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University of Qld students rebel over ‘corrupt’ election

Fierce protests have rocked the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus after the ruling Liberal clique changed regulations to ensure this week’s union election was a one-horse race.

Right-wing office bearers led by UQU president Colin Finke passed secret alterations to union regulations that allowed opposition groups to maintain their name for 10 years. The change effectively means that every group aside from Fresh has been disqualified before a ballot has even been cast.

Rival tickets only discovered that nominations opened last week for the poll, and had just four days to put together their pitch. But when left-leaning opposition ticket Pulse scrambled to register its slate of 25 candidates, it found — after nominations had closed — that “Pulse” and a grab-bag of other names had already been registered by Young Liberal-National Party members aligned to Finke’s Fresh. Pulse candidates were forced to run as independents below the line but many have now withdrawn in protest.

Young Liberal and LNP forces have controlled the $16 million UQ union since 2008. It is a conservative island amid a sea of left-leaning student unions across the country and receives millions in funding each year from the university to pay the salaries of its elected office bearers.

Current vice president Rohan Watt is Fresh’s presidential candidate for the $36,000-a-year sinecure, however much of the back room machinations are believed to have been carried out by long-running secretary, and campus Liberal Club president, Brodie Thompson. Watt was pitted against Pulse’s Abraham O’Neill for the top job.

The election’s returning officer, Alexa Faros-Dowling, is a Caboolture gym manager. According to Pulse vice presidential candidate Gianni Sottile, Faros-Dowling ruled his ticket had been rejected because of the changes passed at a UQ union council meeting on August 10 (read Thompson and Finke’s motion in the agenda here). It altered the “10-year rule” to a new system to protect a name from being used. The new form can be submitted before nominations are called and unbeknown to their rivals, Fresh acolytes had already swooped.

Sottile slammed the sequence of events as “an illegitimate process … I think they’re institutionally corrupt”. He says yesterday’s protest is merely a forerunner and says the campus is building to a mass convergence next Wednesday. Sottile says the university’s administration”has taken an interest, and we really hope that they do act”.

When Crikey called Finke to seek comment yesterday the phone answerer’s voice could not be heard over the shouts of aggrieved activists. He ignored a request for comment.

Each year the union elects paid and unpaid candidates to positions including president, secretary, treasurer, six vice presidents, union council and other unpaid office bearers. Elected students are meant to serve the campus’ 40,000 students and oversee more that 120 clubs and societies at Queensland’s oldest and most respected institution of higher learning.

University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Mick McManus told Crikey the “UQ Union represents student interests as a separate entity from The University of Queensland, which is right and proper”.

The University is concerned to ensure that issues having a significant impact on its students are considered in full and addressed appropriately. The University takes all student complaints seriously, and will be working to resolve these matters with the individuals involved, and with UQU,” he said.

The rough and tumble of the UQU sandpit has been a training ground to some of Australia’s most prominent politicians, including former Queensland premier Anna Bligh. Wyatt Roy once ran for arts councillor, and others from the Fresh era have gone on to work for senior state and federal MPs.

Controversy has dogged UQ Union elections in the past. Crikey has been told that last year ballot boxes were “locked” in a room over the weekend before counting. When other ticket scrutineers rocked up on the Monday morning, boxes had been opened and ballots “sorted” and bundled prior to their arrival.

But Fresh’s reign is a beacon to numerous coalition MPs. During last year’s debate over voluntary student unionism, Queensland Senator Brett Mason praised UQU for its “thriving student life”.

George Brandis, a former UQ student, was even more aggressive, saying Pulse should be renamed “Stale”. ”As I said, this is the fifth year in a row — five out of five — since freedom was introduced at the University of Queensland Student Union, that the Fresh team were overwhelmingly endorsed by the student body,” he gloated.

Last year, Brandis offered a summary of the 2011 Liberal landslide, remarking that “a more comprehensive slaughter of the forces of compulsion by the forces of freedom could scarcely be imagined”. The Senator’s media officer is 2009 Fresh secretary Luke Walker.

Fresh’s dubious tactics recall a similar incident at the University of Melbourne in 2002 when left-wing activists were forced to change their name by deed poll after a ruling that only clubs affiliated to the student union could run in elections. The clubs had been secretly disaffiliated by Labor Right forces.

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  • 1
    DMX PRIME
    Posted Monday, 20 August 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    God I’m glad I’m out of student politics. I loved the union, and I loved being on the staff, but the baby politicians where utterly unbearable.

    It was terrifying looking at the junior wings of the parties and think that one day these little sociopaths would one day be our leaders.

    I saw a great union with a decade long tradition of almost entirely non party aligned reps being voted in torn limb to limb by a party I’ll decline to mention deciding it wanted our NUS spots and then running 50 candidates for the 10 seats all crossing the beams on their preferences , gaining control, firing half the staff (including people who had been there for decades in positions utterly unrelated to student politics) replacing them with personal appointments from the new president and then changing the rules to disqualify all the independents who had worked for years to make it a great organiation.

    Absolute travesty. And here we see it happening in QLD too.

  • 2
    The Old Bill
    Posted Monday, 20 August 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes, the training ground of our future politicians, University politics. No wonder we can’t get anyone decent to run federally. Even at student level, it is all back stabbing and back room machinations, rather than serving the people who “elect” you.

  • 3
    john2066
    Posted Monday, 20 August 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Its really ironic that liberal students are running a union which largely gets its money from compulsory dues and government.

    Seriously, this argument is a great great argument for fully voluntary student unionism. The alternative always always leads to a mess.

  • 4
    henriporte
    Posted Monday, 20 August 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    As the scandals at UQ go from bad to worse, it does raise the question: at what point will the university step in to restore the integrity of this once great organisation?

  • 5
    beachcomber
    Posted Monday, 20 August 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Campbell Newman will try this on at the next election. He’s already kicked the Opposition out of the Parliamentary precint, cut the number of Opposition MPs on Committees so that he always has the numbers, kicked the cameras out of Parliament, started charging the media to use rooms in Parliament, and scrapped Public Funding of elections. It’s not a huge jump to legislate a One Party state.

  • 6
    Tall Poppy
    Posted Monday, 20 August 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    ‎***The entire university needs an ethic cleansing — namely in the form of a ROYAL COMMISSION — from Coal $eam Ga$ and the $mart $tate Institutes to the $chool of Medicine and the Regi$trar$ and $enator$… an empowered student body with switched-on representation could definitely facilitate this (because the faculty/staff and the university’s so-called ethics reforms certainly won’t — and the internal investigations director was just made redundant if you didn’t already know!), so keep up the good fight and do whatever you can to keep publicly exposing the university’s dirty laundry and confront the powers-that-shouldn’t-be… a ROYAL COMMISSION is the only way that UQ will ever be made right again and sustainable***

    It’s pretty obvious that UQ is feral on every level, from the student body govt to the chancellory… no wonder people like ex-VC and his daughters (yes there are 2) have been able to get away with their dodgy doings for so long — the rubberstamp student govt doesn’t hold the maladministration accountable at all! They’re all just a bunch of rich, parochial private school kids and daft international students riding off their parents who also went to UQ and/or the reputation of the university…

    The university truly is the (in)breeding ground for all that is wrong with Queensland society and politics, if not Australia on the whole (yep, the governor general and the federal treasurer are UQ alumni too — but would that adversely affect a ROYAL COMMISSION?) … but the above-the-law elitism, conflicts of interest and coverups are to be expected from a sandstoned uni that was founded by the blood monies of a lawless serial killer!

  • 7
    Tall Poppy
    Posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    The student government should serve as an important check-n-balance to the University, but that’s obviously not been happening for the last ~6 years (the same time period that the UQ admin has gone feral) … it’s all related but no one wants to see/admit that because the truth is confronting, and nobody wants to jeopardize the reputation of their precious University; shameful that people put their self-interested bottom-line before the greater good and the truth, but sadly that is to be expected from irreverent, anti-whistleblowing Australia.

    This election debacle is just the tip of the iceberg — the problems are systemic at UQ and have been for a very long time. The student body should wake up to that fact, and the Union could really be a much-needed catalyst for change (like it used to be decades ago!), but only if the leaders are willing to step up to actually hold themselves AND the University accountable.

  • 8
    jordan ketty
    Posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

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  • 9
    Simon Roberts
    Posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I see your moderation is working well Crikey! ^

    It really underlines what babies the front bench of the LibNats are. Why are they still interested in what is happening in student politics? How weird. And why is Crikey covering this? It is mind-bogglingly trivial!

  • 10
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    We breed them carefully up here in Queensland, determined to keep the ‘bent’ gene in our politically inclined.

    A smile came to my lips on learning the UQU President is a F1nke.

  • 11
    truth trooper
    Posted Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    Gee. QLD, corruption and the LNP. Not things normally associated with each other at all - pfff!

  • 12
    Warren Joffe
    Posted Wednesday, 22 August 2012 at 2:35 am | Permalink

    @Beachcomber

    Shock horror! The LNP government in Q’l’d is ensuring it has majorities on parliamentary committees! Mate, your not talking about the House of Commons (where there was at least a tradition of an Opposition MP chairing the Public Accounts Committee) but Australia. Even governments with minute majorities, like the Cain Labor government in Victoria in the 1980s, ensured it had the numbers on committees. And that is all without noting your other erroneous presumption, namely, that parliamentary committees often matter more than a row of beans. I doubt if Labor in Queensland would have enough MPs to turn up to all the committees they might join especially as they have all the shadow ministerial jobs to handle. What Campbell Newman is probably most intent on doing is making work for idle hands, giving his backbench MPs something to do.

    @Tall Poppy

    Tell us when it was, outside LaLa land, that student unions ever did a useful job of confronting grownups on anything important. Or are you remembering events of 1970 or thereabouts through
    a haze of pot smoke?

  • 13
    henriporte
    Posted Wednesday, 22 August 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    @Simon Roberts: “And why is Crikey covering this? It is mind-bogglingly trivial!”

    This attitude is exactly why it’s gotten to this stage. The Young LNP kiddies thought they were below public criticism. But after so many years, the institutional corruption has become so entrenched that people have reluctantly started to take notice.

  • 14
    Owen Gary
    Posted Thursday, 23 August 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    So the rightards are fixing the game at a student level, wow who’d have thought!!!

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