Allegations have emerged regarding an endemic culture of favouritism and a lack of transparency within the Women’s Department. This follows the rejection of ANUSA General Representative Em Roberts’ nomination for the position of Women’s Officer. Woroni has obtained leaked official minutes from that meeting, held on the 17th of August, which indicate that the only other nomination, Linnea Smith, is now the Women’s Officer-elect.
At the meeting, the validity of Em Roberts’ nomination for Women’s Officer was deliberated upon. In this instance, only the Women’s Collective – members of the Department who have attended at least three meetings within the academic calendar – are allowed to nominate themselves for, or vote on, the Officer position as per section 8.1.3 of the ANU Women’s Department Constitution. According to claims from Roberts, chronic illness and educational commitments prevented her from fulfilling this obligation. However, Roberts maintained that she has still been an adamant supporter of feminist causes on campus throughout the year.
“I contended that my eligibility was legitimate because of the contributions I have made to the Department,” Roberts said.
“I have run Pledge events at Ursula Hall for the last three years, and in doing so have helped the Department connect with the residents of my college.”
According to section 8.3.1 of the Women’s Department Constitution, the obligation to attend three meetings can be negated if the candidate has valid cause to miss meetings, but this is largely discretionary. Roberts’ nomination motion was only voted upon by around 15 Collective members out of close to 5,000 female undergraduates at the ANU.
Current ANUSA Women’s Officer Loren Ovens, referencing the Constitution, stated that “…the Collective found that ‘taking into account apologies and evidence of exceptional circumstances’, this did not adequately explain her absence from the constitutional requirement of three meetings.’
“The Women’s Collective found that her ineligibility could not be waived. This decision was affirmed by the independent ANUSA Disputes Committee,” Ovens said.
Joe Dodds, Chair of the Disputes Committee, said that “the decision was made in regards to a sensitive topic and we acknowledge that. However, we believe that we made the correct decision based on the submissions and the constitutional texts.”
The minutes indicated that this was the first time in several years that the position had been contested. According to these minutes, Ovens told those present that “in previous years we’ve had one nomination for Women’s Officer go forward for election from the Collective after a process of internal lobbying.”
This means that, unknown to the vast majority of women at ANU, public candidates for Women’s Officer have only been put forward following a faction-style preselection. Roberts contends that the Collective has been deciding internally on the Women’s Officer, rather than women of the ANU engaging in a democratic process. For the most recent election, the minutes say that four candidates from within the Collective originally expressed interest, and after a process of exclusive deliberation, Smith was put forward.
In a comment piece published in Woroni’s Special “#hacklyf” Edition, Roberts raised serious concerns about this practice.
“The position has been so closed off from democratic process as to effectively give it to one person groomed by the Collective,” she said.
Although the vote for Roberts’ nomination initially called for a show of hands in the interest of transparency, a motion instead changed the voting method to that of a secret ballot, where Roberts’ candidacy was rejected. According to Roberts, the vote count of the result was not made available to those present, but that Ovens simply announced that the motion was defeated. This raised serious questions regarding the legitimacy of the ballot, as scrutineers were not present at the counting. Ovens has since told Woroni that the ballot has been presented to a member of the ANUSA Disputes Committee.
Roberts told Woroni that the question was approached, not as if she was eligible from a constitutional perspective, but whether the present members of the Collective believed she was the best fit for Womens Officer. Pointed questions probed both her ability to be a better Officer than Smith, and how she had been able to function in other aspects of student life if she was indeed ill.
Yet Roberts’ claims of illness were substantiated: “At the end of O-Week this year I was taken to hospital and was found to have acute appendicitis. While in hospital, blood tests revealed that I also had glandular fever.”
Smith, who became Officer-elect following the meeting, was not only given the opportunity to vote on the candidacy of her rival, but also spoke against it.
Another point of contention was the election for the position of Treasurer of the Department. Although the vote for Roberts’ nomination claim was only open to members of the Collective, all the women who attended were able to cast an open vote for treasurer position, which occurred immediately after Roberts’ unsuccessful motion. Furthermore, Roberts contends that Amelia Dowey, who was elected uncontested, was not yet an active member of the Department. The Constitution makes no indication that the Treasurer needs to be an active member, or that only active members are allowed to vote on their election.
Woroni has noted from its copy of the minutes that the names of those present at the Department meeting have not been properly redacted. The Women’s Department has stated its attendance lists are kept secret to ensure a safe space for its members and to maintain the autonomy of the Department. However, while their names have been covered in black highlight, copying and pasting the document into a text file reveals the names of those present.
At the time of publication, Linnea Smith could not be reached for comment.