There has been a recent surge of debate around the need for ANU students to publicly disclose their political affiliations. While this has been most prominent for student officeholders, this rhetoric has also been applied to student journalists, committee members and people acting in their capacity as individuals. It is likely that the motivations and actions of some student politicians have been party motivated, warranting this move, however this is not always the case and he disclosure and criticism of a persons affiliation is not always relevant.
As a university students you often juggle many hats. It doesn’t mean you necessarily wear them all simultaneously, and it’s definitely possible to remove one in order to wear another. In as similar fashion it is possible for political affiliates to separate themselves from their parties and, for a time, conduct themselves solely within their roles as student representatives. A failure to recognise this can lead to the needless isolation and distress that Pettersson’s recent article touched on.
Strong personal convictions are a factor that drive people to join political parties and it is foolish to argue that these do not affect the decisions of our student representatives. Is affiliation a requirement for individuals of such strong beliefs? I’ve personally been a candidate in an ANUSA election, am not a member of any political party, but still hold strong political beliefs that have influence on my decisions. Another candidate who holds similar personal beliefs to myself, but also carries a party membership card in their pocket, still has the ability to make the same decisions as myself for the same motivations. This provides an example in which disclosure appears to serve little purpose but to paint easily identifiable markers on your opposing candidates.
I’m not trying to dismiss the importance of this information to the student body; especially given the power vested in the positions of student officials. Tickets in the ANUSA and Union elections often supported and manned in a large by political party members; with winning benefiting the party as a whole. Despite this, it’s still laughable to assume that the beliefs of those candidates fall purely within the boundaries of our few, major political parties. The notion that these party members are always acting solely for the benefit of their parties, and their decisions are consistently valid targets for partisan criticism, is simply inaccurate.
It’s hard to draw the line between what is relevant and irrelevant with respect to someone’s political affiliations, but the trend of party labels becoming the major form of ammunition in student politics appears largely unnecessary and unjustified.