SYDNEY Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will tonight consider delaying its annual general meeting (AGM) and board elections following this week’s decision to suspend up to 150 new membership applications which the organisation deemed as potentially “dubious”.
In an email on Monday, Mardi Gras said “a significantly high number of dubious, and in some cases, clearly false applications” for membership had been made in the run up to the this year’s board elections on August 23.
Mardi Gras said even those applications subsequently found to be genuine would not be permitted to vote in the elections due to time constraints.
The decision was criticised by some who said it would favour incumbent election candidates whose supporters are often already members.
Former Mardi Gras treasurer Philip Kershaw, who is not standing for election, said the integrity of the election process had been lost.
“All candidates were aware of the deadline of last Friday [8 August] and worked to that deadline,” he told the Star Observer.
“Changing the rules retrospectively is not good corporate governance, particularly when half the candidates are on the board that made that decision.”
While Kershaw stressed there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing by current board members, he nonetheless said there was a “conflict of interest”.
“The denial of these applicants potentially favours the incumbents and those who have been board associates because they have had opportunity to sign up friends, family and supporters earlier than other candidates,” he said.
A surge in memberships is not unusual before an election with new candidates often encouraging their supporters to sign up and vote.
Kershaw said that while false membership applications should be thrown out, it was “not fair” to those who had invested time and money to try and become Mardi Gras members.
“It is imperative that Mardi Gras makes a significant effort to try and allow these valid applicants to become members and vote,” said the former treasurer, who flagged a possible delay to the elections to allow memberships to be scrutinised.
This afternoon, Mardi Gras senior manager James Rongen-Hall said a delay was on the cards.
“A board meeting is being held tonight to consider legal advice, and advice from ASIC, regarding potential courses of action with regard to the upcoming AGM and election of directors,” he said.
Earlier, Mardi Gras defended their handling of the membership applications investigation, telling the Star Observer: “The obligation of the board under the constitution and Corporations Act is to accept genuine membership applications only and where there is reasonable suspicion to either refer the application back to the applicant or to refuse the application.”
Rongen-Hall confirmed this was the first time such a suspension had taken place but this was due to the “significant number of irregularities” occurring during such a short space of time.
Asked whether Mardi Gras recognised concerns that suspending new memberships could have an effect on the election, Rongen-Hall said: “Yes. Whilst it is regrettable that some bona fide members will be affected by this process, the overriding priority is to protect the integrity of the election and other matters being voted on at the AGM.”