The Monash Student Association (MSA) is in meltdown after members of its ruling clique sidelined rivals from running in forthcoming elections while paying a factional associate and adviser to ALP Senator Gavin Marshall $32,000 to oversee the poll.
While Crikey is usually loath to dip its finger back into the cesspit of student politics, damning details have emerged this week that MSA President Lauren O’Dwyer, a fellow-traveller in Senator Marshall’s Socialist Left faction, secretly registered all rival tickets, including the name “Liberal”, to eliminate competition in the September 20-23 vote.
The elections are now in crisis with bitter O’Dwyer rival and campus Liberal Party President Ben Kunstler lodging a series of complaints with the University’s feared Electoral Tribunal.
Following a ruling yesterday, a make-up registration day will be held on Friday. A separate appeal to push back the poll has been dismissed.
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The Clayton bearpit serves as a key funnel for professionalised political talent, with many former office bearers later ruling over everyday Australians in State and Federal parliaments. Former Treasurer Peter Costello famously cut his teeth at Monash in an alliance with right wing of the Labor Party which persists to the present day.
Six weeks ago, O’Dwyer hired Marshall staffer Gavin Ryan as Returning Officer for the elections, replacing Greens in-house psephologist Stephen Luntz. Ryan formerly held O’Dwyer’s position as MSA president in 1998 and hails from the same Left factional grouping, which campaigns at Monash under the generic name “Go!”. Variations on the faction have controlled the union for nine of the last 13 years.
Kunstler told Crikey that an email normally sent to advise of the looming re-registration period, that enables the previous year’s tickets to keep their names, failed to appear this year. He claims that with their opponents in the dark, O’Dwyer and offsider Sheldon Oski helped themselves to names including ‘Liberal’, ‘Clayton Jewish Students’, ‘Connect’, ‘Unity’, ‘Free Parking’ and ‘Pirates Rrrrr Us’ in an attempt to dupe voters via a preference scam.
At the end of the registration period, only the Labor Left and Trotskyite cult Socialist Alternative held tickets, with independent, Labor Right and grassroots left groupings denied representation.
Kunstler said: “Go! is always very nervous when it comes to ensuring their control for another year. They have shown themselves willing to use plenty of dirty tactics in the past and have been taken to court in previous years for their behaviour.”
Under official election rules, the Returning Officer must advise of the elections and re-registration period seven weeks before the poll on the MSA website, on noticeboards and campus kiosks. However, as of this morning, the website remained un-updated.
The well-regarded Ryan dismissed the allegations, saying he had extensively advertised the elections on noticeboards in the union, in student newspaper Lot’s Wife and in other prominent locations throughout the Clayton campus.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s [Kunstler] missed out. It seems normally cognisant people have not taken as much attention as they should. It’s all quite bizarre.”
He rejected allegations of a Labor Left conspiracy theory, saying that he was familiar with student politicians from across the political spectrum. And to underline his impartiality, Ryan said that O’Dwyer’s group had appealed to the Tribunal against his decision to re-open registrations.
It is understood Ryan did a good job administering last year’s election at the Labor Left-controlled La Trobe SRC, which he will again oversee this year. According to the minutes of the Monash Student Council meeting held on July 16, O’Dwyer was “strongly in favour” of accepting Ryan’s quote after grafting positive intelligence from her associates at La Trobe. She said Ryan’s “institutional knowledge” was crucial to the decision to write out the $32,450 cheque.
However, others have suggested that Ryan’s hiring was payback for a controversial 2008 Stephen Luntz ruling that led to a life ban for former Labor Left president Julian Campbell and his associate’s subsequent shaming in Federal Parliament. That year, Campbell and Alan Griffin electorate officer Mat Hilakari published a hate poster claiming a rival candidate had faked a disability in order to take sick leave from the union. In fact, the rival was seriously ill.
Luntz’s ruling spilled into the Senate after the victim took her claim to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Liberal Senator Helen Kroger then assailed Hilakari under parliamentary privilege, claiming he had paid for the $60,000 settlement with student money.
Crikey attempted to contact Lauren O’Dwyer this morning for comment but she did not respond before deadline.