STAR vs. SPARK: Pelly-Fact Check—How Much is True?

The most public dispute of last week’s campaign was the disagreement between SPARK and STAR over several claims relating to SPARK’s two years in office. The argument played out across the groups’ social media channels, but some incorrect claims by STAR lead to an intervention by Returning Officer Mary Petrou who directed STAR to remove content from both digital and print circulation. No penalty was enforced, and STAR have amended and republished some claims. The incident highlights how quickly misleading information can spread.

Pelican has taken the time to run a fact-check over the key claims made by both sides to simplify the situation for students. Since the criticisms were initially levelled at SPARK by STAR, this article phrases the fact-checks as answers to some of STAR’s claims. Pelican does not endorse either side of the disagreement.

Did SPARK spend $20,000 on a largely unknown radio station?

The station in question is UDUB Radio, which started up last year. STAR asserted that SPARK spent $20,000 on the station, which they claimed is unknown by students.

Current Guild President Geemal Jayawickrama and Guild Director Tony Goodman confirmed that the Guild budgeted $20,000 for set-up costs and to establish UDUB Radio in 2022. Geemal also confirmed that this year the station has a budget of $1,500, which has been allocated from the special project line of the Guild Council budget; the station’s ongoing costs are substantially lower than the headline $20,000 figure quoted by STAR.

Pelican has reviewed listener reports provided by UDUB Radio personnel that show the station has recorded over 1,000 plays on its Spotify podcasts, and an average listenership of around 100 sessions per week, with each session lasting on average 2.5 hours (with lower numbers recorded over breaks). UDUB’s social media has also reached over 10,000 followers over the last three months. Guild staff also confirmed that all Guild cafés have been using the station, creating an indirect audience—but this cannot be quantified.

So, although STAR is correct when it comes to the costs, SPARK do have something to show for them.

Did SPARK lose over $40,000 on Fever Pitch while other student guilds pulled out?

The SPARK-run Guild spent a total of $61,100 on Fever Pitch. A budget of $35,000 was set aside for the event, and total ticket sales came to $14,257. The event was over budget by $11,843 and the total loss came to $46,843. These numbers were confirmed by Guild Management. STAR’s claim that there was a $40,000 loss as a result of Fever Pitch is correct.

However, it is not entirely true that other student guilds pulled out. Both Curtin and ECU did sell tickets to students at those universities, as confirmed at Guild Council. Although they did scale back their commitments they were still involved, just not financially.

Further, the budgeted loss for events over the entire year was $299,557. In 2021, STAR budgeted for a loss of $287,168, and in 2020 they budgeted for a loss of $260,530. It is fair to say that these events aren’t typically expected to be profitable. While it is fair to call into question whether events such as Fever Pitch are a good idea, there is no pretence for claiming that losses of this kind are unique to SPARK.

Are STAR historically better financial managers?

STAR claimed to have been “historically better financial managers” than SPARK on their social media channels, but is this true?

It would be short-sighted to represent the overall financial effectiveness of a party based on a direct comparison between any two years, particularly entering into the pandemic in 2020 and with the resulting turbulence.There are also significant differences in the Guild’s income structure between 2021 and 2022, influenced by factors relating to the broader economic landscape such as the Guild losing JobKeeper payments—factors both sides have brought up on their social media platforms.

During SPARK’s first year on Guild (2022) they made a $567,429 loss against a budgeted loss of $498,121 (from the mid-year budget). As it stands, the 2023 mid-year budget shows a budgeted loss of $294,999 (smaller than the initial forecast loss of $493,901 at the start of the year). However, Guild Director Tony Goodman also confirmed to Pelican that the Guild currently has a surplus of around $74,000, but stressed this could change over the next four months.

It is also true that STAR ran surpluses in 2020 and 2021. However, in 2018 STAR posted a loss of $820,986, and in 2019 a loss of $220,391.

Based on the information readily available it is Pelican’s assessment that neither STAR nor SPARK can definitively claim they are better financial managers of the Guild.

Did SPARK scrap free breakfasts and night markets?

In the November 2021 Guild Council reports, STAR cancelled the Free Breakfast and Night Market programs, with the General Secretary calling them “essentially pointless.”

STAR have stated on social media that they cancelled the programs due to pandemic restrictions (although this was not stated in the November 2021 report). STAR are promising to bring the programs back in 2024 if they win office.

Is SPARK funding the welfare pantry with Containers for Change?

The welfare pantry is funded by the Guild Council budget, and this has been supplemented by the Containers for Change program.

Did SPARK cut the Welfare Department budget?

The incoming budget report given to the newly elected SPARK Guild recommended a sixteen per cent reduction in the Welfare Department’s budget “due to the optimization of the ‘Activities & Functions’ allocations,” and further notes that “the 2022 budget better reflects the actual expenditure of the department between 2019–2021.” In short, although the Welfare Department budget was higher in 2021 under STAR, there was also an excessive amount in the budget compared to actual spending ahead of SPARK’s tenure in 2022.

What’s also important to note here is that the Welfare Department budget is not the only budget line that affects student wellbeing; this year’s Guild budget for Student Assist is $511,931, which is about the same as the $523,879 budgeted for in 2021 under STAR. In 2022, the budget for Student Assist was cut due to a reorganisation (2022 Budget Report). It was increased again in 2023 when the wages of Student Assist staff rose.

In short, multiple Guilds have altered Welfare Department and Student Assist budgets in response to changing circumstances at the University.

By Pelican Magazine

Pelican Magazine acknowledges the Whadjuk Noongar people as the Traditional Custodians of the land—Whadjuk Boodja—on which we live, write, and work. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. // Pelican is the second-oldest student publication in Australia and the only independent paper at UWA. If you like having opinions, writing, drawing, and/or free tickets to local events, then Pelican is the place for you! We print SIX themed issues a year, and run a stream of online content. // Email your 2024 Editors (Abbey Wheeler and Jack Cross) here: [email protected] // Where to find us: Upstairs in Guild Village. Address: M300, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley 6009 WA // Pelican Magazine of the UWA Student Guild & The University of Western Australia.

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