Secret proposals threaten democratic processes at QUT Student Guild

Edited 8:43pm 9 July 2024

A new secret Student Guild Constitution and two related proposals were submitted to QUT Council, bypassing Guild processes and attempting to forcibly insert student members of the Council onto the union board. 

Implementing these proposals would have allowed the University to have control over the Guild’s core governing documents and its Board of Directors, which is a significant conflict of interest as a student union should be run by democratically elected students. 

Glass understands that the current governance team, which consists of newly elected President James Reid, Secretary Sebastian Page and Treasurer Calissa Leyden, and QUT Council undergraduate member Euan Tiernan have all been involved in the discussion, drafting, or authoring of a new constitution and two proposals relating to the amendment of the current governing documents.  

The proposals were not voted on or passed by QUT Council and therefore no amendments have been made. However, participating in creating these documents and attempting to have them approved breaches the Guild Constitution as it does not follow the correct procedures for amending the governing documents.  

Specifically, the proposals were not presented at a Student Representative Council council meeting, submitted to the Guild Board, or publicised to students of the university in a manner that is reasonably accessible to inform them of the proposed changes before being submitted to QUT Council. 

In addition, the documents contained numerous damaging and false statements about the Guild which has caused a significant risk to the reputation of the organisation. 

The President and Secretary have repeatedly denied being in breach of the Constitution or any policies because the documents were not presented to Council as a whole, and therefore “no amendment was viewed, considered, made or approved by Council”. 

The Secretary stated, “We believe that any constitutional change must be brought about with a mandate from the students, and as such, no change will happen in this current term of the Guild” and “We wanted to gauge the possibility of reform.” 

However, there was clear intent for the documents to be presented, discussed, and voted on at the most recent meeting of QUT Council and for a new constitution to be implemented without the approval of the Board or the other members of the SRC. 

The Secretary confirmed that he shared all three documents, in the correct submission format, with the Secretary of QUT Council and University Registrar, Leanne Harvey, who, along with the Chancellor, decide what items are added to the agenda of QUT Council meetings.  

Tiernan stated, “I am of the understanding that the three documents you have received are part of a Council submission and therefore confidential.” The President added that the request to have the proposals viewed was denied.   

In addition, in communications between Tiernan and multiple members of the SRC, he repeatedly noted the importance of the date June 20 (the date of the Council meeting) and made comments such as, “This is big, big news for the Guild.”  

In text communication with Glass, Tiernan said, “The rest of the SRC do not know because if they do, they might tell GPS, who might tell [the General Manager] … who will tell the board. The board has to approve all amendments and they won’t approve these ones but tough” and “it is very likely both [proposals] will be approved after discussion I’ve already had with council.” 

When asked for comment about his involvement with the creation of these documents, Tiernan did not provide clarification but confirmed he was involved. Additionally, he made various unfounded claims about the previous President and current Chair of the Board, Olivia Brumm, who was part of the Reach team that ran on a mandate of constitutional change in 2018

He stated that he believed the current Constitution stops elected students from delivering their initiatives, and that he intended to remove Brumm from her position in the Guild and would do so “without respect to due process”. 

It’s important to note that Tiernan is not a current or past member of the SRC but has previously unsuccessfully applied for President, Treasurer and Board Member positions within the Guild and that the proposals included a recommendation to forcibly place both student members of QUT Council onto the Guild Board.  

It is still unclear who was the primary author of these documents. The current Secretary was listed as the author but has denied participating in writing the proposals or the Constitution.  

However, Glass can confirm that the President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Tiernan were all involved in discussions and were aware of the contents of the documents.  

So, what was in the documents? 

Two proposals were submitted to QUT Council – the first titled Amended QUT Student Guild Constitution and the second, Proposal for Assembly of Dedicated “Guild Constitutional and Strategy Committee”

As Glass understands, the documents were not officially presented to the members of QUT Council for discussion and voting as this would have gone against official Guild processes.

A spokesperson from the University stated, “QUT Council was not presented with any documents relating to the Guild constitution”.

However, the President, Secretary and Treasurer confirmed they were invited “for an open discussion” with the Council members. 

The Amended QUT Student Guild Constitution states that the current Constitution is a “non-functional, non-enforced, and ineffective body of principles which does not allow the QUT Guild to operate in a manner that allows for the most effective student representation to occur.” 

It goes on to describe what it considers as “serious errors”, the most significant of which is the belief that under the current Constitution, the Guild is not able to hire staff under C6 – Powers. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how this section is to be interpreted.  

This clause clearly states that the Guild may enter into contracts (like employment contracts) and that the Guild has all the powers of an individual, which means (among other things) that it can engage in business activities, make investments, own property, and hire employees.  

C6.4 states that payments cannot be made to members of the Guild (which refers to QUT students) except as remuneration for services rendered or expenses incurred on behalf of the Guild (for example, wages for the SRC) or when making a payment to a member in carrying out the Guild’s charitable purpose (for example, the vouchers for placements students or prize money in Battle of the Bands competition).  

There are no clauses in the Constitution that prohibit the Guild from employing and paying staff, therefore the assertion that hiring and remunerating staff is not constitutionally allowed is incorrect. It’s important to note that the current governing documents were created over more than three years and were subject to review and revision by QUT’s Legal and Governance team. 

The second recommendation in the Amended QUT Student Guild Constitution suggests that the current student members of QUT Council should be inserted onto the Guild Board as chairpersons and that this would allow the Guild to be governed “by students, for students”. However, the recommendation goes on to stipulate that the “duties to the University Council are treated as the priority”.  

This is a concerning and conflicting statement – not only would this forcibly insert non-elected students onto the student union’s board, but it also ignores the fact that the Board is currently made up of majority-elected students. 

The proposal states, “Members of the Guild agreed that the University Council should have greater oversight into the Guild during this transitional time.” This is grossly inaccurate, as the only members of the Guild (which typically refers to students of QUT) who were consulted about the amended Constitution are the ones directly involved in the creation of the proposal and proposed Constitution. In addition, the only members of the SRC who were consulted were the governance team. 

The third and final section of this proposal recommends the creation of “Guild Directives”. This would essentially concentrate decision-making power to a select few individuals, instead of following the democratic processes the Guild currently has in place. 

The Guild Directives would unilaterally allow the President, Treasurer and Secretary, as well as the General Manager and QUT Council chairpersons, to “execute the Guild’s powers as seen fit”. This would bypass all required steps under the Guild’s governing documents and allow these select few to issue executive orders of the Guild.  

The recommendation states that “this shifts the power of the Guild back into the hands of its elected students”, which is exactly the opposite effect a directive like this would have. All members of the SRC and student members of the Board are elected to their positions, and decision-making power on behalf of the Guild is held by all these students. Not exclusively the governance team or the students elected to QUT Council. 

The second proposal, titled Proposal for Assembly of Dedicated “Guild Constitutional and Strategy Committee”, recommends the establishment of a committee that will oversee the creation of a new constitution. 

The most concerning issue with this proposal is that the recommended number of members for the committee only includes three members of the SRC and at least 10 members who are representatives of the University, including the Registrar, Chancellor and student members of QUT Council.  

The proposal clearly states that the committee would be responsible for: 

  • Development of a new Constitution, and  
  • Development of a QUT-QUT Guild strategy. 

    This is a concerning conflict of interest, as it would allow the University almost complete control over the creation of the student union’s most important governing documents, and the union itself.  

    The proposal claims that the Guild’s engagement and effectiveness have suffered as a result of the “poorly written” Constitution and that record-low engagement with clubs, associations, collectives, the Guild and the University has resulted in a decaying student community.  

    Essentially the crux of this proposal is that falling engagement is directly correlated to the introduction of the Constitution in 2018. This assertion ignores a fairly significant event that was occurring at that time – Covid-19.  

    While the Guild has certainly struggled with engagement, particularly with Student Guild elections, engagement has been on the rise across all facets of the organisation. 

    After speaking to multiple people within the Guild, Glass can confirm that engagement with clubs and academic advocacy has been steadily increasing since at least 2022.  

    In addition, the Guild has experienced a significant increase in applications for casual vacancies during this calendar year. During 2023, open positions would receive an average of 1.7 applicants. However, this year has seen this number increase dramatically, with an average of 4.8 applicants per casual vacancy, with positions like International Officer and Education Officer receiving around 10 applicants each. 

    The Guild certainly has a long way to go to bring engagement with elections back up to pre-COVID levels and to improve SRC retention rates, however, this is a positive indication for the coming election period. 

    Final thoughts 

    It’s important to note that the members of the SRC who presented to the Council had collectively served less than six months in the organisation, and none of the longest-serving students (which includes two of the Glass editors and the Queer Officer) were invited to give their input. 

    The President was elected the day before the QUT Council meeting, the Secretary was elected at the May 22 SRC council meeting (four weeks previously) and the Treasurer (who originally served as Education Officer) was elected at the February 21 SRC council meeting.  

    The President and Secretary have tried to lessen the significance of their actions by saying these documents are no longer relevant, they just “needed confirmation from QUT Council that they were open to reform” and that all they did “was check if the finish line was ready for racers”.  

    That’s exactly what they did – they jumped straight to the finish line without warming up, stretching their legs, or putting in the hard yards at the gym. They flew straight to QUT Council with their plan, without running in an election on a mandate of constitutional change, without consulting the student body, and without even the briefest of discussions with the students who have been democratically elected as representatives of this union. 

    Instead, it seems as though the governance team have allowed a student who has not been elected to serve in our organisation, and who appears to harbour a grievance against one member of the Guild, to guide them in a direction that has caused upheaval and distrust within the union and towards an outcome that would have placed the University in an unprecedented position of power over this union.  

    Student Guild general manager, David Sims, said he is focused on working collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure that students have the best university experience possible and that he believes the SRC, the Guild Board and the many QUT staff he has engaged with share this objective.   

    “Where genuine concerns exist, I am committed to tackling them through open and transparent dialogue and by working constructively in partnership. I would always encourage activism over apathy, but achieving transformational change requires us all to work together. Right now, that’s where I am focussing mine, and the Guilds, efforts,” he said.     

    Brumm, who has been an active member of the SRC since her election in 2018, said she shares Sim’s views and looks forward to working constructively in partnership with all levels of the organisation until the end of her term this year. 

    “Most of my time at university has been spent serving students and working to get the best outcomes possible for QUT students,” she said. 

    “Consultation with student members about issues that affect them is essential; it is the cornerstone of a democratically elected Student Guild – our governing documents mandate consultation for important decisions regarding the Guild’s functioning for this very reason.” 

    The Secretary stated he believed strong community consultation and hearing as many perspectives as possible is integral to achieving the best outcomes for our student community, and that it was always their intention to seek feedback from students at a later date. 

    Moving forward, the governance team must rebuild trust within the union by engaging in open discussion, respecting the voices of all students, and ensuring that any significant changes are made in the open with comprehensive consultation, and not behind closed doors. 

    It is only through genuine collaboration, the planning and execution of successful initiatives that benefit students, and adherence to the democratic principles embedded in our student union that we can hope to mend the divides and work towards a more cohesive and functioning Guild. 

    Celeste Muller
    Celeste Muller

    Celeste (she/her) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and Editor at Glass Media. She has a Bachelor's degree in Design (Interior Design) and is currently studying Journalism and Economics at QUT.

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