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No Napping for Napthine

16 May 2016

Simon Napthine is set to take over as CEO of student organisation MUSUL Services, which faces major issues on multiple fronts.

MUSUL provides a range of corporate services to student organisations, manages Union House and runs several businesses. It is currently locked in an open dispute with the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) and faces a period of change relating to a potential new student precinct. MUSUL has faced years of criticism from student and staff Union officials. Napthine’s appointment could be a turning point for the organisation.

Simon Napthine will start his time at MUSUL in July, taking over from Trevor White. White has held the job since late 2011, following the resignation of his troubled predecessor, Clemens Unger.

Napthine is currently the General Manager of the Graduate Student Association, following a successful career in the wine and consulting industries. He is also a former Labor federal candidate and the brother of former Victorian Liberal Premier Denis Napthine. Napthine says he is excited by his new role. “I’m very excited by the challenges this role is going to present and looking forward to working with all the stakeholders,” he says.

Ross McPherson, the chair of the MUSUL Board, praised Napthine in a staff memo. “In appointing Simon as CEO, the board was impressed with his broad management experience, his business acumen, his strengths in leadership and his warm, interpersonal style,” he said. MUSUL is a University­owned subsidiary, the board of which consists of a mix of University staff and student representatives. It receives over $700,000 from the Student Services and Amenities Fee money every year.

The organisation provides UMSU with behind­the­scenes corporate services, from finance to informational technology support. But UMSU officials have long expressed frustrations with MUSUL, both formally and informally.

Tensions came to a head this year. At a March meeting, UMSU Students’ Council passed a motion expressing a major lack of confidence in MUSUL.

The motion raised the option of terminating the formal UMSU­MUSUL relationship, governed by the Facilities & Services Agreement (FSA). Another option UMSU pledged to consider was “identifying alternate models of corporate service provision”. That could render a large part of MUSUL’s existence irrelevant.

Since then, a working group report to UMSU Students’ Council has also made the recommendation that UMSU establishes a corporate services division responsible for managing services MUSUL currently offers, such as human resources, finance, IT and OHS.“Further contact has been made with MUSUL in relation to the request to ‘show cause’ as to why the FSA should not be terminated. No formal response has been received from MUSUL,” said a report to a late April Students’ Council by UMSU General Manager Justin Baré.

In March, MUSUL revealed that “accounting irregularities” were found at the organisation, with money lost and a staff member subsequently ceasing to work for the organisation. It was the latest in a string of issues around its governance.

A number of delays, miscalculations and errors in MUSUL’s financial services to UMSU drew ire from Union officials. Most notably, MUSUL twice miscalculated UMSU’s 2014 budget by tens of thousands of dollars. Other areas, including HR and infrastructure, also saw delays. In addition, MUSUL was accused of failing to keep on top of key issues and documents.

The FSA process has resulted in significant tensions. The negotiation process itself featured delays, disagreements and public criticism.

MUSUL has also repeatedly been taken to the Fair Work Commission by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). In 2011, MUSUL was taken to the commission by the NTEU over previous CEO Clemens Unger’s proposals to cut jobs and services. In 2014, MUSUL again faced action over its use of fixed­term contracts, with their handling of the matter leaving the NTEU “surprised and disappointed”. Both times saw MUSUL reach a settlement with the NTEU. Any prospective new MUSUL CEO will face a period of change in the University more broadly.

Current proposals circulating around University management could see UMSU relocated to a new student precinct, Union House demolished for apartments and food decentralised around campus. These changes, if finalised and implemented, could see MUSUL’s other roles made redundant.

The MUSUL Board and new CEO Simon Napthine will provide strategic direction around many of these issues.


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