Students Representative Council, University of Sydney
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USU: Your executive

Honi gives you the low-down on the upcoming USU executive election.

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From L to R, top to bottom: Bebe D’Souza, Eve Radunz, Kade Denton, Robby Magyar, Tara Waniganayaka, Tim Matthews. Illustration by Mikaela Bartels.

What are the executive elections?

In June of each year, the USU Board Directors meet to elect a new executive. There are four executive positions up for grabs in these elections: President, Vice-President, Honorary Treasurer and Honorary Secretary. Additionally, Women’s, Queer, Sustainability, and the newly-created Ethnocultural portfolios are available and can be concurrently held with executive positions. Being an executive member grants the average Board Director more power in the organisation, including reviewing the CEO’s contract and remuneration, sitting on a bunch of committees, and having control over what USU regulations mystically refer to as the “day-to-day matters which are not necessary to bring to Board”. They also get paid more, with the President taking home over $26,000 a year. Other executive members are paid over $13,000 a year.

In general, two or three of the USU’s second-year Board Directors will nominate for each executive position, with the winner decided by a vote of the 11 student Board Directors and, if they choose to vote, the two Senate-Appointed Directors (SADs).

The election is comprised of a series of secret ballots. To be elected to a position, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast in that ballot – six votes if the SADs abstain from voting, seven if they don’t. If a majority cannot be achieved in the first ballot for a position, a number of scenarios can occur. In fields of more than two candidates, a preferential system is used. The candidate with the fewest votes will be discounted from the election and a new ballot will be taken, with Directors whose first-preference candidate has been disqualified usually re-directing their vote to one of the remaining two candidates. If a majority still cannot be achieved, or if all candidates received the same number of votes in the first round of voting, the result will be decided by pulling a name out of hat (yes, literally). Alternatively, if all candidates receive the same number of votes in the first round of the election, the hat will be used to decide which candidate is disqualified from the race, and a second round of polling will occur. If a majority cannot be reached, the hat will come out again.

In the months leading up to the election, aspiring executive Board Directors expend unthinkable amounts of time and energy shoring up support for their tilt at an executive position. On one level, this is simply a matter of trying to prove that you’re a good Board Director by working hard, taking initiative, and making an effort to realise your election promises. It’s also a matter of articulating an incisive vision for the Union that aligns you with some candidates, and differentiates you from others.

But let’s not forget that this is student politics, and these are the aspiring Frank Underwoods of our generation. If you get a decent position on the executive, a lot of it will be down to your having managed a junior Board Director’s election campaign; promised your vote to other Board Directors for their positions of choice; dealt away your political faction’s support in another, unrelated election; convinced the SADs that the other candidates will drive the USU into a black hole of disorganisation and disrepute; or a combination of any of the above. The number of Instagram photos you feature in with the people whose votes you’re courting is also an important consideration.

Who are the candidates?

President

Robby Magyar (Student Unity – Labor Right): In Robby’s first year as a Board Director, he promoted the need for greater transparency and focused on student welfare issues. He believes his greatest achievement was the Queer Review, which was one of a number of factors that demonstrates his welfare and community stance, and vision as president. In his interview, he was vocal about the disappointing aspects of Hannah Morris’ presidency, including her failure to consult with the board. It became clear that there was a divide between first and second year board directors this year, which is something he wants to avoid. He disagrees with how CEO Andrew Woodward runs the Union, aiming to change many damaging bureaucratic elements and moving it into a place that balances financial sustainability with fostering social care and community. Here, the board’s shift to a more left-leaning rather than Independent position is something he values in facilitating this plan.

NB: This profile was written by Honi reporters Sophie Gallagher and Alexi Polden, as Robby Magyar managed the election campaign of the current Honi editors.

Tara Waniganayaka (Indie): Tara speaks eloquently about her year on Board and presents herself as an inclusive candidate for President. Her passion for the student interest seems genuine, albeit vague, citing the USU’s pillars as her guides.  In her year on board, Tara has co-organised the USU’s Transparency Review and voted against the Raue dismissal, showing her commitment to greater transparency. However, these experiences have not given her more commitment to specificity; she isn’t sure where she stands on live tweeting of staff members, and wants to let Board Directors speak to the media, but only when they “add constructively to the debate”. Tara concedes that few of her election promises have come to fruition, saying that she decided to focus instead on the USU’s priorities and important day-to-day decisions.

Tim Matthews (Indie): Tim has been typecast as a conservative candidate. This is in part due to his vote on the special resolution to sack Tom Raue (which he rejects as a litmus test of progressive politics) and his position on the Senate-Appointed Directors’ ability to vote (which is that they should not be on Board, but that if they are, they should be able to cast an informed vote). Tim presented a vision of a more efficient and responsive USU in his interview. When asked about the role of the Union, Tim channeled Hannah Morris’ recent AGM speech, suggesting the USU meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Tim’s USU would consider political causes on a case-by-case basis. However, Tim also expressed skepticism about the Union’s role in activism as opposed to the SRC, citing the SRC’s democratic mandate allowed it to pursue more ideological causes.

Vice-President, Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer

Bebe D’Souza (Grassroots): Bebe appears to be the most ideologically consistent candidate running for an exec position this year and has been ahead of the curve from the start. She is running for Vice-President. While the Board flipped from one side of the debate to the other on the issue of Raue’s expulsion, Bebe supported him before it was cool. She was one of the few in her year to run on a policy of increasing transparency; in the most recent elections almost everyone was doing it. Unlike Robby, Bebe refused to say whether she would renew Woodward’s contract, but did suggest relations between staff and Board directors (and her in particular) were strained. Bebe has achieved a comparatively high number of her policies; she has been instrumental in the Transparency Review, the BULL review, and the Ethnocultural Portfolio.

Kade Denton (Indie): Kade Denton was the dark horse of the 2013 USU election, sneaking in to claim the sixth and final spot on preferences. He’s even more of an outsider in the executive race this year, admitting during his interview that he was unlikely to get any position, but was interested in Vice-President. When asked if he’d been working towards any of his election promises, Kade explained that he’d “moved [his] focus on Board to other areas,” and that “people change”. He highlighted as signature achievements the new in-camera policy he wrote (now being implemented) and the Commemoration Day working party, which he sat on to help develop a USyd Commemoration Day Party. The party plan was unfortunately halted by Campus Infrastructure and Services.

Eve Radunz (NLS – Labor Left): Eve was the Wom*n’s Portfolio holder this year. In that position, she focused on collaborating with the Wom*n’s Collective, helping to organise events such as Reclaim the Night. She’s also been involved in establishing the Health and Wellbeing Week and assisting Robby in his Queer Review. Eve is open about not achieving some of her policies; universal access remains a distant dream and the USU has not significantly broadened the food options available to include halal and vegan food. She is nominating herself for Honorary Secretary, a position in which she wants to see increased USU transparency and investigate the possibility of implementing Affirmative Action in the C&S framework.

So, who’s going to be the next USU President?

In the race for president, all three candidates start from the same position of having two safe votes – their own, and the first-year Director whose campaign they managed. Liv will vote for Tim, Alisha for Robby and Liam for Tara. Tim can also bank on Kade’s vote, making it 3-2-2 to begin with.

From that point, there are between 5 and 7 votes to win. That number is not set because we cannot be sure if either or both of the SADs will vote. We understand that they have essentially been asked not to vote. The Board has asked Hannah to express their concerns about the undemocratic nature of the unelected SADs casting votes in the election of a student executive. However, SAD Emma McDonald voted last year, and may be reticent to give up a right that the regulations grant her. Both SADs were contacted for comment about their vote but did not get back to Honi by the time of print. If they do vote, it’ll likely be for Tim. So Tim’s vote ceiling, in first preferences, is five.

The other key variable is which way the NLS and Grassroots caucuses vote. Both caucuses have two Directors, who will very likely vote the same way.  This means that if you win either caucus, you’re up two votes. If you win both caucuses, you’re up four.

Bebe is the senior Grassroots candidate, and appears likely to be the next Vice-President of the USU. She told Honi that her vote would not be going to Tim because they have “disagreed on lots,” especially the vote to remove Tom Raue.  She and her junior counterpart, Ed McMahon, are currently “100 per cent undecided” between Tara and Robby.

We’ve heard NLS Directors Eve and Kate Bullen are also torn between Tara and Robby. Close personal friendships and factional interest come SRC elections in September are pushing Eve and Kate towards Robby, but Tara could be an option in this volatile teacup.

The vision of the potential executive

Whichever of those scenarios actually plays out beyond the pages of this paper, and whichever candidate ultimately emerges victorious, the 2014-15 USU Board is likely to steer itself in pretty much the same direction.

This year’s junior Directors have been through a baptism of fire after a year of division and infighting on the USU Board. They have seen how unproductive a fragmented executive can be. They’ve been frustrated by the opaqueness of this year’s executive, and have felt a sense of disenfranchisement with the way decisions have been made at the top. They’ve witnessed a popular backlash against an executive who hasn’t listened to the wishes of the USU’s most vocal members.

So, despite significant political and personal differences between some of the Directors, they are promising not to allow disagreement to define their term. A premium is being placed on a consultative style of governance that, in practice, should lead to common policy initiatives being sought out and pursued. Some of these common threads have already begun to emerge, largely expressed through the buzzwords that have been dropped into every USU-related conversation in the last six months.

First amongst these is “student control”, which speaks to the common desire to give student directors greater power to steer the Union on a course of their own choosing. Directors enunciated this principle in different ways: Tim was concerned that Directors had been sidelined into projects that are not the heart of the USU’s operations; Eve thought there wasn’t enough staff respect for student directors; Robby was so concerned about the CEO’s lack of respect for student control that he said that he would not renew Woodward’s contract. Secondly, and with varying degrees of emphasis, is “transparency”. All the candidates for next year’s executive want to make the USU more open and accountable to its members. Bebe wanted directors’ reports to be made public; Kade wanted minutes to be released more quickly.

This election is different from most, in that the candidates all know that the morning after the vote, they’re going to have to step back into the boardroom and start putting their shared term on executive to good use. Having seen what can happen to an executive divided, this year’s candidates have chosen to define themselves, not against each other, but against those that preceded them.