It is uncommon to see drama in student politics unfolding this early in the University year, however unscrupulous electoral practices and questionable conduct undertaken by incumbent candidates have surfaced during the ANU Sport and Recreation Association (ANU Sport) Elections this week.
ANU Sport elections have been uneventful in the past. Elections are rarely contested, with little media attention and poor voter turnout. Leadership positions are not often challenged: the current President, John Beaton, has held the position for a decade, and Neil Parsons has held the position of Treasurer for the past 14 years.
Investigations undertaken by Woroni have found that ANU Sport do not currently have regulations to govern the election process, despite this being recommended in recent governance reviews. This has meant that all rules for the election are decided at the sole discretion of Returning Officer, Dr Mervyn Aston.
Woroni is not aware of any past electoral issues due to the relatively uncontested nature of previous elections. However, questions have been raised by members of the ‘Your ANU Sport’ ticket regarding the integrity of the process this year in light of the lack of precedent for dealing with contested elections.
The most prominent issue raised by candidates concerns the last minute decision to split the elections over a period of two weeks, with the executive being elected in the first week and the general council being elected thereafter.
While the election notice originally provided for elections to occur over one week, a notice was circulated last week by Returning Officer Aston on 9th March. Members were informed that polling for executive positions would be held this week from 17th until 19th March, with polling for ordinary member positions to be held between 23rd and 25th March. It appears this decision was made without prior warning, and candidates have indicated that they were not consulted prior to receiving the notice.
In correspondence with the candidates, Aston wrote that “acting without a recognisable set of electoral regulations has its challenges…[it] is something I have been asking for sometime”.
“All I can do is use precedent and to follow commonly used guidelines”.
‘Your ANU Sport’ Presidential candidate and ticket convener Michael Pettersson told Woroni that he felt the decision discouraged student voter participation. He stated that “it’s hard to persuade students to vote. On top of that, I can’t imagine having to persuade someone to vote twice for the same organisation within a week.”
John Beaton, Presidential candidate for Sustainable SRA, in response to email queries made by Woroni, stated that “the splitting of the voting is of no concern or interest to me”. Campaign managers could not provide the phone number of any candidate.
The elections will use a ‘first past the post’ polling system; a system that is often considered to favour stability and incumbency. All other ANU student elections, including that of ANUSA, Woroni, The Union, and PARSA, are run using some form of preferential voting. No Australian Parliament currently uses the ‘first past the post’ system.
Woroni has also learnt that an ANU Sport meeting was held on the evening of 16th March. The current ANU Sport Executive, and the Presidents and Treasurers of ANU Sport associated clubs and societies were in attendance. The upcoming elections were discussed towards the end of the meeting, with the incumbent executive distributing campaign flyers encouraging ANU Sport members to vote for “skilled and experienced management”. The executive also gave a speech in favour of their ticket, while also directly discouraging members from voting for ‘Your ANU Sport’.
ANUSA General Secretary and ANU Union Deputy Chair Megan Lane has told Woroni that she “received no notice of last night’s ANU Sport meeting” despite being the ANUSA Undergraduate Representative on the ANU Sport Council. Lane went on to state that “it appears some candidates were present at the meeting and used it as a forum to slam student candidates”. Woroni understands that Pettersson, a current ANU Sport Councillor, also received no notification of the meeting.
The ANU Sport Council is made up of nine positions: three executive positions of President, Vice-President, and Treasurer, and six Ordinary Council Members. In 2014, two Ordinary Council Member positions were held by ANU student Michael Pettersson and then student Emily Cheyne.*
The ‘Your ANU Sport’ ticket is running on a platform of student governance for student money, arguing that the current executive does not represent nor serve the best interests of students.
The ‘Sustainable SRA’ ticket, comprised of incumbent and new candidates, are running on “skills and business experience to govern the SRA effectively for the benefit of all students and members”. While no member of the ticket is a current student, their campaign is being managed by students.
Voting is open for executive positions from 17th until 19th of March, and for Ordinary Council positions between 23rd and 25th March.
Jacob Ingram is the Deputy Editor-In-Chief of Woroni, and a member of the Australian Labor Party. Anna Kaufmann is a News Correspondent with Woroni.
*Editor’s Note (23/03/15): An earlier version of this article stated that Emily Cheyne is a current student of the Australian National University. This article has since been amended to correct this. We apologise for this error.