Sydney Mardi Gras to consider postponing board election
The board of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) will this evening meet to discuss the approaching annual general meeting (AGM) and rising community concerns surrounding ghost membership applications.
Former Mardi Gras Board member Damon Hartley told SX a meeting has been called tonight to discuss recommendations by the Returning Officer and Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) on the best course of action regarding the board election following the discovery of fake applications.
Hartley suggested if the board were to accept the recommendations of the Returning Officer, the AGM would go ahead but the vote for new board members would be postponed until a complete audit of the membership base could be conducted. This will most likely delay the vote by several months.
Earlier this week, news came to light that all new applications for Mardi Gras membership have been placed on hold after it emerged a number of fake applications were made during the period of August 1-8.
As part of its due diligence process, SGLMG monitors and assesses the bona fides of people applying for new membership. Management puts forward a list of membership applicants to the board and the board is required under the Constitution to accept, reject or refer the application back for further clarification if it appears suspicious.
SGLMG confirmed that a number of new applicants were “highly dubious” and in some cases “clearly false applications”.
In order to preserve the integrity of the membership, the board made the extraordinary decision the night before electronic voting was due to commence (August 9) to not approve any new applications for membership made after July 31 until the applicants’ bona fides could be confirmed.
In doing so, many existing board members and potential new board members lost hundreds of proxie votes.
SGLMG circulated a message to prospective members informing them their membership had been put on hold, and outlined the circumstances of the decision.
Many community members have raised their concern, suggesting the move would unfairly favour existing board members over new candidates who would usually receive most of their votes from recruiting new members.
Community members took to social media calling for the postponement of the AGM. Some also questioned the arbitrary nature of the July 31 cut-off date.
Mardi Gras spokesperson James Rongen-Hall told SX, prior to July 31, sample tests of the new membership database had not revealed any anomalies.
“The result of the sample testing demonstrated for applications received between the 1 August and 8 August, a significantly high number of dubious, and in some cases clearly false applications,” Rongen-Hall said.
“Tests applied to applications prior to that period gave no cause for concern.”
However since the Returning Officer discovered the false memberships, SGLMG has been in extensive discussions with ASIC and sought legal advice regarding the postponement of the AGM.
Hartley told SX he believed one of the recommendations of the Returning Officer would be that there is a full audit of the membership base to ensure its integrity.
He also said the fate of legitimate applicants, whose memberships were put on hold, lay in the hands of ASIC.
As it stands Mardi Gras’ by-laws say new members cannot be accepted 14 days prior to an AGM, therefore ASIC would have to make an exemption in order for these new members to vote if the vote were to go ahead on August 23.
If SGLMG agrees to the Returning Officer’s proposition to postpone the vote for the board, then this will become a moot point as the election will no longer take place.
James Rongen Hall also advised SX that an investigation into the false memberships was well underway and any potential sanctions that might be enacted dependent on the outcome of the investigation.
Hartley commented that the attempt to tamper with the vote was unprecedented and something he had never seen or heard of in thirty years of membership and several years’ service on the Board.
“It could be a career-ending move,” Hartley said. “Falsifying votes is a serious offence and the police could be involved. A criminal record can end some careers, and for what – the opportunity to be on the board of Mardi Gras – which can be a very thankless job.”