AASW Constitutional changes: Planning for the past and stripping the rights of student members

Very few members of the AASW will have so far engaged with the proposed changes to the Constitution of the AASW. Reading a lengthy document or attending a meeting is something most of us will avoid. Consequently it is disappointing that the AASW has not established a website forum to promote “discussion”. In my dictionary “discussion” is not a one-way process. But worse still, the discussion paper is not a discussion at all, but simply a piece of advocacy promoting one view and one view only. Given this unabashed bias, and any attempt to put alternate options, it would have been preferable to see published the actual draft changes that we will be asked to vote on. There also seems to be no plan to publish any submissions or member comments on the AASW website? I hope this is forthcoming.

If you think there will be an opportunity to debate these changes at the AGM- think again. The result will have been decided beforehand by proxy votes.

Changing the constitution requires the approval of at least 75% of members present at a meeting or by proxy. (Proxies counts as part of the 75% at the meeting) It is therefore a big deal- not done lightly or often.

Any constitution should establish broad intent and broad principles, as well as providing for future needs. Every other policy and procedure of an organisation must be consistent with its constitution. This includes by-laws, charters, plans and the like. Our by-laws are changed often, without notifying the membership, as they are usually uncontroversial changes that give better operational effect to our Constitution. By way of example, the constitution does not need to be changed to enable preferential voting in AASW elections. And in fact the Board changed this by-law two months ago in preparation for the next election.

Any discussion of changing by-laws is an unnecessary complication in the context changing the constitution, as by-laws must necessarily be updated after any change in the Constitution. As for a governance charter- let’s see it. We can then provide some informed comment. (Hopefully on a web forum!)


The current membership rule is deliberately simple.

“The Board may by resolution establish in the by-laws, categories and levels of voting, non-voting, life and honorary membership and determine the eligibility requirements, rights and obligations for each class of membership.

Before making any substantive changes to by-laws related to membership categories, education or accreditation standards, the Board shall engage in reasonable consultation with the membership and other interested parties”

 This allows for maximum flexibility in adjusting membership categories. So what is the benefit of locking “graduates of accredited social work programs” into the Constitution? Beyond asserting the “need”, the discussion paper does not explain this. And why does the international qualification assessment process then need to be included in the Constitution? Well only because we do not accredit overseas social work courses. (Except New Zealand courses by default!) If we lock categories into our constitution, we must then enumerate all the exceptions.

But locking in membership categories is a minor matter compared to stripping our student members of their full membership rights. Currently students may stand for the full range of elected positions on our National Board and Branches. Removing this right is akin to telling an Australian citizen who happens to be a student that she can vote in a municipal, state or federal election, but cannot run for office.

Elected offices are inherently political. The AASW Board is stating that it does not trust its own members to vote for the candidate best suited to the role. We should need no reminding that the average age of a social work graduate is thirty years and rising- in no small part due to the popularity of masters qualifying programs.

The most puzzling initiative of all is the proposed amendment that a Director of the AASW Board cannot have their membership terminated by any decision of the AASW except at a general meeting of members. This means that a serious proven ethical breach that would normally lead to termination of membership would not apply if a member was also a Board Director. Are we seriously proposing a special general meeting of the membership to ratify an ethics decision if the member is also a Board Director? Surely this is an unintentional mistake?

Board Committees

The proposal that the Executive Committee of the Board be abolished has me very concerned. It would have the effect of concentrating more power in the hands of the President. As it is, the President has significant power in the day-to-day operations of the AASW through her liaison role with the CEO. The National Executive meets between Board meetings to provide advice, guidance and oversight. Redundant of course if everyone on the Board is in complete agreement all the time, but a vital check when interpretations of policy and process vary.


Any fiddling with the administrative governance of branches addresses yesterday’s problems rather than tackling root causes of discontent.

There is no reason why Branches could not run their own elections or use electronic means of ensuring as many people vote as possible.

And Branches need not be limited by geography. Why not enable branches to be formed on the basis of mutual policy or practice interest?

The deeper issues however relate to money, power and role allocation. The role of the Branches is vague and overlaps with national initiatives. The funding formula for Branches is contested. This is a set of governance problems that has gone on for too long.

Branches need to be treated as key stakeholders in deciding AASW priorities and the funding that flows with it. This means funding programs- not positions. It means funding branches to deliver those programs rather than being tied to self-limiting capitation formulas. With virtual technologies there is no reason why national programs cannot be delivered from Darwin or Hobart. Money is power. If Branch Presidents are not involved at the very beginning of the budget allocation process these issues will continue to fester.

Let us hope the governance charter positively tackles these problems and that Branches play a foundation role in developing the charter.

I will be attending the next AGM. When the time approaches let me know If you would like me to hold your proxy.

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