An unholy alliance of Labor Right and far-right Liberals is threatening to upset the apple cart at the University of New South Wales.
A tough battle for control of the Students’ Representative Council will be decided on Friday after four days of voting.
The campaign brands will be familiar to Sydney University readers: the main contest is between “Voice” and “Stand Up!” But those groups are substantially different to ours: at UNSW, Voice is a collection of Labor Left (NLS), left-leaning independents, and increasingly a large number of Greens. Stand Up!, which used to run as “Fresh”, is Labor Right and, this year, a handful of far-right “Taliban” Liberals who are tagging along for the ride.
Elliott Donazzan and Annalise Oldcastle are both hard right Liberals on the Stand Up! ticket, running for the positions of Education and Welfare officers respectively. At UNSW, tickets run with predetermined candidates for each office-bearer position, including the Presidency, which is not directly elected.
Oldcastle acted as the whip for the Hard Right faction during the highly contentious Liberal Club AGM that Honi reported on last semester (“What’s left of the right at UNSW?”, May 23). The at-times physical confrontations which took place at the meeting resulted in the club’s disaffiliation from Arc, the main student body.
Tom Morrison, campaign manager for Stand Up!, said no candidates were chosen for their political affiliations.
“Stand Up! is not politically affiliated, we’re just a collection of students interested in the issues facing UNSW,” he said. Expressions of interest were held, and candidates were chosen accordingly, said Mr Morrison, who acknowledged he was a member of the Labor Party.
“Only six Stand Up! supporters are members of political parties,” he said. “Voice has 15 supporters affiliated with political parties.” Mr Morrison supplied a list of these supporters to Honi Soit.
Edward McDougall is one of these supporters associated with Stand Up!. Mr McDougall is a staffer to the leader of the NSW opposition leader, John Robertson, in his capacity as local member for Blacktown.
Mr McDougall is not running for election at UNSW, nor has he authorised any campaign material. “I’m just here helping my friend get elected,” he said.
He said the Liberal Party members in question had not been approached to run with Stand Up! for their political affiliations. “Elliott [Donazzan] is on our ticket as he is the chairperson of the Entrepreneurial Society, which is quite a big deal here,” said Mr McDougall.
The Liberal hard right at UNSW is run by Nik Kaurin, formerly a staffer to NSW MLC David Clarke and now working for senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Moderate Liberals are not running in the election and are understood to be concerned about the hard right’s decision to go with Labor Right.
Kylar Loussikian, an editor of UNSW’s Tharunka newspaper who was previously elected on a Voice ticket, expressed concerns about the association of “Taliban” Liberals with the Stand Up! group.
“I wonder how Labor voters would feel knowing that a member of the Opposition Leader’s staff is involved in funding the election of some of the more extreme elements of the Liberal Party,” he said.
But Mr McDougall laughed off these claims. “It’s a joke to say I’d make any funding for the Liberal Party,” he said. “Stand Up! held a fundraiser for the election, and I made a small donation, to help out a friend.”
The SRC has been run by the Voice group for the best part of the past decade, with little effort made by challengers – until this year. Mr Loussikian told Honi Soit there was “a lot more money in the election” than usual, particularly Stand Up! spending on A-Frames, glossy flyers, and costumes.
People aligned with the Voice group have raised concerns about some practices of Stand Up!, such as the creation of a ticket called “Save the Pharmacy”.
It shares the same name as an independent campaign to save “Pharmacy at UNSW”, a separate business that was closed due to rent increases and restrictions on what it could sell.
More than five members of the Save the Pharmacy ticket have withdrawn, including its Presidential candidate Thomas Shulz, saying they were not aware they had signed up for a Stand Up! feeder ticket. A complaint has been made and is being investigated.
According to Mr Morrison, “Save the Pharmacy” is a joke ticket organised by the UNSW residential colleges, akin to the “Free Parking on Campus” and “Maccas on Campus” often seen in Sydney University SRC elections. It is understood they are not distributing election material or actively campaigning.
“It might not be against regulations to sign people up to a deceptive ticket without their consent, but it’s certainly unethical,” said Mr Loussikian. “This is the SRC, not some sort of backroom brawl.”
“It’s my understanding Voice members spoke to those running with “Save the Pharmacy”, after which some candidates pulled out of the ticket,” Mr Morrison said. He does not know what was said in these conversations.
The process by which tickets can ‘feed’ into major campaigns at UNSW is different to that seen in Sydney University SRC elections. Groups do not receive extra spending allowances based on the number of tickets they run. UNSW elections are not subject to the strict spending cap regulations placed on Sydney University SRC and University of Sydney Union campaigns. Under the optional preferential system, preferences don’t flow to other candidates unless voters allocate these preferences at the polling booth.
It is understood Voice is sharing preferences with Left Action on their election material. On their material, Stand Up! are not preferencing any other groups.
The election results are expected Friday night and although nobody is actively predicting Stand Up! to prevail, it won’t be for lack of trying.
– with James O’Doherty