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To students and staff of the University of Queensland

,
(An open letter regarding the UQU election, from past and present students who value their vote)
On the evening of Thursday August 23, the University of Queensland Union Electoral Tribunal heard from parties with regard to claims that the incumbent party ‘Fresh’ was in breach of the electoral regulations during the nomination process for the 2012 Union elections. The Tribunal found that they were not in breach. However, this does not show that the elections will be free or fair. The Tribunal has been hamstrung by the rules they have been given - rules which have been changed by the incumbent party. The impending UQU election has seen claims and counterclaims of electioneering, attempted voter fraud and misconduct. The spread of false information (including on leaflets from unidentified sources), and the allegations regarding the actions of current Office Bearers, makes a mockery of the approximately 45,000 students that the Union represents. The opaque nature of the UQU makes it hard to ascertain the validity of some of these claims. All election nominations, Union Council meeting minutes and the regulations governing elections have not, in a genuine sense, been publicly available documents. In this day and age, tacking documents onto a notice board inside the UQU office for brief periods of time is not good enough. It is only after the University of Queensland (UQ) compelled UQU to publish its constitution and regulations that they appeared online on Thursday August 23. On the afternoon of Friday 24 August, UQU released a financial statement for the 2011 calendar year, and the minutes from the 1st meeting of the 101st UQU Council. The minutes are a damning indictment of UQU process. All motions proposed at the meeting were moved en masse and no time for discussion was provided. Further, during the period allocated for questions, no questions were taken without notice. The chairperson noted that during the period provided for questions without notice, quorum was not present. While we are pleased to see UQU releasing the minutes for at least one Council meeting, a large number of documents related to financial spending and other meetings are still not available. In particular, the minutes of the Union Council meetings at which the electoral regulations were changed are, as of Sunday 26 August, still unreleased. Given that the UQU Council is required to meet at least once a month between February and November inclusive (C20.1), we look forward to seeing the minutes of these meetings in due course. Claims of electoral manipulation (e.g. through the registration of dummy tickets) and misappropriation of funds cannot be taken lightly and must be investigated by an independent body not related to UQU. The current mechanisms are not sufficient. For instance, the process of appointing the Returning Officer (who oversees elections) is determined at the discretion of the incumbent party (see C26.3 & C27.1 of UQU Constitution). As per UQU regulations (R90.2), the selection panel is dominated by positions reserved for incumbent Office Bearers - raising concerns about the independence of such a position.

We believe that it is consistent with the University of Queensland’s commitment to transparency and accountability to require - as a condition of receipt of its funding that the position of Returning Officer for UQU elections is filled by appointment from the UQ Senate. The Officer should demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of electoral procedures and protocol and ideally should come from the Australian Electoral Commission or the Queensland Electoral Commission. The unexplained removal of a representative from the T.C Bernie School of Law on the Electoral Tribunal is also concerning. Further, there is a lack of information in regards to these offices - who currently holds them and how the dispute resolution process operates, or even how to make a complaint. No contact details of either the Returning Officer or Electoral Tribunal Registrar are available on the UQU website. The confused nature of the current election makes it difficult for students to determine which parties best represent them. When students do vote they will be provided with a single ballot sheet, akin to casting a vote ‘above-the-line’ in the Australian Senate. Current voting regulations favour group ballot tickets, to the point where students must specifically request a below-the-line form to vote for independent candidates. Most students are unaware of this and are unaware of their right to ask for ticket lists and preference lists. Notably, there is currently no information publicly available as to how parties running in the student elections pay for their campaign materials. A number of anonymous and often defamatory pamphlets and leaflets have been distributed. Students have a right to know whether or not this is paid for with university money, or money earnt from leasing university property. We, the undersigned, believe that the University of Queensland must step in and ensure independent oversight of the Union. As the provider of facilities and funding to the UQU, the University is the only body that can play a significant role in rectifying the current situation, and in ensuring that a more robust body is created which minimises the possibility of electoral gaming in the future. We call for all UQU Council meeting minutes, meeting agendas and changes to electoral regulations made in recent years to be released immediately on the UQU website. Further, the Union should make its financial statements public and submit its accounts for a complete forensic audit. Any lesser action should be interpreted as avoidance. As an unincorporated body, the UQU is exempt from many of the financial rules and regulations applied to business. As a body with a turnover of over $18m, the Union must be held more strictly to account. We believe that the UQU must incorporate immediately to ensure that proper checks and balances are in place. We note that it is the responsibility of a higher education provider (HEP), under the “Student Services, Amenities, Representation and Advocacy Guidelines” (pursuant to the Higher Education Support Act 2003), to:
3.2.2 A HEP must publish the details of the mechanisms, approved by the governing

body of that HEP, by which enrolled students are consulted and able to participate in the decision making processes of the HEP. 3.2.3 A HEP must provide enrolled students with the opportunity to participate in a process to democratically elect student representatives. 3.2.5 HEPs must have a formal process of consultation with democratically elected student representatives and representatives from major student organisations at the HEP regarding the specific uses of proceeds from any compulsory student services and amenities fee charged under section 19-38 of the Act. Consultation must include: (a) Publishing identified priorities for proposed fee expenditure and allowing opportunities to comment on those priorities by students and student associations and organisations; and (b) Meeting with democratically elected student representatives and representatives from major student organisations at the HEP to consider the priorities for use of fee revenue.

The Student Union plays an important part in the life of the students at UQ. Many clubs and societies benefit immeasurably from their services. However, much can be done to improve the transparency and accountability of this body, and this needs to happen now. The University’s current response - merely requesting the Union to release their constitution and regulations - is not sufficient.

Signed:

Daniel Carr Student Representative - Business Economics & Law Faculty Board (2011)

William Isdale President – Australian Legal Philosophy Students’ Association

Alexander McLaren President - UQ Economics Society

Brendan Kruger President - Financial Management Association of Australia (UQ)

Sam Hooshmand President - Amnesty International UQ

Amanda Wu President - Justice and the Law

Luke Furness President - UQ Law Society (2011)

Byron Hewson President - UQ Economics Society (2010)

Grace Newman President - UQ Education Society

Mikhara Ramsing Vice-President - UQ Law Society (2012)

Pawel Zielinski President - UQ Law Society (2009)

Alex Molloy Treasurer - UQ Law Society 2009

Jess Rusten President - UQ Debating Society

Lauren Humphrey Peer Assisted Study Session Coordinator, School of Economics, (2009-10)

Ben Young Valedictorian - School of Economics

Natalie Morris Communications Officer – Justice and the Law

Tim Warrick Treasurer - UQ Law Society (2011)

Anthony Smith Vice-President - UQ Debating Society

Edward Robinson President - Australian Legal Philosophy Students' Association (2010)

David Stephens Vice-President - UQ Debating Society

Frances Aaternir Vice-President - Financial Management Association of Australia (UQ) (2011)

Elizabeth Mathews UQ Law Society Medalist (2011) & Education Director, Asylum & Refugee Law Project (2011)

Edward Parslow Tutorial Coordinator – School of Economics

Ben Chochrane President - Psychology Students’ Association (2011)

Lucy Wark Vice-President – UQ Economics Society (2010)

The views expressed above are solely those of the signatories in their private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of their respective clubs or societies.