Last Tuesday, Honi reported that James Flynn had been elected as the new Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) President, receiving over eight times the votes of his nearest rival.
Since then, sources have disclosed that Flynn, a former Liberal staffer for MP Anthony Roberts, offered college students free gym memberships if elected.
An anonymous source said Flynn, “basically promised free gym membership to all college kids” during a speech Flynn delivered at St Paul’s formal dinner, one that was subsequently endorsed by the college’s senior student. It is unclear whether Flynn intends to offer free gym memberships to non-college members of the University community.
In addition to the speech, screenshots from the St Paul’s internal Facebook group for ‘freshers’ (first years), show a senior Paul’s student relaying that Flynn “cares about us” and that “it would be genuinely bad for us if he doesn’t get up.”
The student suggests that his competitor, former SUSF vice-president David Jordan, is “not a fan of colleges” before reiterating Flynn’s commitment to free gym memberships for college students.
A-frames promoting Flynn’s campaign were spotted around St Paul’s College, while campaign flyers were slid under doors at Paul’s and widely circulated at Women’s College.
The targeted campaign and subsequent college turnout will likely play into longstanding perceptions that SUSF and the colleges have a rather cosy relationship.
All college students are given a $60 annual membership of SUSF.
It has been alleged that this scheme helps SUSF stack their elections by guaranteeing a large cohort of voters who are, generally, sympathetic to the SUSF agenda.
It’s clear that Flynn targeted the college vote at a time when the vast majority of students were unaware that an election was even taking place.
It seems that the promised gym memberships, worth at least $400 a year per student, would be an extension on the existing automatic annual membership that college students receive.
If the scheme applies to Paul’s alone, roughly 197 students will receive the memberships, costing in excess of $78,000.
If the scheme applies to all college students, then at least 1,554 students will receive memberships at a cost of $621,000.
Either way, the promise seems an expensive one to deliver on, representing a significant share of SUSF’s $4.3 million SSAF allocation.
No doubt many will question whether it is an effective or fair use of student money.
Flynn told Honi he is “going to explore policies that help all students flourish, this includes college kids” as part of broader efforts to improve “the health and wellbeing of our University community.”
Amid recent bribery allegations in the Union Board elections, there are concerns that Flynn’s actions constitute a breach of regulations.
Subsection 28(l) of SUSF’s ‘Voting Procedures at Annual Election’ unambiguously defines bribery as any act that involves “promising to give material resources to induce a voter.”
To be sure, the promise may not differ from any other kind of campaign promise that pledges to improve “material resources” to induce a voter.
Flynn called the suggestion that his actions amount to bribery a “ridiculous claim”.
He also made a similar point to this, arguing that the scheme was a “policy promise in the same way members of the SRC or USU make policy promises in their elections”.
He added, “no complaints were made to the Returning Office in regards to any part of the election”, which is true at the time of writing.