By Anthony Lotric

ANU yesterday held a forum to gain student input regarding Kambri’s booking policy, which had been the subject of student backlash. ANU Chief Operating Officer Chris Grange told students that the booking policy first reported on by Woroni was “not ever a draft considered by the university”.  The at-times tense forum also touched upon anchor users, food pricing, and the absence of an on-campus bike shop.

In March, Woroni published an article describing a leaked draft  of the university’s policy for booking spaces within the Kambri precinct. The article claimed that under the policy, use of public areas such as the Lawn, University Avenue, and the Amphitheatre, as well as some areas of the Marie Reay Building and Cultural Centre, by student groups would cost between $500 and $3000. The article noted that ANUSA- or PARSA-affiliated associations were to “potentially” receive a 20% discount for facility use of facilities.

The article sparked debate and opposition among many students and university groups. In late April, a forum was organised by the Clubs Council and the Environment Collective to discuss the draft policy.  The forum agreed on a motion to be put to the third ANUSA Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting, calling on ANUSA Executives to advocate against the proposed Kambri policy. At the SRC meeting last month, the motion prompted extensive, and at times heated, discussion. Opposition centred primarily on the wording of the motion, and whether ANUSA should advocate for minimal fees or no fees at all. After a protracted debate, the SRC passed the motion to advocate for free facilities “to the full extent of [ANUSA’s] bargaining power”.

Last Tuesday, the University released the final Kambri booking policy. It specified that ANU-affiliated groups would be able to use public spaces for free, provided that these events were not “income producing”.  Spaces in the Marie Reay Teaching Building could also generally be used for free by student groups, and subject to a “cleaning fee” if mess or excess rubbish was left in the space.

Following the policy’s release, ANU organized a student consultation forum, held yesterday evening. Grange attended and spoke, along with a number of ANU administrative staff and a representative of Wiltshire+Dimas, the company managing the Kambri precinct.

Grange began by explaining that plans for Kambri had been through twelve iterations, none of which were formal ANU policy. He described the leaked draft, as presented in the Woroni article, as “appalling”, “impractical”, and “unfeasible”, stating that the controversy had “grown into something” that did not represent ANU’s position.

A student associated with the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) raised the issue of the proposed charges on public spaces reported by Woroni. Grange responded by asking the student to use their “common sense”, and argued that it would be completely “unfeasible [sic]” to charge students for the spaces in the “public realm”. He denied that such a policy had been formally considered by ANU at any point during the consultation process.

A tense exchange followed. A second SAlt-affiliated student asked Grange if he was accusing someone of faking the leaked draft, which Grange denied. He stated that he was not conducting a “leak inquiry”.

PARSA President Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope explained that the leaked draft had been put together without input from either ANU or student representatives. He asserted that the draft was merely a document that had been written by an unknown person involved in the consultation process at some point over the summer break, stating that “at no point did a committee agree to [the proposal]”. Grange stated that he didn’t know “where that Woroni draft came from”, and that he had “never seen” such a document.

A spokesperson from ANU Media stepped in after another student asked why the University had not issued a statement denying that the leaked draft was ANU policy. The spokesperson stated that ANU media had contacted Woroni about the article on the night of its publication, the morning after, and then later had met with them face to face. The spokesperson claimed that Woroni had made some edits to the article after their first correspondence, but did not publish a statement that ANU Media had sent stating that the draft was not University policy. The Woroni article ends with two disclaimers – first, that ANU had not confirmed the authenticity of the document in question, and second, that ANU did not provide comment in time for the article’s publication.

A second key point of debate in the wake of the leak was a supposed “confidentiality clause”, gagging the student representatives in various Kambri committees from commenting on, or publicising, any policy drafts under discussion. Grange denied that a “confidentiality clause of any kind” had been included in any of the documentation concerning the consultation process. He asserted that there “has never been any attempt on the University’s behalf to muzzle student associations”.

Clubs Council Secretary and acting Chair Jason Pover asked Grange if he thought the 20% discount for ANUSA and PARSA-affiliated groups for paid spaces such as the Cultural Centre (which remains in the final policy from the leaked draft) was “sufficient”. Grange replied that it was “certainly possible to review” the extent of the discount. Pover also asked what costs the proposed fees would cover. Grange replied that all money raised from use of Kambri “nominally go(es) back into the …  precinct”. Pover later told Observer that while the policy released by ANU “is an improvement”, it was disappointing to hear at the forum that “funds from booking fees go to background upkeep costs”. He argued that, as “SSAF is student money, it should not be paying for the electricity costs of Kambri”.

Pover also questioned the decision to make the ANU Film Group the sole anchor user for the cinema, on the grounds that it is not affiliated with the Clubs Council, and has a membership comprised significantly of non-students. Grange replied that he had not considered that the choice of the Film Group as the anchor group might be controversial, as he had considered the group “part of the furniture” of the University. He said that he would take Pover’s question on notice. The policy as published states that student groups can use the cinema for free if the event is “sponsored” by the Film Group, but otherwise they must pay

The affordability of the food vendors in Kambri was raised as an issue by one student. In response, Grange stated that “operator to operator” many options were cheaper than those available at the Pop-Up Village. He told students that it was not intended to be “priced as a bargain basement”, but was “designed to offer a spectrum”.

Another student asked if ANU was considering installing a bike lane down University Avenue, and extra bike racks. Grange agreed that the University needed to “look at pedestrian/cyclist separation”, and told students that more bike racks were being ordered. Grange also stated that he was willing to pay “almost any price” to get a bike shop on campus, but has been unable to find a willing tennent. Cycle Canberra, the bike shop which had been present in both Union Court and the Pop Up village, did not make the move to Kambri, stating that the new space was “not financially sustainable”.  

President of the Shakespeare Society, Marni Mount, pointed out that using the Cultural Centre is more expensive than the old Arts Centre. She asked Grange if he would consult with ANU theatre groups before October to discuss fees attached to use of Kambri’s theatre spaces. Grange agreed that such a meeting would be possible.

Grange committed to holding another student consultation in October to review the policy after students and ANU administration had seen it operate in practice over the coming months. He also committed to making public all drafts of the Kambri policy that he could find. However, he refused to commit to any further public student consultation before October’s planned session.

ANUSA today published a statement expressing its “frustration and disappointment with some of the comments made by the University” at the forum. The Association urged students to fill out a feedback form on ANU’s website to voice their “valid concerns”.

Adelle Millhouse contributed to the reporting of this story.

Clubs Council Secretary Jason Pover is also the Secretary of Observer. He has no part in the editorial process.

This article was amended to clarify the Film Group’s role in cinema bookings.