ANU’s Labor factions have had their best performance in ANUSA elections in almost a decade, taking two executive positions for the first time since 2014 and coming within seven votes of the Vice Presidency.
The results are a breakthrough for political party-aligned tickets, which have long been excluded from student union leadership at ANU.
Labor-aligned ticket Stand Up! won the positions of Treasurer and General Secretary, while the politically unaffiliated Together for ANUSA ticket’s candidates won the positions of President, Vice President, and Officers for Clubs, Education and Welfare.
While the whole SRC has power over the Association’s operations, the ultimate responsibility for ANUSA’s multi-million dollar budget lies with the executive. The seven executive members will each be paid a stipend of at least $20,000 for their one-year term in office.
The ANUSA executive has typically been dominated by independent or non-partisan tickets since 1996. Faction-backed tickets were thrown out of office after that year’s Labor Right ticket got caught out for electoral fraud in the ‘Wadgate’ scandal. Students switched to support independent tickets, made up of carefully selected popular and politically unaffiliated student candidates.
The independents were so disheartened by defeat that they didn’t contest the 2007 election, which let the Labor Right ticket sweep the executive and then secure another win in 2008. However, Labor students were knocked out of office in 2009, when former Woroni editor-in-chief and Greens supporter Tully Fletcher took the presidency, then locked out when an unaligned ticket retook the reins in 2010.
When unaligned tickets didn’t sweep the exec, they would often only lose one position to a solo independent, like in 2018, 2019, and 2022. Alternatively, they lost a couple of positions to unaligned candidates running with Labor Left-aligned tickets. Two Labor-backed independents made the executive in 2017, while 2020’s students elected a solo independent along with an independent from the Labor Left-aligned ticket Proud! Of Our ANUSA.
ANU students’ intense anti-partisanship has forced candidates who had formerly run on Labor tickets to disown their party and imitate independents to become electable, the pattern followed by the winning exec candidates in 2016 and 2017.
Students’ distaste for factions even extended to non-partisan factions like Grassroots from NUS. A Grassroots-aligned ticket took out the top spots in 2019, but students rejected its factional successor in 2020 in favour of a new factionless ticket, Brighter Together.
The last time a red-blooded Labor hack won executive office was the highly-contested 2014 election, where independent candidates and Labor candidates took three executive positions each. 2023 is the first time openly Labor-allied students have made the ANUSA exec in nine years.
You have to wonder how Labor got anything at all this year. But a few factors nudged voters their way.
For one thing, Stand Up!’s competitors were effectively asking for a third term in a row. Students noticed that Together for ANUSA’s executive candidates included the incumbent General Secretary, Clubs Officer, Welfare Officer and a general representative, each of whom ran with the Power in Community ticket that swept last year’s election. Power also shared personnel similarities with 2021’s successful Grassroots ticket, and Grassroots drew many of its candidates from the previous year’s SRC. The non-partisan greenies avoided factional alignment, but they made themselves an establishment on campus.
As a result, Together bore the burden of every ANUSA misstep since 2021 – the absence of a promised Night Cafe, the absence of a promised bus along Daley Road, indecision over NUS affiliation and the perennial harrumph at the SRC’s focus on protest. Voters could recognise the incumbents, and they could blame them.
It’s very rare that tickets run and win multiple years in a row. The independents of the early noughties got thrown out once they got cliquey, and students rejected Labor Right after two terms in control of the exec. More recently, presidential candidate Ben Gill won office in 2014 with the support of ANUSA’s autonomous departments, then ran and won again despite the departments forming their own ticket. However, the 2015 and 2016 executives led by Gill weren’t a coherent bunch, and they dispersed once he left. Given recent history, it’s amazing that the Together crew has stayed together this long.
The incumbent team’s enduring success points to the second reason they lost paint this year: the Together ticket lost some of its broad left-wing voter base. While 2020’s Brighter Together knocked over its non-partisan competitors, Brighter’s 2021 successor ticket consciously built a coalition by bringing in past opposing candidates and went as far as calling itself “Grassroots”. The ticket swept the executive, converting Brighter’s insurgency into an ANUSA dynasty that has endured to this day.
But Together’s coalition took a hit this year when Beatrice Tucker (they/them), a key candidate in Flynn’s 2021 Grassroots ticket and capable activist, withdrew from their incumbent former colleagues. Tucker and allies from Solidarity, a faction new to ANU, instead unsuccessfully competed for officer positions – one of which went to Stand Up!.
While Together’s support base splintered this year, Stand Up! made a conscious effort to build a coalition of previous competitors, as Grassroots did. By combining students from factions as diverse as ANU’s Labor Left, Labor Right, and Socialist Alternative, the group turned this year’s election into a two-party contest and broke nearly a decade of drought for party-aligned tickets. The results were so close that a sharper anti-incumbent message and a more professional campaign could have won them a majority on the executive.
Can Stand Up! take its small wins to greater heights? Decades of Woroni articles on ANUSA drama suggest Labor hacks get thrown out sooner than later. Labor candidates took half the executive positions in 2014, then lost them all the next year after the Left and Right factions split. If Stand Up! can hold its coalition together, it might force ANU’s independents to reset. But keeping Labor Right and SAlt on the same page… that’s a big ‘if’.
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