The Liberal-aligned Voices for ANUSA ticket has announced its policies for the ANUSA election. The ticket’s executive boasts a complement of candidates enmeshed within the Young Liberal Party apparatus. Unsurprisingly, Voices for ANUSA has produced a set of four interrelated policies that roughly align with the values of that party.
The ticket is running a President, Vice-President and Treasurer candidate.
Voices for ANUSA’s flagship policy is to reduce alleged “executive waste” in the ANUSA’s budget. This involves the slashing of executive salaries and reducing spending on camps and training. The remaining policies outline a ticket that plans to reinvest the savings into services for students, with a particular focus on mental health support. Additionally, Voices for ANUSA calls for greater consultation with “ethnic and religious stakeholders” in the decisions of the student union.
Policy One – Spending Cuts
One of the largest issues for the Voices for ANUSA ticket is the financial stability of the union, with the current projected deficit being a common theme in their policy material. They intend to remedy this with significant cuts to the salaries and training of executive members.
As of August 10th, executive salaries made up around $118,000 of the $1.5 million ANUSA has spent so far. This went to members of the executive in order to fulfil the $46,000 full-time salary of the President, $33,000 for the Vice-President working three and a half days a week, and roughly $20,000 each for the two-days-per-week worked by the remainder of executive members. Over the same period nearly $20,000 was spent on training.
If elected, Voices for ANUSA has pledged to cut these salaries by a third and significantly reduce travel and training expenditure. In their words:
“Tickets should be putting forward candidates that are ready to lead our union and act on the wishes of its electors. If the ANUSA executive truly needs to spend this much money… perhaps they need to rethink whether they are qualified for the job.”
When asked about this expenditure, current Treasurer Jaya Ryan said that the largest item was $7500 spent on anti-racism training, in order to “ensure that ANUSA can take active steps to creating a safer space for BIPOC employees and their representatives.” This spending also includes physical and mental first aid training and assistance with securing Working with Vulnerable People cards.
Over and above the executive salary cuts, Voices for ANUSA has pledged that, if elected, its President, Vice-President, and Treasurer will all waive their salaries.
For a ticket promising loyalty without remuneration, Voices for ANUSA may have put itself at a disadvantage by only having one of their candidates debate. Students who want to see just how much the ticket commits to the student community will not have a chance to evaluate them unless elected.
While financial stability is, of course, critically important to ANUSA, and the forgoing of nearly $100,000 over the course of a year by three key members of the executive is a generous pledge, the cutting of executive salaries may have some negative effects.
Chief among them is the issue of accessibility. The ANUSA constitution notes access and equity as a key justification of executive salaries and Ryan was quick to echo this sentiment, reinforcing that a liveable wage was important for allowing executive members to focus on their responsibilities – especially given the time commitments required for the President and Vice-President.
Policy Two – Mental Health
Voices for ANUSA’s second policy is a focus on mental health services for students. The ticket did not release specific details but has decided to focus on the key areas of affordability, quality, and universality. They criticise the current system of mental health workers in residential halls as insufficient, and have indicated that the savings from executive cuts will partly fund these improvements.
The lack of an actionable plan at this stage means that little can be said about the efficacy of this policy. However, the ticket, in identifying specific weaknesses in the system and keeping an eye on where the money is coming from, presents itself as a reasonable platform.
Policy Three – Funding Allocation
This is more of a blanket policy detailing how Voices for ANUSA plans to spend money going forward. The ticket has stated that, in the short-term, it will prioritise financial stability by using money saved from cuts to pay down any incoming deficits. However, it has also indicated that once they achieve this, they intend to funnel ANUSA’s funding into student-facing services and/or reduce student amenities fees to, “return more money into the hands of the student cohort, where the money truly belongs.”
It is hard to judge how effective this might be in practice given the lack of specific, actionable, elements. While financial stability, better services, and reducing costs for students are honourable goals, they are all drawing from a limited pool of resources and without concrete plans this policy may be more aspirational than practical.
While the ticket has repudiated the common Liberal platform of voluntary student unionism (as opposed to the current compulsory student unionism) the idea of returning money to students echoes VSU. VSU was introduced in the early 2010s and gutted most student unions, ANUSA included, before the government reinstated CSU.
Policy Four – Stakeholder Consultation
The last of the ticket’s policies is to better consult with “ethnic and religious stakeholders” on decisions made by ANUSA. In their policy release, Voices for ANUSA acknowledges the contributions of the BIPOC and Queer* departments. Additionally, they state plans for greater communication with departments on issues going forward, along with approaching Islamic, Catholic, Buddhist, and especially Jewish students’ societies.
The focus on consolidating Jewish students could be a veiled criticism of ANUSA’s pro-Palestine stance. ANUSA recently passed a motion in solidarity with the University of Melbourne’s student union motion condemning Israel as an apartheid state. This led the ANU Jewish society and the Australian Union of Jewish Students to criticise ANUSA for not consulting Jewish students; Voices for ANUSA likely aims to utilise this episode to gain broader support.
The advantages of increasing consultation with minority groups within the ANU student cohort, especially on decisions which affect them, is obvious. The ticket itself is of the opinion that “[i]nvolving more people is never a bad thing” and creating a more inclusive and diverse student union space can only improve student experience. As always, however, the results remain to be seen and the extent and structure of these consultations will greatly affect their usefulness.
Again, students might question the ticket’s commitment to engaging with the student community and including more perspectives in discussion considering that a majority of their executive candidates will not attend the debate.
If handled poorly, consultations may be little more than window dressing, or could provide an additional layer of bureaucracy, slowing down the union. Further, it is yet to be seen who is consulted, with what kind of regularity, and in what ratio with other departments and societies.
Given that religions were the only minorities named, some students may worry that this legitimises a socially conservative platform. The fact that the Coalition’s Religious Discrimination Bill was accused of just this will only heighten such students’ concerns.
The ticket has put forward several candidates:
Connor Andreadtidis for President
Brooke McKinnell for Vice-President
Anton Vassallo for Treasurer or General Representative
Charlotte Menagh for General Representative
Peerson Lynch for General Representative
Yuta Murrary for General Representative
Brodie Taylor for General Representative
Sophie Bjorkman for General Representative
Samuel More for General Representative
With the election itself fast approaching, comments have erupted online regarding other tickets’ policies. Voices for ANUSA’s policies make it somewhat of an outlier, and how the student community responds to their announcement remains to be seen.
As more and more tickets declare their policies, students may become more disillusioned with the sanitised Facebook optics of candidates. Come to the Woroni x Observer debate to see the candidates in real life and how well they know ANUSA, students, and their policies.
UPDATE: This article was updated to exclude a sentence claiming the Undergraduate Association’s Member on the ANU Council is offered $35,000 for their work. This is incorrect, the UMAC is not offered money for their work on the council.
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