'Labor Inc' alleged at Melbourne Uni
By Jolyon Campbell
and Rjurik Davidson
MELBOURNE — Students at Melbourne University will consider sacking student union president Andrew Landeryou and general secretary Keir Semmens at a general meeting on May 7. The meeting has been called on a petition submitted by the recently formed Students Against Corruption.
Labor Club members Landeryou and Semmens face allegations of corruption and misuse of power. The anti-corruption group was formed by students concerned that the Labor Club-dominated student union had increasingly adopted a corporate approach to management and administration.
This included a push toward privatisation and commercialisation of student services. SAC claims the student union acted against the best interests of students by privatising union building space for a commercial computer retailer half-owned by a company involving former Labor Club member and 1986 student union president Evan Thornley.
Supporters of the official student newspaper, Farrago, claim it has been the target of systematic harassment. The left-wing editors were threatened with a cut of almost $80,000 to its production budget compared with last year, when Semmens was an editor. Moreover, when they took over, the new editors found that at least $4500 worth of Farrago equipment had disappeared.
Constitutionally responsible for ensuring that Farrago doesn't carry defamatory material, Semmens is said to have deleted criticism of the Labor Club despite independent legal advice that such material was not defamatory.
On one occasion, Semmens is alleged to have altered the paper between official authorisation and printing. After controversy following the first two editions, Landeryou is said to have threatened the editors: "Third edition? There isn't going to be a third edition."
Students are also angry that the student union has failed to provide sufficient printing and photocopying services to clubs and societies. Red Wedge, a club initiated disaffected former Labor Club members, was harassed during orientation week, and there are claims that Labor Club members threatened the jobs of any union staff who allowed the club to establish a stall.
SAC also says Semmens has discriminated on political grounds in hiring union staff. Landeryou and Semmens decided, without approval from student council or the executive, to terminate existing casual employees and introduce a new system involving interview panels including an office bearer. On this body, Semmens is alleged to have questioned applicants on their political backgrounds and beliefs.
The anti-corruption campaign challenges the student Labor operators in national bases. SAC hopes it will be able to restore control of the union to ordinary students. n