PARSA General Secretary Quits, His Preferred Replacement Rejected

Christopher Wilson resigned as General Secretary of PARSA yesterday, attempting to apply the condition that he choose his successor to the role. PARSA President Alyssa Shaw described his activities as “blackmail” and “duress”; and while the PARSA executive acquiesced to Wilson’s request, the appointment of Wilson’s chosen replacement was rejected by the Postgraduate Representative Committee (PRC).

In an email chain leaked to Observer, Wilson offered his resignation contingent on the outcome of “confidential discussions” had with the Postgraduate & Research Students’ Association (PARSA) Executive, where the Executive agreed that it would accept the appointment of Gautam Menon to the role. At the PRC meeting, Vice President Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope described the acquiescence as the “the least worst option” of response to Wilson’s request. Shaw described the the approval of the appointment as “a condition of Chris’s resignation that we accepted with duress” going as far to say that “I wouldn’t say this decision was one of the Executive.” Shaw claimed that Wilson had threatened to “destroy the organisation”, and Hovenga-Wauchope told PRC that “We were threatened with leaking and bringing the organisation into disrepute.” Wilson responded by saying that he had not heard allegations of leaking threats. 

Wilson and Shaw ran on different tickets in the 2016 election, with Shaw’s ticket winning all the Executive positions besides General Secretary. Wilson was the President of PARSA in 2016, while Shaw was President in 2017, and won re-election. Shaw also defeated Wilson for the Postgraduate seat on ANU Council. The 2016 election saw several members of Wilson’s ticket penalised for breaching campaign regulations.

The appointment was one of many put to PRC last night, but was distinguished from them in not being put through an expression of interest (EOI) process. The Indigenous Officer, Darcy Jackman, argued that “given its an executive role, it would be appropriate for the role to be open to the whole university.” The Women’s Officer Emma Davies noted that “the PRC has adopted this procedure” of EOI. Wilson justified the accelerated process on the basis that “having an Executive vacancy is very difficult for the association”, and that the EOI process was slow. Shaw questioned this, saying that “I would disagree that EOI is a difficult process” given that “we [PARSA] chose it in preference to a by-election.”

When the appointment was put to PRC, it was defeated with 13 votes against, 7 abstentions and 2 votes for; the 2 votes for being the mover and seconder. Wilson himself did not have a vote.

The failed appointee himself, Menon, did not come under particular criticism at PRC. Chris Ross, a newly elected CASS Representative, told him that the vote was “not at all against you, it’s against the process.” Wilson was asked about his connections to Menon, answering “I wouldn’t characterise us as friends” and that Menon was appropriate for the role because “‘He addressed the outreach and advocacy aims that we have target for the Gen Sec role”. He told PRC that he “would have considered putting in an EOI,” but he thought it was appropriate he take up the role after being nominated by the PARSA executive. He was encouraged to re-apply.

Constitutionally, Wilson could not enforce the withdrawal of his resignation according to Shaw who told him in the email chain that “you have provided, and I have accepted, your resignation last Friday. Further to this, your actions speak to you acting on this decision, such as your email to various people and bodies within and outside PARSA.” Hovenga-Wauchope told PRC that the the resignation was not stated as conditional in executive minutes because “Technically you can’t attach a condition to the resignation and that is reflected in the minutes.”