Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon calls on University of Wollongong to restore student democracy

Chloe Rafferty. Picture: Georgia Matts
Chloe Rafferty. Picture: Georgia Matts

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon has condemned the decision of senior management at the University of Wollongong to replace a democratically elected student president.

Senator Rhiannon has called on UOW Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings to restore student democracy and reinstate Chloe Rafferty president of the Wollongong Undergraduate Students’ Association (WUSA).

Rafferty, the presidential candidate for the progressive Save Our Union group, was elected during the recent election by the student body as WUSU president but has since been replaced by a candidate who only received 6 per cent of the vote.

It is incredibly concerning to see the University of Wollongong engage in the suppression of student democracy.

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon

Rafferty was disqualified for ‘’contravening the Election Code of Conduct by campaigning in classrooms before and during the election period and after being warned by the Returning Officer not to do so’’.

Read more: UOW student union president Chloe Rafferty disqualified

Rafferty denies this point.

‘’This is a shocking violation of student democracy and a clear attempt to stifle student dissent about university management decisions,’’ Senator Rhiannon said.

‘’To replace a democratically elected student president, with another candidate that only received 6 per cent of the vote is outrageous.

The removal of Ms Rafferty as WUSU president appears to be politically motivated.

Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon

‘’The removal of Ms Rafferty as WUSU president appears to be politically motivated. Save Our Union campaigned strongly to save the student union from being restructured or defunded – a campaign clearly at odds with the university management.

REINSTATE RAFFERTY: Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon has called on the University of Wollongong to restore student democracy. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

REINSTATE RAFFERTY: Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon has called on the University of Wollongong to restore student democracy. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

‘’It is incredibly concerning to see the University of Wollongong engage in the suppression of student democracy.’’

A UOW spokesperson said Senator Rhiannon needed to understand the facts of the 2017-18 WUSA election.

‘’The Appeals Panel, not University management, determined that Chloe Rafferty could not be duly elected because of her conduct,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘’It is not within the power of the Vice-Chancellor, University Council, Academic Senate or any other UOW officer or body to overturn the WUSA Appeals Panel decision.

‘’The university strongly supports and defends student democracy. That is why the integrity of the process must be upheld, however unpopular that action may appear.

‘’The university remains disappointed that a candidate’s own conduct has prevented her taking up the position for which she otherwise would have been elected.

‘’The university refutes the claim that the university was or is planning to shut down or defund the UOW student associations.’’

Read more: WUSA saga boils over with two students disqualified from student elections

The South Coast Labour Council also threw its support behind Rafferty recently when its executive unanimously passed a motion calling on UOW bosses to respect the will of the student body.

Senator Rhiannon’s comments come only a day after police and security were called to the Communications Centre at UOW to stop Rafferty and her supporters from trying to distribute leaflets to lecturers and Academic Senate members.

Read morePolice called in latest WUSA saga at University of Wollongong

‘’I warmly congratulate Chloe Rafferty and the Save Our Union campaign on their democratic election as WUSU president, and will continue to work with them to see student democracy restored at the University of Wollongong,’’ Senator Rhiannon said.