Macquarie University has suffered a setback in its courtroom battle against seven students associated with the Macquarie University Postgraduate Research Association (MUPRA).
On May 7, the Supreme Court recommended mediation, which was agreed to by both parties. The university also agreed to release MUPRA funds for legal representation in a future mediation hearing.
The mediation hearing is set by May 28, and the verdict will be released in a month, if a result is not reached through the mediation process beforehand.
Macquarie University is seeking the dissolution of MUPRA and wants to gain access to the more than $500,000 in MUPRA funds. The university has also threatened the students with expulsion if they don’t comply with the mediation process.
Kate Alway from University of Technology Sydney Student Association (UTSSA) noted that the Macquarie University has had MUPRA in its sights since 2013. It wants to replace MUPRA with a university-controlled student advisory board. MUPRA, which was established in 1996, is the last independent student union on Macquarie University.
“Macquarie had already killed the Undergraduate Union and shut down the Student Representative Council in 2007, using corruption as an excuse. MUPRA is the last one standing,” Alway said.
According to Alway, MUPRA is in dire straits. The university has pressured the banks to freeze their bank account, prevented them from accessing the university’s email database, meaning they cannot contact postgraduate students and even locked them out of their own offices. As a result, MUPRA cannot publicise their case either via on-campus posters or social media.
In spite of this, MUPRA managed to attract support from other student organisations such as Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association and UTSSA, as well as political organisations such as Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative and the Greens. Throughout May 7 and 8, a group of student activist supporters appeared outside the NSW Supreme Court to show their solidarity. The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations arranged legal assistance for MAPRA.
Doug Williamson, the President of MUPRA and a co-defendant in the case, said the university’s attacks on MUPRA are not without precedence. “Macquarie is ahead of the deregulation game, and they do not like critical voices,” he said. “They’re setting an example which all other universities could potentially follow.
“The University’s submissions today, which withdrew their previous allegations of financial malfeasance, indicates that these were completely libelous from the day they were made.”
Williamson noted that since the passing of the Voluntary Student Unionism legislation in 2006, MUPRA had received almost no funding from the university, and survived on an $800,000 reserve from membership fees and student contributions, of which $500,000 remains.