The charity status of the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council (SRC) is hanging in the balance as the SRC Executive and staff scramble against the clock to avoid a constitutional crisis after successive inquorate meetings delayed the annual appointment of the Electoral Officer (EO).
The organisation’s constitution requires the EO to be formally appointed by Council at least 50 days before voting closes, meaning the 18th of July this year. Failing that, the SRC’s registered charity status, funding arrangements with the University, and the administration of next semester’s SRC race will be jeopardised, according to advice given to the SRC Executive, which has forced it to call a last ditch special meeting to quell the concerns.
The EO is ordinarily approved by the Council before July after candidates are interviewed and two are nominated by a selection committee composed of the SRC President, a nominated member of the General Executive — this year, co-General Secretary Yuxuan Yang (Panda) — along with the SRC’s administration and publications managers.
The EO is rewarded handsomely in return for their role in overseeing the election and RepsElect every year. The title comes with a sizeable pay cheque of more than $13,000 and a seat at the table when it comes to influencing the election terrain every year. Former EO Paulene Graham refused to accept the nominations of 17 Grassroots tickets back in 2017.
The EO also influences the SRC’s strategic decisions, including determining the number of representatives on Council. Enrolment data obtained by Honi back in March indicated 37,146 undergraduate students are enrolled at USyd, translating to 37 council seats, up from the current figure of 33. Increasing the number of representatives was recommended by former EO Karen Chau in her outgoing report last year.
The EO would also have the power to suspend Honi editors if proposed amendments to the SRC regulations are passed.
Consecutive SRC meetings in June and July were cancelled after more than half the Council — including a broad mix of all factions — failed to show up, including office bearers paid as much as $12,000 in student money. In an email to councillors after the July meeting, Secretary to Council Julia Robins expressed disappointment at the ongoing lapse in attendance.
“When each of you were elected, you knew the responsibilities of your office. It was repeated and made clear that barring a public holiday, the first Wednesday of every month from February to November there would be a council meeting,” Robins wrote.
Without a working quorum, some SRC agenda items have been delayed by as much as three months, including a motion demanding that political parties support students in May’s federal election.
Questions have also been raised over the neutrality of Casper Lu, the EO candidate chosen by the Selection Committee. Lu was a member of incumbent co-Vice President Dane Luo’s 2017 SRC campaign ticket, “Vision for First Years.” Honi understands that both Luo and the SRC President played no role in the selection of Lu, with the President conflicted off the decision.
“The process through which the decision was made was transparent and fair. I personally conflicted out of the final decision making process because Casper is an acquaintance,” SRC President Jacky He told Honi.
Lu told Honi that he had been “instructed not to comment” but declined to reveal the source of those instructions.
By design, the EO position is independent from the SRC and is not generally beholden to its instructions.
“[I] would like the council to carry on its affairs for the moment without any possibility of being swayed by any public comment,” Lu said.
It is not uncommon for an EO to have been involved in student politics. 2018 EO Karen Chau served as a board director of the University of Sydney Union in 2013.
Next Wednesday’s special meeting is likely to go ahead at this stage, according to co-Vice President Dane Luo and President Jacky He, with both confirming that they had received verbal assurances from sufficient councillors to guarantee quorum.
The SRC has been rocked by turmoil since May when the majority bloc failed to pass contentious amendments to the Constitution and more recently after the longstanding principal of the SRC Legal Service was fired.
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Editor’s note: The SRC special meeting was quorate and Lu was appointed 2019 EO. Follow our coverage on Twitter @Honi_Soit.