Macquarie v MUPRA Case “a First” for Student Unionism in Australia

The legal team representing seven Macquarie University postgraduate students who will this week appear in the Supreme Court of NSW as defendants against their own University, has described the case as “a first” and “unique”, noting that an Australian Court has never before been asked to compulsorily wind up an unincorporated, solvent student organisation.

“This case is unique. It is the first case in which a University has sought compulsorily to wind up an unincorporated student association, much less one having substantial assets. It is the first time since 1904 that a Court has been asked to wind up a voluntary association using its inherent jurisdiction” argues the final submission by the Macquarie University Postgraduate Representative Association (MUPRA) and its seven 2014 Executive members, prepared by Barrister, Sebastian Hartford-Davis of Banco Chambers.
“(T)here is no reported decision in which a voluntary association, including a student association operating at a University, has been dissolved otherwise than at the initiative of a member or a creditor” the submission goes on to say.
Macquarie student and Vice President (Equity) of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, Mia Kwok said the case could set a worrying precedent for student unions.
“We’ve never seen a University use the Courts to try to wind up an operational, solvent student association in this way before” Ms Kwok said.
“Many student unions are concerned that this is the tip of the iceberg and that, if Macquarie is successful, other Universities will view this case as a precedent allowing them to close their own student unions” said Ms Kwok.
Macquarie University began legal proceedings to compulsorily wind up MUPRA in August, 2014, following several years of discussions around the fate of the sole remaining independent student association on campus.
MUPRA has operated as a representative organisation of Macquarie postgraduate students since 1996.
As part of its case, Macquarie University is attempting to seize over $500,000 in reserves accumulated by MUPRA through student membership fees prior to the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism.
Macquarie University v MUPRA will be heard in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Thursday May 7 and Friday May 8, 10am to 4pm.