ANUSA has condemned the Co-Op book store, passing a motion calling on the current board of the Co-Op Bookstore to step down and accusing them of “stacking out the board” and preventing students from voting at the recent Co-Op AGM . “We call upon the Co-Op board to step down, because they’re a bunch of shady bastards”, general representative Harry Needham said, amidst fiery rhetoric at an SRC meeting on Wednesday night.
ANUSA representatives condemned the Co-Op for a lack of student involvement, after an extraordinary AGM of the Co-Op in late March, where the ‘Take Back Our Co-Op’ campaign failed in an attempt to oust the board. “A group of students went to the AGM of the Co-Op last week, and their votes were ruled invalid; they were essentially locked out of the meeting”, Needham claimed. Crikey reported that at the AGM, “a Labor powerbroker declared dozens of proxy votes ‘invalid’, without giving any reason”.
The Co-Op, founded by students in the late 1950’s, currently has no students on the board of directors, who are collectively paid $330,000 per annum. The organisation lost $2 million last year on an almost $150 million turnover. “Back in the day, the Co-Op was actually run by students and staff members who also cared about students” general representative Tom Kesina explained. “Basically there was a good ol’ coup in the 90s where they stacked it out… it’s actually genuinely diabolical”. While all Co-Op members are entitled to a vote, to qualify to be a director, members need to have both graduated from a tertiary institution and “participated in the management and/or direction of a medium to large size business over not less than five years”. “Most students don’t have tertiary degrees, so that locks a lot of people out” Needham said.
Concerns were raised in the SRC meeting about ‘increasingly opaque’ operations of the Co-Op. “Definitely legal action is one of the things being considered”, said Needham, who also stressed the importance of getting other campuses on board with the campaign, which has thus far involved students from the University of Sydney, Western Sydney University, the University of Technology Sydney, the University of Melbourne, and the University of Newcastle.
At the AGM last month, students from several universities travelled to remote Wyong in an attempt to oust the board, but failed after Labor powerbroker Talal Yassine, secretary of the Co-Op, declared over two dozen proxy votes invalid. Students raised concerns about improper notice for the meeting, which was only advertised in the ‘Higher Ed’ supplement of The Australian, and declaring students’ proxies invalid while over 100 proxies were used by the Co-Op Board. “You’re not here to ask questions. This isn’t QandA … I’ll ask you to have a Diet Coke and settle down please”, responded Yassine to these concerns at the meeting. Attempts were made by University of Sydney students in 2004 for a similar ‘student takeover’ of the Co-Op, which failed.
The Co-Op is the primary campus bookstore at ANU, which is shaping ANUSA’s response. “Obviously a boycott is something that might be thought of, but I think for a lot of people they need their textbooks, so just go with the cheapest option” explained Needham. Campaign organisers have been in contact with the National Tertiary Education Union on the issue. The motion passed with only one abstention.
The Co-Op did not respond to Observer’s repeated requests to comment.