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SULC tension: USU hears complaint alleging members excluded

Elijah Abraham reports.

The USU has stepped in after members of the Sydney University Liberal Club (SULC) submitted a complaint last Monday claiming exclusionary behaviour.

The complaint, submitted by first-year Hartley Dhyon, alleged several students who had paid to join SULC at OWeek had not been included in the club’s membership list, nor had been invited to SULC events.

After inquiring at the C&S office, Dhyon discovered the club’s membership list had “far few [sic] members than [he] expected” and realised he and other members had not been updated onto the list.

SULC President Josh Crawford confirmed that the membership list hadn’t been updated, however advised it was the result of a clerical issue.

During OWeek, he said many of the club’s sign-up forms had not been correctly categorised into paid students who were members of the club and non-paying students who had expressed interest but not officially registered. Only the former are uploaded onto the membership list and invited to club events.

Some forms had been correctly marked, and those members were uploaded onto the list without any issues. For the forms that weren’t marked, Crawford had planned to cross-check them with the receipt book to see which of those unconfirmed members had paid, and update the membership list accordingly.

“We put the other forms to the side and we said we’d reconcile them by next week and then we’ll sort it out,” said Crawford.

Despite the lack of an up-to-date membership list at the time, the club still ran events including the ‘Liberal Students Pub Crawl’ and the ‘SULC New Members Dinner’.

Dhyon was not invited or informed of these events and found out about them through friends.

Crawford stressed that such events should not have been impacted by issues with the membership list and that this was a separate issue he would be investigating.

“Sometimes the email is wrong or someone doesn’t get invited to a Facebook event cause the person organising it is not organised enough to invite everyone. I don’t know what the specific reason for [the missing invitations] was.”

Despite not being formally invited, Dhyon showed up at the New Members Dinner after being forwarded the event details on social media. He was let in initially, but was soon turned away for not having RSVP’d to the event.

“Nowhere on the event does it require you to RSVP, it only asks that new members pay $25 cash at the door, which I did.” Dhyon wrote in the complaint.

Crawford says he spoke with C&S about this event. He said the RSVP requirement was enforced because venue space was tight, and Dhyon had been turned away as the event was full.

On the night of this dinner, Dhyon and Crawford spoke on the phone.

In the complaint, Dhyon writes that during this phone call “the president … suggested that I could be invited to future events but … before he could get me ‘on board’ he would need to have a coffee to discuss things.”

Crawford disputed this, saying the offer was only if Dhyon “wanted to” and was purely to talk and clear things up—not a requirement for him to be involved with the club activities: “it certainly wasn’t anything like that. I’m not sure how he managed to construe [the call] like that.”

Dhyon in response said, “my complaint to C&S accurately describes what occurred.”

For the most part, SULC has played down the complaint, saying the issue is purely administrative. They have been working with C&S and it is in the process of being rectified.

In response to the complaint, the USU has given SULC a deadline of a week to have the membership list updated. What’s more, the USU has now mandated the club needs to advertise all events on the USU website 5 days from the event date, or RSVP date. The USU also advised it would also be monitoring the club closely going forward.

Crawford emphasised that there are various impracticalities with these measures and he would be working out the kinks with C&S in the coming weeks.

“The 5 day thing isn’t going to be super feasible for everything because the club’s been exposed to large protests before. C&S understands, so we’re working through that.”

One of the club members who had not been updated on the list, Manning Jeffrey, praised the USU’s response.

“SULC has got additional requirements on it that no other club on campus is subject to” he said. “This is what was needed to ensure transparency.”

Many people included in the complaint as having been excluded, including Jeffrey and Catherine Priestley were all part of Dom Bondar’s ticket, aligned with the centre right faction, which infamously contested and lost SULC’s 2016 AGM against Crawford’s ‘wolf pack’.

While refusing to confirm whether this latest bout was a factional issue, Jeffrey said that “if this was just an honest mistake, the club would have apologised in writing and corrected the issue immediately. The fact that it had to go to C&S, for them to actually impose restrictions on the club—this whole honest mistake thing, is a bit thin.”

Crawford maintained that no one was intentionally excluded for any reason. It was an issue which Crawford said affected even people who were “supportive” of him, including his own brother.

Only two years ago, an almost identical complaint was levelled at SULC. Jeffrey, then a first-year, complained about exclusionary practices from Crawford and the club had been cautioned by then USU President Michael Rees to be more open and communicative.

Even prior to Crawford and the wolf pack’s reign over SULC, exclusion was a tactic employed by the soft-right to prevent mobilisation from the insurgent moderate faction at the time.

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