Poor Policies, Financial Oversight, and a Lack of Resources Plague ANU’s Clubs Council
By James Day
For the incumbent Clubs Council team, the new ANUSA Clubs Officer position for 2022 represents progress. Many on Clubs Council believe the issues of clubs and societies have largely been ignored in student life, and despite the new executive role some still believe that not enough is being done.
Since Clubs Council’s inception in 2017, there have been on-going struggles to develop an efficient and coherent administrative student life support system. While all organisations have growing pains, Clubs Council is still dealing with problems that have been present since the beginning.
Their policies, according to current members of the Clubs Council Executive team, have created great confusion amongst students, clubs, ANUSA staff, and the Clubs Council itself. Insufficient levels of financial oversight for clubs’ funds and assets have left gaps which allow for student money to be misappropriated, members of the CCE exec have claimed. The majority of these instances are accidental, and often due to the lack of financial knowledge of new, inexperienced club officers. Whilst Clubs Council does offer free financial training, it is not compulsory, and many do not attend. The current gaps in financial oversight leaves the system vulnerable to “embezzlement”, CCE Affiliations Officer Jeffery Yang claims, adding that there are already suspect transfers occurring.
Secretary Josh Polak, and Yang of the current CCE team, have been working on Clubs’ policies. “If people are constantly asking questions about the policies then we’ve clearly got a problem”, Polak told Observer, “it shouldn’t be that hard”. According to the CCE team, the majority of their work is answering emails from confused clubs, unaware of the rules and regulations. This creates a backlog of work that prevents them from focusing on long-term strategy and real solutions. On this Yang stated, “only we can make any meaningful amendments to the policies…and if we don’t get the time to do that, nothing ever happens”.
For example, to fix just the regulation regarding a club’s ability to make profit on an event they run took three months. Polak had to go all the way to Commonwealth legislation on SSAF funding to ascertain its proper meaning for the Clubs Council constitution, which was full of contradictions and exceptions for specific clubs that previous officers had failed to note down or explain. It was finally clarified that clubs can make revenue but not profit on events that have been supported with a SSAF (Student Services and Amenities Fee) grant, especially those of a political nature. If an event makes revenue over a certain threshold set by Clubs Council, then the grant received by that club is reduced “until the sum of the grant is $0”.
Former Funding Officer (2019) and Chair (2020) of Clubs Council Jacob Howland, says the “complexity of the governance structures surrounding ANUSA, clubs, and SSAF money” is a major contributor to the severity of the issue.
In this confusion, Polak noted there have been “some clubs that we’re slightly concerned about…who are maybe taking advantage of the system”. While he, alongside the rest of the CCE team, insists most clubs don’t do anything wrong, Polak explains that
“If you invest the time into understanding our loopholes, then you can exploit them. Some club’s executives might not change from year to year, so they have time to work this stuff out. We (CCE) change from year to year. So, it’s only now that we work this stuff out, but by the time we work it out, it’s going to be too late, and the next secretary executive is in. Then these clubs will just stay like they are and continue on”.
Following an ANUSA FOI request made by Observer, bank statements from 2018 informed Observer of one club which made a consistent $200 profit from running events every week in 2018. This club would often make revenue from their events, but these events would be funded in the form of ANUSA grants, where profit cannot be accrued. From exploiting these loopholes in Clubs Council’s policy, the club in question was left at the end of 2020 with a bank account holding over $10,000. This club has not run any events since 2019, is not sponsored by any external organisation, and is funded exclusively by SSAF grants and student membership fees. The club is still affiliated with ANUSA. Yang confirmed that this isn’t the only club that has raised suspicions amongst the CCE team, but it is the largest example they have seen.
“It [the money] shouldn’t just be sitting there, doing nothing, and accumulating. We give money to help clubs run events, which benefits the student-campus life at the ANU. It does nothing sitting there”, Polak said.
Further, under Clubs Council’s affiliations policy 2.2.4 there is no specific quorum requirement for an AGM. However, it does say that clubs must grant “reasonable power over the governance of the club” to members, to safeguard against corruption.
After an anonymous tip-off was sent to Observer, alleging that the Dining Society (DinSoc) was manipulating their constitution to make society meetings inaccessible, Observer took this information to the CCE. The CCE, who were previously unaware of this, corroborated the allegation, and it was found in DinSoc’s AGM meeting minutes and current constitution that, at their 2021 AGM in February, they had only 7 members present of the 246 members in the organisation. The meeting lasted only 7 minutes, and their constitution had set the quorum to only 4 people.
In an ideal world, with time and resources behind them, Polak said, Clubs Council would go and ask these clubs about possible financial mismanagement. However, with no disputes register, issues of defamation, minimal ability to take disciplinary action without ANUSA’s approval, and scant time to pursue these suspicions as unpaid full-time students, little can be done. On this, Yang comments that,
“If a club is mismanaging money constantly…there’s not much we can do. We can disaffiliate the club, but there’s no way for us to say this club can’t create a copy of themselves, and just come back in another form”.
Clubs are required to have three trustees for a bank account, with two signatures required for any transaction. However, Yang explains that “some clubs are very close, and often are friends…there have been incidents where two parties come together, withdraw the money, and split it”. The regulation concerning the use of funds is only for ANUSA money, so clubs’ individual funds (made from membership fees) could just as easily be used without consent.
Yang believes that the introduction of a QPay system will allow for greater supervision of these accounts. The system seeks to give each club access to their own cart on the QPay platform instead of a bank account, where the CCE can see every transaction live. However, the current framework of supervision rests mainly on the Affiliation Officer’s shoulders, who has to review the constitutions and bank statements submitted by every single club (Current Total: 125) for each annual re-affiliations cycle. This is a significant amount of work which requires scrutinising every transaction, which Yang said he often does not have the time for. Previous CCE Chair Jacob Howland said the lack of detail when it come to the financial reporting of clubs is a huge issue, as,
“This means that the money clubs have, from profits, from membership fees, from sponsorship, from other sources, does not have to be accounted for”.
Aside from the Affiliations Officer reviewing clubs’ bank statements, and the Funding Officer reviewing grant applications, there is no other financial reporting. On the idea of doing regular audits of clubs, which can be done by ANUSA, Yang says that “it’s inconceivable”. In an interview with current ANUSA Treasurer Siang Jin Law, she states that, as ANUSA receives “a lot more money than clubs do … There’s just no point spending staff money to audit such small chump change”. Current ANUSA General Secretary Meghan Malone supports this saying that auditors are hired externally, but they cost a lot and aren’t readily used unless real financial reason is provided. Both state that if a financial issue is reported to them, ANUSA will pursue it no matter the amount, until the matter is resolved.
Yang said most issues relating to financial management are “raised by the clubs themselves”, usually after a new executive comes in and notices money missing from their account. There are also many cases of clubs becoming defunct, with their executives failing to return the funds or assets purchased using the clubs’ accounts. One example found through an ANUSA FOI requested by Observer took place last year. A club whose executive team had returned home due to the lockdown had not returned their club’s funds of $895 to ANUSA, until a former executive of the club reported it. While the incident was a simple mistake of the executive team forgetting to return the funds, it shows the potential for clubs to abuse the system without consequence.
Current CCE Chair Josh Yeend said the construction of Clubs Council replicated the ANUSA executive, such that the roles are heavily decentralised. This has left “a lot of work on a singular person over very short periods of time”. Much of the knowledge about clubs at ANU, as Yang states, is “concentrated very, very tightly in me, Josh Polak, and Dri Sinhababu (CCE Funding Officer)”. It may get to a point, Yang said, where “if I [Yang] don’t know about an email, a whole train stops” and a club cannot function.
At CCM 2 earlier this year, Andre Kwok, representing the club CAPSS (College of Asia Pacific Students’ Society), proposed a motion to set accountability mechanisms for the CCE team. In an emailed response to Observer’s questions Kwok stated “this year, multiple clubs have been subject to inconsistent and unclear communication from CCE regarding the affiliations process…This inconsistency has resulted in students having to pay for expenses out of pocket while they wait for CCE to complete standard affiliations procedures”. Kwok adds that CCE reports have been “varied in detail and quality”, and that, while he understands the workload is high, “this is our SSAF that’s being used here” and “let’s not forget that many will also receive honoraria (or have the ability to be nominated)”.
On Kwok’s motion, Yang said “I will freely admit, the affiliation process is not very transparent right now, and it’s also very clunky, and I definitely could have done it better”.
Yeend believes the new, paid position of Clubs Officer “is a good first step” but has concerns about it “creating a disparity between the remainder of the Council”. He goes on to say,
“If I don’t resign this year, or if I don’t get a motion of no confidence, it will be the first year since Clubs Council existed where one of those things didn’t happen…It’s a constant struggle as people feel burnt out a lot of the time, and we feel that we don’t get enough support because we do work so independently”.
Before the most recent lockdowns in Australia, the return of students at the beginning of this year saw a reinvigoration of interest in clubs at ANU, which Yang believes is “a good way to expose a lot of the cracks in how our systems work”. Current CCE Community Officer Elijah Smith says, “a lot of people just want to have a campus life”. He goes on to say,
“It’s started conversations with ANUSA about funding Clubs Council and putting a stipend and honoraria onto Clubs Council to allow us to do our jobs to the fullest extent that we can.”
At the next ANUSA OGM (20/10/2021), the new Clubs Council Officer Phoenix O’Neill plans to propose a regular stipend and honorarium payment for CCE Officers. But, as Polak notes,
“I don’t think it will help Clubs Council get the support. I think the best way is to get people who care about it, which is difficult, and pay us. ANUSA’s been very reluctant to do that in past pushes for it. It shows that they don’t value the work that we do”.
An earlier version of this article misstated that Andre Kwok was representing the club UN Youth, when it was actually the CAPSS (College of Asia Pacific Students’ Society). The mistake has now been amended.
Graphics by Joseph Oh
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