Oppermann unopposed as ACS President – Clarke ruled ineligible

4 March 2020

The new President of the troubled Australian Computer Society will almost certainly be Dr Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist for the NSW Government.

He will be unopposed at the 11 March election after his only rival, Dr Roger Clarke, was ruled ineligible to stand under the restrictive rules of the Society’s voting procedure.

Dr Clarke’s candidacy was always a longshot. He is the leader of the rebel group that successfully challenged the improperly conducted vote ACS held October 2019 in an attempt to reconstitute it into a company limited by guarantee.

He stood to provide an alternative, but was rejected on the grounds that his previous membership of the national committee – a requirement for President – was not relevant because it was when the National Management Committee was called a Council, before constitutional changes ten years ago.

ACS is currently without a President for the first time in its 52 year history. So confident was the National Management Committee of success in October’s vote that it did not run elections for positions, including that of President, which would not have been needed under the new constitution.

The candidacy of Professor Ashley Goldsworthy, who stood for membership Vice President, was also rejected, on the grounds that he was not endorsed by a majority of the state and territory boards. This is despite the fact that he is the only person to have been both president and CEO of ACS. He is an ally of Dr Clarke’s and has been even more critical of ACS management.

“The eligibility criteria reduced the number of possible candidates to well under 1% of the professional membership,” Dr Clarke told iTWire after his candidacy was rejected. “The rule they invoked to exclude me is pretty obscure.

“They say that there are no transition provisions, and they assert (probably unjustifiably) that the position I held back then wasn’t relevant anyway.”

Dr Clarke is the leader of a vocal group of mostly senior ACS members who are opposed to the direction of ACS and the strategies it is adopting to become more commercial. He said he would continue to oppose the position of the current CEO and Management Committee.

“The actual damage done to our cause by this is pretty limited,” he said. “Even if Ashley and I had both won, it would not have been enough to change balance of power within the Management Committee. They have some iron-clad support already in there, and the inside running on some positions.

“It’s even something of a positive that they’re so keen to keep us off the ballot. It suggests that they’re a lot less sure of their support than they were last year. We will continue our opposition to their attempts to alter the Constitution, which we believe is not in the interests of members.”

Dr Clarke said that management was further trying to restrict voting by insisting that all electors for the vacant positions for President, Vice President and Management Committee members on 11 March must be physically present in Sydney to cast their vote.

“They won’t let people vote in advance or vote remotely. For people in the Northern Territory or Western Australia that means a day’s travelling on either side of a Wednesday meeting. That’s three days out of the workplace, just to vote for one from two for Vice-President and two from six for the last two National Congress representative positions.”

Professor Goldsworthy was typically colourful in his comments. “Tammany Hall is alive and well,” he told iTWire. That was a reference to the notoriously corrupt New York political outfit that became a byword for vote stacking (he is a former Federal President of the Liberal Party). “Draw the curtains and don’t let the sunshine in.”

“This makes it even more important that future court discussions result in a more open, member based, responsible and transparent management. Who knows, professionalism may emerge in the end.”

Likely President Dr Ian Oppermann is not identified with either side in the increasingly acrimonious debate over the future of ACS. He is a widely respected figure in the industry, a former Nokia executive and CSIRO director. He is NSW’s first Chief Data Scientist and CEO of the state’s Data Analytics Centre.

He is also President of the Australia National Committee of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the incoming President of the JTC1, the influential joint technical committee of the International Organization for Standardization and the IEC, which oversees many IT standards.

ACS President is an honorary, but influential, position. Dr Oppermann will need all the skills that his impressive credentials suggest he possesses to navigate his way through the current situation. He told iTWire he is unable to comment on behalf of ACS before the vote.

He did say that he has heard many people dedicated to the future of ACS express deep and diverse concerns about the current direction. “Rebuilding these relationships will be an important part of moving forward.”

iTWire’s repeated requests for an interview with ACS CEO Andrew Johnson remain unanswered.