Deep Tea Diving: Week 5

Board, board and debating

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Board Breakdown

Nominations for USU Board Elections closed this Tuesday, and the candidates will be officially announced on Thursday. At press time, Maya Eswaran of Grassroots, Connor Wherrett of Unity (Labor Right), Lachlan Finch of the Libdependents (Moderate Liberals), and Rebeccah Miller of NLS (Labor Left) have been confirmed as candidates. Two male international students are rumoured to be running, supported by Chinese international students’ group Panda, and one female international student supported by current Board Director Zhixian Wang. It remains to be seen if SLS, another Labor Left faction, will support NLS candidate Miller or run their own candidate. In total, nine candidates are set to contest the race—four women and five men.

Maya Eswaran (Arts/Law II) was elected in a Grassroots preselection battle against Liam Thorne (Arts/Law III), the partner of USU presidential hopeful Liliana Tai. So intense was the stoush surrounding preselection that it sparked something of a Grexit: eight senior Grassroots members left the faction, namely Madeline Ward, Anna Hush, Aiden Magro, Connor Parissis, Jazzlyn Breen, Maddy Norris, Ray Stachurska and Seth Dias. Grexiteers and Gremainers alike downplayed the mass exodus, claiming it was “not that newsworthy”. It is understood the members left for various reasons, and before pre-selection took place, with many keen to step away from the imminent electioneering. Grassroots has a complicated relationship with the USU, which the faction’s more radical members see as a corporatised sellout—“a useless scab union”. The decision to run a candidate at all is fiercely debated, with some preferring to focus resources on protest and activism, rather than electoralism. Punters will remember a similar debate erupted last year, which saw current USU President Courtney Thompson leave the faction, along with senior members Liam Thorne, Pranay Jha and Nina Dillon-Britton, who all supported Grassroots putting up a candidate for Board. In the end, Grassroots did not run anyone last year.

The tensions in Grassroots are a reflection of the internal dysfunction that follows the faction each year when Board elections roll around, with a seemingly inevitable fluctuation in membership. A member of Grassroots said the six Grexitors all “left on good terms” and a few may later rejoin.

Meanwhile, in Labor land, there had been early rumours that NLS would not field a candidate at all. Instead, they were slated to campaign for Unity’s Wherrett now, so that Unity would in turn support NLS’ Harry Gregg in a predicted SRC presidential bid later this year.

Before electing Miller (Arts II), NLS was said to have been in talks with Grassroots to support a second Grassroots nominee, given the lack of female candidates in play at that time. Grassroots had no second female candidate available to run, and no agreement was reached, presumably when it looked likely Miller was a viable option for NLS.

In contrast to previous electoral cycles where a clear candidate has emerged well in advance, NLS uncharacteristically scrambled to find a suitable nominee this year. This suggests underwhelming recruitment patterns in recent times, and a lack of nurturing of fresh talent. For a time, they’re said to have even started looking outside Labor membership for their nominee. X-Factor contestant, Latifa Tee (Arts/Law II) was approached and is said to have considered the offer deeply, despite her heavy ties with Grassroots, before deciding not to swerve into a career of student politics just yet.

Both these rumours have now given way to a confirmed run by Miller, NLS stalwart and SRC welfare officer, but relatively unknown candidate. In a contest where affirmative action can be decisive, it makes sense for NLS to put forward a non-male identifying person— particularly when two of the confirmed candidates are men.

As always, the election will play out against the broader squabbling between Labor’s three factions. Though diminished by recent walkouts and the failure of its 2017 SRC presidential candidate Bella Pytka, SLS has scored a recent win. Former Board Director and SLS heavyweight Shannen Potter beat out NLS opposition to secure the presidency of Labor Club, the USU political club dominated by the two Labor Left factions. Control over the executive is prized, as, unlike the informal campus factions, Labor Club can secure generous USU funding for its events, which are useful Labor Party and factional recruiting tools. The presidency became vacant after Caitie McMenamin, formerly of SLS, resigned. Potter’s win was a blow to NLS who either gave up battling for the club, or were distracted by the need to find a board candidate.

Our next USU President

Even before 2018 Board nominations are formally announced, the race has begun for USU president. In late May, the Board will elect this year’s president from the six directors who began their term in 2017. Independent Liliana Tai is set to vie with Moderate Liberal Jacob Masina for the role. At the same time, there’ll be elections for the executive: vice president, honorary treasurer and honorary secretary, as well as various other positions.

It’s early days but the most likely executive team at present looks to be Tai for President,  Adam Torres for Vice President, Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz for Treasurer and Zhixian Wang for Secretary.

That said, Masina is sure up a fight for the top job. That’s despite his recent setbacks with the two societies that arguably got him elected in the first place: the Sydney Arts Students’ Society (all members of the 2018 executive have been removed after Masina, who was 2017 SASS president, mismanaged last year’s AGM), and the Sydney University Liberal Club (which has faced allegations of deliberately excluding first year members).

The Board has voiced clear disapproval of Masina’s conduct, and was at one stage threatening to censure him over the mishandled SASS AGM. The backlash has been so strong that it’s said Labor Right-aligned Gulbransen-Diaz has pledged not to vote for Masina, her former ally, at all.

It might all come as a rude shock for Masina, who is said to have been confident of his prospects. So confident, in fact, that he cut short a winter trip to the Russian FIFA World Cup from six weeks down to two—all so he could take up his presidential duties on time.

There’s a glimmer of hope for Masina, though—perhaps about as realistic as the Socceroos being crowned this year’s FIFA champions. The 2018 batch of Board directors, to be decided in the upcoming USU elections, will also cast a vote in the executive race. At this stage, the Liberals look certain to run Lachlan Finch, so it’s in Masina’s interests to do everything he can to help Finch over the line. Masina, who has close ties with Hengjie Sun and Panda, will be looking for any edge he can get.

How this all plays out is still to be seen, but USU President is an important role, an office that has been held by the esteemeed Herbert Vere Evatt, Michael Kirby, and of course, Bachelor-contestant Alisha Aitken Radburn.

Laterz, debaterz!

With the confidence of a Grammar boy on the GPS Firsts team, USyd’s debaters have swaggered their way to victory at the last two Australian Intervarsity Debating Championships, affectionately known as Easters. But this year has brought a mortifying halt to the our debaters’ streak of success. Not even home side advantage could save them: USyd played gracious host to this year’s tournament, held across three days of midsem break and drawing hordes of pseudo-intellectuals from all over the country.   

USyd prides itself on its particular brand of pseudo-intellectuals: our debaters are frequently touted as some of the best in the world, winning the Worlds Championships in 2017 and dominating on the Australasian circuit. But in a shock performance at this year’s Easters, only one team, USU 1, made it as far as the semifinals, to be beaten by Macquarie 1, the eventual champions.

There the horrors do not stop. Easters has a rule that no more than three teams from any given university can progress or ‘break’ from the preliminary rounds to the finals. This rule is known as ‘the cap’. Teams which should have enough wins to progress, but are not in the top three from their institution, are ‘capped out’, their place taken by a team from another uni, even if it has fewer wins. Historically, the cap has plagued USyd debaters, in that kind of burdened-by-greatness way. Up to three USyd teams have been capped out at previous tournaments, and our contingents have taken to chanting “fuck the cap” whenever a team—from USyd or otherwise—is barred from breaking.

This year, not one USyd team was capped out. Which left USyd debaters chanting a downcast “fuck the cap” for their UNSW rivals instead.