Branded in brightly-coloured campaign T-shirts, eight keen presidential candidates took to the stage at Wednesday’s ANU Students’ Association (ANUSA) Presidential Debate, hosted by Woroni. Yet students were left disappointed by uninspired performances, with candidates consistently failing to differentiate their respective platforms, and neglecting to communicate any concrete costed policies to their voters.
All competently answered questions relating to ANUSA’s advocacy and representation arms, with issues covered including postgraduate students, mental illness and educational challenges at the ANU. However the absence of discussion surrounding ANUSA’s operational services and staffing, an area which consumes the vast majority of the association’s time and resources, left the audience wondering whether candidates actually knew what the role of President entails.
When asked what items of expenditure they envisaged to absorb some of ANUSA’s significant ongoing annual surpluses, only Connect and Student House Party could offer solid proposals. Connect’s Ben Gill advocated hiring a Clubs and Societies Liaison Officer while Student House Party’s Jed Buchanan suggested that ANUSA’s investment portfolio be restructured to include residential property.
On the other hand, Fling’s Michael Harrison and Fetch’s Oscar Morgain proposed sinking the funds into professional consultancy fees, stating respectively that they would “seek external financial advice for a viability study into investment options” and “[do] reviews of things we want to see happen in 2015… taking that money and actually putting it into reviewing exactly how ANUSA stands.”
The 2014 ANUSA Executive asked candidates why they had not been consulted during tickets’ policy development, with all present being forced to admit that they had failed to do so. Of the candidates, only Gill is a current member of the Student Representative Council (SRC).
Throughout the debate answers were riddled with federal politics-inspired drivel, with candidates at pains to point out that a particular issue was “close to [their] heart” (Morgain) or that they “had put a lot of thought/work into” (Harrison/Gill) it. Despite their words, charisma and conviction are not strengths of this year’s hopefuls, apart from a few key moments such as Gill’s fiery response to Woroni Managing Editor Alex Catalan-Flores when challenged on the topic of the financial accountability of ANUSA’s six departments.
When it came to the issue of the National Union of Students, both Fetch and Fling supplied ambiguous answers, snubbing the questioner’s suggestion that National Union of Students (NUS) delegates be compelled to vote in line with the SRC to whom they report. Candidates were also asked whether any tickets comprised members of political parties. Gill stated that only one Connect candidate was affiliated, while Fetch and Flings’ refusal to provide a direct answer strongly implied a complex web of party affiliations within each of their tickets.
Whether because of lack of creativity or knowledge, or simply fear of an unfavourable Woroni article during their ANUSA term interrupting a future political career, candidates were for the most part exceptionally weak on vision and avoided firm commitments. Instead, buzzwords dominated the debate, with constituent groups identified as needing to “be engaged” or “consulted” and “reviews” proposed for all manner of areas from a “non-residential engagement review” (Fling) to an “education review” (Connect). The various tickets were significantly more homogenous than in past years, with candidates admitting their similarities time and time again throughout the debate.
Joke tickets provided welcome relief for the audience, with [Adjective’s] [Fiona McCarthy]* proposing to require clubs and societies to make 40 external funding applications before approaching GAC. Fiona McCarthy [also proposed] to spend ANUSA’s projected surplus on “ex-soviet planes” to provide “air support” to bolster lobbying efforts on the ground. Students Love Coal’s Gus McCubbing was on hand to share refreshments with the other candidates throughout the debate.
While an informal survey showed a rough tie between Connect and Fetch, the real winner on the night was Divestman Louis Klé, whose ticket had impressively achieved full support for its Fossil Free ANU campaign with all eight presidential candidates wearing the FF orange square.
*A correction was made to this article. The 40 external funding applications proposal was put forward by Fiona McCarthy, not Catch’s Kedar Abhyankar.