The Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association (PARSA) has adopted a new constitution and approved changes to electoral regulations in its most recent ordinary general meeting. These significant changes come after the dramatic Postgraduate Representative Committee elections last year, in which a motion of no confidence resulted in the elected President being removed from his new position four hours after his appointment.
Questions have been raised regarding the lack of participation of the postgraduate community, as only thirty-seven out of eleven thousand postgraduate students partook in the vote at the OGM. Furthermore, at the time of that OGM, the proposed constitution was only a draft, yet members of the PARSA Constitution and Electoral Regulations Committee said that after three months preparing the report and making amendments resulting from student feedback, the proposed document was in an advanced state of readiness and could be voted on.
Current PARSA President, Benjamin Niles, promoted the changes to the PARSA constitution and electoral changes as improving the accountability, stability and legitimacy of both candidates and officers. PARSA has moved to a direct election model for all positions and an optional preferential voting system, which it is hoped will build transparency. Candidates will be required to express the position they are interested in and their vision may then be considered. Two PARSA representatives suggested that in the old system it may have been advantageous to not declare one’s intentions in advance and thus the change was welcome.
The alterations also establish an independent Disputes Committee, define an electoral offence, and outline the methods of removing Postgraduate Representative Committee members. Key positional eligibility criteria were developed, with explicit provisions that the International Officer be an international student and the Indigenous Australian Officer identify as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Niles recognized that these provisions might result in only a few people running or someone well-qualified being ineligible for these positions, but these risks are said to be outweighed by an assurance of accurate representation and advocacy.
The accepted changes also establish the option for nominees to run on tickets. A ticket refers to a single election choice which fills more than one political office or seat. That is, two candidates may be elected together on a single ballot. It was recognized that this is a tool of transparency that has already been informally occurring and resolves the difficulties faced by students running as groups.
Concerns were raised about the compatibility of direct elections and Apollo, the software used to cast votes online. PARSA Treasurer, Chris Wilson, indicated that the Association is presently discussing this with Apollo. It was also suggested in the OGM that PARSA does not want to be constrained to only one software.
PARSA elections will be held at the AGM in May, in accordance with the new constitution. A full set of the constitutional changes can be viewed online at the PARSA website: parsa.anu.edu.au