The University of Wollongong has just overturned the results of a democratic student union election which saw the biggest voter turnout in a decade.
Chloe Rafferty was elected President of the Wollongong University Students’ Association (WUSA) in October after receiving majority support amongst the student population.
Rafferty, along with other members of the team Save Our Union, ran a stridently left-wing campaign. Their platform promised to continue campaigning for student rights and social justice on a campus where activism has been revived in 2017 due to the newly formed Wollongong Socialists club, of which Rafferty is the president.
An appeals board disqualified Rafferty for making an announcement about the campaign prior to the commencement of a lecture – something that is standard practice in every student election across the country. She has been replaced by a candidate who received just 6 percent of the vote – 85 votes to Rafferty’s 765.
The panel asserted the announcements continued after a written warning had been issued – Rafferty and all other Save Our Union campaigners deny ever receiving such a warning.
It is clear to activists that the dismissal is politically charged. Earlier in 2017 Rafferty began campaigning against a plan by university management and the Young Liberal controlled WUSA to shut down the student union. A President elected by the student body on the basis of opposing such a plan would ensure a much more difficult road ahead for management.
Incoming Education/Assistant Secretary Isabelle Liddy insists the decision is an attempt to suppress student activism at UoW: “The University wants us to shut up about student representation, shut up about fee increases, shut up about donations to the Liberal Party and shut up about Vice Chancellor Wellings’ refusal to fly the rainbow flag. We’re not going to shut up we’re going to fight to bring back student democracy at Wollongong Uni”.
The campus Young Liberals – who ran for but failed to win the presidency – have also attempted to undermine the democratic proceedings of the election.
In a recorded conversation with the 2017 WUSA President Jasper Brewer, Brewer bragged that he was “choosing my lawyer on the appeals board” and that his lawyer was “very convincing”. Save Our Union activists allege that the Liberal opposition attempted to coerce and bribe candidates to help them overturn the election result in exchange for positions on the WUSA council.
Save Our Union members have already begun a campaign to overturn the undemocratic decision of the appeals panel, gaining support from the South Coast Labour Council, who passed a motion condemning the decision.