On Thursday 20th August, the 2016 Australian National University Students Association (ANUSA) presidential candidates Jack Gaudie, Elsa Merrick and Ben Gill discussed their policy ideas and responded to student questions at Woroni’s Great Presidential Debate.
With each candidate starting with a 2-minute opening speech, Ben Gill, current ANUSA President and Let’s candidate, stated that he was immensely proud of the massive increase and engagement of students with ANUSA’s services this year due to a targeted effort in communication, especially non-residential and international students, something he said he was particularly passionate about.
Stating that his experience over the current presidential term made him one of the strongest candidates, he focused on issues of student wellbeing and the support networks students relied on, as well as increasing support for international and Indigenous students, who typically face more barriers both in engaging with ANUSA and the wider Canberra community.
Elsa Merrick, running with Open, described accessibility to ANUSA’s services as one of her top priorities as well, expressing that Open wanted to see students “included in every single choice ANUSA makes”, and that she saw ANUSA in more of a facilitator role.
“This ANUSA is about students – what the university is lacking is a transparent uniform consultation process that not only gives students the opportunity to have their voice heard, but also to see where their feedback is going.”
Highlighting issues of safety on campus, and support for the departments were also two main policies the current Environment Officer focused on throughout the night.
Running with the Ready ticket, current Social Officer, Jack Gaudie, mentioned that his role on the executive this year had taught him a lot about how ANUSA ran, and how important it was for students.
“Ready’s ANUSA would be one that listens, that advocates, that continues assistance for the mental and physical well-being of students.”
Stating that he wanted to focus on long-term reform, Gaudie said that his policy priority would surround structural issues within the current education policy. Changing the role of Education Officer would play a large part in this, he said, moving from a role more focused on issues of higher education to include more internal aspects as well, such as working a lot more closely with the faculty representatives.
Addressing the contentious issue of re accreditation with the National Union of Students (NUS), all candidates said they would support reaccreditation, though admitted there needed to be better communication and treatment of delegates, moving away from what Merrick called a current “toxic environment.”
Questions both pre-selected and from the audience raised issues of the balance between department autonomy and fiscal responsibility in the ANUSA departments, with Merrick stating that finances had been an impairment in Department Officers’ abilities throughout this year, and that finances shouldn’t be an obstacle in “doing something you’re passionate about.”
There was a focus on increasing support for international students throughout the night, with Gill stating the four biggest problems for international students were “employability, cost of living, accommodation and community engagement.”
Gaudie agreed, adding that Ready’s goal was to change the stigma around mental health, through increased communication.
Confronting an issue raised by much of the ANU student body, that of tickets being influenced by political leanings, Merrick made the point that all Open executive candidates were independent, as it was important for ANUSA to be ‘impartial.’
Gaudie admitted that he had never shied away from saying he was a Labor supporter, but that in putting together his ticket, that hadn’t been a consideration.
“I just looked for people that were ready to commit to the marathon that is ANUSA, rather than the sprint that is the election.”
Gill closed his comments by stating that “things happening at this university are exciting, but student consultation was definitely needed.”
Merrick joked that whilst all the candidates had great ideas, “some were better than others”, with Gaudie agreeing that the diversity of views could give way to a range of different futures.
ANUSA elections will be held from the 24th to the 27th of August.