Clubs Council Chair No Confidence Vote Found ‘Invalid and Void’

By Sam Wright

The vote of no confidence passed against 2019 Clubs Council Chair James Howarth has been declared “invalid and void”. The ruling was made by the Disputes Committee, ANUSA’s highest appellate body. The Committee’s primary reasoning against the no confidence vote was its “non-compliance” with the rules of natural justice.

Clubs Council Secretary Jason Pover moved the motion of no confidence in August last year, in response to alleged misconduct by Howarth. The motion was passed by the Clubs Council Executive (CCE) at a meeting on 12 August 2019. 

The potential invalidity of the motion was initially referred  to then-ANUSA General Secretary Lachy Day, but the matter was then delegated to Education Officer Tanika Sibal due to a potential conflict of interest. After, Pover made an allegation of “breaches of procedural fairness” against Sibal, the matter was referred to the Disputes Committee. 

After deliberation, the Committee concluded that the vote was made “in non-compliance with fair hearing rule and, by extension, in non-compliance with the rules of natural justice.” The Committee found that Howarth was not given adequate notice and that therefore the conduct of CCE members breached notions of procedural fairness. 

The agenda for the meeting and notice of the motion of no confidence were published just six hours prior to the meeting itself. Pover argued that Howarth had been given notice of the motion via the via the CCE Slack channel two days prior. The Committee found that although Howarth had been informed prior to the meeting, general members of the Executive had not, which they stated posed an issue given that the CCE is a “collective decision-making body.”

The Committee also criticised the conduct of debate during that during the meeting in which the vote was passed. On two occasions, two speakers in favour of the motion of no confidence spoke consecutively, when procedure dictates that speakers should alternate. The Committee said that this alternation “ensures that a meeting is not dominated by one side and that the case for and against a particular Resolution be adequately considered and heard”. Funding Officer Jacob Howland claimed that CCE meetings are “usually” less formal than SRC meetings, where this procedure is followed. The Committee responded to Howland by quoting the film ‘Lincoln’, saying that “this is not usual, this is history.”

Since the Committee found that the resolution breached natural justice and therefore the ANUSA Constitution, the Committee found Pover in breach of the Constitution. However, the Committee said that since ‘natural justice’ was an “implied term” and that Pover’s conduct during the re-resolution was “cooperative and exemplary”, they would not impose any penalties for this breach. In a statement to Observer, Howarth said that “while the re-resolution is favourable” it has been difficult for him to move forward since the other “parties involved refuse to appropriately apologise for their actions and the impact of these actions.” Howarth also said that he found it “disappointing that no penalties were imposed given the impact the motion had on [Howarth’s] mental health.”

Jason Pover and Tanika Sibal did not respond to requests for comment.

Ebe Ganon declined to comment.

Jason Pover was an Observer News Editor in 2018 and Secretary in Semester 1 2019. He is also a member of Observer’s Arbitration Panel.

Ebe Ganon and James Howarth have previously been part of the Observer team.

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