At least 60 candidates for the upcoming University of Queensland (UQ) student election have withdrawn their nominations and publicly protested today.
Opposition parties at UQ are accusing incumbent LNP-affiliated party Fresh of disqualifying them from the elections.
Abraham O’Neill, presidential candidate for the largest opposition party Pulse, was part of a rally in front of the university’s student union yesterday.
“The candidates from the other tickets have been disqualified from this election. They have not been permitted to run,” said Mr O’Neill.
“What we want is free and fair elections at UQ this year.”
“Students are going to continue to show the university and the union that we will not take this lying down. We want free and fair elections of this university that hold the purse-strings of the union,” he said.
Ms Lorelei Links, Pulse candidate for treasurer, claimed that Fresh passed a motion that altered the Regulations surrounding campus elections.
She argues that this motion allowed Fresh members to hijack her party’s name and effectively disqualify them from the election.
“Fresh have changed the Regulations, which gave them the ability to register a ticket name at any time up until the opening of nominations without submitting candidates for that ticket,” she said earlier today.
“That allowed them to register under the name Pulse, which has stopped us from using our own name,” she said.
She also argues that after the motion was passed the changes were kept from opposition parties.
“We requested but were not shown a copy of the amendments until it was too late,” she said, “we are no longer able to register under Pulse.”
“The result is that are that our party has been essentially disqualified from the election,” said Ms Links.
Josh Millroy was the candidate for secretary from the Pulse party.
He claims that 400 to 500 shirts were printed with the Pulse logo on it, along with over 12,000 flyers.
“We are no longer able to use these,” said Mr Millroy.
Colin Finke, the current president of the UQ Union and president of the party Fresh, argues that the allegations against his party are, “petty student politics.”
“We saw this kind of allegation happening two years ago,” he said, “some of the parties running in the election claimed that Fresh had … rigged the elections in a manner that they couldn’t run,” said Mr Finke.
“When polling week rolled around, and people went to the ballot papers and looked at the ballots it was fairly obvious that all those claims weren’t actually true at all.”
“The other teams like to make these claims when they have a bit of a faction or split within their party,” he said.
Mr Finke argued that his party, which has been in power since 2007, had not reserved the names of opposition parties to stop them from running.
“I understand that the Returning Officer, who’s an independent officer overseeing the student elections, has informed students that there are in fact multiple parties running.”
“There are a number of governing bodies overseeing the UQ union… The premier body that sits in the electoral process is called the electoral tribunal which consists of a number of independent candidates and they oversee the elections as well, in addition to the Returning Officer,” he said.
Fresh election campaign manager Mitchell Collier did not wish to comment.
Antonio Ferreira-Jardim was the first Fresh Union Council Chair from December 2007 through until September 2009.
He argues that problems arose in the Fresh party from as early as late 2009.
“By the end of 2009 I became very concerned and disillusioned with the Fresh team’s approach and behaviour of its leadership,” said Mr Ferreira-Jardim.
“I am very concerned by the anti-democratic changes passed at the eleventh hour in a secretive way. I am also very concerned that Union Council has met on less than a handful of occasions in the last three years combined,” he said.
“UQ students no longer have ready access to UQ Union rules, procedures and financial information.”
“These recent changes to the UQ Union electoral regulations have completely twisted and perverted the original intention and guiding principles underpinning the Union’s governing documents,” he said.
“These recent actions are cynically perverse and should be overturned,” said Mr Ferreira-Jardim.
Ms Links and others from the Pulse party claim that the details of the amendments to the electoral Regulations, on August 10, were kept from her and other opposition members until Tuesday August 14, despite multiple requests.
The motion required that they register their party for the upcoming election before nominations closed and the election was called on Monday August 13.
“The rule changes are specifically designed to lock opposition tickets out of participating. We can no longer engage in this process and we have a moral opposition to legitimising it by acting within it,” she said.
Ms Links said that her party can now only run as independents in the election.
“However, independents will appear ‘below the line’ on the ballot and will only appear if requested,” she said, “and last year of the 11,000 or more votes, only around 50 went to independents.”
On Facebook, nearly 2,500 people have now liked the Democracy 4 UQU page where many students have spoken out against the party Fresh.
Some students from the university’s UQ Skeptics Group have also created a graphic that depicts the associations between Fresh candidates and the candidates of the allegedly fake Pulse team on Facebook.
It also shows that many of the running Pulse team attend UQ Union President Colin Finke’s residential college, Cromwell College.
The graphic shows that one of the candidates in the team that registered under the name Pulse is actually Mr Finke’s brother.
The UQ Union has an operating budget of over $16 million and the student elections determine 25 paid and unpaid positions within it.
Pulse party candidates claim that no budget or financial statements from the UQ Union have been made publically available in the last 3 years.
Elected members govern over 120 clubs and societies on campus and represent over 45,000 students.
This morning, representatives from the University are meeting with the UQ Union President, Colin Finke, to discuss the allegations.
Photo: Ace Tamayo