USU Board candidate interview: Adam Torres

The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2017 Union Board candidate, Adam Torres

Board candidate Adam Torres headshot

National Labor Students | Arts and Law III | Quiz Score: 73%
Interviewed by Kishor Napier-Raman and Jayce Carrano

HS: Just to get things rolling can you give us your name, your degree and your year?

AT: My name’s Adam, I’m studying a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of laws, and I’m in my 3rd year here at USyd

HS: Cool, and what’s your political affiliation? Are you in a faction?

AT: Yep, I’m currently a member of the Labor party, I’m a member of Labor left, and on campus I’m a member of National Labor Students, that’s one of the Labor left factions on campus, but I suppose of course, in my various roles in SRC and USU things I’ve had to work with people who are broadly left-wing, especially in the SRC, and within clubs and societies the political spectrum more broadly, so I don’t think my political affiliation is any impediment to my performance on board.

HS: So with that, is your affiliation with your political party binding on any of the decisions you’d make as a board director?

AT: Yes, NLS is a binding faction, but generally speaking, that doesn’y really come  into play that often, I guess because a lot of NLS members are cut from the same ideological cloth. We tend to share the same kind of political views and values, so when I take something back to my caucus, its effectively just to gain a more nuanced opinion, and more often than not, when I take something back to caucus, I end up with the same kind of result that I would have otherwise ended up with

HS: So, if you had a personal opinion and your caucus disagreed with you, you’d change your decision regardless of what your personal feelings were on the matter?

AT: If there was a conflict of opinion so drastic that sort of went to the core of my beliefs, you know, if it conflicted with the policies and platform that I’m running on . . . if that eventuated I would leave the faction

HS: On that factional stuff, as a board director, you might encounter information that could be sensitive or confidential, and also might relate to your faction, so for example, if there were complaints made against NLS, or the board was considering issues like disaffiliation, would you disclose material?

AT: No, I wouldn’t disclose material that is confidential. That’s because my faction pre-selected me because they believe I’d be the person to make the decisions with the confidential information I’ve been given, and they have placed their trust in me to make the decisions that contain sensitive and confidential information.

HS: Moving onto the general operations of the USU, what in your opinion is the most important program that the usu runs?

AT: This will probably sound like a bit of a cop-out answer, but I think all of the things are really important because they work really well together, and I don’t think its fair to isolate one

HS: But if you had to choose one?

AT: If I did have to choose one, I think the C&S program is probably one that I’d prioritise the most, because that’s the way most students tend to get involved with university life, it’s the easiest way to get involved with the uni and the USU, and of course, it provides a lot of opportunities, a lot of events, a lot of opportunities for self-development and growth, it really captures a lot of the aims that the USU is trying to achieve

HS: And so what has your involvement with the USU in the past been?

AT: I have been involved in various clubs and societies, do you want me to list them

HS: Anything you think is relevant

AT: I’ve been involved in several clubs and societies on the execs, but my initial involvement was through various journals in clubs and societies, so mainly, my involvement has taken the form of C&S execs, and working with journals and publications within clubs and societies . . . and, just trying to think of anything I’ve missed – oh revues. I’ve been involved in revues for a few years now. I’m currently involved in one now which is very stressful but that’s ok, so I think those are the three main areas of my involvement  with the USU.

JC: Cool, so is there a particular policy from the past 1-2 years that the board has passed that you think have been particularly good

AT: I don’t recall if its strictly speaking been run as a policy, but the USU’s now on WeCHat, and that is thanks to Koko. I don’t know if it was one of her specific policy platforms, but I could be wrong. That’s definitely really important, because I think international students tend to be quite excluded from the union in a lot of situations so that goes quite a way to fixing that, because obviously a lot of international students we have come from china so it tends to make it a lot more accessible.

HS: Just quickly, related to that, who do you think the most effective current board directors over the last couple of years have been.

AT: I think Michael is brilliant, I remember being very inspired by him back in the 2015 campaign, he’s very intelligent and all of his policies are well thought out. He’s doing a really good job as president, and is working really well with people like Koko and Grace to further how the USU interacts with international students, so I think Michael has been very helpful and very good. I would also say Shannen. Shannen’s been really good in that there was a lot of C&S reform last year, and she did a lot of good work on that as honorary secretary. Also, a little bit more recently she spearheaded the push for banning the screening of the Red Pill, I thought that was very good, so generally speaking I think she does a very good job. Third, I think I would say grace. She has been very good in the electoral reform committee, in reducing the length of the election, because as you know it was longer, now its not, which is good for candidates. Its also really good for students who want to be able to walk from Redfern to their classes without being harassed.

HS: You just mentioned the Red Pill then, would you have allowed it to be shown on campus?

AT: I would not have allowed . . .was it BroSoc and . . . I wouldn’t have allowed USU funds to go towards the screening of that.  But I do think the USU kind of needs a more comprehensive policy for controversial speakers and screening and that kind of thing, because a lot of those things are taken on a case by case basis. Mark Latham was supposed to speak on campus I think last week, and didn’t turn up, but that was for separate reasons I think, but a uniform policy would really go a long way to making sure there were no kind of crises.

HS: On that, to what extent do you think the board is an activist organisation, and how would you see that manifest?

AT: I would be reticent to call the board an activist organisation, but that would depend on who’s on the board, and the composition of the board from year to year. I think the USU can engage in activist causes quite successfully. Pride week is a good example of that, there are lots of events at Pride Week that pertain to, you know, queer politics and queer activism. The USU made a lot of space for that, and I think that kind of reflects the board’s interests in pursuing things related to those areas. Also the board’s got a queer officer and a cultural officer, and an international students officer, and a women’s officer also. Those kind of identity groupings tend to interact quite significantly, with um, the areas that activism tends to focus on of course. And also I think it would be worth pointing out that a lot of the USU kind of documents, like the Constitution and other regulations and duty statements and things like that do discuss how board directors, when possible, should be fighting voluntary student unionism, and should be aiming for universal student unionism. So I think in that respect, I suppose its almost complicity activist. I would like to see that change. I would like to see the board get involved in various activist causes, but I suppose I similarly wouldn’t want that to detract from the role of the SRC because when you have two bodies doing exactly the same thing it tends to become a bit wasteful in terms of funds and SSAF allocation, but also I wouldn’t want it to detract from student life either, because that’s what the USU is fundamentally aiming to do. But of course, student welfare and activism overlaps.

HS: Sure, so to the extent that the board might perhaps, under your tenure, be more invested in pursuing those goals instead, do you perhaps feel that that would create the impression of the board pursuing a progressive agenda at the exclusion of the students who don’t buy into that agenda so much?

AT: I don’t think that would be the case because the USU is very persistent, and rightly so about including all students. Yeah, the USU is really passionate about including all students. In various documents, I’ve had the experience of trying to set up a club for the people of colour revue society, and they knocked that back because it was too exclusive. Even when, even if the USU is pursuing activist causes, the overarching aim of including everyone is still very prevalent, which, in the case of POC revue society was very frustrating, but I think fairly warranted. Sorry, don’t really know if that answered the question.

HS: That’s alright, so as to your working on the board in terms of activism or not activism, and student welfare and interests, would you breach your duties to the board if you thought it were in the interests of students?

AT: OK, I think what I would do is make sure I’d exhausted every other avenue first, before I had to do something rash like that. And I think there are always plenty of avenues to take before making a decision like breaching a fiduciary duty. I think a second consideration is the fact that students elect board directors on the basis that they know they have fiduciary duties and they’re not supposed to break those. But, it would have to be a really, really astonishingly severe kind of issue for me to do that, and I can’t envisage ever doing that, but I don’t want to explicitly rule it out, because who knows what could happen.

HS: Also, just on running the board and stuff, do you think there are certain matters that the board should discuss in camera?

AT: I think generally when they go in camera, its to discuss things like staff, and matters of sensitivity relating to staff. I don’t think salaries should be able to be discussed in camera, I think that should be freely available. But other things about staff should be able to be discussed in camera.

HS: So you would only want that to specifically be about  staffing things that would perhaps not interest students greatly?

AT: I think so, I think that’s correct, yes, no, generally, I think the USU is pretty good in terms of transparency, but definitely salaries and other remuneration things should be out of camera, and in camera, particularly sensitive matters should be able to be discussed in camera, just because it’s the board that has the authority to deal with those things, and I think too much engagement from too many people can frustrate the process a little bit. But having said that, I think those issues are few and far between and I would overwhelmingly support most things not being discussed in camera.

HS: So, comparing yourself to the other candidates, there’s a reasonable number of other left leaning candidates with somewhat similar policies. How do you differentiate yourself from those sorts of candidates?

AT: So, yes there are a lot of other left leaning candidates, which I think is good, its always nice to be able to work with people you share a political view with. But in terms of differentiation, I think, I did think about this, but now I’m kind of going over my notes in my head. I think the thing that kind of differentiates me from a couple of the other candidates that have similar policies, one of the things is experience. I am a fair bit more experienced than some of the other candidates who have similar policies and similar political affiliations. But also, I think, just the fact that, my, I feeI like I have a really cohesive kind of vision for the union, in that I want it to be fun and I want it to be accessible and I want it to be relevant, and they tend to work together to create a really broad vision that is successful, sorry, that was a very poor answer, I’m going to try it again. I think, experience the broader vision basically – I look forward to getting absolutely dragged for that in the write up.

HS: So, continuing to speak about the other candidates: who would be the three you’d be most happy to work with, who would be the candidate you’d be least happy to work with

AT: The three people I suppose I’d be thrilled to work with would be Liliana. I’ve known Lili for a couple of years now and she’s really passionate, really competent, you know, we share a lot of similar policies and I think she’ll do a really great job. Zhixian, I think, would also be brilliant. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the last couple of weeks, and I also think that she is again very passionate and very experienced, and has a really good set of policies as well. Third would be Alex Shu, I think. Alex again, lovely, he’s really experienced, he knows his USU things well, he’s been really involved, and I think that goes a long way in terms of kind of hitting the ground running. So he’d be third. Also because he has a good set of policies as well. In terms of who I’d be least happy to work with, it unequivocally would be Erika. Erika’s political views, I think, kind of fly in the face of the things the USU is trying to achieve. She also claims not to be a joke candidate, but her policies include free helicopter rides for all socialist alternative students. I also really resent the fact that, we get a $500 election grant, and that money is being wasted on someone who wants to wear Make America Great Again hats, and campaign badges.

HS: So what about if you couldn’t choose Erika, so assuming she’s a joke candidate, let’s say, who else of the serious candidates would you nominate?

AT: See, this is tricky, because I think there’s a really good set of candidates this year, its like most people and then Erika. A very distant second last would be Jacob, maybe not? Sorry, let me think. I think, it would probably be Jacob, but again, he would probably be a very distant second last. I think he’s very competent, I think he’s done a lot in the union, and is generally pretty passionate, I just know that in the past there have been a couple of issues with Jacob, sorry, a couple of allegations with Jacob in terms of stacking and SASS particularly. But again, I think he’s proven himself quite consistently, so yeah. I still haven’t worked out how I’m going to preference my votes though, because they tend to go like all the candidates, and I just haven’t worked out who I’m going to put where, because it is a really, really strong group of candidates.

HS: Sure, might turn to some policy stuff now. So you mentioned an aim of yours is to revitalise Manning, and to unleash its ‘funky vibes’

AT: I thought that was fun wording

HS: Yeah it was fun wording, that’s why I referenced it, so I’m just wondering how you propose to do that when I guess a lot of other people in the past have campaigned on similar policies and perhaps been less successful at getting that going?

AT: Yep, I think firstly, it is, I only had 200 words in the policy statement so I didn’t get to clarify everything I’d like to clarify, so stay tuned for when the Facebook page is up and you can read all of them in detail. But, yeah, I think, I suppose it got represented in the policy statement as ‘revitalise Manning because it is good’. I suppose it’s a little bit more specific, and there are a couple of ways I’d like to do that. The first thing is, which I did write this in the policy statement, is booking big name performers where possible. But I would also particularly like to see those big name performers during weeks like Pride Week and RadSex and consent week, Verge Festival and so on, because those are weeks when engagement with the USU is at its peak, I think, so riding off the success of the week would be one really good way to engage people with Manning. And I think that’s something that can be done with much more ease now, that the USU has partnered with I think its Century Venues for Manning Bar. Going on from that though, I would also like to see those big name performers headlining student events, in that, I think it was Jordan Raskopolous last year who performed at Hermann’s, and obviously a lot of people went along to go and see Jordan, but in that time were also exposed to student comedians. So, by doing that, its kind of like, ‘wow what a great student performer, I want to see what they’re doing’. Which links to the next bit, which is having a program whereby you have student performers every afternoon at Manning. They had a program like this a couple of years ago, or it finished last year or something, but that program has since stopped. But bringing that back, with those first two aspects of the plan, would help people be engaged in those afternoons, because they know whose performing, and they know the students who are doing things, so people will be involved, people will be engaged and that’s going to be really successful in engaging student performers, and getting Manning back on its feet I suppose. And a final point that doesn’t link in to the other very successfully but I think its important anyway, is just making sure that the kitchen stays open a bit later when there are events on, because I think it tends to close quite early. Was that the whole question?

HS: Yep. Just a clarification then on one of your policies, so you say that all large societies – first just tell us what policy you’re referring to, and then tell us what counts as a large society?

AT: So, large society wasn’t arbitrary. I initially wrote the number 100, and a board director clarified with me that 100 was a large society. A society with 100 members is a large society.

HS: This is for an international officer

AT: Yes, all large societies should have an international officer, and that international officer would be there to effectively engage international students in that society. That position exists in executives like SULS and SASS, and I think those are two organisations that tend to be better, not perfect but better in terms of engaging international students so I think the role has some promise.

HS:  So another one of your policies is that you would like there to be a discount access scheme to make it affordable. Obviously that requires some kind of financial restructuring, and some kind of reduction in other areas of the union. What would you be willing to make cuts to in order to fund that?

AT: Ok, I guess really briefly, I’ll just speak kind of about the scheme first. I think last year they had a scheme where I think first year students could apply for a discounted access card,  you had to pay at least $20 but you could pay whatever you could, you could do that from the beginning of the year till the beginning of May I think, which was a good start, but it was really poorly advertised so nobody knew it was happening, and also it was only available for first year students, which is a terrible idea because you have a lot more people than first years getting involved with the union, and so the policy is basically about bringing that back, removing the first year barrier situation, removing the ‘only doing it before the beginning of May’ situation, and making sure that its actually properly marketed so people know what they can do. And also, I think, potentially, but I’ll have to figure out how this goes, if fingers crossed I get elected, removing the $20 minimum and just making it a pay what you can access scheme. In terms of where the money would come from for that, again, sounds a bit like a cop out answer, but I think to cut from one place would be irresponsible, so I think it would just be cutting excess from various areas, I know there’s a lot of kind of wasteful spending in debating, I know that incubate – sorry you’re a debater. I know that incubate is good, but in terms of benefit overall for the entire student body doesn’t relate to many students. Also, I think within the access program I think there are areas that we can cut from. Sorry there was somewhere else I was going with this . . . sorry I’m all over the place today . . .so yeah, debating, incubate, cutting more generally, and just kind of cutting from access – oh also because people are paying money anyway, its not entirely like there’s no money and suddenly you have to create all of this money. Another clarification, sorry I just keep talking. Another clarification is that I think there would be a cap on how many discounted cards would be available. That would ensure that we’re never going to go too far over budget, but also, the USU is there for students, and is there to promote student life, and ensure that the student experience is brilliant, and so if the USU is in deficit its not the worst. I wouldn’t want to see the USU kind of in some severe deficit situation, but I mean, we’re running in a deficit at the moment, but I think that’s ok because of the nature of the organisation.

HS: OK, just a quick clarification on the discounted access cards, you said that you’d cap the number that would be available, how would you determine that? Would it just be a question of first come first served, would you means test it? I guess how would you ensure that it A – reached the people that needed it and B – wasn’t abused by people that didn’t necessarily need a discounted access card?

AT: I think last time they had that policy happening it was accompanied by a statutory declaration that proved they were experiencing financial hardship at the time, which obviously would need to continue. In terms of capping it, I’m not sure how I would cap it, that’s something I would need to discuss with board colleagues in the event that I got elected, and I think that there are people in the USU who are more pleased to make that decision and choose that number, but of course I obviously wouldn’t want to cap the number too low because as many people as possible should be able to get involved with the USU.

HS: So if you were elected, who would you support for president?

AT: I at the moment think its Courtney and Grace that are interested in the role. I would have to read what both of them have to say and what both of them want to do and what their visions for the union are. I know both of them personally, I like both of them and I think they’ve both done excellent things for the union, and they’ve both done different excellent things, so I think watch this space is my answer.

Note: this is a transcript of an Honi Soit candidate interview. Some responses have been edited for clarity.