2021 ANUSA Elections: Meet the Candidates For Welfare Officer

CW: This article contains direct mentions of SASH and mental health.

Who are the Candidates?

Sebastian Tierney, who is running as an independent on the platform ‘Seb for Welfare’.
Grace King from ‘Grassroots ANUSA’.
Blake Iafeta from ‘Do Better! with Blake Iafeta’.
Sinead Winn from ‘Get Sh!t Done for ANUSA’.

What changes do you propose to implement?

Tierney stated that “[his] main focus as Welfare Officer would be on improving the mental health services available at ANU and working to make the Welfare Officer the main ANUSA point of call for low SES student advocacy.” 

Tierney’s key policy aims are:

  • Securing counselling options at ANU Counselling for students overseas and advocating for an increase in the number of counselling appointments available to all students.
  • The establishment of a BIPOC point of contact in the counselling service in conjunction with the ongoing work of hiring more culturally and linguistically diverse staff.
  • Continuing to work with ANU Counselling to introduce more community-specific group counselling programs.
  • Re-engaging with the work of the Young Workers Centre to combat wage theft on campus.
  • Continuing the work of the Lower the Age of Independence and Save Braddon Centrelink campaigns through a Welfare Committee and in conjunction with the Education Officer.
  • Engage with external organisations and services like Headspace and someone.health to expand the number of go-to services for students.

King hopes to “improve and increase ANUSA’s financial assistance by changing the advertisement, accessibility and ease of the grant application process”. She states that she will “also work to improve the accessibility of education by implementing a priority tutorial enrollment system, flexible learning and timetabling at every academic college”. If elected, she will “create a Working Students Facebook group and Welfare Committee to promote community, workers’ rights and specific financial services.”

“Rather than focus on ‘changes’”, Winn is “choosing to focus on improvements”. She stated that “any of the current services in place are well-intentioned good ideas, but they are not functioning as well and as widely as they should.” Some reforms Sinead would like to see include the expansion of the Student Bites program into a full-fledged Food Bank, and a reformation of the Scholarships portal with the ANU to ensure that it is accessible, clear, and easy to understand.

Iafeta has “identified many issues concerning student welfare and it is critical to address them as soon as possible”. They hope to change the following:  

  • Encourage rebuilding ANU’s sense of community through community programs, advocating for tolerance of beliefs, and respectful dialogue.
  • Advocate to prioritise funding for ANU Counselling to allow more students to utilise the service
  • Increased financial support for students including more scholarships for current students, waiving SSAF fees for eligible low-SES students, fighting the closure of Braddon Centrelink and helping students afford psychiatric treatment.
  • Increased support for victims of SASH (financial assistance for psychiatric treatment and legal aid)
  • Encourage more transparency and accessibility of information from ANUSA and ANU
  • Reintroduction of designated smoking areas

How will you protect the welfare of students at the ANU considering COVID-19?

Tierney expressed that he believes that students’ mental health and financial security must be the main priority in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The mental health impacts of COVID-19 on students have been broad ranging and incredibly damaging. (…) I think it is clear that the impacts of COVID-19 will extend beyond the next few months and so ensuring that broader mental health safety nets are improved will go some way to ensure the longer-term effects of the pandemic are also addressed.” He stated that this is a significant issue guiding his present and future advocacy goals, which is focused on improving the mental health supports available at the ANU. Additionally, he believes that ensuring emergency and medical grants are available through ANUSA and advertised widely will have a great impact on student wellbeing.

King wants to “ensure increased money is allocated to grants and bursaries while the COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect students”. She said that she will “ensure that there is adequate staffing of the Student Assistance Team to fulfil the demand of grants, including hiring staff for after-hours consultation to make sure working students are not disadvantaged”. She hopes to implement a “Strategic Communication Plan to design and track the effectiveness of advertisements for ANUSA services”. She said that she will “advocate for the ANU to provide students with further funding, academic accommodations and support for residential halls”, and will continue to call upon the “government to reinstate and/or increase the eligibility, amount and length of time that Disaster Payments, JobSeeker and Jobkeeper are offered as well as lower the age of independence and raise Youth Allowance”.

Winn stated that she believes that COVID-19 has had the worst effect on working and disabled students. “Ensuring there is an effective plan for student welfare, on and off-campus, that will be implemented if there should be a further outbreak or our current outbreak worsens, will be a key priority for me. Disabled and working students are most likely to be affected in this instance, and both ensuring continued employment/access to benefits and contingencies for disabled and working students in on-campus residences will be key to implementing this. The university’s response to COVID has been abysmal, to say the least, and it is crucial to protect the welfare of all students, particularly those more vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.” She highlighted that the transition to lockdown life has affected the mental health of all ANU students, but has had a particularly “brutal” impact on those students who are disabled. She expressed that she plans to fight for more funding and collaboration with other psychology services to ensure ANU Counselling runs more effectively. 

Iafeta stated that they felt that COVID-19 “has been incredibly destructive for the welfare of most ANU students.” One key area of concern highlighted by Iafeta was an ongoing shortage of ANU Counsellors, and they stated that they will work to ensure there is enough support available for students at all times, as “the wellbeing of students should always come before profit.” Further, they emphasised that student income is a significant problem, and thus they would like to see the introduction of more scholarships for current students, as most scholarships are only for prospective students, as well as waiving SSAF fees for eligible low-SES students. Iafeta reiterated the necessity of ensuring that international students are being “cared for as much as possible – in these extraordinary circumstances, I admire the dedication shown by them and will attempt to provide every provision necessary for their wellbeing”.

How will you overcome obstacles that prevent the prioritisation of welfare for students?

Tierney stated that he has learnt that one of the most effective ways to prioritise the welfare of students is to “provide specific, researched and practical programs, solutions and plans that attempt to improve it or that demonstrate how the welfare of students is being impacted.” He plans to develop these programs in three main ways, first by consulting with current leaders and students, second by collaborating with other universities to understand how their “effective initiatives” can be implemented at the ANU, and gathering information to present to the ANU to demonstrate the value of some programs so that they [the ANU] feel like they are taking less of a risk. Finally, he believes research and preparation go a long way in the development of a successful program, and “this approach is what I would take to the role of Welfare Officer because I think it is what helps ensure the welfare of students is prioritised, rather than the processes that the university takes to find the same solutions”.

As Welfare Officer, King hopes to “lead an activist ANUSA that efficiently provides for student needs when ANU and the government will not”. She states that “alongside the Grassroots ANUSA team, ANUSA will prioritise it’s spending towards student services and provisions as well as update how those services operate and are communicated”, arguing that students “cannot rely on the university or the government to prioritise student welfare, but we can ensure an activist student union that maximises the support it can offer and that is committed to fighting against anti-student, classist bureaucracy”.

Winn argued that a “multifaceted approach is the only effective method in overcoming adversity to student welfare”, including “campaigning both directly to the university in the form of fighting from our committee positions that the association holds, petitioning ANU Council and other decision-making bodies on campus, and most importantly, when that doesn’t work out, getting out on the lawns outside the chancellery, or wherever else this fight is”. She stated that “to be successful, campaigns need to involve working with other relevant bodies on campus to maximise our demand power, including PARSA, the NTEU, and most importantly, the NUS”.

Iafeta expressed that “it is a good idea to first identify the biggest obstacle – obsession with the politics of ANUSA rather than truly caring about the wellbeing of students.” They argued that this “largely prevents the prioritisation of student welfare, as majority [sic] of the ANUSA representatives belong to 2 or 3 domineering tickets who attempt to further their political agendas, rather than fairly represent the voices of ANU students.” They stated that they will overcome this obstacle by being a candidate who is not concerned with politics, but rather only the welfare of students.

What is one thing that you hope to implement as Welfare Officer?

Tierney hopes to achieve improvements to the mental health supports at the ANU.  He claims that “in particular, ANU Counselling is limited by insufficient funding and a clear lack of prioritisation by the university, despite the good intentions of the staff there”. He raised concerns regarding “students currently overseas, [who] are not able to access counselling services through ANU Counselling due to licensing restraints”. He also said that “the service is not well equipped to assist BIPOC, gender and sexuality diverse and low SES students, largely because there is very little representation of these groups among the counselling staff themselves”. He said that “work to address these issues would go a long way to improving the mental health support available to ANU students, which is the main thing I would hope to do as Welfare Officer.”

King “will be implementing a mutual aid system using ANUSA as a centrally located, organisational body to facilitate it”. She explained the ‘mutual aid system’ as where “members of a community voluntarily collaborate to provide for each other’s needs”. She said that this system is “rooted in anti-capitalism, centered around the notion that governments, organisations and charities often attempt to respond to the consequences of inequality, rather than its root causes”. This system is reliant upon the “donations, services and help of the community, bypassing inadequate welfare systems”, and providing “exactly what community members need … when they need it”. She says that the “mutual aid system will promote a healthy community and the redistribution of resources in favour of struggling students.”

In response to this question, Winn said that although she “want[s] to implement or work toward implementing all of [her] policies”, if she had to choose one, she would “implement an ingrained and ongoing commitment to the welfare of disabled and working students”. She stated that “these students stand to lose the most from COVID-19, from the university’s prevention of welfare prioritisation”. She said that all “policies need to have a basis in the experience of these students, and it’s my commitment due to this role being inaugural, that this will be enshrined for years to come”. However, she stated that if “I had to choose one policy, my priority is solving issues within ANU Counselling to create an affordable and accessible counselling service for students. There is no student who will not experience stress or trauma at the ANU, and there are students who suffer from life-threatening mental illness on this campus who feel they cannot access treatment because it is unaffordable. My commitment is solving this problem.”

Iafeta said that “[t]he one thing I hope to implement the most is rebuilding ANU’s sense of community. If we create a real community at ANU, everything will flow on from it – people want to help people in their community, but ANU is currently divided. Getting rid of the barriers that keep ANU disjointed will allow students to come together in solidarity and encourage students to help one another. I believe that we can do this by encouraging students to become more accepting and open-minded.”