Supreme Court lets Board decide fate of USYD Union Vice President

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WORDS | Anna Glen

Controversy has ensued at the University of Sydney after its Union sought to remove Vice President Tom Raue from office due to allegations of serious misconduct late last year.

The allegations came after Raue disclosed findings from a confidential Union report to student newspaper Honi Soit, including details surrounding protests that took place on the University’s Open Day in August last year, which suggested the police and Union staff members were in close alliance.

The Union accused Raue of gross misconduct and subsequently announced a special meeting to have him removed. Raue claims his actions were in the “public interest” as they shed light on potential collusion between the Union and the police and sought an injunction from the court to prevent the board from removing him.

In the hearing, Raue’s Counsel argued that his actions did not constitute misconduct and, furthermore, that the Union board was acting beyond its power in exercising provisions to remove him, as the regulations in question were inconsistent with other components within the Union constitution.

He also submitted that the findings released to Honi Soit were public knowledge, and even if they were not, the information was not in fact ‘confidential’ in the technical sense because the report had not been properly prepared by the Union.

Justice Geoffrey Bellew found against Raue, removing the injunction and ordering Raue him to pay all legal costs. The removal of the injunction paves way for the Board to make a decision on Raue’s position in the Union.

In coming to his decision Justice Bellew accepted that the information was not confidential as it had not been properly prepared because Raue had not been afforded due procedural fairness. This is because the report included details of Raue’s participation in the protests however he was not approached for comment by any Union official and only saw the report once it was published.

That said, this component has little practical implication as Justice Bellew found that the Board did have the power to remove Raue and that the question of his misconduct was non justiciable.

He said acceptance of Raue’s claim that the board had overreached its power in attempting to remove him would lead to “absurd” results as it would allow a director, irrespective of his or her conduct, to enjoy “unimpeachable security of tenure for the period for which the Constitution provides” disenabling the Union from acting even in cases of gross dishonesty.

On the matter of misconduct Justice Bellew made no decision saying it was a matter that should be left to the Board.

Raue appears to have relished on this point, having been reported in Honi Soit saying, “although the judge ruled that the Board has the power to remove me he did not say that I committed misconduct”.

Raue’s comment has appeared to some as somewhat misguided given Justice Bellew simply made the point that it was not the courts place to intervene. So while he may not have been found Raue guilty of misconduct, he was not found innocent of it either.

This will be a matter for the Board, who will make their decision some time next week.