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Executives of Sydney University Sport and Fitness on University payroll, tribunal hears

Tom Joyner reports on new revelations in the ongoing SUSF saga

Two senior executives employed by Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) are also employed by the University of Sydney in senior roles, evidence given before a state tribunal on Thursday revealed.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Sydney heard the evidence after the University refused to comply with a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) request for the salary information of SUSF executive director Robert Smithies and finance manager Aleksandra Pozder, citing “personal information factors” overriding the public interest in its disclosure.

The request to access the information was made on August 19 last year by law student Alexi Polden, who made an application to the tribunal after his GIPA request was formally refused.

Counsel representing the University Brenda Tronson argued before the tribunal SUSF was “legally distinct” from the University and therefore exempt from GIPA requests.

“The only information in scope was the payroll report for two persons and it refused to release that information on the balance that it found there to be an overriding public interest against disclosure,” she said.

The tribunal heard SUSF executive director Mr Smithies is additionally employed by the University. Ms Pozder is employed as finance manager of SUSF while also a University senior corporate accountant.

Mr Polden said in the hearing he believed the situation could present conflicts of interest for the two executives, where each had obligations to both negotiating parties when it came to the allocation of University funding.

“The release of the [salary information] would disclose the fact that the University employs two individuals who occupy senior roles in what it claims is an independent body, and the amount it spends doing so,” Mr Polden said. “This is not currently public knowledge.”

“The [University’s claim] is that the GIPA Act is simply to access government information. In reality, it is to maintain and advance a system of open and democratic government.”

SUSF receives the lion’s share of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) which is distributed among student organisation including the SRC and University of Sydney Union by months-long negotiations.

In 2015 it received $4.17 million, or 36 per cent of the total available pool of funding.

The organisation has been criticised in the past for providing very few and unaffordable services to students while funding sports scholarships for non-students.

Senior member of the tribunal Stephen Montgomery said salary information of employees of government agencies (including the University of Sydney) was more likely to be released under GIPA the “higher up the ranks” they were.

“It’s clear that Mr Smithies is representing one organisation [Sydney University Sport and Fitness], and it’s clear from his duty statements that he’s got obligations to the other [the University of Sydney],” he said.

University of Sydney Union President Alisha Aitken-Radburn said students organisations that receive SSAF funds had a responsibility to students.

“Your services have to be providing the greatest good to the greatest number of students. SUSF is just not on the same page.”

It is not the first time SUSF has been embroiled in controversy. In 2015 Honi Soit revealed the organisation’s president, Bruce Ross, was the beneficiary of a University-subsidised house on campus. The same year it was reported Mr Ross had failed to declare conflicting interests in his business arrangements conducted while also SUSF president.

The tribunal is yet to announce its decision on the matter.