Courtney Thompson looks set to be the next University of Sydney Union (USU) President, after she and rival candidate Grace Franki have spent the last week securing votes for their respective tickets.
Each June, after a new crop of board directors has been elected, the continuing directors contest an election for the USU’s executive positions: president, vice president, treasurer and secretary. In addition to the left-leaning student directors typically sought by presidential hopefuls, both Franki and Thompson have had discussions with the Liberal-aligned incoming directors Jacob Masina and Hengjie Sun, along with Senate-appointed directors Jill White and Danielle Bullen. Both of these moves represent a big departure from traditions established to keep the union independent of institutions that have attempted to undermine it.
In 2005, the Howard Liberal government introduced voluntary student unionism, which crippled the USU’s membership numbers and finances. In 2011, the University attempted to take control of the Union’s buildings — Manning, Wentworth and Holme — through which the USU derives a large share of its revenue and provides space for student activities.
Even in contentious times, board directors have a fiduciary duty to act in the union’s best interests, but that has not ameliorated perceived conflicts of interest in the past. During the 2011 dispute, then-Senate appointed director Barry Catchlove was seen to act predominantly in the University’s interests, suffered poor relationships with his student colleagues and resigned only months into his term. While praising most Senate-appointed directors’ contributions to the USU, outgoing board President Michael Rees did not seek the votes of Senate-appointed directors for his election in 2016 on the basis that “[Senate-appointed directors’ are not students and the USU is a student organisation”. The USU’s relationship with the University has improved dramatically over the last two years, but the Liberal party remains deeply antagonistic towards unionism of all kinds.
Franki said that while she had enjoyed meeting with all board directors and looked forward to working with them, “I intend to be elected as President by a student majority, and not off the back of a Liberal block.”
Conversely, Thompson said she was “open to receiving the vote of any Board Director whose vision for the USU” aligned with that of her executive ticket — a far cry from her initial election campaign, when she said that her decisions would be guided by the far left political collective Grassroots. Thompson’s newfound belief in a broad church is well timed. Honi understands that Thompson’s ties to Esther Shim and Koko Kong — respectively running for vice president and treasurer with her — have delivered the support of Masina and Sun. That gives Thompson a leading position. With Zhixian Wang, who Honi also believes is backing Thompson, she has six votes to Franki’s three — Vanessa Song, Liliana Tai and Franki herself. It is unclear who incoming board director Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz will be voting for — Song is a member of the same Labor right political faction Gulbransen-Diaz, but she told Honi during her candidate interview that she “really admire[s] Courtney Thompson”. However, she also indicated that she was not very familiar with Franki. Similarly, student director and member of Labor left faction NLS Adam Torres, immediate past president Michael Rees and the two Senate-appointed directors are swing voters. While it is not impossible for Franki to win, Thompson is in the driver’s seat.
Courtney Thompson briefly managed the campaign of the current editors of Honi Soit.