Undergraduate students at the ANU will be given the chance to head to the polls and determine the future of their students’ association this week with campaigners set to work the non- exclusion zone pavements.
Many student politics observers and those familiar with the campaigns have said that the election is too close to call, as all candidates have implored students to vote.
The current vice-president, Eleanor Kay, has faced the current social officer, Cameron Allan, in a close campaign which has so far focused on strong personalities, the National Union of Students (NUS), and the future of revenue for ANUSA.
An independent candidate, Natasha Kumar, entered the race last – a Facebook page went live on 12 August – with a welfare-based platform on a naive campaign. Her policies focus heavily on women’s issues, and countering disadvantage.
If elected she would be the first woman of colour to serve as ANUSA president in more than a decade.
Her policies are informed by her advocacy and pastoral roles as deputy disabilities officer in 2014, and her roles at Headspace and Lifeline, she told the presidential debate last week.
Policies include supporting the 15 demands made by ANUSA and PARSA in response to the AHRC survey on sexual assault and sexual harassment, specifically on perpetrator accountability, and providing better lighting on campus.
She would also implement better support systems for struggling students, including interest free student loans for housing emergencies, larger welfare grants and greater transparency with Centrelink and other support providers.
In her only policy relating to international students she calls for greater working rights for students, citing continuing issues with underpayment.
Kumar eschewed tradition by not running for Council member, saying she ‘wanted to be a people’s president’ and that the role would be a ‘conflicting interest.’
‘I’m not in the mood to do a balancing act between the two policies’.
Both Kay and Allan are also running for the ANU Council position, saying it was integral to maintain the power and knowledge the role provides to ANUSA.
Allan said if the role was split ‘all of that conversation and all of that knowledge and all of that hard work is lost.’
He said it was integral to use the discussions prior to and within Council to inform ANUSA discussions and generate feedback ahead of time.
Kay hoped to expand the power of ANUSA within the ANU’s committees and Council. She hoped to become ‘meaningful partners in decision-making.’
She cited the changes in the University Education Committee, where students are now partners in decision-making rather than just consultees.
Allan said he had ‘absolutely loved working with the Shake Up team’, saying it had heightened his awareness of the ‘inaccessibility of ANUSA elections.’
‘People have been really unnecessarily mean and malicious during these elections, and that does a disservice to the whole student body,’ Allan told Woroni.
‘Myself and Shake Up are now very committed to reforming elections next year, and we are committed to holding ourselves to a high standard of behaviour.’
Allan criticised Woroni for not publishing his whole statement on his financial management skills. Allan said he had ‘successfully attained the most sponsorship ANUSA has ever seen in both O-Week and Busk Week.’
‘I provided comment to Woroni … about my financial wins, and they were not included in the article. If there is a trust issue amongst students, it’s because they do not know the full story,’ he said.
But Kay said that she thought this election had felt a lot nicer than previous years’ and that it was not her role to ‘run a smear campaign against Cam’ on his history of financial management. It was for the student body to decide what’s important when they vote, Kay said.
‘It takes a lot of guts to run,’ she said. ‘It should be a space for critique of policy, not people.’
‘I decided to run because I’m tired of seeing qualified women not putting their hand up to run for elected positions. Over my past three years with ANUSA, I’ve seen plenty of mediocre men jump to stand for elected position, and plenty of slaying women doubt their own competence.
‘Over the past four years, eight men have run for president, and only one woman. President isn’t a man’s job, and if by running I can encourage other women to stand up, then that’s a win for me,’ Kay said.
The campaign has also seen renewed focus on the role of general representatives within ANUSA, with two tickets – Stand Apart and Activate – fielding a slew of candidates for the positions.
Stand Apart, which has advocated disaccreditation and then ultimately disaffiliation from the NUS with occasional mixed messaging, has strong links to the ANU Liberal Club. The ticket convenor, Ashish Nagesh, is the treasurer of the club.
Meanwhile, Activate ANUSA’s ticket convenor, Nick Dourous, is a senior campus Labor Right figure and the NUS ACT branch secretary. Six of Activate’s 14 candidates are members of the Australian Labor Party.
Another semi-rogue element of the campaign has been the independent bid by Sebastian Rossi, the president of the Men’s Network, for the ANUSA vice-presidency. Rossi has faced harsh criticism.
The convenor of the National Labor Students faction in the ACT, Dom Cradick, said that Rossi had ‘absolutely no chance’ of being elected.
‘He hasn’t gone to SRC meetings, he doesn’t understand ANUSA. Clearly this person shouldn’t be vice- president,’ he said.
But Rossi remains confident, prepared to work with whomever is elected president. He told Woroni over the weekend that he had run a campaign that tried not to ‘annoy people accidentally.’
‘I don’t want to harass people with fliers and posters,’ he said. He said he was considering sitting on a stall during the election week, inviting students to approach him to engage with his policy. ‘I’m trying to try something different,’ he said.
Rossi channelled Robert Menzies’ ‘forgotten people’, saying he held support with students who don’t usually vote in ANUSA elections and who ‘aren’t currently involved’. Rossi said he had ‘no idea how much support I have.’
He said – as a Left-leaning Centrist – he appealed not only to International students, but to those who lean to the Right.
The presidential debate revealed the many similarities between Lift and Shake Up policies, both hoping to address accessibility of ANUSA, communication, support of College Reps and structural reform to ANUSA.
Lift ANUSA’s policies focus strongly on improving the efficiency of ANUSA and secure financial longevity. A key policy spearheaded by prospective Lift treasurer Lewis Pope hopes to diversify revenue streams of ANUSA so it is less reliant on the federal government’s whims on SSAF.
Shake Up has focused on expanding the role of ANUSA to include greater advocacy for an ethical and inclusive campus, under a banner of ‘creativity and vibrancy’. This incorporates accessibility of events and more nuanced policies relating to engagement, inclusion and support for international students.
A topic of debate was greater support for college representatives, as seven of 12 college rep representatives resigned over the course of 2017.
Kay said she was keen to celebrate the successes of her representatives and work consultatively with them.
‘Cam said I was one of the most consultative people on the executive,’ she said.
Allan was quick to say that he would also celebrate college representatives successes. Shake Up has policies on project-based honoraria to support their activities, and hopes that general representatives would also pick up the slack during busy periods.
Another topic of debate was the relationship ANUSA has with their departments.
Both tickets agreed that they would sit down early in the year to note points of collaboration and to set out expectations.
Kay suggested that the situation would require a mid-year review. She said that ‘communication was the key’ and proposed ‘regular meetings outside the SRC space.’
She also signalled that the SRC would be a key space for reform continuing into next year, following on from the SRC Working Groups initiated by the current general secretary, Kat Reed. This included an external review of the SRC, and a general governance review promoted by Eden Lim, Lift’s general secretary candidate.
On this issue, Allan hoped to diversify the way information was disseminated to students.
However he acknowledged that ‘there are a lot of structural issues with how students see themselves as part of ANUSA’.
Kay remained hopeful the SRC would be ‘the fundamental space’ because ‘some issues aren’t able to be simplified to an infographic’.
Shake Up hopes for social events to be more sustained throughout the year, and for greater support of clubs and societies in hosting events. They hoped to engage off-campus students by diversifying venues and providing off-campus events, part of their post-Union Court strategy.
They hoped to communicate social events more effectively through an app, following failures this year to create an integrated online calendar of events.
Undergraduate students can vote online between 9am Monday, 21 and 4pm Thursday, 24 August.