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Co-op stymies another attempt at student control

Students travelled to Wyong where an AGM was held.

The far-flung location of the Co-op's AGM: Wyong. The far-flung location of the Co-op's AGM: Wyong.

The Co-op Bookshop, which sells textbooks and other merchandise at the University of Sydney and other universities around the country, has rebuffed student efforts to make the organisation more transparent and accountable.

At an annual general meeting held today in Wyong on the Central Coast, a group of students from the University of Sydney, Western Sydney University, the University of Technology Sydney, the University of Melbourne, and the University of Newcastle attempted to remove the current directors of the Co-op.

Students attempted to wrest control of the organisation by marshalling a majority of votes at the annual general meeting.

All members — everyone who pays $25 for a membership card in first year for dubious discounts on textbooks — are entitled to a vote.

However, though student members of the Co-op who physically attended the meeting appear to have been entitled to a vote, all of the proxies they had registered were declared invalid due to “not being duly received”.

This disallowed the student contingent a majority in the meeting, leaving students as unsuccessful as in 2004, when a group of USyd students made a similar attempt.

Had students controlled a majority of votes, they may have been able to reject directors’ remuneration package.

Media were also banned from recording or live-tweeting the meeting.

Daniel Ergas, co-general secretary of the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council told Farrago that “The ultimate aim of the campaign is to fix the Co-op, and reorient it to its main mission: helping students save money. We can only achieve that if it is run by students and academics, for students and academics. It’s a co-operative, not a playground for corporate wannabes”.

The Co-op was originally founded to help students afford low-cost textbooks but has become corporatised in the last two decades, a Farrago investigation found, with few benefits flowing to students.

The Co-op still earned $36 million gross profit on over $130 million in revenue in the last financial year. After tax and expenses however, it lost almost $2 million.

In the same year, directors were paid a total of $330,000.

In answer to questions pertaining to the undisclosed salary of the secretary, Talal Yassine, Yassine himself maintained that neither he nor the Co-op were legally required to disclose such information.

Responding to an allegation that the meeting was held much later than legally required by the Australian National Cooperatives Law, which governs businesses operating under a cooperative structure, Yassine asserted that all relevant requirements had been met.

Ergas, who helped organise today’s student contingent under the name “Take Back Our Co-op”, contends that Yassine’s comments with regard to the legality of the Co-op’s behaviour are questionable.

“Their refusal to accept our proxies means we have an avenue to pursue legal action,” Ergas said, suggesting that the refusal to allow the student’s proxies may be in violation of the Cooperatives National Law.

The meeting was declared closed at 4:25pm as students continued to ask the secretary why their proxies had been declared invalid, to no substantive response.

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