ANUSA Executive: The Budget Smugglers

As a member of ANUSA, it must be questioned why we are heading into second semester without adequate budget negotiations, after a preceding semester of ineffective and poorly managed budget policy. Why did the ANUSA executive decide to throw out a funding model that has been working for years? Why did ANUSA ignore the advice and wishes of the department officers, so far as to completely disregard any alternative funding models? Why does ANUSA continue to completely disrespect the core fundamental principles of the departments and their autonomy? Why, after everything that the Department Officers predicted would go wrong with the first model did indeed go wrong, does ANUSA continue to ignore the advice and concerns of these officers?

This year the initial funding proposal provided departments with the constitutionally required amount on the condition that this be used exclusively for “general day to day expenses.” This was a term which the executive never adequately defined. Department Officers were then required to submit applications for further funding to run campaigns and events, the services accessed by the greatest number of students, to justify the need for those events. At the time, a number of Officers, including myself, expressed considerable concern about the way this model would impact on the autonomy of collectives, as well as concerns about the administrative time required. This model was implemented for semester one regardless, and the concerns raised were all realised. As a result, the model was abandoned after the semester.

The second funding proposal, to be implemented for semester two, has apparently been copied from the University of Sydney Student Representative Council. It requires Department Officers to provide budgets to the Executive, who then make a determination about how much money to allocate to each Department. To be clear, this process will involve a group of individuals who may not belong to any of the collectives involved, making a determination as to whether the proposed activities of Women’s, Indigenous, Disabilities, Queer* or International students, are in fact best for the students represented by those groups, and then prioritising between them the finite amount of funding to be allocated. The requirement for the provision of a budget, which will be used as a basis for determining the total amount of a department’s funding, is a significant interference into the autonomous nature of departments. The provision of a budget to the ANUSA executive opens up department expenditure to unnecessary oversight, and allows the possibility that the executive will disapprove of certain expenditure – which will impact the amount of funding a department receives.

I refuse to accept that decisions made about increasing the safety and wellbeing of these groups should be taken from them, and I am not alone in this. Three of the four departments who provided feedback strongly disagreed with this proposal, however the executive have decided to proceed regardless. Simply stating that a model respects the autonomous decision-making processes of collectives (as the executive have persistently done) does not make it so. The purpose of allowing us control over our budgets is to ensure that the interests of oppressed and minority groups within the university are adequately catered for and are not interfered with by any ANUSA executive. Without control of our own budgets, departments are unable to fulfil their role in the ANU community.

The executive’s approach to department funding this year has reflected complete disrespect for the work that departments do and the importance of our place within the ANUSA structure. The ‘consultation’ process has disregarded the collective experience of this year’s department officers. Why did ANUSA think it was appropriate, or even remotely financially accountable, to give full discretion to further funding for collectives to one individual man? Did ANUSA President Cam Wilson seriously not find it problematic that he alone has the authority to decide what events were appropriate for the Women’s Department to run? Is this an avant-garde art piece in which he is the representation and embodiment of the patriarchy? Sure, we have a straight white male as our Federal Minister for Women, but I don’t believe there’s any evidence to suggest this is a model worth replicating amongst our student representatives.

My concerns here are not simply speculative. These policies have already revealed differences in views on the importance of funding campaigns and events intended to increase the safety and wellbeing of women on campus. Under the semester one funding model ANUSA President, Cam Wilson, vetoed the provision of funds for Domestic Violence Crisis Service training for ANU staff and students. This training has been run previously as part of the 2013 ‘Not a Wife Beater’ campaign with great success and resulted in a shift of policy in relation to domestic violence within our university community.

The executive’s obsession with ‘necessary oversight’ of department spending is absurd, particularly in a year where ANUSA is expecting a surplus. The ANUSA Constitution already implements measures to keep a check on department funding – Department Officers are required to submit a spending report at each SRC and are required to provide a financial report at the end of their term. These are adequate measures and have been effective since the implementation of the constitution.

Departments are important autonomous entities within ANUSA because they represent groups on campus that face distinct barriers to accessing higher education. The role of these officers is to advocate for students whose experiences may be distinct from the ‘norm’. Because of this, at times the aims of departments may be at odds with those of the executive. As such, it is crucial that any difference in opinion regarding policy does not impact on the ability of departments to effectively represent these groups on campus. I believe that the approach this year’s ANUSA executive have taken to funding departments will impede on this autonomy, and therefore their respective capacity to effectively advocate for the safety and wellbeing of the students they represent.

I support the provision of a single sum at the beginning of the year. This sum should be the same for all departments. This model, which has worked well for many years, protects the autonomy of departments and ensures that any potential biases of current and future ANUSA executives do not interfere with the allocation of funds to different departments.

For those who might be asking their own questions right now, like why Woroni is being used as a platform for this discussion – the ANUSA executive are students that were not only elected to represent the wider student community, but are getting paid well to do it. If the ANUSA executive is going to continue to run ineffective and limiting policy, then I am prepared to straight up Leslie Knope that situation.

Students should always feel as if they can demand better of their representatives, and this executive could do much better by the student body.

 

Erin Gillen is the Women’s Officer of ANUSA and Head of The Women’s Department, the representative body for all undergraduate women on campus. The Officer is available to provide advocacy, support and referrals to undergraduate women students. The Women’s Department is also in charge of the Women’s Collective, which is open to all undergraduate women students, and meets regularly to organise and run campaigns and events on campus. The Department also has a women’s only space, the Rapunzel Room, which is accessible 24/7, and has a never ending supply of coco pops.

 

For more information on the ANU Women’s Department, visit: anuwomensdepartment.com