Stand Apart Torn Apart: Inside the Leadership Struggle, Failed Rebellion and Bribery Allegations

Skanda Panditharatne & Michael Turvey

Stand Apart’, the Liberal aligned ticket contesting the ANUSA election, has ousted policy writer and candidate Sebastian Rossi less than three hours after the ticket’s launch. The conflict occurred after an ANU Liberal Club executive offered money to the Men’s Network, allegedly in exchange for Rossi’s ceding political decisions to the Liberal Club.

Divisions began when Rossi couldn’t run for Vice President.

Rossi, an early addition to the ticket and the author of many of its policies, saw himself as integral to the ticket, and resented the appointment of ANU Liberal Club Treasurer Ashish Nagesh as ticket convener. “He was given leadership, even though I was organising it from the beginning,” Rossi told Observer. In an earlier interview, Rossi said he originally intended to run for Vice President, the ANUSA position responsible for pastoral care and student academic disputes. But after Nagesh came on board, the ticket decided not to run executives, to the disappointment of Rossi.

Nagesh offered the Men’s Network money. Rossi calls it bribery.

Nagesh offered an ANU Liberal Club “donation” to the ANU Men’s Network, of which Rossi is president, in exchange for the Stand Apart ticket running no Executive candidates, Observer can confirm. In a message to Rossi, Nagesh said the Liberal Club would “donate $100 to MN [Men’s Network] if we have no exec” on the ticket. Nagesh further said, “not kidding how about $400”. Nagesh then offered Rossi the Liberal Club would “donate u more [sic]” if Rossi would “come letter boxing for us”, possibly referring to the ANU Liberal Club’s frequent events placing pro-liberal flyers in letter boxes.

Rossi says it’s bribery. “He tried to offer $400 of lib club money for me to not run for VP,” the candidate argued,  “and as a donation to mens network which he knows has absolutely no money [sic]”.

The Liberal Club says the money was just to assist with campaign fundraising events.

Nagesh strongly denies any kind of bribery. “All I said was, that I’d support the Men’s Network and help him out with fundraising as a team, on a ticket, fundraising as in getting my ticket to help mens in bbq and events [sic],” Nagesh said. A Liberal Club official said Rossi was “trying to spin it as a bribe” when in fact the offer was just “about fundraising” and that Nagesh was offering to financially help the Men’s Network in their support of the ticket.

Later messages show that Rossi and Nagesh both agreed the donation would be part of “a fundraiser” run jointly by the Men’s Network and the Liberal Club, aimed to raise funds for both groups. Rossi denies that he was ever willing to accept the donation: “In the chat I seemingly accepted it to play along so I didn’t specifically refuse it.” Both parties confirm that no money ever actually changed hands.

Political clubs funding and supporting ANUSA campaigns is common, and not prohibited by electoral regulations. However, the practice of donating money to an affiliated club in exchange for support is extremely unusual.

Rossi attempted to draw candidates away from Stand Apart, and failed.

The monetary offer was made on July 21st. Rossi said he “consulted with close friends” and raised the matter with a senior ANU Liberal Club member last Thursday, and demanded Nagesh be reprimanded. When no reprimand was given, Rossi demanded Nagesh leave the ticket, which did not occur.

Rossi then privately offered several candidates the opportunity to join him in leaving Stand Apart. No candidate accepted, and one immediately told Liberal Club officials. Rossi says that he was just “keeping options open to see if I had any support”. Rossi was asked to commit to the ticket or leave, after which he formally exited the ticket.

What happens now?

Nagesh insists that the controversy will not set back the Stand Apart ticket: “What this has done  has not divided us but brought us closer together and can work as a more effective team in fighting for students.” Rossi, meanwhile, is planning his own independent bid for Gen Rep and VP, and is planning to use all the policies he claims he developed for Stand Apart.