Petition to remove entire AUU Board succeeds; Board’s fate to be voted on by students

Words by Stasi Kapetanos and Ivan Bucalo Jankovic.

UPDATE: The AUU has since decided to dismiss the petition. Read why here.

A movement of University of Adelaide students have gained the number of signatures required to launch a vote of no-confidence against the entire Adelaide University Union Board.

The petition, having now passed through stage one of the process outlined in section 23.1 of the AUU’s Constitution, must be put to a student referendum:

On the receipt by the EO [Executive Officer] of a petition expressly declaring no confidence in the Board, signed by at least 1% of Students, the EO must hold a referendum on the question.

This comes off the back of a controversial move by the ruling Progress-Connect coalition to expel three Board Directors in October: Ashley Jayasuriya of Activate, and Ella Shaw and Arabella Wauchope of Unite. Jayasuriya and Shaw were elected to the Board at the end of 2019 for a two-year term which was unexpectedly cut short.

Progress is a student political party which held a majority in the AUU Board in 2020 as a result of their coalition with Connect. They retained their one-seat majority after the last student elections due to the renewal of this coalition.

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Pictured: Excerpt from the petition delivered to the AUU Executive Officer.

“Never seen more division”

Campaigners for the referendum, including Jayasuriya, argue that the Board’s failure to affiliate the Women’s Collective with the AUU, a relatively meagre COVID-19 assistance package compared to other SA universities, and this latest purge of student representatives, are why students should vote to recall the Board.

“The AUU Board is corrupt with power, and needs a reset”, said Jayasuriya, speaking on their behalf. “This year has seen a lot of changes; moves to online learning, new restrictions on how communities can interact, and for most of us, some form of hardship.

“At times like these, one would think that student representatives should come together. Instead, we’ve never seen more division.”

Jayasuriya criticized the Board for passing gag rules which prevented candidates from commenting about the most recent election publicly on social media, and banning campaigning pages on Facebook:

“While most of us are natives of social media and connecting online, the AUU Board decided that no students should be able to talk about elections publicly online. This came after finally deciding to even hold online elections, which were pushed back to end of semester because of a lack of desire to allow students overseas and in Roseworthy and Waite to vote.”

Jayasuriya is also one of the founders of the popular Facebook group, Things To Do At Adelaide U, and former President of the UoA Games Club.

Trumped-up charges

The three expelled Board Directors were removed on charges of “misconduct”, per section 9.5 of the Constitution. If a three-quarters absolute majority vote is passed in two consecutive AUU meetings, elected officials may be impeached and removed from office under the clause. Jayasuriya claims neither he nor Shaw were given any further reason for their impeachment:

“The AUU Board has done so many things that I’m not even allowed to speak about, because of their abuse of the in-camera function, where discussed matters are not released to the public.

“I can say I am now no longer a Board Director, but I can’t even comment as to why. This is a board that needlessly keeps secrets from the very people they are meant to represent…”

Though Progress has characterized itself as “apolitical”, Jayasuriya believes that Progress’ coalition with Connect has made itself evident in motions of consistent support for the current state and Federal Liberal governments, and condemnation of the opposition:

“When students were being affected by financial hardship, they did nothing to support the groups lobbying for financial support for all students to the government itself, and instead wasted time going after student volunteers who were trying to help the community.”

The referendum’s process, quorum and implications, as described by section 23.3, are:

The Student Elected Directors of the Board will cease to hold office upon the declaration of the EO that: at least 7% of Students cast valid votes; and a majority by at least 7% of those voting cast valid votes expressed no confidence in the Board.

Finally, according to section 23.4, new elections are to ensue:

If Student Elected Directors cease to hold office pursuant to clause 23.3 above, the EO must conduct an election to fill the vacant positions on the recalled Board within 20 academic days of the Student Elected Directors ceasing to hold office.

Though the petition has been submitted to the AUU’s Executive Officer, Gary Sutherland, there is no indication yet when the referendum will be held, and whether it will be done in-person or online.

Last minute lockout

Last night, the AUU Board held an emergency meeting to “address the Constitution”, according to Unite Board Director Billy Zimmermann. Notice was sent to Board members at 10:50 pm, five minutes after entrance to the university had been locked down. As such, Zimmermann was unable to attend the meeting, and believes this was an intentional move by Progress and Connect to remove him from any deliberations. On Dit cannot confirm or deny that the meeting was directly related to the upcoming referendum, but acknowledges that notice was sent after receipt of the petition.

A house divided

This morning, a Facebook post made on behalf of the Women’s Collective executive announced they had supported the petition. However, SRC Women’s Officer Georgia Honan, who is the de facto President of the Collective per its affiliation with the Student Representative Council, has repudiated the post.

“I would like to make it clear that neither I, as SRC Women’s Officer and the President of Women’s Collective, or any of the executive members of Women’s Collective, support this statement”, she wrote on the SRC’s Facebook page.

“Having just elected Angela Qin, who is a strong, intelligent and capable woman, also an international Chinese student to its Presidency, the suggestion that our Board has ‘no respect for women’ is false and misleading.

“It is undemocratic to dissolve a freshly-elected board when their first meeting wasn’t even held. As Women’s Officer, I have full confidence in our AUU board, and I am looking forward to seeing the great things they will do in the coming year.”

A member of Women’s Collective who wishes to remain anonymous had this to say:

“What motivated us was the continuous disregard by members of the Board to operate in the interests of students. Examples include unilaterally deciding which clubs get affiliation based on personal connections and opinions rather than the criteria, removing Board members who do not agree with them, and holding meetings in-camera so that students have no idea what their representatives are doing.

“The fact that there is no mechanism for democratically filling vacancies, on the Board and SRC as well, further provides motivation for a campus-wide referendum that’ll wipe the slate clean.”

Members of the Women’s Collective executive have expressed their desire to disaffiliate from the SRC as part of their campaign for AUU affiliation, which would give WoCo access to the extensive resources, financial and otherwise, offered to AUU clubs.

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Pictured: The Facebook post denounced by Honan.

Newly-elected Board Director Ana Obradovic of Left Action also gave us her thoughts on the current board majority:

“The Liberals and Progress hate unions. They hate students collectively organising. We’ve always been a thorn in their sides, including defeating fee deregulation in 2014.

“As the government and bosses prepare to push through further sweeping attacks, it is no wonder their goons in the student world are trying to destroy student democracy through a variety of dodgy and authoritarian means.

“Recalling a student election is a way for us to fight back and save the union.”

Neither AUU Board President Angela Qin, nor SRC President Oscar Ong, could be reached for comment.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. On Dit will bring you the events as they unfold.

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