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UniGate – An Exams Special: SRC Exec, SRC Reps-elect, SRC inquorate, USU shuts down competition, and Peter Fitzsimons copies and pastes

Senate elections, USU shuts down competition, SRC Exec’s dwindling meetings, SRC representatives-elect

unigate

unigate

Peter FitzSimons: writer or copy and paster?

Last Friday marked the last day voters can post their ballots in the election for Graduate Fellows on the University Senate (check out the Gate’s previous coverage here). One of the best known candidates was Peter FitzSimons AM, a former Wallaby, a columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald and the author of several books. FitzSimons ran with four other candidates on the ‘Unify’ ticket, something which he has not-so-subtly referred to in his column.

It seems Fitzy may have been too busy writing other things to write his personal statement for this election, despite describing the Unify campaign as “a professional campaign” in the press. A closer look at the statement indicates that it was actually written for his last (successful) tilt at Senate four years ago. According to the statement, his nephew is a first-year student at Wesley College – which was true four years ago, but said nephew is now a fifth-year and no longer resides at Wesley. FitzSimons has also been on the board of the Sydney Writers’ Festival for ten years, not six, and is no longer the President of the Northern Suburbs Basketball Association.

When approached by the Gate, FitzSimons described it as “some kind of clerical error, I guess”. He clarified that his nephew has been joined at USYD by his son, two nieces, and another nephew. Accordingly, his “updated credentials in this field are five times what they were”. Whether the one nephew was enough to get FitzSimons over the line in the election will be known this week. Keep your eyes on the Gate for election results.

 

Coffee, tea, or me?

If you’re wondering why there’s a Tea Society but not a Coffee Society, it’s not from lack of trying. The embryo of a Coffee Society in 2009 was swiftly crushed by the University of Sydney Union, and no one really knows the real reason why due to the confidentiality around the discussion. The initial reason given was that it was too similar to the Tea Society, despite the vast differences between the two beverages.

When Julia Woods and Michael Goldman, co-founders of the Coffee Society in 2013, attempted to start the society, they were told by Clubs & Societies Committee that they: “resolved to defer to the New Club Application of the Coffee Society to Board due to a perceived conflict with the commercial interests of the USU.” In other words, the University of Sydney Union was worried about another coffee vendor on campus, especially due to unfounded rumours of the society partnering with Taste Café.

Despite the protestations from the Coffee Society that their goal was to get students in contact with coffee businesses off-campus in order to provide resources and services to students such as accessories, seminars, “cuppings” (jargon for coffee tasting and smelling) and other things that weren’t purchasable cups of hot brown liquid used for exams, the society has not yet been approved. The Coffee Society was also only provided a few minutes to make their case to the Board due to an administrative error that delayed their meeting.

When asked about the rejection, Honorary Secretary and Chair of the C&S Committee, John Harding-Easson, confirmed that the Committee deferred the decision to the Board due to potential commercial conflicts. However, he noted that the Board’s decision is confidential and therefore could not speak on the matter. Harding-Easson also told the Gate that he was in New Zealand and therefore, regrettably, the Gate had just spent an exorbitant amount of funds on an international call.

Rumours suggest that another reason the Coffee Society was rejected is due to its critical stand on the USU’s misleading use of the term “fair trade” to describe its Rainforest Alliance coffee. This was discussed in a previous Honi article that noted that Rainforest Alliance coffee does not conform to the standards of Fair Trade. The Coffee Society would also provide cuppings using fair trade sources such as Campos Coffee, which – as mentioned before – the USU allegedly perceived as purchasing from Taste Café.

With another appeal meeting scheduled for later this month, the Gate will keep you updated on the situation – that is unless the editors of the Gate finish their term and the Gate is dismantled for a newer, fancier rumour mill.

 

Circular jerk

Last semester, the Gate reported preliminarily on the attendance of the SRC’s elected Executive members at Executive meetings. The SRC Executive is elected by Council, and makes decisions on the day-to-day running of the SRC, a several million dollar organisation that employs nearly 20 part-time and full-time staff. According to the SRC’s regulations, “The Executive shall meet regularly and if possible weekly during semester.” We acquired the minutes of this year’s Executive meetings, and the findings were interesting.  The Executive met 10 times in first semester, but to our knowledge has only met 5 times this semester. Members of the Executive told the Gate that many motions had been passed ‘in circular’ – whereby a motion is passed via email – this semester. But from what we can glean from the SRC’s regulations, there is no provision for circular motions to replace meetings.

We don’t mean to insinuate any serious indiscretions on the part of the Executive members or the Committee as a whole, but we do believe that the operations of the SRC’s primary decision-making body ought to be subject to more scrutiny – particularly when its two coordinators and most senior members (the President and General Secretary) are paid over $50,000 between them.  Since the current Executive’s term began in December last year, it has met 22 times – far from the weekly ideal stipulated in the regulations. But more troubling still is the fact that of the 8 members of this year’s Executive, only three managed to attend at least two-thirds of the meetings. The Gate believes firmly in the power of student organisations, but when even the most senior office-bearers of those organisations have trouble attending regular meetings, it should come as no surprise that student politicians often attract cynicism from the student body.

 

There are two types of people in the world: those who see an inquorate SRC meeting as almost half full and those who see an inquorate SRC meeting as more than half empty

The final meeting of the prodigious Sydney University Students’ Representative Council, the birthplace of the successful careers of Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Belinda Neal, Anthony Albanese, and Michael Kirby, along with many more of Australia’s most famous and infamous personalities, did not go ahead.

With only fourteen of 33 elected councillors present, the meeting failed to make the minimum seventeen that is required for the session to proceed. Many of the other councillors had given other members of their faction their proxy votes; proxies have voting rights but do not contribute to the numbers needed to make quorum.

This is the reason why two previous meetings were called inquorate, and why at many other meetings the Gate observed frantic factional headkickers calling councillors to come to meetings, once even driving to pick them up from their house.

Each faction had around half its councillors (not including proxies) present. A provisional estimate suggests: 3/6 SLS, 4/6 Grassroots, 1/2 NLS, 3/8 Independents, and 2/5 Unity councillors. The Liberals get an honorary mention for bringing 100% of their councillors, 1/1, to the meeting.

The Gate is surprised by this attendance, not due to the general disinterest of councillors to turn up to meetings, but rather because the regulations state: “No alcohol shall be permitted in the Council chamber during Council Meetings, except for the final scheduled meeting of the current council.”

In other words, a council meeting that was essentially a drinks session was called off.

#repselect

There’s nothing the Gate loves more than a little bit of old fashioned democracy. However, in what is a rather unsurprising twist, at the annual election of Office Bearers and representatives of the SRC for 2014, known as reps-elect, on Monday night, democracy is exactly what didn’t happen. The representatives are voted in by next year’s 33 councillors. Next year’s councillors are mostly factionally aligned: Unity (Labor Right, part of Stand Up!) has eight councillors, SLS (Labor Left, also part of Stand Up!) has seven councillors, Grassroots (broad left) also has seven councillors, NLS (also Labor Left, but in a same same but different way), Socialist Alternative (AKA SAlt, who worked with Grassroots at the election) has three councillors, leaving just two factionally unaligned councillors.

More often than not (it happens almost every year), voting at reps-elect is decided in negotiations during the initial SRC elections. This year, as part of helping Jen Light to be elected, SLS demanded all of Unity’s ballots in reps-elect, meaning they had almost half of the councillors to vote the way they wanted. Grassroots (with SAlt) and NLS had a deal at the time of election that they would work together during reps-elect. However, this was reneged in favour a stronger coalition for Grassroots with SLS. Grassroots executive-elect member, Nick Rowbotham explained that “NLS didn’t get enough councillors elected to ensure a stable coalition.” Vice President-elect Laura Webster also stated “Grassroots identifies as the broad left and will always work to ensure that the SRC is filled with left wing activists that are passionate, dedicated and will work hard. SLS negotiated with us in good faith and have stated on numerous occasions that they also share this vision for the SRC next year.” As a result, the Grassroots/SLS coalition had a guaranteed 25 council votes, and thus were able to lock the other factions out of every election.

NLS councillor, Hannah Smith, expressed disappointment at the outcome of the evening, despite not putting any candidates to run in opposition for any of the major elections. She explained that “we ultimately chose not to put them [their preselected candidates] forward on the night because we felt that there was a lot of tension in the space already, and didn’t want to expose our caucus to that more than was necessary.” Independent councillor Liam Carrigan also expressed disappointment at how “undemocratic” the evening was, though is “cautiously optimistic” about the Grassroots/SLS coalition.

The only real surprise of the night was the contested election for the Ethnic Affairs Office Bearer position. This position came under fire in recent weeks, as the newly formed Ethnocultural and People of Colour Collective (EPOC) sought the right to hold these OB positions autonomously*, previously held by the non-autonomous Anti-Racism Collective (ARC). Both collectives put forward candidates for the position, and in a surprise twist, the ARC candidate, Gabby Pei-Tiatia, won with 16 votes. The EPOC candidates, Oscar Monaghan and Tabitha Prado-Richardson in one joint position, received eight votes, while the other EPOC candidates, Bridget Harilaou and Shiran Illanperuma, received six, meaning Tiatia and Monaghan/Prado-Richardson were elected.

SLS have indicated they (and therefore Unity) voted for ARC. General-Secretary-elect, James Leeder, claimed “It was a really difficult position for our councillors to be in given they had to decide whether to deny an established and very active collective like ARC any access to funding in order to support the other. We made the decision that we thought would be best for both collectives in the interim while the SRC makes appropriate provisions for both so they can continue to conduct their activism.” It is unclear where the last vote for ARC came from. Grassroots have said that while they don’t bind (and therefore can’t be sure of how members voted), Webster told the Gate “Grassroots respects the collective autonomy of EPOC”.

Those playing at home with any shred of maths ability might also have noticed that only 30 votes were cast in this election, despite there being 33 councillors. It is unclear who did not vote. While NLS were responsible for donkey voting in some of the elections, Smith told the Gate “We chose to donkey vote in ballots in which we didn’t believe in any of the candidates for reasons to do with ideology, ability or commitment to the SRC as an organisation,” and assured us that their caucus was bound in supporting EPOC. Carrigan also told the Gate he voted for EPOC. SAlt and independent Matthew Woolaston have not responded to the Gate’s messages. The mystery continues.

EPOC have stated they are “disappointed that autonomous organising around race was not respected, but are willing to establish a working relationship with Gabby,” while ARC is pleased with the outcome, stating that “the SRC has taken a clear and important stand against the injustice [Abbott’s anti-refugee policies] represent”. ARC hopes that EPOC will join them in fighting for refugees.

It is worth noting that the 2014 SRC will see the first Indigenous councillor, Kyol Blakeney, since 2006, and Laura Webster will be the first Indigenous Vice President, ever. There were also four nominations for Indigenous Officers at reps-elect this year, elected unopposed. This is a leap forward from previous reps-elects where  no one would be present to nominate for the positions of Indigenous Officers.

The Gate also attempted to contact Unity, to find out if they had any independent thoughts on how the evening went, however every call made to Unity redirected to SLS. Weird.

For the final results, see Cameron Caccamo’s spreadsheet here.

* Autonomy in this context refers to those who identify as being part of an oppressed group leading and making decisions about its own fight against oppression.

Vice Chancellor Michael Spence.

Michael Spence

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