Special Issue: Melbourne University Law Students' Society Elections
Issue 7, Semester 2
Editor’s Note: This story was researched and written by members of the De Minimis editorial board in response to contact by a concerned member of the LSS committee. De Minimis does not advocate a specific position on this matter. We encourage all students to approach us for publication of their stories and thoughts about the goings-on at Melbourne Law School.
At the monthly general committee meeting on August 26th, the LSS committee approved expenditure of $2,500.00 on the annual end-of-year committee celebration party ‘End of Reign’ according to an anonymous source within the LSS committee. As per the minutes provided by LSS, the motion was passed with twenty-seven votes in favour, two against, one abstention, and one voting member not being present or allocating a proxy.
According to the source, the party to be held at Benjy’s Karaoke Bar on Lygon St in October, has had an expenditure breakdown approved of $2000.00 allocated for a bar tab, and $500.00 allocated for food. When reached for comment, the LSS clarified that $2000.00 was the minimum expenditure required by the venue to secure a booking.
It is not uncommon for student societies and non-profits to hold end-of-year parties for members. It is understood that in previous years, the LSS has approved budgets of approximately $2000.00 for similar events.
The entire LSS committee of ninety-one members, comprising of thirty-one voting committee members and sixty appointed co-opt positions, has been invited to the event, which constitutes a nominal expenditure of approximately $27.50 per attendee. However, the source has raised concerns that the expenditure may be disproportionate to the actual attendance. They have suggested that based on similar events in previous years, and attendance by co-opts at public events throughout 2019, the majority of co-opt members, who are generally less involved with the committee, are unlikely to attend, resulting in a considerably higher expenditure per person. The source also highlighted that other events throughout the year have been allocated substantially lower budgets, such as the Annual Queer Lecture with a total attendance of approximately seventy students being allocated $500.00 for catering, alcohol and speaker gifts.
When presented for comment, the LSS leadership team disputed these claims, stating that in previous years, many co-opts did choose to attend the end-of-year event. They clarified that the increased expense from previous years was due to a decision to move the event to a public venue, rather than the traditional practice of holding it a committee member’s home, and that they hoped with the move to a public venue, more members would choose to attend. They stated that the event had received seventy RSVPs on Facebook. They also suggested that other events such as the Queer Annual Lecture were not comparable in purpose or format, and that an appropriate comparison would be the annual trivia night, with an approximate expense breakdown of $27.00 per attendee including ticket sales. The LSS leadership team contends that the expenditure on the party is a reasonable reward for the efforts undertaken by volunteer committee members throughout the year on behalf of the LSS and wider student body.
Independently of the spending, the anonymous committee member suggested that this issue highlights concern over the transparency and accessibility of committee decisions and finances. At the time of publication, it is understood by De Minimis that whilst financial reports are delivered at the LSS Annual General Meeting, and financial documents and minutes of committee meetings are available to LSS members upon making a request to the secretary; that financial reports, agendas for upcoming meetings and committee meeting minutes are not published or made available outside of submitting requests. The reading and distribution of annual financial reports at the Annual General Meeting does not take place until after the election of the subsequent year’s committee. Concerns have been raised that this approach requires students to proactively request information on committee minutes and finances prior to being made aware of the subject matter of committee decisions. The LSS maintains that all students are entitled to request financial reports and committee minutes from the LSS Secretary, and has volunteered relevant documents to De Minimis in preparation of this story.
Presidential candidates for the 2020 LSS Committee, Sarah Watling and Daniel Bennett-Spark were contacted for comment on how they voted on the expenditure approval. Both declined to disclose their vote, stating that the vote was conducted anonymously, and they did not wish to pressure other committee members into revealing their own decisions. They encouraged concerned students to view the minutes of LSS committee meetings.
Official Comment from LSS Leadership Team
The LSS has always prioritised and substantially invested in its members. Committee members spend hours of time and effort to put on events and create opportunities that benefit students directly. Directors and co opts always aim to act with the best interests of LSS members, and through their actions have consistently shown a commitment to their peers. The End of Reign is a small token of recognition of all the hard work put in by students, in voluntary positions, to benefit their cohort and peers, whilst also juggling similar pressures of studies, clerkships, work and other extracurricular commitments.
This LSS receives funding from a number of sources and sponsors with student contributions being a very small percentage of this, student contributions are not used to fund the End of Reign event. This event was debated and discussed in detail to ensure that there has been no breach of the duties held by directors.
Concerns expressed about transparency will be taken on board, we are always aiming to work towards making the LSS’ processes as open to students as possible. If anyone has any additional questions or concerns about the End of Reign event or any of the LSS’ events or processes please do not hesitate to email either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org