Probity Report Reveals 17 Electoral Disputes, “Constitutional Confusion”

"Howard McLean with a magnifying glass looking at logos of ANUSA tickets

By Adrian Hindes and Jason Pover

The ANUSA Probity Team, which oversees the ANUSA elections, released its report at ANUSA’s most recent OGM on 18 October. The report details a number of allegations of electoral violations, as well as issues faced by Probity in determining who had the power to interpret ambiguous rules.

This year’s Probity Officers were Benjamin Donald-Wilson, Molly Folkard, Howard Maclean, and Ella Gillespie. The Returning Officer was ANU Librarian Roxanne Missingham, who has been the Returning Officer for multiple previous ANUSA Elections.

17 disputes, from water pistols to chemistry lectures

The report details 17 disputes that the Probity team responded to. Some of these were minor electoral regulations, such as a post suggesting people shoot campaigners with water pistols being considered “enticement to commit an electoral offence”. Others were more significant and lead to the imposition of penalties.

Elected CBE Representative Croft Sun, who ran with Refresh, was involved in a dispute regarding an “attempt to ascertain votes”. This arose from Sun writing down names of students who reportedly were unable to vote. Sun handed in the note to the Probity tent to serve as a vote by proxy. The report notes, “One could assume that Croft explaining the vote and standing near/next to the student while they wrote down their names would amount to undue influence, via intimidation.” Refresh ticket convenor and President-Elect Eden Lim wrote to Probity expressing noting disappointment in Probity’s actions during the investigation. Specifically, Lim noted that Sun was only given a short time to tell Probity her defence. After referring to the Returning Officer, Probity enacted a 4-hour campaign ban for Refresh as a result.

Left Action, the Socialist Alternative associated ticket which ran only NUS Delegate candidates, was accused of a number of electoral violations. Complaints were raised regarding Left Action’s campaigning in lecture spaces. Two events were brought to Probity’s attention: a group solidarity photo of a first-year chemistry lecture in Llewellyn hall on the 6th of August, and a similar solidarity photo in a sociology class on the 7th. Chemistry professor Dr. Mark Ellison was interviewed as part of this investigation and expressed that he had believed the people were ANUSA representatives. Probity noted that “lecture based campaigning events are not part of the usual ANUSA campaign culture”.

Left Action also faced multiple allegations of having non-students campaign. The Returning Officer found that no explicit campaigning occurred, and Left Action was given a warning. On social media it was brought to the attention to the Probity team that “…the Left Action ANUSA Facebook page had aspects shared and people invited by non-students”. The response from Left Action was to note that “Any non student can invite, comment, share, etc anything from any ticket’s page [sic]”. Probity did not find Left Action’s defence “watertight” and issued another warning noting that further breaches would incur “firm sanctions”.

Probity also handled two separate complaints of untrue statements and misrepresentation of Refresh ANUSA Candidate Lachy Day on the Liberal associated Reform ANUSA Facebook page. The post stated that Refresh wants to “take actual policy discussion out of the SRC” and said doing so would only “stifle debate”. This claim was forwarded on to the Returning Officer, who agreed with Probity’s recommendation that the “post was not an untrue (statement) or misrepresentation of Refresh’s policies.” Probity and the Returning Officer’s stance was essentially that “disagreement does not constitute misrepresentation.”

A “confidential” matter

Allegations were raised “of serious candidate misconduct that occurred prior to the election”. No details of the allegations, the complainants, or the candidate against whom the complaints were made have been included in the report, with Probity naming the dispute “confidential”.  Because the events in question occurred before the election period, both the Probity team and the Returning Officer could not make any decisions regarding the complaints. The complainants were recommended to direct their concerns to the Dean of Students.

“Constitutional confusion”

The report raises issues with the complexity of interpretative powers stemming from uncertainty as to who has power in issues of interpreting the ANUSA constitution. Probity summarises the problem as a “soup of semi-contradictory clauses and constitutional confusion”, within which “there are no clear answers”. The report goes on to state the situation “is a confusing mess with the potential to be extremely damaging to the Association in the wrong circumstances”. The General Secretary, Returning Officer and five other members of the Executive all have the potential to interpret the Election Regulations in the event of a dispute.

Recommendations

The Probity Team recommended a number of changes to resolve the interpretation issues they faced and improve the running of future elections. These included:

  • Amending the Constitution to allow ANUSA to sanction postgraduates who violate election regulations
  • Developing a process for “dealing with vulnerable complainants”. This includes a system for pastoral support for Probity Officers, and Mental Health First Aid Training
  • Updated campaign exclusion zones
  • Revising and clarifying the Election Regulations for precision
  • Clarifying when electoral violations can occur
  • Continuing to provide democracy sausages and lollies
  • The appointment of a Probity officer with linguistic diversity to engage with non-English students

The report also commented on lower student engagement and issues with election timing as a whole. Probity believes this is “systematic of a broad engagement problem with ANUSA”. They said this was “evident in the lower number of contested positions and the lower voter turnout”. Moreover, Probity noted that a “legalese” barrier needs to be overcome, and that students need to know about electoral offences for an election to be conducted well.

Note: an earlier version of this article stated that Dr Mark Ellison agreed that lecture based campaigning is unusual. This was on the basis of the report’s text. Maclean later clarified that this was an error in the report.

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