USYD Freedom of Association at Stake

by Winmas Yu (SID: 450536382)

The University of Sydney Union (USU) recently requested various student religious societies to amend their membership requirements and to ensure all university students (a.k.a. USU members) would have equal rights and accessibilities in joining a club and being executive members, otherwise they could face “deregistraion”, and, consequently, further funding and campus facilities would not be granted for club events.

University of Sydney quad” by Andrea Schaffer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The request has drawn public and media attention in late-March this year, and was reported extensively by local and national papers, with most of the attention focused on the Evangelical Union (EU) and the Catholic Society.

EU would have to abolish its requirement for prospective members to declare that “Jesus is my Lord”, while the latter was asked to open their executive positions to non-Catholics.

The USU president, Alisha Aitken-Radburn, said to News Corp, “We don’t understand why they need to force their members to say this or sign that.”

Amendments on the USU C&S Regulations

An older version of the USU Clubs and Societies (C&S) Regulations has stated that:

4.b.i. Ordinary membership of Clubs and Societies must be equally accessible to all USU Members.

4.b.iii. Exemptions to Sections 4.b.i and 4.b.ii may be granted to Clubs and Societies that provide autonomous space for specific special-needs groups in society, subject to Board approval.

However, in the 2016-effective Regulations, Sub-section 4.b.iii was removed, and further regulations regarding executive memberships were introduced:

4.b.iv. A club or society may not make the possession of an Executive position conditional on the beliefs or characteristics of an applicant, including (but not limited to) a person’s race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religious beliefs or cultural background.

4.b.v. Regulation 4.b.iv does not limit the ability of clubs to require Executive positions to hold relevant certification or specialty knowledge essential to their commission of their Executive role, such as First Aid Certificates. Such a requirement must be approved by the C&S Committee.

These sudden changes on the “accessibility principles” bring numerous questions worth investigating.

  1. Why can clubs and societies not freely decide that only like-minded students can be their club members?
  2. What happened in 2015, which led to the changes? And how were the changes proposed and approved?
  3. Why “specific special-needs groups in society” are no longer allowed to apply for exemptions from the principle?
  4. From 2016 onwards, what would happen to other societies previously exempted from the regulation, such as the Wom*n’s Revue Society and the Wom*n’s Room?
  5. Given that some religious institutions offer youth ministry courses or workshops, could these be counted as “relevant certification or specialty knowledge”?
  6. Is the amendment an act of discrimination and a violation of association freedom?

Retraction of the deregistration process

Interestingly, on April 4, four days after the deadline for the clubs to change its constitution requirements, the USU released a statement, announcing that the Union had decided not to execute the deregistration process of the religious clubs “in the meantime”, until they have consulted club representatives and obtained legal advice.

As at the publishing time of this post, no media outlet has reported on the latest update of the incident.

Comparing this decision with the firm stance that the USU took previously, a few additional questions are posed:

  1. What made the USU postpone the deregistration? What are the “competing issues” that the USU are carefully considering?
  2. What kind of resolutions can be made as a result of the meetings with club representatives?
  3. Is the USU not taking the C&S Regulations and the changes seriously? Or were the changes not carefully considered when drafting?

Interviews and target publication

My proposed feature article will therefore aim to address the above questions, by talking to representative(s) of the USU. I will also get perspectives from some of the affected groups including the EU and the Catholic society.

It is desired that the article to be published on Honi Soit, the weekly student newspaper of the University, established in 1929 and launched its online presence in 2010. The student editorial team, receiving professional training and support from the Student’s Representative Council, strives to produce more than 20 pages of “quality journalism” weekly.


Word count: 545 (regulation quotations excluded); 672 (regulation quotations included)


Comment is at: A marketing game behind sneaker culture: How to sell a pair of $240 shoes to more than $600? (256 words)


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