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USU Board Elections: Candidate Profiles

Honi previews the candidates in this year’s board race.

Honi previews the candidates in this year's board race.

Michael Rees

Slogan: Make it Mike
Quiz result: 93% (1st)
Favourite book: I am David
Favourite film: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Favourite album: It’s Never Been Like That
Pulls the lever? Yes

Michael Rees readily concedes his relative inexperience within the USU, but considers his other roles on campus (Honi editor among them) to be an assured basis for an informed, effective, and critical view of the organisation. Despite the inexperience, he destroyed the quiz. Rees’ answers placed him comfortably first.

Rees is very forthcoming about where the USU might hypothetically trim. The debates program, to which he owes much of his Union CV, was first on the chopping block. He has an astute appreciation of its excess and proposes to cut according to patterns of advantage.

Rees is thinking forward to the 2020 Strategic Plan. He wants to print all USU materials in languages other than English to accommodate growing international student numbers and is concerned that there is not enough being done to engage with the imminent students from the Cumberland campus.

He wants to expand the one-in-six Access coffee deal to all Union products, which, he believes, represents a sustained benefit of the ACCESS card for low socioeconomic students. This is a necessity given they’re obliged to pay for it with SSAF.

He is an Independent, and was open about his respect for Liv Ronan, another Independent for whom he would vote in the race for Board presidency.

Eden Caceda

Slogan: Lead ’em Eden
Quiz result: 73% (2nd)
Favourite book: The Catcher in the Rye
Favourite film: The Social Network
Favourite album: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Pulls the lever? Yes

Eden’s campaign has perhaps the most extensive set of policy promises. Unlike previous Board candidates though, he actually intends to follow through on them, or so he told us. When asked about practical hurdles he was quick to answer—corporate sponsorship to afford solar panels on Union buildings (which has been promised for several years), a review into the hiring out of space by HostCo (a major earner for the USU) to give more Union space to student needs.

As a previous Bull editor, he is keen to publicise the workings of the Board. He told us he’d be a whistle-blower if he thought the Union was working against student interests and has also proposed filming Board meetings.

A self-styled progressive, Eden was core to last year’s short-lived “Swag for Honi” ticket, which included members of the Conservative Club and Libertarian Society. Caceda was clear that he only ended up on the ticket after being put up to the task by Labor factions, and that he hadn’t known most of his co-candidates before agreeing to run. He distanced himself from Kerrod Gream, another Board hopeful out of the Swag starting house, committing to preferencing him last (along with Jennifer Zin).

Gream isn’t Caceda’s only political sea change—despite the involvement of Unity in the formation of Swag, he didn’t seem keen to support Alisha Aitken-Radburn’s tilt for Union Board presidency. That honour would be reserved for Independent Liv Ronan.

 Marco Avena

Slogan: That’s so Marco
Quiz result: 68% (3rd)
Favourite book: Sidhartha
Favourite film: Pride
Favourite album: Illmatic
Pulls the lever? Yes

Marco Avena comes across as earnest, candid and well-versed in activist politics. While perhaps lacking the bureaucratic experience of some of his rivals, he performed exceptionally in the quiz (placing 3rd) and has been a driving force behind VegeSoc in previous years. His openness hints at a refreshing degree of self- awareness and humility. When asked why he is running for Board, he cited the interests of his campus faction, Grassroots, in obtaining Board positions, which aligns him to past political progressives on Board: Bebe D’Souza, Ed McMahon, and Tom Raue. His most concrete policies include the USU’s divestment from industries that support the extraction of fossil fuels and mandatory detention, along with more bike racks and a reward system for cycling to uni, which reflects his heavy involvement in the USyd Environmental Collective. More generally, he lists the usual suite of broadly progressive policy priorities— affordable housing and gender diversity awareness campaigns, with a dash of populism thrown in for good measure with the inclusion of an annual music festival. He is hazy on the logistics of bridging the communication gap between the USU and SRC and negotiating executive pay, though to his credit, was willing to openly criticise USU CEO Andrew Woodward’s hefty salary in his interview. He was also among the few candidates to correctly identify the rate of Youth Allowance.

Shannen Potter

Slogan: Shake it up with Shannen
Quiz result: 66% (4th)
Favourite book: Pride and Prejudice
Favourite film: Submarine
Favourite album: Born to Die
Pulls the lever? Yes

Shannen Potter seemed well prepped for our interview—and that’s understandable. On top of her thorough experience with the USU, she’s been taken on by a Sydney Labor Students (SLS) team that—while lacking the numbers of past campaigns—has a wealth of stupol proficiency.

Shannen admits that she wasn’t a member of SLS before she decided to run, meaning she was recruited by the desperate faction fairly late in the game. Following her stint in failed Honi ticket Swag last year, some may be forgiven for thinking that there’s an air of political pragmatism about Shannen’s campaign.

Shannen’s stints as USU Wom*n’s events coordinator and president of DarcySoc flesh out her CV, and she cites the Clubs and Societies programs as her gateway into Union involvement.

Motivated to run by the possibility of “progressive change”, Shannen was realistic about campaign promises, avoiding “coke in the bubbler policies”. Perhaps her most impressive feat in the interview was her explanation of the metric and model of a developed equity scheme for ACCESS cards. She also spoke ardently about her ambitions to make Union outlets sell exclusively fair trade certified clothing.

Forced to make cuts to USU spending, Shannen would cut from capital works, which she described as having an ancillary benefit for students.

Tiffany Alexander

Slogan: InnovaTIFF
Quiz result: 61% (5th)
Favourite book: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Favourite film: The Blind Side
Favourite album: Doesn’t have one
Pulls the lever? Yes.

Tiffany Alexander is running on the back of MUNA support and being managed by Switchroots-aligned SRC Vice-President Daniel Ergas after campaigning visibly for Amy Knox (NLS) in last year’s SRC presidential elections. Apparently both entrenched student politicians are her friends. When asked in her interview what her vision for the Union she replied without a beat that it was to “Innovatiff ” the Union.

Tiffany’s best policies are born from her experience with MUNA and reflect a real understanding for what it is like for a society working with the C&S committee. She wants to give more autonomy to clubs over how they use their money and she wants to smooth out some of the bureaucracy that characterises the USU. This includes allowing big budget societies like MUNA to subsidise the way for low-SES students.

Her other policies, however, require a bit of fleshing out and though clearly aspirational, were also vague. She aspires to make the Union more inclusive for low SES students, for students that live far from campus and for students who aren’t from degrees with higher contact hours. When pressed on how she would achieve these goals though she was unable to offer clear strategies to address these notorious ills of the Union.

Atia Rahim

Slogan: Atia
Quiz result: 59% (6th)
Favourite book: Matilda
Favourite film: Gia
Favourite album: So Fresh 2004
Pulls the lever? No

Atia’s point of difference is her rejection of campaign tropes. Gone is the alliteration and circular logo, gone too is the bright campaign shirt, replaced by crisp white.

Atia came around middle of the field in the candidate quiz, and is open about being fresh to student politics. Several times during the interview she asked for background to important issues in the Union’s history. It seemed she also lacked the basic institutional knowledge to appreciate the at times conflicting duties she would owe to students and to the Board.

Honi asked whether her proposed music and arts festival would overlap the existing Verge music and arts festival. She told us her festival would be a one-day affair, a little like Laneway and specifically angled to reach out to students from satellite campuses. So a little like a shorter Verge.

Atia came to prominence late last year as the widely criticised factional shoe-in for SRC Environment Officer. During her interview she admitted she’d taken the role without knowing what it was, and, on being pressed finally admitted she’d been put up to it by Unity. After months of criticism Atia recently resigned from her position.

The factional involvement came as a surprise, because Atia started her interview by reminding us Unity has a non-binding caucus, and assuring us she wouldn’t be beholden to factional interests. She told us she would vote for Alisha Aitken-Radburn for USU President.

Georg Tamm

Slogan: Curious Georg
Quiz result: 58% (=7th)
Favourite book: Unbearable Lightness
Favourite film: The Book Thief
Favourite album: The Lion King (Broadway)
Pulls the lever? Yes

Georg Tamm is taking his second tilt at a Board position, after running in 2013. This time, he’s come to the race with a strong personal connection to the Union—the Board

stepped in to give him vital financial support after a family tragedy in 2013.

Because of that, Tamm is pushing for a more welfare-focussed Union. While welfare has traditionally been the purview of the SRC, Tamm thinks the Union can play a role in providing direct student support in instances where the SRC is unable to help.

When pressed, Tamm agreed that candidates in past years have been pretty poor at following through with policies—but he thinks his policies are different. Several of Tamm’s policies do seem easily achievable, including more inclusive marketing by the USU, and the implementation of more regular and binding members forums.

That said, while Tamm used the fact he’s studying Commerce to justify his more ambitious policies, like moving to keep a Union coffee outlet open 24 hours, he came 7th in the Honi quiz, which raises doubts about the veracity of his predictions.

Tamm is among friends in this campaign, running as one of two Unity candidates, along with Atia Rahin. Despite that, Tamm told us he was ideologically closest to Shannen Potter, Lamisse Hamouda, and Jack Whitney. But, Georg stayed firm on the party line, telling us that if elected he’d vote for his “best friend” Alisha Aitken-Radburn for USU President.

Kerrod Gream

Slogan: In Kerrod we trust
Quiz result: 58% (=7th)
Favourite book: Nineteen-Eighty-Four
Favourite film: The Empire Strikes Back
Favourite album: Fiction
Pulls the lever? Yes

Kerrod is a card-carrying Liberal, though his Board campaign is not officially aligned with any political group. Once president of the Economics Society, he said he was the “business candidate”—and wants more money for the Incubate program, though couldn’t clearly outline where that money would come from. He also didn’t know how much funding the program currently receives, but increasing the unknown ‘X’ remains his primary policy.  Second, Kerrod wants at least half of Union positions to be reserved for students. A nice idea, except for the fact that approximately 60% of those positions are already filled by students, and any student who applies for a USU job receives automatic preference. That said, he is one of few candidates to answer correctly the Youth Allowance question on the quiz. However, Kerrod’s against affirmative action for women on Board, seeing it as unnecessary when some of the best candidates in the field are female. However when pushed, he confirmed he would still be against AA regardless of whether this remained the case. Instead he spoke vaguely of establishing ‘women in science’ and ‘women in business’ forums, where lady students could (supposedly) be trained up to be better. Kerrod believes the Board shouldn’t be an activist institution, but instead a service provider, and hoped to expand corporate partnerships were he to be elected. He was also one of the few candidates to admit that he would seek the votes of Senate-appointed Directors for an executive position.

Jack Whitney

Slogan: Back Jack
Quiz result:
57% (9th)
Favourite book: The Velvet Rage
Favourite film: Air Force One
Favourite album: Hot Fuss
Pulls the lever? Yes

Jack Whitney is this year’s National Labor Students’ (Labor Left) candidate. The self-described progressive promises to bring a ‘fresh lens’ to Union Board, informed by his social work degree.

Whitney’s number one priority is launching his USU mentor program, which would pair ACCESS card holders with older student mentors. Other policies include more bike racks on campus, a courtesy bus at Manning parties, and the oft-promised independent grocery store on campus.

As a member of NLS, Whitney is bound to vote with his caucus. He claims that this would help his role on Board, as he would get to debate policies with his caucus before any vote. Whitney was less confident when asked how he would negotiate any conflict between the confidential parts of his fiduciary duty and his obligations to caucus. Noting that ‘what is legal is legal, and what is illegal is illegal’, Whitney told Honi that he would have to tell his caucus that he was unable to discuss confidential matters with them.

Whitney is either myopic or evasive. He hasn’t considered which other candidates he’ll preference because he’s ‘been too busy [campaigning] on the ground’. He doesn’t know who he’d vote for in the upcoming USU Executive Presidential Election, and didn’t definitively tell us whether he’d court the votes of Senate-appointed Directors in Executive elections.

Lamisse Hamouda

Slogan: Release Lamisse
Quiz result: 35% (10th)
Favourite book: Goosebumps
Favourite film: A Land Before Time
Favourite album: Anything pre-Kim Kanye
Pulls the lever? Throws herself in front of the trolley

Lamisse Hamouda is running as a representative of the Muslim Wom*n’s collective and with the help of Grassroots.

Her policies are focussed on making the Union a more inclusive ethno–cultural space, which includes making space for different cultural experiences during Radical Sex and Consent Week, making Interfaith Week more about experience than theology, as well as creating an autonomous Muslim Wom*n’s space. Her policies are fresh and largely involve modifying the existing structures of the USU.

She has a wealth of real world experience: Lamisse is 26 and has worked professionally as a youth worker and for an NGO. This is, however, only her second semester at USyd after a stint at uni in Melbourne and she has had very little experience with the USU in that time. To top it off her institutional knowledge of the USU is particularly bad and she came second last in the quiz. While she assured Honi that this knowledge would come with real, on the job experience, it is still unclear if she has tangible strategies for how to work in the current infrastructure of the Board.

Some alarm bells were raised when she mentioned it would not be practical to remove Board Directors found seriously in breach of their dutie to the Board due to the difficulty associated with training their replacements.

Jennifer Zin

Slogan: Win with Zin
Quiz result: 34% (11th)
Favourite book: Lolita
Favourite film: Pearl Harbor
Favourite album: Konk
Pulls the lever? Yes

The SULC-endorsed Liberal candidate in this election, Jennifer identifies herself as part of the Liberal Party’s “broad church” and while being centre-right, claims to dissent on a number of positions. Her candidature intends to fill the ideological void of right-wing students on Board (though if you ask this reporter, there are plenty of neocons there already). She most strongly identifies with Tiff and Atia as candidates and would vote for Liv or Alisha as President. Jennifer was one of two candidates who would seek Senate-appointed Director votes for an executive position.

Jennifer identified the C&S program as the most significant success of the USU, for its capacity to engage directly with the greatest number of students, but when asked about her experience with clubs and society she could not identify any sustained involvement beyond signing up to a number of clubs each OWeek.

In terms of policy, she is vague. She wants ‘practicable’ environmentalism, and an end to niche programs that don’t support the student body broadly—but could not identify an example of one of these niche programs. She came last in the quiz, and her knowledge of USU operations borders negligent. That said, she supports the open discussion of Board finance and sees some room for the Board to operate in activist space—though would not take part herself—so long as it puts its role as a service provider first.

Jermaine Craig

Slogan: Big J all the Way
Quiz result: Did not attempt the quiz.

An independent candidate, Big J is interested in expanding programs that benefit campus culture generally. During the interview, he aligned himself to policies rather than politics, and was complimentary of Atia and Mike.

Most of Big J’s policies run through C&S, including incentivising events held before midday, free ACCESS for international students, and having the USU match humanitarian fundraising programs dollar-for-dollar. He was, however, vague on where he would source funding for these programs.

Additionally, he said Board Directors should take part in direct protest as individuals only, unless the Board agrees to endorse instances of activism, while also saying he could not imagine a circumstance in which he would breach his duty to the Board. That said, he was in support of divulging financial records and discussing CEO remuneration in public.

The biggest question over Big J’s candidacy is his understanding of Union operations. While he has a strong C&S background, he was not able to speak concretely on the operations side of his policy proposals and did not demonstrate the depth of knowledge displayed by some other candidates. This extended to an inability to speak to the Board’s recent equity ACCESS program and a view of the Union’s programs (even their humanitarian ones) as being refracted through C&S.

Chris Waugh

Slogan: It’s time for Waugh
Quiz result: Did not attempt the quiz.

Chris Waugh is on the ballot. That’s most of what we know about him. His official policy statement is seven lines long and doesn’t actually reference any policies, just words like ‘equity’ and ‘equality’.

Chris completed neither the quiz nor a candidate’s interview, though perhaps this speaks to the difficulty of running for Union Board while completing a STEM degree.

Chris, if you’re reading this, please get in touch. Your family is worried.