appears likely to go unresolved.

Throughout 2013 Honi Soit has campaigned relentlessly to force both the University of Sydney and the student organisations that operate within it to act in an open, honest, and transparent manner. We have invested a great deal of time and energy into investigating and reporting the activities of the University administration, the Senate, the University of Sydney Union, and other similar organisations. We have done so with the belief that providing detailed reporting on how these bodies operate, what their aims are, and why they take certain decisions empowers the student body.

We believe that this has had an impact and that, despite recent backward steps, organisations like the USU have made efforts to deal more openly with their members as a result.

But in one case, we have been actively prevented from doing so.

Here we refer to the resignation of Sydney University Postgraduate Association (SUPRA) President Angelus Morningstar, who stepped down from the position he was elected to hold for the duration of this year on March 28.

When Morningstar stepped down he told us he had breached financial regulations, but did not elaborate.

Since that time, Honi has continually pressed new SUPRA President Joanne Gad for a more detailed explanation of what happened. Time and time again we have asked the members of the SUPRA executive to give us an indication of what occurred, to no end. They refer us back to the President, who refers us back to her previous non-comments.

Rumours about the reasons behind Morningstar’s departure have circulated all year but we have opted not to publish any of the information that has reached us as, without SUPRA’s cooperation, we could not substantiate it beyond reasonable doubt. With every single member of SUPRA refusing to comment on the issue, and the meeting at which Morningstar stepped down held in camera, we have been effectively prevented from explaining to postgraduate students exactly what their President did wrong. Which financial regulations did Morningstar breach? Did breaching them put student money, or even SUPRA as a whole, at risk? These questions remain unanswered.

To be clear, our desire to provide this information is not inspired by ill will towards either SUPRA or Mr Morningstar personally. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation behind his sudden withdrawal from the position. If not, there may be extenuating circumstances.

But perhaps, equally, something went badly wrong in SUPRA. If this is the case, students are owed an explanation of both what happened and how it will be prevented from recurring in the future. They are also owed an apology from Mr Morningstar and SUPRA.

This year’s editorial team believes strongly in the power of student organisations and movements. But when those organisations lock the doors and render themselves opaque to ordinary students, they have already failed their most basic task. Without transparency and accountability, they can not claim to be truly representative organisations.

Every year, SUPRA lobbies the University of Sydney for a portion of the revenue raised by charging all students a $273 annual fee. It received $1 million in 2013, plus extra support from the Capital Sinking Fund. If SUPRA wishes to continue to take student money, it must be more honest with its constituents. That honesty may harm its reputation in the short term, but it will ensure that the University’s postgraduate population know they can trust their peak representative body to admit when a mistake has been made. And that is the cornerstone of longterm trust.