Student Council In Turmoil

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Just the Facts

Student Council at Flinders has been quite a peaceful one by the standards of student politics. That is, until the events of recent weeks. There have been disturbances such as the controversy late last year over the proposed Empire Times regulations, but nothing of the level this has reached since FUSA’s start in 2012.

Education Officer, Jack Harrison, and General Secretary Genevieve Danenberg have both left student council following a tumultuous period of political disturbances.

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The current makeup of FUSA Student Council has the group drawn up into three groups. The Labor factions who you would have seen campaign in their green Activate shirts (the Left), and Fresh in their orange shirts (the Right). At the last elections, Activate swept to power, with Hamish Richardson, Sarah Polanco, Amy Huepauff, Genevieve Danenberg, Jack Harrison, Christopher Norman, and Joshua Sunman winning their positions. The current editors of Empire Times joined the ticket, as did Caleb Pattinson, Angela Tomarelli, Prash Magandren, Alex Chen, Ali Roush, and Christine Bennetts, all of whom went on to win their positions. Fresh is represented on SC by Jason Byrne, Jordan O’Reilly, Alfred Lowe, and Sean Lamonby. Grace Hill campaigned under the Student Voice ticket and remains an independent.

Harrison, a member of National Labor Students (a group representative of the left wing of the Labor party who campaigned as Activate in election week) resigned following a series of rumours.

When questioned by Empire Times, members of the Activate caucus (a broad-left collection of individuals from Labor Left and independents) were evasive or refused to comment. Empire Times has been told by a few sources that former University Council member Leon Cermak informed other members of NLS of our attempts to reach him for comment and requested all members not to provide us with any comment. Cermak refuted the claim when approached.

Empire Times has approached all members of SC for comment. The majority have declined comment. Some independents have stated they don’t know enough to comment.

 

Hill declined to comment.

Richardson declined to comment.

Sunman declined to comment.

Polanco declined to comment.

Huepauff declined to comment

Norman declined to comment.

 

Jack Harrison took an NLS policy to executive (a smaller section of student council made up of President, Welfare, Accessibility, and Education Officers, plus General Secretary and others elected to it) that would effectively have FUSA condemn Parallel Importation Restrictions. He later amended this to read that FUSA’s executive condemned PIRs. Whatever came of this at executive, it would remain necessary for this to be put up at the full student council.

PIRs enforce restrictions that enable local publishers to locally print books. This makes books more expensive in some cases, but may also help to sure up local jobs. NLS favours retaining these restrictions, whilst the Labor Right faction, Unity (who campaigned as the orange-shirted Fresh team) favours the abolition of the regulations.

A motion was put forward by Jason Byrne and subsequently passed that Harrison would be condemned and thus forced to apologise. He did this but was informed that an apology was not enough despite assurances. Believing his position to be impossible to continue, Harrison put in his resignation. Genevieve Danenberg subsequently joined her partner in resignation from student council.

According to Danenberg, Harrison attempted to open up communication with Pattinson ‘many times’, later trying to ‘facilitate a meeting with a mediator’ when this fell through. She also states that Harrison organised a meeting with Pattinson the day before the meeting that saw the end of Harrison’s time on student council. Pattinson cancelled the meeting and did not provide a reason.

Pattinson stated that ‘mediation was being organised’ between him and Harrison at the time of the resignations. This was to be held with the aid of ‘an unbiased party’. Pattinson indicated he did not believe Harrison was aware of his attempt to begin mediation. He added that ‘making sure we are representing the student cohort’ was his primary concern. ‘I would rather have seen [Harrison] focus his energy on running a campaign for fair and accessible higher education’.

When asked whether another eventuality was possible, Pattinson simply stated that ‘ultimately, it is a personal decision to resign from council’.

Environment officer Ali Roush was approached for comment and stated it was her belief that ‘resignations of some kind were inevitable before the council could go back to functioning properly’. Danenberg’s stated her view was that her working relationship with other SC members ‘could not be repaired’.

All of this occurred prior to the student council meeting. Empire Times has been informed that the discussions turned towards Harrison’s alleged resistance to allow independents into Activate, a particular case being student president Pattinson. Harrison says that he was ‘absolutely welcoming’ of Pattinson and ‘offered to meet up’ to ‘talk more about it’. Pattinson, however, ‘wouldn’t have any of it’, according to Harrison.

Women’s Officer, and Independent councillor Angela Tomarelli, confirmed to Empire Times that Pattinson ‘called Christine [Bennetts], Prash [Magandren], Alex [Chen], Ali [Roush] and [herself] into a room 30 minutes before the meeting’. There he said he ‘couldn’t work with this council’ and had ‘decided to quit’. He had a letter in his possession in which he had drafted a resignation. Tomarelli says she asked him at this point whether his resignation claim was genuine, or whether he was just playing politics’. She states that Pattinson’s response was to say ‘I can’t believe you would even ask me that’, and then to ‘storm out’ of the room.

Empire Times was present at this student council meeting, and at no point during the meeting did Pattinson refer to a potential resignation on his part. Tomarelli says she was ‘blown away by the unprofessionalism of a good portion of [her] fellow SC members’. Madeleine Seppelt, Director of Events and Engagement was present initially. She delivered a presentation to which less than half of the council attended.

Danenberg stated that she left student council out of a belief she ‘could not work constructively with the majority of the council’, adding that she ran in the elections to ‘improve student life and atmosphere on campus’, and that as she believes ‘many members of council do not share these intentions’ and don’t have ‘students’ best interests at heart’, she felt it necessary to resign.

Student council members Josh Sunman, Hamish Richardson, Christopher Norman, Simone Jowett, and Sarah Polanco (all from Activate) have all stated that they will not speak on the record regarding the resignations of two of their colleagues. In the case of the five aforementioned student council members, they are colleagues within the same factional caucus. Josh Sunman is in fact the Empire Times liaison for 2016 but has declined to help ET in repeated attempts to find the truth of Activate’s actions. Sunman’s silence is hardly surprising as an Activate insider states he was the one who instigated the vote getting rid of Harrison.

Hamish Richardson declined to comment on why NLS was late to the student council meeting on February 2, that heralded the end of Harrison’s and Danenberg’s respective terms. NLS missed the entirety of the presentation by Madeleine Seppelt, and were also late to the student council meeting afterwards.

 

Comment

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The current problems of student council at Flinders are significant. Claims and counter-claims shoot around from some quarters, whilst others remain steadfastly silent in the face of inquiry.

A source inside NLS describes the faction as a ‘shambles’, stating that in an unheard turn of events, senior members of NLS have been ‘intervening’ in ‘an attempt to fix’ the faction at Flinders. Deanna Taylor, former National Union of Students president and senior National Labor Students member, with Emily Gore (Young Labor Left South Australian Convener) have been parachuted into Flinders in a desperate attempt to salvage the ailing faction.

Furthermore, ET has been informed that Activate no longer accepts independents in their number, restricting the membership to the Left-wing NLS faction.

An Activate source tips Simone Jowett (Ex-SC, current Uni Council) to run for General Secretary and Richardson to take more of the recently-ousted Harrison’s positions by running for Education Officer in the upcoming by-election triggered by the departures. Richardson stands to gain a great deal from Harrison’s resignation.

It certainly appears that Activate is not keen to allow their members much freedom, as ET was unable to approach Activate member Sarah Polanco without Richardson present. Before any questions were asked, Richardson stated that any answer from Activate would be ‘no comment’, regardless of the question.

When asked whether Harrison’s resignation was a foreseen consequence of the recent events in Flinders student politics, the silence in response was deafening. Hamish Richardson declined even to comment on why NLS was late to the student council meeting in February, that heralded the end of Harrison’s and Danenberg’s respective terms.

Richardson is the convener of Activate but been unable or unwilling to help Danenberg and Harrison, his factional comrades. He now has the highest position in Activate after Harrison’s departure. It has been claimed that Richardson was ‘ringing around [the day of the SC meeting] to get the numbers against [Harrison]’.

Jason Byrne, member of the orange-shirted Fresh faction, was approached for comment. Unlike all Activate members, he gave a response. When asked if Harrison’s near-forced resignation was a punishment fitting of the crime, Byrne responded that ‘student unions must be held to high standards in integrity and transparency’. Empire Times is in agreement with Byrne in so far as that’s important. This FUSA student council has utterly failed on both counts. The council has hidden its dealings from the students and from student media. They have been stunningly unrepresentative, they have failed tests of integrity and they are unarguably deeply invested in opposing transparency in an effort to hide their dubious dealings.

Byrne opposed Harrison’s condemnation of PIRs, as this is the stance taken by Student Unity. He also criticises the methods Harrison took in his pursuit of the policy. Byrne was out of the country at the time Harrison produced the motion. The fact that Harrison took the motion to the Executive Committee is another point Byrne objects to as Executive exists to ‘transact the business’ of FUSA, ‘on behalf of the Student Council, on urgent matters’ believed to be impossible to be delayed until the next Student Council meeting, according to the FUSA constitution (12.2).

Women’s Officer, Angela Tomarelli believes ‘factionalism… to be the driving factor behind most of this’. She states her belief ‘the animosity towards Jack took up most of the discussion’ and that she feels ‘very strongly’ the treatment of ‘Jack and Gen in this instance was unfair’.

‘There were so many backroom, behind-closed-doors “caucus” discussion and most councillors were not informed at all as to what was going on’, Tomarelli says of the student council in the lead-up to the resignations.

This is a student council unable to communicate within itself, and even seemingly unwilling to do so. Transparency is not something they hope for, or will act towards, simply because it will not show them in a good light in this instance. Student council is not working to represent Flinders students so long as this is their approach to politics, and not willing to be accountable so long as this is their approach to the media.

The test of transparency of the student council was this. All agreed to transparency in principal but once there was something to hide, it became a matter student politicians pulling editors aside to tell them they would issue no comment on the matter. Two office bearers have resigned due to feeling unable to continue working in the environment of student council, and with the people on student council. This is a time for transparency. This is a time for which student media was created. This is the time that members of the Activate caucus are trying to prevent us from doing our job by a considered campaign of silence.

Present on campus at many of the key moments has been Alison Taylor, who holds no current official position in student council, university council, NLS, or the National Union of Students but has apparent influence on student politics.

All things considered, there is one unavoidable fact: two democratically elected office-bearers have left, feeling unable to continue and have been all but removed, and the party responsible for doing this is so lacking in transparency and accountability, they refuse to let students know why.

 

 

 

Finally, Empire Times wishes to acknowledge that Genevieve Danenberg is the sister of editor Eleanor Danenberg. All research and writing was undertaken by Liam McNally with edits conducted without Eleanor Danenberg. She did not play any part in the writing, editing, research, or production of this article.