A barrister has upheld Electoral Officer Paulene Graham’s ruling that Grassroots’ 17 tickets and three National Union of Students delegate candidates are ineligible to participate in the upcoming Students’ Representative Council elections.
Graham ruled that their nominations were not submitted on time after Grassroots’ campaign managers handed in their forms less than one minute late, citing past rulings as precedent.
The barrister, who was appointed as the SRC’s Electoral Legal Arbitrator (ELA) by a past SRC president but never approved by the Council itself — as required by the SRC constitution — agreed with Graham. The barrister’s name has not been made public.
Presidential candidate and Grassroots member, Imogen Grant, says the ruling is unfair.
“Despite calling us to his chambers for an interview, it seemed as though the ELA had clearly made up his mind on his ruling in advance of the meeting, Grant wrote in a statement.
“This decision seemed to be substantially based on the ruling of the EO, and the statement she provided to the ELA – a statement that we never given the chance to review or see at all.”
Grant revealed Grassroots’ representatives weren’t given the ELA’s name or workplace address until hours before the appeal.
“It is hard to argue against a statement you’ve never read, that is only conveyed to you in broad and ambiguous terms. It is harder still to do so when you don’t even know who is hearing your appeal until 24 hours before, and when you can’t even review the evidence that is to be used against you,” Grant wrote.
Grant also suggests the ELA’s ruling did not adhere to the “principle of natural justice”.
“The ELA refused to consider statutory declarations made by students, on the basis that the EO did not receive a right of reply to these statements. However, the EO was allowed to submit statements to which Grassroots received no right of reply,” Grant wrote.
Controversy arose during the past week over whether the SRC had validly appointed an ELA, as per the election regulations. SRC President Isabella Brook told Honi that the ELA was appointed last year by the 88th council, however, there is no record of the appointment in the 2016 meeting minutes.
The appeal, lodged by Grassroots campaign manager Daniel Ergas, represented all 79 University of Sydney students who were members of the disqualified tickets.
The appeal argued that at 4:29pm a member of Grassroots attempted to hand the completed forms to Graham “by outstretching her hand” before placing the documents on the desk before the EO at 4:30.10pm. Four Grassroots members signed statutory declarations stating that they witnessed this course of events, which were included in the appeal.
Graham assures Honi there was no wrongdoing.
“Grassroots are saying they didn’t have access to the documents I provided the ELA. But all my documents said was what I had already told them, plus a bundle of papers that included an ad for the nominations opening, a copy of the instructions, and a copy of the nomination form,” she said.
“I also included my argument in response to their appeal. Their argument was that 4:30pm and 59 seconds is the same as 4:30p. I said twenty seconds past 4:30pm is after 4:30pm. They didn’t see a copy of that, but that is what I told them in writing anyway.
“Grassroots also argued that the nomination forms were on the SRC premises at 4:30pm, but on the premises isn’t the same as being received by the EO… These were the only two things in my submission, but the ELA had already worked this out from his discussion [during the appeal meeting].”
Graham explained that Grassroots weren’t provided with the ELA’s contact details before the appeal at the ELA’s request.
“In previous years large numbers of students would call him or turn up to his office to talk through the case. So when Daniel [Grassroots’ Campaign Manager] asked me for his details several days beforehand, I asked why, and Daniel said he wanted to contact [the ELA],” she said.
“I don’t talk to the legal arbiter beforehand.”
But Grant says Grassroots will not let the decision hurt their campaigning efforts for a more left-wing SRC: “I don’t think that anyone would disagree that we’re the underdogs in this election. But that’s just how we like it.”
Given the final ballot, it appears next year’s SRC council will be controlled by Labor, Liberals, and independents.