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To: University of Sydney Union
USU, don't bankrupt Tom Raue for whistleblowing
During the 2013 staff strikes at Sydney University, Tom Raue, then Vice-President of the University of Sydney Union (USU), leaked part of a USU report proving that the University had collaborated with the NSW riot police in shutting down staff and student protests. The University had denied such collaboration with the police up until this point.
USU Board Directors are elected to serve students, and should always be looking out for student welfare. Tom did exactly this; he did the right thing.
But the USU said that the information Tom leaked was confidential, and the then President moved to censure Tom and eject him from the USU Board. Tom challenged the decision in the NSW Supreme Court in a case he ultimately lost.
Nonetheless, when the motion to eject Tom from Board was voted on, it failed. Following a campaign that included a petition signed by more than 600 students, the Board recognised that the information Tom had leaked was in the interests of students and that he ought not be punished for revealing it.
Now, more than a year after the majority of the 2014 USU Board voted to keep Tom on board, the 2015 Board has decided to pursue Tom for $50,000 worth of legal fees the Union spent defending itself in court.
A number of the directors who voted on May 29 to pursue Tom for costs vocally defended him last year. This smacks of hypocrisy. If the USU decides to pursue Tom in court for costs, he will be forced to declare bankruptcy.
It's important to stress that the USU decided to spend this money; it spent over $100,000 in total on the court proceedings. Tom was represented by a pro bono lawyer from the very beginning.
Worse still, the Board voted to pursue Tom for costs in an 'in camera' session with a secret ballot. Tom campaigned tirelessly for a more transparent USU throughout his time as a Board Director, and the USU has made some steps towards greater transparency in its decision-making since his time on Board. But the secrecy surrounding the decision to seek costs from Tom makes a mockery of these efforts.
All of this is an outrage. Tom blew the whistle on Sydney University's reprehensible collaboration with the NSW police, and he should not be punished for doing so, particularly after the USU last year voted to recognise that he had acted in the interests of staff and students at the University.
We therefore demand that:
1. The USU immediately rescind its decision to pursue Tom for its legal fees.
2. The USU urgently implement measures to ensure more transparent decision-making processes. The USU is a members' organisation and should not make crucial decisions behind closed doors and without accountability.
3. The USU hold a general meeting, open to all members, to canvas members' views on the costs issue, and broader issues of democracy and transparency in the Union.
Why is this important?
Tom did what any good student representative should do. He acted in the interests of the students who elected him. Many students were brutalised by riot police on picket lines during the 2013 staff strikes. Students had a right to know that the university was collaborating with the police in shutting down protests and endangering their safety. USU Directors seemed to have come around to this position last year, but now they have changed their minds and want to impose $50,000 worth of legal fees on Tom for speaking out in students' interests. This is disgraceful and it must be strongly opposed.
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