Decisions are made by those who show up

SRC Councillors standing for re-election promise experience, but can they deliver reliability?

Photograph of the University's Professorial Board Room filled with councillors walking around and perceivably arguing. Black circles with question marks appear over some of their faces. They spend two weeks of campaigning, but many councillors fail to show up to the 2 hour council meeting each month.

With SRC elections this week, most candidates are running around campus trying to win votes based on their reliability, proven experience, and a desire to represent students “on your SRC council”.

It is interesting, then, that the greatest challenge facing the SRC is engaging its elected representatives in fulfilling their duties; namely, getting them to show up to monthly council meetings. The SRC hasn’t met since June this year, because every meeting called in that period has not reached the quorum of 17 councillors.

It’s pretty easy to work out which of the 17 councillor’s running for re-election this year have proved themselves most reliable in terms of showing up to SRC meetings, based on this year’s attendance records. Note that the brand names listed below refer to the tickets they are running on during this election, unless otherwise specified.

Adam Boidin (Stand Up for SRC), Isabella Brook (Stand Up for Mental Health), and Caitlin McMenamin (Stand Up for Women) have an impeccable record; they didn’t miss a single meeting of this year, including those that were deemed inquorate.

Timothy Berney-Gibson, who is running at the top of the Vision of SRC ticket, attended six meetings, and provided an apology for the one he missed. Gabriel Long (Stand Up for Arts), who took over for elected candidate James Cooper after two council meetings, turned up to four with apologies for the fifth; the same goes for Harry Gregg (Stand Up for Fair Education), who replaced Lachlan Ward around the same time.

Councillors Sophia Chung (Stand Up for LGBTI+), Connor Wherret (Stand Up for Law), and Kim Murphy (Left Action Against Racism), each attended five of seven council meetings.

While members of this year’s Stand Up team had some of the highest attendance records, others drag the brand’s reliability down: Angus Berg (Stand Up for Student Housing) came to four council meetings, while disgraced ex-Queer Officer Andrea Zephyr, and USU Board Director Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz made it to only two.

James Gibson (Free Parking) who took over for Sam Chu after around May, hasn’t made a single meeting this year. Even if they aren’t good at showing up, at the very least these candidates are polite about it, handing in their apologies to SRC secretary Julia early enough for her to note them down.

Last year, Stand Up was forged by Labor factions Student Unity, and National Labor Students. This year, Stand Up has dealt with Sydney Labor Students to include them under the campaign branding. Combined, this year’s councillors from the three Labor factions had a 67 per cent attendance record, which, although barely a credit, is a triumph compared to Ignite and Liberal candidates, who collectively made it to 35.7 per cent of meetings.

Last year’s vice-presidential wannabe, Ed McCann, has not been to any council meetings in 2017; hopefully, if he is successful in his campaign this election season to become a delegate to NUS, he will decide to grace the conference floor with his presence. Awkward, considering that presidential candidate Brendan Ma, a Liberal who ran with Ignite this year and Vision (Ignite’s Liberal successor brand) this year, plans to achieve quorum by “stand[ing] up and demand[ing] people make these meetings”.

It’s difficult to comment on the attendance of Grassroots and Switch candidates: many Groots’ councillors were locked out of this year’s election after handing their nomination forms in late; meanwhile, Switch formed this year as a brand of progressive-indies from grassroots, debating, and other left wing circles.

For those curious, existing Grassroots councilmembers have, together, made it to 67 per cent of meetings.

Switch campaign manager and SRC candidate for this year Liam Donohoe, was one of those successfully elected to council last year, making it to four meetings with one apology and an one unexplained absence.

Student Unity member and Stand Up co-Campaign Manager, Adam Boidin, suggests that factional organising helps to mobilise SRC councillors for meetings.

“…Councillors are reminded about attendance and encouraged to take their commitment seriously by their peers. It also ensures that, to the best of our ability, all councillors not in attendance are represented by proxies,” Boidin explained.

The numbers reflect Boidin’s theory. Councillors who ran on independent tickets last year and don’t appear to belong to any Facebook factions had below average attendance records; while some councillors like Samuel Chu turned up to every council (before signing over the spot to a hack better-adjusted to the meeting’s filibustering), others like Amelia Chen didn’t come back after one meeting.

All three presidential candidates contesting this year’s election spoke to Honi about the importance of
preventing SRC meetings from falling through due to inquorate numbers, with solutions ranging from setting KPIs (Ma), pre-council one-on-one meetings with each councillor (Grant), and just “mak[ing] sure councillors are… more aware that they must attend council,” (Bella).

Yet the way independent councillors have shied away from their SRC obligations this year might speak less to their organisational skills, and more to an unwillingness to take part in the organisation once they realise its combative, highly politicised culture.

“The fact of the matter is indies have even less incentive to care about SRC than factional hacks,” Chu told Honi.

“The motions up for debate are often meaningless; no actual substantive change can get pushed through these meetings.

“I had two of my best friends attend March and April meetings with me and they were shocked at the yelling, screaming, politicised council. It’s enough to make an indie turn off the SRC.”

Nonetheless, it might be difficult for next year’s president to hold their councillors to account given their less-than-perfect track records: while Pytka has made it to 100 per cent of meetings so far this year, Ma showed up to just over 70 per cent, while Grant attended 60 per cent after she took over for Georgia Mantle in April.