20 September 2010

An update from the USU Pres…

The past few months have definitely been a tumultuous time for the Union. Fair trade, elections, the White Paper and the University’s controversial plans around the student experience (Philips KPA report), to name a few, represent some very significant challenges facing the union board. At the same time, the Union is continuing to experience one of its best years: we’ve reached our highest membership level since VSU, we have a range of new on-campus partnerships, we celebrated our biggest Verge and O-week festivals yet and we have an in-principle agreement with the University around long-term funding.
In this piece, I would like to take this opportunity to inform the student body about the outcomes of the fair trade referendum and the elections.

On Fair Trade.
At the August board meeting, the referendum in its pure form was voted down. Does this mean that nothing will be happening on fair trade? Absolutely not. The board resolved to establish the Fair Trade Working Party (a clause in the referendum) to:
- Investigate making fair trade products readily available on campus by assessing the current/new fair trade options on the market – the current fair trade coffee market is mostly small boutique companies, but larger companies are looking to offer 100% fair trade options in the future – this will be something the Union will be following closely
- Revise and re-weight the current criteria used to evaluate coffee tenders so that fair trade suppliers aren’t as disadvantaged in trivial areas of the criteria such as promotional benefits and signage.
- Assess and troubleshoot the cost differential between 100% Fair Trade and non Fair Trade Coffee competitors when the coffee tender re-opens
This is not the referendum. However, fair-trade supporters shouldn’t view this as a loss either. This outcome is a positive translation of the referendum that represents a partnership between the Union and Fairly Educated as well as a commitment to ensuring that the Union can make the most sustainable and informed transition to fair trade coffee in 2013. Establishing the FTWP and elevating fair trade to a compelling factor in the tender means that the 2012 board, pending the quality of the tender applications against a new coffee criteria and the cost to the Union, would be foolish to act against the clear majority support given to fair trade on May 12, 2010.
We applaud the enthusiasm and effort of the Fairly Educated Team and I would like to thank them for their collaboration with the Union on this issue.
On Elections.
It is unfortunate that last week a former board director chose to violate the board’s rules of confidentiality on this specific issue – however it is important to clarify two things:
The former director was party to a request that the board seek independent legal advice regarding the candidates and the executive elections. We sought this independent legal advice, which the board followed. We also commissioned an independent consultant who recommended that no one be expelled from the board. In line with best practice the board formally received and adopted this report (and disciplinary actions contained within) in August.
Secondly, the Electoral Working Party began amending the electoral regulations this month so that future elections won’t be subject to the same problems. The returning officer and a representative from the Australian Electoral Commission will sign off on these changes that will come to board in October. These changes will be looking to dramatically increase the accountability of candidates, especially in relation to the spending cap, and increase the access of low SES students to the opportunity to run for board.
For more info stay tuned to our blog @ www.yourunionboard.blogspot.com. I appreciate your patience over these last few weeks and this opportunity to explain the board’s most recent decisions.

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