USU Board candidate interview: Erika Salmon

The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2017 Union Board candidate, Erika Salmon

Independent | Liberal Arts and Science II | Quiz Score: 32%
Interviewed by Kishor Napier-Raman and Natassia Chrysanthos

HS: Can you give us your name, your year, and your degree?

ES: Yep. My name is Erika Salmon, I’m a second year, and my degree is liberal arts and science.

HS: Are you a member of a political party or faction?

ES: I’m in the Liberal party.

HS: And what faction of the liberal party?

ES: Oh God I don’t even know anymore, there are like five.

HS: If you’re part of the Liberal party, why are you running as an independent?

ES: Because I’m not — I never got support from the liberals for doing this. This was a completely independent action of mine. I didn’t ask for their permission I just thought you know what, I want to do this, whether you support me or not.

HS: Ok sure. And I suppose without saying that you love the Union and care deeply about it, why are you running?

ES: Mostly just to be a larger representative of students. I discovered the board last year and I thought it was just like the SRC thing at school, I didn’t even know it was paid when I first learned about it. And I don’t know, I just want to make a difference on campus and I feel the Union board is sort of the best and most influential way to do that. And you know, further representation of students, rather than, because the majority of the union board is of — even if they’re not necessarily part of a party — they are of a left-wing kind of perspective. And I feel that bringing just a bit of a different sort of opinion kind of can represent a broader range of students.

HS: So you say you want to make a difference — how do you want to make a difference?

ES: Well I would love to make a difference. Honestly, I really really want Eastern Avenue to become a protest, or at least a petition free zone, so you’re not constantly harassed. And frankly, trying to study hearing megaphones just screaming “fight back, fight back,” when they’re all from extremely wealthy North Shore families is a bit annoying. Especially when exams are coming up and you’re just sitting there, holding a pencil, going “please stop”.

HS: How exactly are you going to do that through the Union? Is that within the Union’s capacity?

ES: I just want, like, a little sign saying ‘protest free zone.’ I mean, that would be nice.

HS: With a Union stamp on it…?

ES: It’s not hard. Maybe the Union stamp.

HS: Can that be enforced?

ES: Well, I’m hoping that students will at least — Well, considering that the majority of the left who respect ‘free zones’, they say that they work, they don’t, but we can see.

HS: From what I’ve understood of your policy statement, your political views are broadly fairly libertarian. Would that be right?

ES: Yes.

HS: So do you not think your number one policy being something that restricts freedom of speech —

ES: I don’t feel like it restricts freedom of speech, it just makes it so that you can study in quiet. Because you’re at university, you need to get through your degree, and frankly it’s very very disturbing when you’re constantly — especially when you’re harassed. Because there aren’t a lot of protests at Uni apart from Salt and frankly, being called a bigot, a homophobe, a racist, an internalised misogynist as you’re trying to study isn’t really prospering a nurturing academic space

HS: Do you think  that there are perhaps legitimate concerns behind what a lot of these protests are, so for example there were a lot of protests around the closure of the SCA which would’ve really disrupted the study of a lot of people who were already enrolled in the SCA…

ES: Yes I feel like there are some legitimate concerns, but the majority and the frequency with which they do these kind of activities isn’t really in consistence with the real issues out there.

HS: So if people wanted to protest real issues, would you want them to not do that in that space?

ES: Well I just want them to be away from the library so that you can actually study. And not have a megaphone preferably, because it’s just the fact you’re on the ninth floor and you’re still hearing them that it’s a bit ridiculous.

HS: So how far would you extend that space? Would it be all of Eastern Avenue, just around Fisher…?

ES: Well I would like it just around Fisher. So I think from Fisher to Fisher café I think would be a decent zone, because anywhere outside of that isn’t immediately disrupting to the student body.

HS: So is that your main platform?

ES: It’s one of my ones that I would like — because it is really, really disruptive

HS: But you’re not too sure how you could actually technically go about doing that logistically?

ES: Logistically no, but you know, I first have to win to find a way to do it, but I can find a way

HS: Ok, do you want to talk about your other policies then? Secondly, Maccas on campus.

ES: Yeah, I just want hash browns cause I love hash browns

HS: So considering that so many other people have campaigned on the basis of a Maccas on campus, why are you going to succeed where everyone else has failed?

ES: Honestly, the Maccas on campus was a bit of a last minute policy. I really just wanted to put “corporatist capitalist” in my statement because it would just enrage a few people and that would entertain me.

HS: So you say you want to enrage people, and people kind of see that aspect of your policy statement and question the extent to which yours is a serious campaign. Is it a serious campaign?

ES: Oh no, it’s completely serious; it’s just the fact that I want to have fun with it. Because a lot of the time in politics I feel that a lot of people just take it too seriously and there’s no fun aspect to it.

HS: Ok, so capitalistic corporatism on campus is not one of your main policy platforms?

ES: I would definitely like a Maccas on campus

HS: But is extending corporate capitalism…

ES: Oh I just used that phrase purely because…

HS: So Maccas on campus, do you think that will happen?

ES: I’m hoping it would

HS: How is it going to happen, or why would it happen if it hasn’t before?

ES: Well currently there is a lot of concern over Wentworth building, there are quite a few places around that that aren’t really frequented nor turning over a major profit, so we could kind of look at the student body, ask where they’d like to locate it, and kind of evaluate where the most frequent establishments are in the Wentworth building and outside of that and then kind of come up with a logistic solution from that.

HS: So you mentioned that you wanted your campaign to be slightly more fun, so I think your last policy about the free helicopter rides to socialist alternative is referencing a bit of a meme —

ES: Yeah it is

HS: Just on that though, the origin of that meme comes from the anti-communist purges in Chile by Pinochet, which involved a lot of people being killed or forcibly disappeared. Do you support the ironic use of human rights abuses as rhetorical flourish?

ES: Well you know, I’m happy with using that ironically. I mean, yes these human rights abuses were awful, but the fact is that currently in our modern times, because of the sensationalism and the media at our disposal, a lot of histories — things are taken out in an ironic way. I mean, say communism in the USSR, that killed over 20 million people but there’s not a huge enragement over that. People still use the sickle and hammer unironically and say that this is what we want. So I think using it unironically in a humorous sense is fine if you consider it in a broader context

HS: So you don’t think there’s any kind of insensitive nature to that at all, or you’re just willing to overlook that?

ES: Well, with insensitivity, like I don’t know — I have a friend from Chile and she actually legitimately supports Pinochet, funnily enough, but…. The thing is, with offence, yes, you know, it’s awful when people are legitimately offended and I do apologise if that genuinely makes you upset, but it’s not taken… it is taken in an ironic sense. It is not taken seriously.

HS: So you say you’re running a serious campaign with serious policies. If we go, through your policies though: first policy is the protest free zone, but that’s not within your capacity technically, so your ability to enact that is limited. Secondly, extending corporate capitalism you’ve admitted is a bit of a dig just to enrage people. The other one, helicopter rides, is also tongue in cheek. So you’ve got three kind of non-legitimate….

ES: I would like a Maccas on campus

HS: Ok but the realism of that is debatable. So your final — let’s say your most legitimate policy point — is earlier opening times for bars on campus. So they currently open at 12pm — do you know the cost required to change that?

ES: No

HS: So currently the university bars operate on standard trading hours for a small bar license, which is 12pm to 2am. The other option, to upgrade and open at 10am, which is the earliest they can open and start serving liquor, is a packaged liquor license. For a small bar, which is what they currently are, the costs are $350 to apply for a license and $200 to maintain it.

ES: That’s just ridiculous. That’s just overregulation.

HS: Well, for what you want, which is the 10am opening, to apply for a license is $2000, and the cost to operate it over the year is also up to $2000.

ES: Really?

HS: Did you research your policy before you put it down?

ES: A little bit.

HS: That took me two seconds

ES: Mmm

HS: So do you still see this policy point as a legitimate policy point?

ES: I need to look over our expenditure. I mean, some of the things we spend a lot on is a bit strange.

HS: So obviously, every board policy that someone brings in involves a reallocation of funds. Where would you be willing to make cuts — what do you think that the most wasteful use of union funding is at the moment?

ES: I’d further like to streamline our administrative things, so more it’s more technologically based — I do a lot of databasing — so maybe make a databasing system that’s kind of self-updating. I think that would help.

HS: So to clarify, do you think staff cuts would be—?

ES: If we had unnecessary staff on, yeah. Like I wouldn’t just cut the staff because that would be idiotic, because then we’d be understaffed and that would just go into chaos. So if we further streamlined the system where we didn’t need extra staff, then it would be a viable look into.

HS: So an auditing process, I guess? To work out what’s going on?

ES: Yeah definitely. Cause transparency is pretty important.

HS: So on transparency, would there be instances where you think it’s legitimate for the union to hold discussions in camera?

ES: To a degree. So long as it’s not on extremely sensitive manners I think it’s fine.

HS: Sorry to clarify, in camera means it’s in private and the minutes don’t get recorded. It’s just between the board.

ES: Oh right. Well if it’s extremely sensitive matters, I think it should, or extremely controversial. But if they are controversial and they will lead to some big changes I feel that the result of that meeting should be made public.

HS: And if there were extremely controversial things, when you’re a union board director you have a duty to the rest of the board. That is, a duty to keep certain matters confidential. If you felt that it was in the student interest to release that information, would you be willing to do so?

ES: That is a really tough one because, while I do not want to betray the confidences of my fellow colleagues, if it was something I felt was extremely important and the student body should know about because it could effect them on a large basis, then I feel that it could be a legitimate possibility.

HS: Sure. Would there be any examples you’d be willing to give of stuff that you’d release?

ES: Not overly because I’d need to know the definite context of the situation, but if it was affecting the student body on whole and it was being kept secret, and it was a dramatic change, something of that nature.

HS: In terms of circumstantial instances then, would you have allowed the Red Pill to be shown on campus?

ES: Yes. I feel that free speech is very important, and the fact that we are pretty much kowtowing to people who don’t really respect free speech except if it is theirs, is just not ok. Because university is by nature and definition a place where we can talk about controversial ideas, where we can have a debate. And stifling something as inconsequential as the Red Pill, which is really — it’s not really that big of a deal in all honesty anyway.

HS: Why do you think people may be reluctant to allow the Union to show the Red Pill? My understanding of it is that the reason the USU decided not to allow it to be shown with USU funds is because it breached a section of the constitution whereby the USU’s resources couldn’t be put towards something that openly discriminates, and they cited quotes from people in the Red Pill who are featured basically, I would say, glorifying and legitimising rape. That’s basically the Union’s argument. Do you agree with that—?

ES: No —

HS: Or do you think there’s any situations where the Union can maybe restrict speech under that aspect of the constitution, or restrict spending?

ES: Well I don’t feel that the Red Pill does do that. I don’t feel that it glorifies rape at all. I feel that it talks about the problem — men’s rights — which is the issues that they suffer, which is the high suicide rates, the labour reforms, all that sort of stuff. I don’t feel it glorifies rape at all.

HS: So on this, you say that you feel the board is quite left wing and you obviously don’t identify at that point on the political spectrum. When it comes to matters like this, how do you feel like you’re going to engage with people who you very blatantly don’t agree with?

ES: Well I have a very high regard for civil discussion and debate, and I’m not at all going to be aggressive towards them just because I don’t agree with them, that’s just absolutely unprofessional and ridiculous. I feel like I can put my opinion forward and as long as I don’t get overly aggressive or defensive about it, I feel like they might and will listen, and regard my opinion seriously.

HS: So one last policy issue, so last year there were five female candidates elected to board. There’s currently an affirmative action policy for USU Board Elections, do you think that should still be in place?

ES: No

HS: Why is that?

ES: Well quotas and affirmative action are used to make it more equalised I suppose, so the fact we had an all female board last year clearly shows that it’s no longer really necessary.

HS: So I suppose a hypothetical — If you had five men getting elected would you change your opinion on that?

ES: I’m personally of the political standpoint of meritocracy. So you vote for people regardless of their gender, skin colour, ethnicity, what have you. You elect them for their policies and you elect them on their likeability. If five men got elected but they were quality five men and they did what they promised and they contributed to the board in a positive way, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

HS: Just some stuff on the board currently, what do you think the most important USU program is?

ES: I feel like… probably… our support of the mental health services is really good, because there has been a statistical uprise in mental health and those kind of issues. So I think supporting that and making it more accessible to students is a really good thing, especially thinking how stressful uni can be for the wider student body. And supporting services in regards to, if you suffer a personal circumstance, that affects your uni work, your general way of life. I feel it’s really great that we have a support network in order to help these students kind of get back up.

HS: Your picture for USU Board is you with a ‘Make USyd Great Again’ hat. A lot of people associate that with Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again Hat’. Given that a lot of people associate Trump with sexism and racism and homophobia, why would you willingly associate yourself with that image? Is that something that you think would deter students from voting for you?

ES: Well I personally think a lot of those accusations towards Trump are a bit ridiculous, because if you look at Trump’s appointment records he’ll a lot of the time most likely employ a woman over a man in a lot of regards with business if they have the same qualifications. And also, in regards to homophobia, Trump has never — like yes he has —

HS: —Sorry I’m not actually asking about Trump, I’m saying the associations a lot of people make. So whether they’re valid or not is kind of moot. It’s more, do you want to be associated with those impressions that other people have?

ES: Well it would be amusing if I was considering my personal background. But no, I’m not really overly concerned, because I find a lot of those standpoints and the assumption ridiculous more than anything else. So I’m not overly concerned, no.

HS: So associating your brand with something that’s hostile to migrants, for example, or hostile to people from different backgrounds, that doesn’t bother you? That people might associate you with those kinds of attitudes, whether they’re founded or not?

ES: No. Not really, no.

HS: If you could vote for three candidates other than yourself, who would your top three candidates be?

ES: I quite like Sally, I think it is. Yeah, I quite like Sally, I think she’s good. I’ve read her policy statements, and I’ve met her, I quite like her. I do like her policy statement as well. I suppose Jacob Masina, because as much as he is a lot more liked than I am in regards to ideology, I think he’s a good guy, he has good policy, and I think he would do well in the USU environment. And as for my third one… I’m not completely sure on a third. I think another one of the international students.

HS: And would you be willing to go into a preference deal with those two?

ES: If they were agreeable and we talked, maybe.

HS: But there are none in the works as of yet?

ES: No

HS: Who would you put last as a voter?

ES: I’m not completely sure. Cause they’re all quite lovely people, so it would have to be on a policy basis analysis. I suppose there is one that comes to mind but I can’t quite recall her name. And it’s only because her policy thing annoyed me a little bit because she used her brand in every single line of it… God what was it? Zhixian?

HS: Who do you think has been the most effective elected board candidate over the last few years?

ES: Most effective?

HS: Yeah, or who’s done the most or achieved the most for the board and students?

ES: I can’t say I’ve looked into it… I suppose… I quite like… MIchael Rees

HS: How come?

ES: I feel that there’s a presence with him. Like, you know he’s a USU board president, you know he’s kind of doing something for you. Whereas with a lot of the others, you’re just kind of not sure really

HS: And if you were elected, who would you be supporting for president?

ES: Is it out of the six or is it predetermined?

HS: From what we understand Courtney Thompson and Grace Franki are the two most interested

ES: I don’t know, I quite like both of them and they’re both quite agreeable to actually talking. With becoming president, what additional powers would you have? Cause they’re both quite nice people but I suppose Grace is — I do quite like Courtney as well — but I suppose I would support Grace over Courtney purely because Courtney is a bit more radical with a few of her ideas.

HS: So after we talked about your policies you said you were looking at expanding your policy statement, do you think there will be anything in your new policy statement that sets you apart from other candidates?

ES: Well I know that it’s previously been run, but I do quite like the idea of an expense transparency trail that’s self-updating and linked to the bank account. I think that would be a really great idea because then the whole student body can look at where the USU’s money going, that sort of thing. Especially to the more politically minded student body who would want to know. I think that would be a really great idea. And in general, I think a more supportive network for international students, because it is difficult for them coming over here, especially the ones who are still learning English, so I think maybe setting up a voluntary-basis program where people who — cause you can kind of set it up where you’re learning their language and they’re learning yours. I think that would be beneficial to the whole student body in general, for people who do want to help these students, but they’re also getting something out of it by making friendships and connections. I think that would be really great. And I just would really like to build up more of a sense of community around the university, because we are quite a big university and it is really hard to meet everyone. A really great way of doing this is the students society and club program. I would like a little more autonomy with the clubs, just in regards to the events they can do and that sort of stuff. But yeah, I would just like more community-based so we can all help each other, and more transparent USU in terms of spending and income to make sure we don’t get extreme influence from outside sources.

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

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