USU debacle to be decided in Supreme Court

Efforts to remove the USU’s Vice-President have been frustrated and will now hinge on a further court decision, reports Max Chalmers

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A University of Sydney Union (USU) meeting at which a Special Resolution to remove the organisation’s Vice-President was to be debated has been delayed for the second time after the NSW Supreme Court granted an interlocutory injunction on Thursday.

The move from the boardroom to the courtroom represents an escalation of the dispute sparked after USU Vice-President Tom Raue provided information to Honi Soit indicating collaboration between police and the University during an August 31 strike.

Asked whether he was concerned that student money would end up wasted on the case, Raue said responsibility fell on the Board Directors pushing the motion to remove him.  “I’m not the one who’s forcing them to pay legal fees, they tried to remove me from Board. I would much rather the whole thing go away and no one has to pay anything,” he said.

Raue has secured the assistance of a barrister on a pro bono basis but the other directors (with the exception of Bebe D’Souza) are being represented by Senior Counsel Greg Sirtes as well as the USU’s regular legal firm Kemp Strang.

When asked how much the Directors were spending on their legal team and whether the USU was paying for their defence, President Hannah Morris declined to comment. “I’m sorry but as there are legal proceedings currently occurring I am unable to comment on anything related to the matter before court, or any personal opinion relating to the matter before court,” Morris wrote in an email to Honi Soit.

Raue’s barrister Lisa Doust argued at the Thursday hearing that the Board had overreached its powers in moving the Special Resolution calling for Raue’s dismissal. According to Doust, provisions in the Regulations and Directors’ Duty Statements, which the Board’s Executive had claimed entitled them to move the Resolution, were inconsistent with the USU’s constitution which outlines the ways a Board Director may lose office (for example by not attending six meetings in a row).

Doust also argued that even if the powers to remove a Director granted by the Regulations were upheld, Raue was not guilty of “serious misconduct” as the information he released was not strictly confidential.

Sirtes countered these arguments and said the USU’s constitution gave it broad powers to create regulations, including those outlining the circumstances in which a director may be expelled from the Board. He rejected the claim that the information Raue shared could not be considered confidential and argued Raue was fully aware of its status as such.

While noting the “force” of Sirtes’ submissions, the Court found that Raue’s case was still arguable and that delaying the meeting would not cause significant damage. The Court will now hear the case before October 25.

Until the matter can be heard in full Raue will continue to serve as a Board Director as well as the USU’s Vice President, but has given an undertaking not to exercise any duties in that function while the injunction remains.

Disclosures: Honi Soit editor Hannah Ryan contributed additional court reporting to this story. She is currently in a relationship with Tom Raue. Max Chalmers handed out flyers for Raue when he ran for Board in 2012.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a fourth year arts student and an editor of Honi Soit. He previously served as a reporter for the paper and has written and interned for the Alternative Media Group in Sydney.

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