PresDebate

This year’s ANUSA Presidential Race, happening on the afternoon of Friday 12 August, has distinguished itself from others by being significantly coloured with joke tickets, leaving the race largely down to the Connect and Amplify tickets for 2017.

Current ANUSA President, Ben Gill, announced – only a few days before the elections were to start – that the ANUSA election will be postponed due to contractual issues between ANU and Membership Solutions Limited (MSL), the company which will be used for the online voting. Gill noted that as ANU is enacted under Commonwealth law, it acts as a governmental agency and negotiations of this kind are often difficult.

However, regarding the data security needed to conduct a campus-wide election, the data security of students is of the highest priority and that which the ANU is seeking to protect.

Four tickets were in attendance of the debate; the competent ‘Amplify’ led by James Connelly, the reaching ‘Connect’ fronted by Karan Dhamija, ‘Make ANU Great Again’ represented by gen rep Lewis Pope and ‘John Cena for ANUSA’ with a student in a John Cena mask. The four candidates displayed a sharp bipartisan divide between hilarity and significance, and with Gill’s fateful words of “don’t be a dick is basically a ground rule”, the debate commenced.

Gill and Ria Pflaum, Editor-In-Chief of Woroni, moderated the debate, kicking off by asking the candidates how they will work with a team to achieve their goals. Pope noted his great leadership and called for a wall off the bat. Dhamija noted his external experience, helping to run a ‘national NGO’ with a budget similar to that of ANUSA. The ‘Connect’ Presidential hopeful also accredited his time at university, watching ANUSA for four years to as providing him with an indication of what has and hasn’t worked.

The masked candidate declared, “John Cena can lead the ANU”.

Connolly, current Education Officer of ANUSA, indicated his experience as working as part of a team and how he had built his ticket through an “open gen rep process encouraging people to bring new ideas”. Connolly also stated that the ability to achieve goals depended largely on open communication about challenges within the team.

Considering the mentally and physically taxing role of ANUSA President, the candidates were asked about their approaches to self-care. Connolly acknowledged self-care as his “biggest weakness”, indicating that he had already discussed this with his team. The Amplify candidate stated that dealing with pressure required “delegation, letting go, being up front with students”.

Pope volunteered that he was the smartest person in the debate and suggested that he would deal with pressure well.

Dhamija conveyed that he would deal with stress by delegating to trustworthy and competent people, this would be achieved he said by, “trying to work out how you always have the most open channels of communication”.

Cena attributed self-care to remaining in “peak physical fitness at all times”.

Questions concerning the Grants and Affiliations Committee (GAC) steered the debate towards the more administrative fine points of ANUSA Presidency. Here Connect and Amplify distinguished themselves with wildly different policies regarding GAC reform.

Dhamija called for “professional part-time staff” and the need to shift the GAC portfolio from the Social Officer to the Treasurer. He suggested that this shift would be most sensible, freeing up the Social Officer to engage in new projects apart from Bush and O-week. When questioned as to what the Social Officer would actually do, since GAC responsibilities make up most of the portfolio outside of the orientation weeks, Dhamija suggested that N-week (the week before O-week) could be explored.

However, N-week is designed for the leadership committees of residential colleges to prepare for O-week and for the ANU to run programs for international students. Dhamija’s reforms may require the Social Officer to overwork themselves running a week of activities  prior to the busiest week of the university calendar.

Connolly took a more traditional approach. He stated that his ticket was putting forth a Social Officer with experience on GAC and that this was vital for making the affiliation of clubs and societies more efficient whilst avoiding the “ballooning of costs around GAC”. Connolly also stated that the treasurer has other administrative duties. Dhamija tried to defend his  policy with the suggestion that GAC should shift to the Treasurer as the role calls for someone who can understand finances.

Both Connect and Amplify called acknowledged the need for consultation in GAC reform. Connolly suggested the regularization of consultation forums as necessary to instill confidence within the student body and Dhamija noted that ANUSA has to be more proactive.

Regarding the redevelopment of Union Court, Connolly voiced concern over losing the office ‘shop-fronts’ and stated that the process of moving to a ‘pop-up village’ required the building of relations between staff to encourage student engagement. Dhamija too suggested that the transition would provide opportunities to create a “much more productive working environment”.

Dhamija also brought up the need to preserve or improve the health and counseling services, calling for “active consultation” with students regarding the possible privitisation of these services. Connolly stated, “we need better services on campus to support students’ mental health”, calling for student consultation to better counseling support.

With so much focus on ‘student consultation’ as the buzzword of the debate, Pope declared it was important for people to be heard and 2nd amendment rights to be preserved.

Connolly and Dhamija also tackled issues surrounding NUS. Both candidates acknowledged the institutional problems within NUS, such as the ‘Bachelor-esque’ bullying and backstabbing that has affected delegates in the past. The Presidential hopefuls both stated they would attend the conference as observers to determine whether procedures ensuring the well-being and security of delegates were in place, before they even considered re-affiliating with the organisation.

Concerning payment and funding to departments, Connolly stated that funding needed to be protected within the constitution. Connolly suggested that the autonomy of departments needed to come first and foremost, whether or not department officers are employee of the association., Dhamija also spoke about the importance of departmental autonomy and “consultation.”  

The promotion of gender equality within the association and the student body was the next topic of discussion, with both Connolly and Dhamija apologising for being male-identifying men.

Both candidates acknowledged they could not speak on behalf of women as Pope asserted that “I myself have broken the glass ceiling for them”. In shock Cena questioned why there was no ‘Divas division’.

Connolly cited the fifty-fifty gender split on the Amplify ticket, indicating the need to give female-identifying people platforms. Dhamija, once again apologized for his gender and said it was ‘sad’ that there was no female identifying candidate. Dhamija repeated  the suggestion to give women platforms.

Besides the  comedic value of a Trump-inspired ticket and the tiredness of Cena, the debate gave an overwhelming picture of the competence of Connolly and Dhamija.

However, the ultimate quality of the debate has been called into question, as there were no major divergences in policy, with much agreement on certain issues and accusations of repeated buzzwords.  Students who Woroni interacted with after the debate noted the departure from more lively Presidential debates in previous years.