Prominent student leaders at the University of Queensland have backed an inquiry to uncover alleged skulduggery during this week’s union elections as the UQ administration holds talks to probe the saga threatening to blot its St Lucia campus with the stench of corruption.
An open letter uploaded to the web over the weekend and signed by 25 student leaders from groups across the campus political spectrum, condemns the ruling “Fresh” group for changing party registration rules and then secretly reserving the name of their main progressive rival, Pulse.
“The impending UQU election has seen claims and counterclaims of electioneering, attempted voter fraud and misconduct,” the signatories write. “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.”
Last Thursday, the UQ Electoral Tribunal found current Fresh office bearers were not in breach of the rules — however, a former tribunal member, Graeme Orr, has since broken ranks to say that the panel was hamstrung by its limited frame of reference that prohibited an assessment over whether the changes were just.
The letter slams the union’s record keeping as inadequate and says minutes and financial statements — and the controversial changes to the regs — have been opaque and limited in their distribution. The minutes of the August 10 meeting authorising the new rules are yet to be released.
University officials are today meeting with senior UQU office bearers to conduct their own investigation into the fracas, which opposition groups have slammed as an affront to democracy.
Fresh presidential candidate (and current vice-president) Rohan Watt — whose name appears on the invoices — declined to comment this morning, but Fresh president Colin Finke said Watt had reimbursed the union for the purchases out of his own pocket. Under federal law, student unions are banned from using student money to pay for political expenditure.
The UQ Union constitution also specifically rules out expenditure “on any political party or religious organisation. The assets and income of the union shall be applied exclusively to the promotion of its objects,” the rules say, which rules out party-political and re-election expenditure.
The letter claims the source of specific election expenditure remains murky and unexplained.
“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 earned from leasing university property,” it reads.
Voting is being held this week — if the university doesn’t call a halt to proceedings first.