The PARSA election debate was held at the Molonglo theatre on Tuesday evening. The debate was between Michel Watson, leading the ‘Empower for PARSA’ team and Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope leading the ‘Vision for PARSA’ team.
Afterr briefly introducing themselves, the candidates spoke about their policies. The candidates were asked first about their most important priority out of all the issues they wanted to address. Michel said Empower’s priority was to solve the problem of “social isolation” through facilitating more interaction among students and communication through social media, providing counselling, and events. She also spoke about trying and tailoring a precise “arrival package” that would help students find accommodation and would “tailor to the individual”. Zyl debated about Michel’s idea of an arrival package and said that “the accommodation problem needs to be tackled on a systemic level”. Michel asserted that accommodation was an important issue for her team and said that the “social isolation encompasses accommodation…and is the kind of overarching concern that everyone faces.” Zyl said that they had identified accommodation as one of the core issues “because of how stressful it is for students.”
The candidates were then asked about how they would create and foster diversity between the diverse and international postgraduate student cohort at the university. Michel said that the key solution to solving the problem was through holding events. She shared her thoughts about how PARSA could facilitate events that were based on diverse cultures and her team’s idea of conducting cooking classes to facilitate regular interaction and learning about cultures. In contrast, Zyl shared his ideas about how having a diverse, representative team of people was one of the best ways to ensure inclusivity for the different communities. He also suggested that recognising languages and understanding diverse cultures was important and spoke about how the Chinese community missed out on events due to language barriers. Both the candidates spoke about how they wanted to work on communicating to students lacking proficiency in English through social media.
The debate then moved onto the issues of transparency and accountability in PARSA. Zyl spoke about how transparency regarding use of money and the financial statements was important. He said that their team wanted to create infographics to convey information from the financial statements so that they are easier to understand. He also shared how providing opportunities for members to communicate and consult with their representatives was important for transparency. Michel suggested surveys and focus groups to ensure accountability and said that reports on their work and key performance indicators as well as communication of these reports would help her team maintain accountability.
After an hour of the debate, the moderator offered the audience opportunities to ask questions. The audience asked varied questions to both the candidates. They were asked about how they would measure the success of their measures and their key performance indicators (KPIs). Michel said that their KPIs were mentioned on their website and added that accommodation, grants, events, surveys were important indicators that they would measure. The issue of accomodation was discussed again and both candidates agreed that it was a stressful situation for students that they wanted to help improve. Zyl talked about the accomodation issue and said that “it was difficult to measure in that space”. The debate ended with candidates talking about their experience and how they would manage the range of responsibilities of their possible new role. Michel spoke about her experience of her role while leading teams at the Young Women’s organisation and Zyl spoke of his experience as the PARSA vice-president.