Controversy Mars Sydney Uni Sport and Fitness Election
Alexi Polden and Tim Asimakis report on the fallout.
Even before the polls have closed the Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) executive election has been called into question. Honi understands that representatives of the “Student Sport. Student Run” ticket have lodged complaints about the conduct of the election.
The “Student Sport. Student Run” ticket is being led by Daniel Ergas, the Vice-President of the SRC, who is challenging Bruce Ross’ 24 year Presidency of the Sports Union.
The complaints have been made under of s. 23 of SUSF’s Constitution, which prohibits electoral material “that is, or is likely to be, misleading or deceptive”. They allege that material distributed over the electoral period has repeatedly misrepresented Ergas, and his ticket.
Honi has seen several emails sent by Ross to sporting clubs and sport scholarship holders that form the basis of one the complaints.
One of the emails, distributed to SUSF club members claims that “for the past month rumours have circulated that the SRC is endeavouring to seize control of SUSF in order to reduce its access to SSAF funding and re-direct those funds to the SRC,” [emphasis in original]. This is the same allegation made in response to an Honi article about corporate governance issues in the Union a fortnight ago. Ergas says no SRC resources have been used in his campaign and there is no plan to take SUSF’s SSAF funding, though Honi understands several senior members of the SRC, and the University of Sydney Union have campaigned for Ergas.
In a different email, this time to EAP sports scholarship holders, Ross uses excerpts from Ergas’ policy statement on the SUSF website. He writes that Ergas’ promise of “No student subsidies of EAP scholarships” means Ergas intends to scrap the scholarship program. Ergas responded that the policy is not to scrap scholarships, but for them to be funded by SUSF’s other profit-making activities, rather than by student contributions.
The email continues, claiming that Ergas’ promise to lower gym membership and give free membership to low-income students will “not only lead to our gyms being flooded with users but the loss of a very large proportion of the major source of income for SUSF”. SUSF’s biggest income stream is actually the annual Student Services and Amenities Fee paid by all students.
Honi understands a further complaint has been made under s18 of the SUSF constitution which prohibits the use of SUSF resources for the purpose of campaigning. Ergas has claimed that any use made of the SUSF EAP scholarship mailing list to contact sports scholarship holders, would constitute a use of SUSF resources. Ross did not use his SUSF email address in contacting members, but the email addresses used in the mail-out are those he uses for the businesses he runs out of his SUSF-owned on-campus accommodation. Repeated requests by Honi to Ross and SUSF, asking that they identify where rent paid by Ross is disclosed in SUSF’s accounts, have gone unanswered. (UPDATE: Honi can now reveal the detail’s of Ross’ housing arrangement, including the pittance he pays in rent, see HERE)
SUSF’s elections are overseen by its Executive Director, Robert Smithies. While SUSF’s Constitution mandates the appointment of “a Barrister or Solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW of at least three (3) years’ standing” as an Electoral Legal Arbiter at the first meeting of each Semester, Honi understands no appointment was made until early May, when a complaint about the lack of appointment was made. SUSF duly appointed its Honorary Solicitor, Paul McGirr, to the role. McGirr is an Honorary Life Member of and donor to SUSF, and from 1995 to 1996 was a shareholder and director of NMRC (Building) Pty Ltd, a company that was created “to undertake the administration of building projects associated with Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness”, but which SUSF says is now dormant.
In an unrelated development, Honi understands that Ergas has been the target of several sustained campaigns in University colleges.
In a shock revelation Honi has obtained one such post from the Wesley College Facebook group that compares Ergas to Hitler, imploring readers to “#votebruce”. Ergas is widely known to be Jewish and had family who were killed during the Holocaust. Honi asked Ross about the post, he responded by saying: “I have no knowledge whatsoever whether this occurred; but if it did I am prepared to condemn it unreservedly irrespective of who made such a statement.”
Honi approached Ross for comment for other elements of this story—his entire response consisted of a reminder and a warning: “There are processes for dealing with allegations in relation to SUSF elections. I think you need to be very careful in raising such allegations in Honi Soit.”
The University was contacted for comment about the Facebook post but was unable to respond at the time of publication.
UPDATE: Honi understands the provisional count for President is 406-79 to Ross.