As students were attending their last classes before the mid-semester break, a seven-month saga in student politics drew to a close when the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board voted not to expel its Vice-President
The motion to expel him failed to get the required two-thirds majority, with only six of the eleven board directors supporting it. The motion’s failure allows Raue to finish his term of office until a new crop of board directors take office in July.
The move to expel Raue began last September after he leaked information from an apparently confidential USU report suggesting that University administration, despite assurances to the contrary, had collaborated with police during staff strikes. The vote was delayed when Raue sought to prevent the USU from expelling him with protracted Supreme Court litigation.
Although he lost in court, Raue won in the boardroom a few weeks later. Sentiment had shifted and there is no longer enough support among board directors to expel him.
President Hannah Morris voted for the motion, along with Honorary Secretary John Harding-Easson, Honorary Treasurer Sophie Stanton, Tim Matthews, Karen Chau and Kade Denton. Bebe D’Souza, Robby Magyar, Eve Radunz, Tara Waniganayaka, and Tom Raue himself voted against it.
The attempt to expel the Vice-President sparked a ‘Stand With Raue’ campaign and a petition that attracted 645 signatures, which some board directors say was a reason for supporting Raue.
However, John Harding-Easson did not place much weight on the pro-Raue activism. “The vocal protest of the small group of politically-motivated students on campus isn’t representative of the USU membership. I took the petition opposing Tom’s removal into account. But I also recognise that the 600 or so signatories were a small bite of the USU members,” he said.
Maintaining good relations between the USU and University was often seen as the motivation behind the push to expel Raue. The USU relies heavily on the University, most notably because it collects funding from the Student Services and Amenities Fee, which the University distributes.
Raue himself lamented the loss of USU independence. “We have to distance ourselves from the University management if we want to deliver the best student experience possible. I think in the next couple of years we will have a board that is more independent of senior staff in the USU, and more independent of the University management and that is a good thing,” he said.
The last unresolved chapter in the narrative is whether the USU will try to force Raue to pay the costs of defending against his lawsuit. Raue doubts the USU will ask him to pay up because he says it would be a bad look. “To do so would send a message to myself and other employees that you have to be rich if you want to challenge a decision of the board or the way you are treated in the workplace,” he said.
Although Harding-Easson voted against Raue, he would prefer that the Board not enforce the costs order that the Supreme Court made. “It’s very unfortunate that Tom went down the route of taking legal action against the Board, but the USU is a big organisation. It’s able to cover those costs much more than an individual student is. On the other hand, I would hope that individuals give a great deal more thought to the real world consequences of their actions.”
While the Raue skirmishes have defined the latest term of USU politics, they may also colour the upcoming USU Board elections and subsequent executive election. The three major candidates for USU presidency are Magyar and Waniganayaka, who supported Raue, and Matthews, who did not. Matthews declined to comment on the Raue vote, saying that, “Only the USU President can speak on behalf of the Board relating to its policies,” but did say that he had the “experience and skills” to be USU President.
For Magyar, the Raue vote will be vital in the executive election. “Lines have been drawn and individual directors are undoubtedly picking sides in the lead up to the executive election. I personally cannot foresee serving on an executive that features those who voted to remove Tom,” he said.
He also thinks the future of the board itself is likely to be affected by the events of the past seven months. “I think for some Directors and staff the final outcome of the Tom saga was a wake-up call,” he said.
“Many have labeled the vote to keep Tom and the comments made by Eve, Bebe, Tara and I as a watershed moment in the USU’s history. We have shed light on what is ultimately wrong with the Board and our relationship with senior staff. There are some major kinks to be ironed out.”