AASW election 2017: reflections on our voting system and the challenges ahead

Another AASW election has come and gone. Most of the membership barely noticed.

8,917 members were eligible to vote, but only 1,608 did so; a bare 18%, and only a small improvement on last year. Of the remaining 7,309 members, most would have tossed their ballot papers into the bin. Well-intentioned but overly restrictive election by laws have contributed to keeping AASW elections a low participation sport.

The AASW however, has a very simple means at its disposal to significantly increase participation. It can ensure that every year there is an online forum/debate available for any member to log in live, or view later. This would give every candidate an opportunity to present their policies and answer questions. The mechanism to establish the format with an independent chair can easily be set up with appropriate by laws.

Candidates might also be more civil to each other if they conversed live – face to face. Indeed, I have on occasion felt that some candidates seem appalled that I have the temerity to be standing against them at all. They forget that a contest enhances legitimacy for the winners. We honour democracy and our opponents by showing up.

For a handful of members (around 500) the election was much livelier, due to their membership of social work Facebook groups that encouraged election discussion. (Kudos to the administrators of those groups). I do wonder what the non member social workers in those groups thought about some of the exchanges.

The results were as follows

National President

Christine Craik was elected National President.

Christine Craik (Craik ticket) 689 votes 43%

Vittorio Cintio (members first ticket) 626 votes 39%

Marie-Claire Cheron-Sauer 293 votes 18%


National Vice President

Lynne Harrold is elected National Vice President.

Lynne Harrold (members first ticket) 864 votes 57%

Barbara Moerd (Craik ticket) 639 votes 43%


National Directors

Peter Munn and Jenny Rose are elected National Directors.

Peter Munn(Craik ticket recommendation)  626 votes 21.4%

Jenny Rose (Craik ticket) 568 votes 19.5%

Julianne Whyte (members first ticket) 532 18.2%

Christine Fejo-King 479 votes 16.4%

David Gould 477 votes 16.3%

Jill Garratt 237 votes 8.1%

Congratulations to the winners. I am particularly pleased that my friend and members first running mate, Lynne Harrold, won a Vice President position. She will be a breathe of fresh air on the Board.

The result of the election was a serious wake up call for the ruling majority on the Board. Support for the ruling majority ticket declined again this year. In the election for President, Vice President and 2 Board members, the ticket of the current ruling majority yielded very similar percentages; for President 43%; for Vice President 43%; and for Board members 41%.  It is clear that 57% of voters are now unconvinced by the scare tactics of the ruling majority, or their narrative of trusting an experienced, safe pair of hands.

Despite their low 40’s percentage, the Craik ticket won three of the four positions up for grabs. This is simply due to the vagaries of ‘first past the post’ voting, particularly in circumstances where there are more than two candidates. If Christine Craik had only faced one challenger, either myself or Marie Claire, she might well have been defeated. And equally in an optional preferential system, facing two opponents swapping preferences, she might also have lost. Similarly, in an optional preferential system, challengers swopping preferences where two Board positions are available, would have in all likelihood, ensured that the Craik ticket and challengers got one position each, in the voting patterns apparent in 2017.

Let me be very clear that I am not questioning the legitimacy of the result. The rules are the rules. British government elections have been run in ‘first past the post’ fashion for many years. If I had been successful in a first past the post system, I would have taken the result- thank you very much! To quote an old Persian proverb- the dogs bark but the caravan moves on.

What I am questioning is the ‘first past the post’ system itself. Three years ago, on the recommendation of the independent Returning Officer it hires to run elections, The AASW adopted the optional preferential system. It is a system Australians are very familiar with, being used in most government elections. In 2016 however, the AASW returned to first past the post voting, without explanation, despite the Returning Officer’s advice to the contrary. To make matters worse, the AASW refused to release the Returning Officer’s report from last year’s election; something that most organisations release as a matter of course.

The optional preferential system is widely acknowledged as both fairer and more likely to honour diversity. Second and third preferences are meaningful, and matter when there are more than two candidates for a position.  Two years of ‘first past the post’ voting have ensured that the ruling majority have six out of the eight contested positions (75%), whilst having less than 50% of voting member support. Monocultures might be convenient in the short term, but cultures need diversity to thrive. An optional preferential system would have delivered a far more diverse and representative Board. The first past the post system is blind to any sense of representative fairness-  it will deliver lopsided, winner take all results, for whoever gets their nose in front.

As I have stated repeatedly, it is a disgrace for an organisation with a commitment to fairness and social justice to continue using a ‘first past the post’ system.

 Policy Challenges

Turning to the policy issues, six years of treading water has led to an urgent build-up of issues that need to be addressed.

  • The revised ASWEAS is imploding before the ink is dry on the new rules.
  • There is a shortage of quality student placements. We have no analysis of the root causes, and as yet no clear plan to address the issue.
  • We are far too reliant on member fees for income. For other associations CPD is a significant part of their revenue stream.
  • Members are crying out for specialisation and credentialing.
  • 14,500 social work students need to be signed up en masse.
  • We need to work with trade unions to protect social workers being asked to provide services in unethical circumstances.
  • We need innovation in providing networks for our members to connect with each other. This can’t be left to Facebook.
  • We need better and more responsive service to private practitioners.
  • We have 1,500 members on the introductory new graduate fee. Without a nationwide mentoring program, we can expect a significant number of these new graduates will not transfer to full fee membership.

The new Board has much work to do. I am sure we all wish it well, and hope it gets cracking.

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One Response to AASW election 2017: reflections on our voting system and the challenges ahead

  1. Craig Brewer says:

    Thanks Vittorio for stepping up in the first place. I totally agree that the process should be more open and transparent; however, we have what the election gave us.

    Now we need to ensure that we remain vigilant and keep raising the issues and challenging the stagnation. A number of comments were made during the election campaign process that made a lot of sense and they cam from the grass root membership. Lets see if they were taken seriously.

    Social Work as a profession needs to keep one foot in the real world whilst looking for practice informed evidence so that what we do is in fact evidence based. Unfortunately, the academic ivory tower prevents the issue from being fully addressed.

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