On an otherwise blissful Tuesday afternoon, hordes of fluro t-shirts descended upon Manning Bar like a plague of locusts. Eight candidates for five available seats on the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors took to the stage to speak their piece and answer any questions the hardworking SSAF-payers of USyd might have.
Most candidates gave a solid but unspectacular performance. Rhetoric was espoused, pitfalls were dodged, and questions were generally answered with the requisite amount of detail: not too much, not too little – juuust right. But there’s nothing more boring than competence, good public relations, and an utter lack of conflict, so let’s get to the juicy stuff:
With elections for executive positions such as President taking place over the holidays, the role of the Senate-appointed directors (SADs [yes it’s quite an unfortunate acronym but it’s either that or SARs]) is a particularly hot topic. The SADs are not elected or chosen by students, but are instead (as their name suggests) appointed by the University of Sydney Senate. Their position on the board of an ostensibly democratic institution has led to a fair amount of criticism, with some candidates this year explicitly running on a policy to abolish them.
When prompted, Independent candidates Liam Carrigan and Liv Ronan committed to not supporting a candidate for an executive position who attempted to seek out the votes of the SADs. Ronan is being managed by current Board Director Tim Matthews, whilst fellow Board director Tara Waniganayaka is managing Carrigan. Both Matthews and Waniganayaka have been rumoured as prospective candidates for the role of President; as such, if they seek out the votes of the SADs, Ronan and Carrigan must either break their commitments or be forced to look elsewhere.
National Labor Students (Labor Left) candidate Kate Bullen was asked to list the five candidates most qualified for the position of Board Director. “Me, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be running” she replied. She then listed Alisha Aitken-Radburn and Ed McMahon before stalling for time and quipping about needing to consult caucus. Finally she added Carrigan and Independent candidate Cameron Caccamo, hanging Argyha Gupta, Callum Forbes, and Ronan out to dry.
Gupta and Forbes are too insignificant and too right wing respectively for Bullen to worry about offending, but by snubbing Ronan she has, if not burnt a bridge, at least scorched it a little. Her response makes a Ronan-Bullen preference deal that much more unlikely, if it were ever a possibility to begin with.
A questioner asked Forbes, a Liberal, which other candidate he felt was most closely aligned with his policies and political views. Given his comparatively conservative viewpoints, this is an endorsement few candidates wanted. Forbes, ever the gentleman, declined to saddle anyone with this hefty burden.
Forbes also denied breaking regulations by sending out a mass email to members of the Wine Society that suggested they might be interested in supporting his bid for USU glory. “I disagree with your interpretation of the regulations,” he said to BULL Magazine’s Sean O’Grady. Whether or not the Returning Officer also disagrees remains to be seen.
Unity (Labor Right) candidate Alisha Aitken-Radburn’s “party hard” policy platform came under some fire, with questions raised over how she could be taken seriously as a candidate when the first four policies espoused on her only campaign video to date are bigger steaks and schnitzels at Manning, a bar at the Engineering building, more parties, and revamped bars. Her response was that she would prioritise other, less populist policies during her term, and that social events are a good way to capture disengaged students. She could just be appealing to different markets. She could be pulling a classic bait-and-switch. It’s hard to tell, really, it’s all in the intention.
Aitken-Radburn was also subject to some objectively shitty catcalling. A quite crusty punter yelled “because she’s hot” in response to a question about why students should vote for her. The catcaller then exited the room while the questioner called them a prick.
The biggest complication of Grassroots candidate Ed McMahon’s afternoon was a questioner pointing out that he got the budget wrong by $15m in the Honi quiz. This electoral faux pas didn’t do much to break down the stereotype of idealistic campus lefties who couldn’t grasp the details of financial administration if they were covered in convenient EZ-Grip handles. To his credit, McMahon admitted his ignorance and said USU staff are well placed to advise Directors on these sorts of technicalities.
Gupta, a lowercase ‘i’ independent, said he only has a single policy and we should judge him based on whether or not he can get that policy enacted during this term. The only problem is he very clearly has multiple policies. Strange guy. Meanwhile, Caccamo (who faced the least controversy on the day by far) was accused of proposing to introduce new festivals and events instead of improving existing ones like Verge. He reacted apologetically and assured the questioner the two were not mutually exclusive.
Some question the efficacy of the USU Soapbox; it’s clear that 99 per cent of audience members are dyed-in-the-wool hacks who know who they’re voting for three weeks before campaigning even starts. If you arrive early enough, you can actually see the regular Manning dwellers being forced outside by the burgeoning technicolour mass. Who is there left to convince? Maybe convincing people isn’t the point. Maybe the point is to bring the hack community together. Maybe the point is to get everyone together once a year, have a good sit down, and yell at each other in real life instead of over Facebook.