Grassroots appeal reveals obfuscatory application process

An appeal has been launched disputing the disqualification of 17 tickets from the upcoming Student Representative Council election.

Grassroots has launched an appeal process against the Electoral Officer’s (EO) decision to deem 17 Grassroots Student Representative Council and three delegate to the National Union of Students tickets ineligible to run in the upcoming election, arguing that the ruling “misinterpreted the regulations”.

The appeal, lodged by Grassroots campaign manager Daniel Ergas, represents 79 University of Sydney students, all members of the disqualified tickets.

According to the EO, Paulene Graham, the tickets were barred on the basis that the nomination forms were not on SRC reception desk by the 4:30pm nomination deadline. Under section five of the SRC regulations, the EO “may reject any nomination which has not been received by the date and time specified by the notice of election.”

“I had loudly declared nominations closed — at exactly 4:30pm — a very short time after this a young woman attempted to hand me a bundle of nominations. I ruled they were late and not acceptable,” Graham told Honi.

The written appeal alleges that the nominations were, in fact, “not lodged out of time” and therefore that the “EO had no power to reject them”, among other grounds.

Specifically, they contend that at 4:29pm a member of Grassroots attempted to hand the completed forms to Graham “by outstretching her hand” before placing the documents on the desk before the EO at 4:30.10pm. Four Grassroots members have signed statutory declarations, included in the appeal, stating that they witnessed this course of events.

The requirement for documents to be on the table by the deadline does not appear in the SRC regulations which only state that the nominations must be delivered “in person” to the EO.

“We believe that Paulene … acted contrary to the guidance and guidelines that she provided to candidates,” a representative of Grassroots told Honi.

“Her refusal to allow us to lodge our appeal directly with the Electoral Legal Arbiter (ELA) only compounds this error.”

Any appeals to decisions made by the EO must be directed to the ELA, an appointed barrister or solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW. Section 29 (d) of the SRC regulations states that, “Any student may lodge in writing an appeal to the ELA from any act or decision or nonfeasance of the EO.”

Graham has refused to provide the contact details for the ELA, which are not made public, preventing Grassroots from lodging the appeal directly.

In an email to the Ergas, Graham stated that any appeal to the ELA would be lodged “via me”. She assured that, “you are appealing to him so of course it goes to him.”

“The Arbiter does not usually produce written decisions, he usually verbally informs the appellant or through me if he makes his decisions using the written submissions,” the email reads.

A representative of Grassroots told Honi that no reason has been given for withholding the ELA’s details.

“The EO has repeatedly refused to reveal the identity of the ELA to us. She assures us that the appeal documents we lodge with her will be faithfully handed over to the ELA, with her comments attached. The ELA will then usually produce a verbal ruling which will go through Paulene,” they said.

“We are sceptical as to whether this process adheres to natural justice, and whether the ELA was validly appointed.”

SRC President Isabella Brook told Honi that the ELA was appointed last year by the 88th council, however, there is no record of the appointment in the 2016 meeting minutes.

When asked if she recalled the month in which the appointment was made, Brook was unable to answer, but assured us that she was “aware of the ELA’s identity”.

In response to Grassroots’ scepticism that Graham would be involved in a dispute regarding her own ruling, Brook stated, “when we appoint the EO as a council, we entrust that they will conduct the election and handle appeals to the ELA in a fair and honest manner.”

Grassroots is seeking a declaration that the 20 ticket nominations were valid and a direction that they be treated accordingly.