In relation to electing the National President the Paper states,
“..the National President and National Vice President will be elected by the Board from amongst their number on an annual basis, rather than be elected by the members..The President being elected by the Directors rather than the members is the usual practice in contemporary association governance. This is because the Directors will have closer experience in working with potential office bearers than the membership at large. The primary role of the President is to chair and manage the work of the Board. This means that the Directors are in a better position to assess who would best perform this role.” (my emphasis)
A “closer experience”? It is quite possible that many Directors will be meeting each other for the first time. The Board is asking the members to leave these decisions to the grown-ups because they know best. Am I the only one who feels patronised?
In fact, the current Constitution is rather more expansive about the role, stating that the President,
is available to consult with the CEO and delegated staff on Company matters between Board meetings;
c) represents the Board and the Company between its meetings;
d) reports all important interim actions to the Board;
e) in consultation with the Board, nominates convenors of all national committees who are ratified by the Board;
f) is an ex-officio member of all Company Boards, committees and other Company forums (excluding the ethics panel) but must not be appointed as a convenor of a national committee or a division of the Australian College of Social Work while holding the office of the National President;
g) assumes portfolio responsibilities for national committees as outlined in the By Laws and determined by the Board;
h) shall regularly communicate with members about the Company, its operations and issues affecting the profession;
This proposal will in effect downgrade the role of President to an annually elected chair of the Board. Currently, the President is a guide, mentor and Board communication conduit for the CEO, as well as being the public face of the profession. The AASW proposal seeks to put these duties in the “governance charter”- where of course they can be changed at the whim of any future Board without consultation.
Democracy is the wisdom of the crowd – and direct elections that involve all eligible voters are truly consequential. If the US election had been directly decided by the voters, Hilary Clinton would be President, have gotten 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. Similarly, if the Labor Party had directly elected their leader, it would not have been Bill Shorten, and if the Greens members had had their say, it would not have been Richard Di Natale.
Stripping students of voting rights
Another dubious idea floated in the Discussion Paper is to deprive student members of the right to vote. The paper states,
“It is common in an association of professionals for Student Members not to have voting rights until they become a full and qualified member of the profession. Not all Student Members will go on to become social workers. Completion rates for students undertaking Bachelor of Social Work courses hover are around 64%, with lower completion rates for students who study off-campus, are part-time, are mature-age students, have low ATAR scores or are of low socio-economic status.” (my emphasis)
I find this deeply offensive on many levels. Students are adults. As prospective social workers they have (up until now) had the right to participate in choosing their professional leaders. What is the relevance of ATAR’s and completion rates? Could they have kept the right to vote if they were smarter and more well off? Does the fact that it is “common” elsewhere for students not to vote make it right? Has conformity become a guiding principle of the AASW?
There are around 15,000 social work students in Australia. The AASW has been able to enrol a paltry 10% of these students as members. Our students are graduating into a precarious work environment. Full time permanent jobs are diminishing. Temporary contracts are the norm, and private practitioners’ incomes fluctuate with the whim of government. We need to enrol far more students as members now! Having a commitment to social justice and building the social work profession means being inclusive and fostering diversity. It also means being as democratic as possible.
Moving messy stuff (State Branches, The College, Ethics Committee) into the by laws
The proposal states,
The Australian College of Social .. is not a part of the governance structure of AASW. It is more appropriate that the rules around the College are placed in internal policy documents or the by-laws, rather than in the constitution.
.. branches are not a part of the governance structure of AASW. It is more appropriate that the rules around branch operations are placed in internal policy documents or the ByLaws, rather than in the Constitution.
6.2 The current clauses B15 and B16 regarding payment of capitation fees will be removed. The allocation of the Association’s finances is the responsibility of the Board based on the agreed plan and budget. As the Branches are not separate legal entities, the management and control of funds rests with the AASW Board and under delegated authority to the CEO.
Current rule D20 lists 3 mandatory Board committees. This will be amended so that the only mandatory Board committee will the Finance, Audit & Risk Committee. The Constitution should give the Board flexibility to set up (and cease) other committees as required (my emphasis)
The Discussion Paper doesn’t bother to tell us what these committees are. And so -a reminder- the 3 committees are Finance, Risk Management and Ethics. In effect, 2 committees are being combined and the Ethics Committee will be banished to the Bylaws or another sub document. Ethics is the main purpose of our profession! Our heart and soul.
Whilst lip service is paid to the Branches, the College and the Code of Ethics , once they are removed from the Constitution to the Bylaws, they can be radically changed or abolished without consulting the membership at all. Any current Board that seeks to reassure that such a thing could never happen, cannot guarantee the action of future Boards.
So why make it possible? The net effect is to unnecessarily centralise power and diminish diversity. The Branches, The College, and our ethics experts need a measure of power, authority and relative independence.
The AASW is a broad church. Whether it be College experts; brilliant researchers; ethicists, branch committees; or mature aged students, struggling to finish their degree whilst keeping food on the table; all are entitled to a voice. We need a constitution that is a platform for a robust exchange of ideas, not a cosy consensus amongst a handful of powerbrokers behind closed doors.
Some of the key values of social work are empowerment, inclusion and participation. Let our structures embody our values. I hope the membership give this emerging monoculture a reality check.
The AASW want the membership to approve these changes at the AGM in Perth in November this year. The consultation process around these proposed changes has been very poor to date.
If you are as worried as I am, join those who want a longer, more inclusive and comprehensive consultation process. Sign this online petition so that we can slow down this process and make it more transparent and inclusive.