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The return of Master Shang

The hack trying to win your vote while you walk to class might be annoying but they’re probably not evil. Probably. Enter Master Shang.

It’s SRC election time at UTS and they’ve got everything you’d expect from student politics: factional bickering, defamation, coloured shirts, Facebook statuses. At UTS, as with USYD, you have to approach these things with the right attitude. The people hassling you aren’t doing it for money. Sometimes they do it because they genuinely care about student issues and student-run organisations. Sometimes they don’t but that’s okay. The hack following you to class might be annoying but they’re probably not evil. Probably.

Enter Master Shang.

In 2008, Chinese businessman and millionaire, Master J. Shang, became Chairman and Public Officer of the National Liaison Committee (NLC). Formed in 1986, it was the highest representative body for international students in Australia.

He claimed that international students were treated like “cash cows” in this country and suggested that violence against international students was one of the main reasons why he initially campaigned for the position.

In 2009, NLC was forcibly disaffiliated from the National Union of Students (NUS). It was argued that its executives couldn’t represent the community they purported to given that they were unelected. He was apparently both aggressive and litigious. Questions were raised as to how Shang and his associates were funding the venture.

NLC was accused of intimidatory practices. According to The Australian Shang allegedly threatened two rival international student organisations in Victoria with legal action – the Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) and the Federation of Indian Students of Australia – if they ever operated under those names outside the state. NLC, an AFIS representative was told, had already incorporated that name in NSW. This does not seem to be the case, though NLC now has a monopoly outside Victoria. The matter did not go to court.

Flash forward four years, and Shang is back, involved in campaigns at both UTS and UNSW through the Overseas Student Association (OSA). NLC is a two-tiered organisation with its ‘second half’ being the on-campus OSA: an international student network that lobbies SRCs, runs for elections and often wins. (This has been NLC’s practice for quite some time.)

But, the question remains: why? Shang’s motives are opaque. Is this an actual concern for the welfare of international students married with a by-whatever-means-necessary attitude? What happens when he gets his hooks into the student organisation?

Whatever the answer, more Australian universities followed the example of NUS in 2009 and refused to recognise NLC as a legitimate representative body (some even going as far as to ban Shang from their physical campus, Sydney University and UNSW included). Michael Coutts-Trotter, the former Director-General of the NSW Department of Education told the Sydney Morning Herald that he refused to have Shang in his office again, after speaking to him. The rabbit hole is deep.

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The National Liaison Committee’s website, with an image of Master Shang

Vertigo, the student publication at UTS funded by the SRC, intended to run a story on his actions but were forced to drop it after a heated phone-call from the man himself. Lachlan Bennett, a Vertigo editor, told Honi that there was talk of a coalition between the student political factions to hinder the OSA’s success. He also told Honi that most of the information he heard about Master Shang was vague at best and “based on what [people] heard rather than what they know.”

According to Grassroots Presidential candidate, Andy Zephyr, Shang had called the UTS Returning Officer (the person who oversees the electoral process, takes complaints etc. etc.) about his intentions. The current President of the UTS Student Association also became aware which led to mass hack panic.

Zephyr told Honi that Shang called him for four hours negotiating a preference deal – the OSA would support his presidential bid if Grassroots gave OSA the balance of power in the SRC. The deal was rejected.

In September, emails were sent to club executives at UTS warning them not to provide Union membership details to OSA representatives. UTS security, according to Zephyr, has also been told to stay on high alert.

Because of this scrutiny, the OSA’s failure to nominate their candidates on time, and their ostensible absence around campus, their campaign has not built traction. However, given the strength of the international student vote at UTS, it is still likely they will get elected. After that, who knows?

Shang himself – legend and enigma – could not be reached for contact.