Let's talk student politics

When I first started blogging I thought it was pretty cool to express my thoughts in a public forum without any form of repression. It's a forum I hold dear to my heart to share with my friends. Lately this blog has been used as a political weapon to undermine the opportunities of certain individuals. Hence it appears that I can't be too honest with my thoughts even in a personal journal. This defeats the aim I initially had when I started the journal.

I didn't write that. Keep reading. I will take it from the top, and strive (against all my instincts) to keep it brief.

Melbourne University held its student union elections three weeks ago. The Union (MUSU) controls $12 million a year, derived mostly from the annual $400 A&S fee all students must pay. It has substantial assets as well (such as Union House) and operates many key student services. Electing student officials is not like electing state or federal representatives -- in some ways their power over your immediate environment is less important, but in many ways it's more direct.

I wrote a long, ruminative post about the 2003 MUSU elections on this site two weeks ago. Not all of it is accurate; much of it does not go far enough in its condemnation of certain parties. Still, I recommend you read it for a background, because there is an utter paucity of information available elsewhere.

The election results have not yet been announced. Counting began yesterday morning, and (I'm told) continues to an intermittent staccato rhythm.

The current regime has been in power, under various guises, for two years. It has gone by the name "Real Students" (2001), "Student Alliance" (2002), and this year has largely rallied under the formidable banner of "Go!" It is probably more simply referred to (although somewhat laughably) as "Unity", since apparently many of its members belong to the ALP Right faction which bears that name. Its membership and its platform have remained relatively consistent, the latter targeting the natural-enough self-interest of students. Whereas the left might appeal to (or occasionally impose upon) the wider political consciousness of students, this group has directed its efforts towards the "what's in it for me?" instincts of students. Thus, Go's central if not only policy promise in these elections was a $50 voucher at the start of 2004 to each student.

That's fine. It has the faint reek of bribery, but at least it leaves the matter up to the students. The problem is, there is a lot of convincing evidence that the regime is utterly unconcerned about the interests of students -- those students who do not number among them that is. Corruption allegations and suggestions of dodgy deals have flown thickly for the last two years, and now begin to pile up upon one another. Almost all political groups on campus that might have had the wide appeal to challenge this regime's dominance of the union have been disaffiliated for failing to adhere to the union's constitution.

Last week, the President of the Student Union Scott Crawford was taken to court over a complaint lodged by one of the few non-Right individuals represented in the Union's Student Council. The complaint was that this individual (Tim O'Halloran) and others had been kicked out of the Student Council for failing to attend three consecutive Student Council meetings. Three meetings had been held, notice to all members had been served, and a quorum had not been established. Accordingly, the "rump" of the Council could boot out absentees in order to establish a quorum.

There were two problems with this procedure that led to the lodgement of the complaint. Firstly, the notice of the meetings was provided in an "obscure cabinet" in Union House. Secondly, these three meetings, and two more where the absentees were delisted and a quorum was established, were held on the same day. This granted Crawford and cronies unrestricted and largely unscrutinised control of the Union.

The court found this situation understandably unsatisfactory, and the excluded members have apparently been reinstated.

Which, I think, brings me to this week.

On Tuesday, two weeks after the elections but prior to the counting of votes, the group Pride was disqualified. I reported this in the post below. Most days of the year, Pride is a group for queer students on campus, and refers to itself as politically unaligned. For these elections, it endorsed candidates from the disaffiliated ALP club, including Tim O'Halloran, who was running for President on the Pride ticket. It ran a strong campaign against Go, in spite of having been banned from campaigning for 72 hours on a technicality. (Go was similarly banned, for what appeared to be a far more serious offence of plagiarism (from the far-left of student politics, no less), but it was able to return to the voter queues before the ban had any impact.) Had Pride not been banned for that time, its campaign may still have been kinda futile, because it could hardly compete with the misinformation and deliberate confusion distributed, in combination with flashy flyers and giveaways, by the Go alliance. (The source of the funding for which is something I am presently investigating.)

It all came to nought on Tuesday however, because Pride was disqualified. As I understand it, all votes on the first page of the voting form for Pride are invalid. Not redirected to preferences. Invalid. Apparently 80% of voters vote only on the first page.

Pride was disqualified because it appears a troglodyte from Unity somehow mustered the Google skills to discover a weblog about the student election week written by someone associated with the Pride ticket. This blogger apparently had the incaution to suggest that Pride was engaged in some informal campaigning during the 72hr ban.

This is the part where my narrative takes the form of a cautionary tale: "know thy readership". It was a pretty daft thing to put on the web. The thing about a weblog is that your readership is not just people you give out your URL to. It's anyone with access to a search engine. (Hello, by the way.) Not many MUSU search terms in Google bring up his site anywhere near the top of the results, but most of them bring up mine, which linked him during one of my several anti-Ray/anti-Crawford invectives. Another blog also linked him.

It's even more stupid to be campaigning when banned -- if it's true that Pride did this (and the only evidence we have is a now padlocked weblog) -- but I don't know that I can summon the anger to roundly condemn it. Relinquishing the Union from the Unity stranglehold might just require a little subterfuge, a little disobedience. I'm amenable to the idea at least.

The blog is no longer publicly available. It's a grand victory for the forces of censorship, and not their first. I contacted the returning officer, Ben Cofield of GTS -- he confirmed to me that my site had been submitted as secondary material. He couldn't give me any further information. I'm hoping someone from Pride (or even Unity) will be able to fill me in on the role of this website in that decision.

Pride is disqualified. I don't believe that the remainder of the Stop! coalition -- Left-Focus/Wood, the International Association, and More Beer! -- has much hope without Pride preferences of regaining any significant voice in the union.

I'm not lamenting the difference this will make in the election result. Before I had done any investigation into the union and these elections, I had little doubt the incumbents would be returned by their political and manipulative initiative.

What I'm doing is trying to call attention to their methodology. I have recently been informed of something that will perhaps further illuminate these methods for you.

Scott Crawford got enough bad press that he couldn't even expect an apathetic student body to vote him in for a second term. He ran for President 2004 not under the surefire Go ticket, but the old shadowy Student Alliance ticket (which ran no substantial campaign). Some guy called Gidon was running for President on the Go ticket. I don't know anything about him, except this:

Gidon pulled out of the running yesterday morning. I can't imagine there was any possibility of him not winning the Presidency, even before Tuesday's decision against Pride.

All of Gidon's preferences flow to Scott Crawford.

(Might I point out that there's a comments section attached to this post where your own conclusions can be writ large?)

Related links:

Joseph | 25 Sep 2003

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