The Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) is experiencing dramatic political upheaval with the first contested election in six years to take place in late May.
Originally, registered students were due to receive postal ballots on Monday April 23 with elections to take place this Friday May 4. But on April 27, following complaints made to the Returning Officer over the eligibility of candidates it was advised there would be no formal announcements regarding the election schedule until the disputes had been resolved.
On April 29, it was announced that the election had been postponed by near to a month, with polls set to open on May 28 and 29. Calls for online voting were rejected.
SUPRA is run by postgraduate students to represent their interests within the University, akin to the SRC. Elections take place to decide the 20 general positions on the Council with five equity positions decided separately. Executive positions are negotiated from within the council.
There are two main ‘tickets’ running in the upcoming elections, despite the lack of above the line voting. ‘Postgrads for Postgrads’ is a collective of 17 mainly left or centre-left leaning individuals. The Presidential candidate is Angelus Valentine Morningstar, who left the position of Sydney University Law Society Queer Officer in 2010 amid allegations of misconduct. This is also the ticket of current SUPRA Treasurer and Education Officer Tim Scriven. They are going up against a ticket of eight candidates run by Sharangan Maheswaran under the ‘SupraNova’ banner.
Honi Soit has been made aware of allegations that the Returning Officer has potentially been acting improperly. All official correspondence names the Returning Officer as Ema Esteves, but candidates say they have received phone calls from someone called ‘Phil’ in relation to the election rules. Sources allege Ms Esteves has allowed someone else to act on her behalf on several occasions.
When contacted, Phil informed Honi that he is Ema’s husband and the operational manager and spokesman for her business. He denied any conflict of interest. “Those nominations only went in two hours before close,” Phil said. “We had no opportunity to get back to them. The nature of the checks that needed to be done meant it took time to contact the university to get a response.”
The Returning Officer ruled that candidates James Flynn, Kieran Walton, Brigid Meney, and Kerry Chen were all ineligible. There is an avenue for appeal to the Electoral Legal Arbiter, which Mr Flynn indicated he would pursue.
Brigid Meney and Kerry Chen were disqualified from running after it was decided they did not meet the guidelines for what is considered a ‘postgraduate’.
Ms Meney is enrolled in a combined BA/Masters of Nursing degree. However given she had not completed all undergraduate units at the time of enrolment, she was still deemed an undergraduate student.
In relation to Ms Chen, it was ruled that while graduate medicine requires an undergraduate degree, it is not considered a postgraduate course. However these details were not made clear to students by the university.
Each candidate requires two valid nominators to be considered for the ballot. As Brigid Meney was the second nominator for both James Flynn and Kieran Walton, they too were disqualified from the elections. “I want to challenge it just to say Kieran and James had no idea I was not eligible. I had no idea I was not eligible. It’s all very vague,” Ms Meney said.
According to Mr Scriven, previous administrations have found it difficult to find people interested in running. “We’ve had elections but they haven’t been contested. There were too few nominees in relation to positions,” he said. “Because it hasn’t happened for six years, this took us by surprise.”
Mr Scriven expressed concern over the composition of Mr Maheswaran’s ticket. “In the past, SUPRA has been a more deliberative space, not formed by factions but individuals who run. The one worry I have about their ticket is that there are eight JD students, when we’ve got people from ten different departments or faculties. It’s concerning in terms of diversity.”
Mr Maheswaran responded: “We’re not just eight JD students, we’re from several faculties. One in two of ‘SupraNova’’s candidates are international students. People are more than their degree title.”
According to Mr Maheswaran, Council failed to appoint an Electoral Legal Arbiter until well after elections started. “It’s spurious the way this election has been held,” he said. “All our personal information has been the subject of scrutiny by the ‘Postgrads’ because they are current office bearers. There has been a significant conflict of interest in having those same individuals assist the Returning Officer.”
“No matter the result, I will be asking the Vice-Chancellor to exercise his reserve powers and investigate breaches of electoral regulation and conflicts that have plagued this election,” Mr Maheswaran said.