Left Action (Socialist Alternative) has been penalised 10% of its primary vote in elections for control of Arc, UNSW’s student union, for live streaming a debate of presidential candidates.
Honi is unaware of similar penalties being imposed in any previous Australian student election.
In a bizarre interpretation of Arc’s electoral regulations, Returning Officer Philip Binns ruled that the livestream had breached a regulation against using Arc’s materials in campaign promotions.
The debate was organised by UNSW’s student newspaper, Tharunka, which is published by Arc.
He also stated that the livestream had constituted an “obstructing” of his ability to perform his duties, as he had been unable to review and potentially censor parts of the debate before publication.
Binns had previously given permission to the campaign to livestream the debate, but insisted that this was limited to live streaming only their own candidate’s speech.
In an email to Left Action’s campaign manager, Hersha Kadkol, Binns states “I have always accepted that Shovan had the right to have an audience attend and watch her own participation, as shown by the emails, and also to livestream her own participation.”
“What is unacceptable,” Binns goes on, “was the broadcasting onto the big screen and live-streaming on facebook (sic) of the other candidate.”
Binns declined to provide comment on the matter. “This is an internal UNSW matter and I see no value involving Usyd (sic),” he stated in an email to Honi.
Though the alleged breach had occurred two weeks ago, campaign managers were only informed of the ruling on the second-last day of voting. Electoral regulation breaches more commonly result in bans from campaigning for a limited period of time.
Binns’ correspondence with Kadkol, viewed by Honi, also does not make clear how livestreaming the opposing presidential candidate’s speeches would have conferred an electoral advantage on the campaign.
In a statement to Honi, Kadkol labelled the ruling as “outrageous” and the interpretation of the regulations as “spurious”.
“Left Action thinks that the more opportunity there is to hear what’s at stake in our student union elections the better,” she says. “But regardless we did not engage in any conduct that did not have prior knowledge and approval of the Returning Officer himself.”
“The penalty is an undemocratic farce. What’s happened here is that an unelected, unaccountable official has ruled that one in ten voters for Left Action have no right to that vote. 10% is a huge margin that would decide every federal election,” she said. “It’s a disgrace that the Returning Officer would even entertain dispensing with student democracy like this.”
Rise, an independent left-wing ticket also contesting the elections, has also condemned the ruling as “highly undemocratic” and a “gross attempt at eroding student democracy”.
Left Action’s candidate for president in the UNSW elections, Shovan Bhattarai, recently made news after a video of her being pushed to the ground by police at a Sydney University education cuts protest went viral.
The campaign is currently appealing the decision.