Uni keeps ‘overwhelmingly positive’ merger vote secret

The University of South Australia has refused to tell a parliamentary inquiry whether its governing council voted unanimously to support merging with the University of Adelaide.

Aug 18, 2023, updated Aug 18, 2023
(L-R) University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Peter Høj and chancellor Catherine Branson with UniSA chancellor Pauline Carr and vice-chancellor David Lloyd at the university merger committee inquiry on Tuesday. Photo: Tony Lewis/Indaily

(L-R) University of Adelaide vice-chancellor Peter Høj and chancellor Catherine Branson with UniSA chancellor Pauline Carr and vice-chancellor David Lloyd at the university merger committee inquiry on Tuesday. Photo: Tony Lewis/Indaily

UniSA chancellor Pauline Carr on Tuesday told the parliamentary inquiry into the establishment of Adelaide University that the UniSA council’s vote was “overwhelmingly positive” – but the actual voting result was confidential.

University of Adelaide chancellor Catherine Branson said no one on Adelaide’s council voted against the merger, although there was one abstention.

Carr said UniSA’s 15-member council had 10 business days and two weekends to review the final feasibility assessments for the merger before voting on whether to support it.

She also said the council undertook a “detailed pre-meeting workshop” and there were “numerous documents presented to council over a period of months”.

“The support for the feasibility study to proceed was overwhelmingly positive, however…  I undertook to council that the result of the vote would remain confidential,” Carr told MPs.

Greens MLC Tammy Franks asked whether the vote was unanimous or not, to which Carr replied: “As I said, overwhelmingly positive but the result will remain confidential.”

Asked why the vote was confidential, Carr said: “Because that is what I undertook for the council members to freely consider the matter and to not feel under any pressure to decide one way or the other.”

Asked whether there was a vote to keep the results confidential, Carr said: “Council agreed to utilise the electronic voting system that is used for university elections – it was on the understanding that the voting response would be confidential and would not be shared.

“At the end of the day, what matters is that the council voted in favour and, as I said, it was overwhelmingly positive and the specifics of the vote remain confidential.”

UniSA chancellor Pauline Carr. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

It comes after UniSA earlier this week redacted almost all details from the minutes of its council meeting where it agreed to support the merger.

The document, which InDaily requested via freedom of information (FOI), showed the council met on Monday, June 26, and Thursday, June 29, before announcing the merger on the night of Saturday, July 1.

The results of the council vote, and the 18 paragraphs detailing what the council voted on, were fully redacted by UniSA in their FOI release.

Of the 13 agenda items in the minutes, only three – the meeting opening, acknowledgement of country and meeting closure – were left unredacted.

The universities did this week provide the parliamentary committee with a 28-page “comprehensive summary” of its merger business case.

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The document revealed that the universities forecast they will need to spend between $500m and $650m from 2023 to 2030 to amalgamate.

The Malinauskas Government has agreed to provide $444.5m in support through perpetual funds, land purchases and funding for international student attraction.

UniSA vice-chancellor David Lloyd told the committee this week the new university would be in an “unacceptable risk position” without this funding.

University of Adelaide chancellor Branson said her council also had around 10 days to review the final documentation.

“Our council was updated, over the six months that these documents were being prepared, about what they were showing,” she told MPs.

“And as they were being refined the council was alert, broadly, to the substance of the documents – so they didn’t come to them as a bolt out of the blue when we got closer to the meeting.”

Branson said those who drafted the feasibility documents answered all questions from the university council.

“The councils were being kept up to date as the documents were being brought into existence because their content was of course so important,” she said.

“Had it been that a business case couldn’t be satisfactorily made or for some other reason it wasn’t feasible, council would have wanted to know at the earliest possible opportunity.

“At the meeting itself I explored with council whether they wished to have a confidential vote – our rules allow for that – and nobody sought it. At the end of the meeting, no member of the council of the University of Adelaide opposed the resolution. One member abstained from voting.”

The merger inquiry resumes on Monday, September 4.

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