Libdependent | Arts III | Quiz Score: 32%
Interviewed by Janek Drevikovsky and Alison Xiao
HS: Could you start by telling us your name degree and year.
LF: My name is Lachlan Finch. I study a Bachelor of Arts and I’m in my third year.
HS: And why are you running for USU Board?
LF: I’m running for USU Board because the community of the USU has given me so much over the past two and a half years that I’ve been at uni. I think I’m really very well placed to serve that community. I have participated so much and benefited so much from all the programmes and festivals and outlets they have on campus and I want to give back. So that’s why I’m running for Board.
HS: What kinds of benefits?
LF: So I’ve found all of my closest friends at university through the clubs and societies programme. I’ve found that all the festivals have really enriched my student life. I think there’s so much more to uni outside the classroom. So we come here to get a degree but the actual community is really at Sydney Uni anchored on the USU. I’ve got all my benefits outside the classroom from everything that she does.
HS: So what do you think you can bring to Board above the other candidates?
LF: I think compared to all the other candidates my experience that differentiates me lies with the clubs and societies programme. I’ve had more executive experience on clubs and societies almost than all the other candidates combined—certainly more than any other single candidate. I think that gives me a unique insight and perspective into what is really on the ground the most frequent interaction that the USU has with students
HS: I mean let’s talk about experience then now. Your experience is undoubtedly the biggest out of all the candidates, but there’s the question mark of SASS and the AGM handling over it. You said when that story came out that you had no idea that the constitutional amendments had been annulled and that you went off what Jacob Masina told you which was that those amendments were on the books and the constitution was being run properly. Is that true?
LF: I—from memory, yeah, it was. It was a bit of a weird time. But from memory they sent some correspondence to the whole exec and at the time, I think it was Jacob, could have been someone else said “Cool, let’s log the correspondence.” Usually we get the emails and we go yep, I’m going to action this, I’m going to action that—whatever.
HS: So you were general secretary, or secretary in SASS last year. How would you describe your role in that position?
LF: So as secretary last year, my roles were kind of to coordinate all the exec members and make sure everyone was meeting their targets on time. Things like: all of the admin for our events and stuff, so like if we’re going to have an event we do a pre-event form, and then we post that form to get funding from the university and stuff
HS: So you were clearly heavily involved. The SASS constitution also describes the secretary’s roles as including conducting the correspondence of the society. So all of that taken together and given that secretary is probably, after president, the most prominent position in any major society—would you say you had the responsibility to know or make yourself aware of any changes the Board had made to the constitution?
LF: Yeah. I’m really glad you asked me of it, because I do want to clear it up and I do want to talk about it. Yes, I think secretary is one of the most senior roles. I think secretary, president and treasurer are the three most important roles in any society. And yeah, there could be the case that I should’ve been more responsible about—that the whole exec should’ve been more responsible about it. I think the fact that Jacob came out and said that he wants to take responsibility for this and that he wants to take the blame for it, because ultimate responsibility for how an AGM is conducted falls on the shoulders of the president—I think that’s something to note. And the whole exec went along with that and we all said “that’s a good choice”—you know, “thank you for making that choice.” So Jacob’s come out and said I take full responsibility for it as president it was his responsibility and we’ve gone alone with that, ultimately.
HS: So will you still support Jacob in the upcoming Board presidential elections?
LF: I’m not going to make a decision about presidential stuff, Board stuff, internal things until—if—I’m lucky enough to be elected.
HS: But do you still have faith in Jacob? Even if you weren’t voting in the next elections for him to become President of the USU?
LF: I think how good a president’s going to be and who is the right candidate to be president is completely contextual, and it’s based on the Board at the time. I think it’s based on the environment of the USU at the time. I think it’s completely dependent on the situation and on the Board members.
HS: Speaking of the Board members and the people themselves, Jacob is a factional ally of yours. What political faction are you in?
LF: I’m running as an independent for this election—as an independent because I’m going to make decisions, if I’m elected to the Board, completely in the interests of the USU. I think being of a faction and I think especially the way that people talk about factions at Sydney Uni—being beholden to some sort of faction or group outside the USU would completely be at odds with your responsibilities as a Board director. You’re elected to Board to represent the students and more importantly you’re elected to Board to act in the best interests of the USU. It’s counterintuitive if you’re beholden to a faction outside the Board. So that’s why I’m running as an independent because I want to do the best for the USU.
HS: How would you describe your political ideology then?
LF: I don’t think politics has a place in making the best decisions for the Board. I don’t think that party affiliation or anything like that should actually come in to what it means to be a good Board director for the USU.
HS: Nonetheless, I’m right in saying you’re associated with the Liberal Party, am I not?
LF: Yeah absolutely.
HS: And a lot of the people who will be supporting you come from a broad association of young Liberals on campus.
LF: I have a huge amount of people who have … it’s actually humbled me a lot that so many people, when they found out that I’m running, stepped forward to say “I want to help you.” Some of them are Liberals. There are a lot of students who are just my friends who are like “I really want to help you, I believe in you, I back you.” I’ve had some people that I’m not even close to saying “I read your policies and I want to back you.” So that’s really really awesome. Yes, some of them are Liberals but they come from a really broad cross-section from all of campus.
HS: Is the decision to run as an independent rather than under Liberal branding one that you took to improve your electoral chances on a campus notorious for its progressivism?
LF: I chose to run as independent because it means that you’re not beholden to anyone. And I chose to run as an independent because I’m running as me. I’m running on the experience that I have from campus. I believe that politics doesn’t have a place on being a good Board director. I don’t think it makes sense to run on a platform other than: being an individual that really cares about the students like I do; that really really cares about the Clubs and Societies programme like I do; and really just wants to improve the student community like I do.
HS: So Board has had a recent history of being political even though you say politics doesn’t have a place. A lot of the changes they make are progressive in implementation. How do you think you’re going to work with Board directors who do have political views and who do want to implement things that involve politics?
LF: I think the direction of the Board is always going to be… yes, it could interact with certain political directions or avenues.
And I’ll take every single one on face value. I’m running to be a Board director and understand that I’m running to be part of the team. And the team of Board directors I’m going to be a part of— we’re going to want to choose the best decisions for what the USU should do. And sometimes the best decisions for what the USU should do are those reflecting student attitudes on certain things, celebrating certain things. And I fully support all of those agendas. Some of the most vibrant festivals that we have on campus are, arguably, somewhat political in nature. I mean most causes are, right? So I think, if I’m lucky enough to be elected, then I really want to support all of those things and support the vibrant community that we have. And as a Board director, I think your job is to facilitate all of these things and make sure that they occur in the best way.
HS: So if you reduce your decision making as a Board director down to “what’s in students’ best interests”, how do you decide what is in students’ best interests when different students have very different views?
LF: Yeah of course. It’s not just students’ best interests, but also the USU’s best interests. I think, obviously, fiduciary duty comes through in a really important way when you’re a Board director. Because—unlike when you’re on SRC, where I think it’s arguable that you are just representing students—as a Board director, I think there’s an extra level of obligation to the USU and the organisation, as well as to all of the students you represent. Because at the end of the day, yes, you’re a Board director and you’re meant to be there to serve the best interests of the Board. But at the same time, the Board’s aim is to provide a better student community for students so there’s an interaction there.
HS: But isn’t this ideological though? Things like fiduciary duty, presumably managing a company really effectively—doesn’t that align with values that we associate with the right—and the fiscally conservative right—which a moderate Libdepednent might identify with?
LF: Could you rephrase the question sorry?
HS: You say that one of the most important things is for you to uphold your fiduciary duties. That to me seems like something which sits really well with a moderately fiscally conservative ideological position.
HS: It seems like at the same time as saying that there’s no ideology in the way you approach Board, you’re being governed here, by a kind of corporate ideology. What would you say to that?
LF: I would have to disagree with you. I think that my motivations are based on the role that a Board director plays. The role being: I’m making strategic decisions about the USU and I’m making them with the USU’s best interests at heart. I’m running to be a Board director to make the best decisions for what is a 27, 28 million dollar organisation that’s providing a really cool student community and one that makes students want to engage with Sydney University. And as that role implies, I’m going to make the best decisions for the Board. I’m going to make the best decisions for the Union. And, ultimately, that does mean that I’m making the best decisions for all the students because that’s the purpose of the USU.
HS: So what do you think has been a USU policy or initiative in the past couple of years that’s really impressed you or helped students engage more with the Union?
LF: I think that my favourite one, the best one is the Health and Wellness Day that they’ve done a few different years in a row. I think the Health and Wellness Day is something that aligns with part of what I’m running on to be a Board director. I think it’s something that students really want more of. I think it’s something the students really really benefit from. So I was really impressed to see that. Another one that I really liked was the Interfaith Week that the USU ran this year where all of the different religious or cultural clubs came together and had a really good week where they had discussions and interaction. I think it was really cool to see all the different communities coming together—because that’s what USU is all about.
HS: So moving on to your policies, one of the things you’re supporting is therapy dogs provided by the USU. But the USU already does do therapy dogs. So are you not just piggybacking onto something the USU has already set up all the structure for? What are you bringing that’s new here?
LF: Yeah absolutely. So I think, yes, they started some infrastructure. I think that it hasn’t been as successful as it could be and I certainly think it hasn’t been publicised enough. So many students don’t know that it’s the service. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in really pioneering the therapy dogs initiative got so much traction on campus and I was actually part of helping them do it. So I was part of the process helping them set up from the very beginning—let’s get therapy dogs for students around exam time. Obviously, it was a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences thing but it was open to all the students. I saw how beneficial it was and I was so engaged in the process. I loved it, all my friends loved it and everybody had a really good time. So I think, yes, the USU started that sort of infrastructure. But the Faculty of Arts showed how successful it can be if you market it more. And how successful it can be if you put it in a really prime location in a really really accessible manner because that’s, in my mind, the benefit of the therapy dog program. Obviously, it ties into mental health. Obviously, it ties into everybody having the best campus experience they can have. But it’s actually really accessible for everyone. You can walk down Eastern Avenue and you can pat a dog have a really good time—smile a bit. Around exam time, but all throughout semester I think there’s something that the USU can step in and make sure is a solid thing there.
HS: It seems like you’re commendably big on mental health issues. Would you extend that to advocacy and use your role to petition different sectors in the University, for instance CAPS, to improve their provision of mental health services?
LF: Like I could do that personally—but as a Board director I think I would be using my role a lot better to try and use or see ways in which the USU could step in and fill any gaps that the current University administration isn’t kind of getting and fill gaps. Because obviously there’s bureaucracy involved like the USU interacting with the University. But also the USU has way better interaction with all the students than anything else. Students go to all the cafes run by the USU. Students are in all of the clubs and societies run by the USU. Students have their ACCESS cards. They get all the emails from the USU. So I think there’s already that relationship there. As a Board director, the best way that I can improve the culture of mental health and mental health awareness on campus would be—if I’m lucky enough to be elected—would be to find ways in which the USU can step in and fill the gaps that are already there. I think there’s a really great article in the Honi that came out in March about—it was either this year… there was one last year and there was one this year. It was about CAPS and how CAPS is really great and what it aims for is really great but it’s kind of fallen short in a lot of different areas. That’s some feedback that I’ve had from friends as well—that CAPS is really fantastic and the aims that it has are really fantastic but there’s still heaps of work to do. And I can see space for the University [sic] to step in and help.
HS: So when you consider giving money to CAPS in the same way that you’d sacrifice your salary, you said, to run a fun run?
LF: Yes certainly. The idea of the fun run is—and I’d love to tie into something like the Health and Wellness Day—it is a holistic manifestation of what the USU should be bringing for students as far as health and well-being is concerned. So it’s a run, obviously, centred on wellness, physical exercise—all that sort of stuff. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s engaging—students want to do it. And any of the proceeds—hopefully, like, a lot—will go towards mental health awareness on campus or potentially stepping in in the ways that CAPS can’t. Or stepping in in the way that CAPS should. And having that whole day would one be symbolic that the USU really cares about students’ well-being. But in a second way—obviously in a meaningful way and in a real tangible way—to get money, step in and fill those services that CAPS can’t really do.
HS: So you speak about how the USU can look out for students’ welfare. One of the biggest point of contact it seems to have with students is in employment of students—and it employs a lot of students. Do you think there are things the USU could in its employment relationships that would improve the welfare of employees. I mean, to take an example, last year the Board resolved to only conditionally support the NTEU’s strike. Would you instead vote to support students’ welfare and vote to close operations if a similar strike occurred?
LF: I think there’s a lot of play there. I think that I’d have to be a Board director and know all of the conditions and all of the factors that they took into account to make that decision. I’m sure there’s a lot of information—being a Board director, obviously, you’re dealing with really sensitive information, you’re dealing with running all the different businesses that the Board has, as well as balancing that with students’ best interests. So I think there’s a lot of information and a lot of factors that probably went into that decision that I would have to be a Board director to know and be privy to.
HS: But if staff working close to the minimum wage want a wage increase so they can have comfortable living conditions and the USU is in a position to provide them with that—even if that meant going into deficit, would you prioritise the potential increase in student welfare—students employed by the USU—and the welfare of non-student staff? Would you prioritise that welfare over fiscal responsibility?
LF: Well yeah, I want students’ welfare to be a really important focus for the USU and I want all the staff obviously to have such a huge focus there—their wellbeing. I think, again, I’d need to be a Board director to know all the different factors and all the different priorities that the Board has. As a Board director you learn so much and you’re privy to so much that us outside, not being on the Board, aren’t privy to. So I think there’s a lot of factors and a lot of information that I would only have if I was a Board director to make a choice like prioritising two complex issues like that.
HS: Moving on to some of your other policies, you say you want to have a biannual Board update in PULP. So currently, the Board is not very good at getting its minutes out. There’s a five-month backlog. So how are you going to ensure that the info gets out? It’s all well and god to promise you’re going to do it—but in what tangible ways are you going to implement it?
LF: Yeah absolutely. So I think that the onus really comes down to obviously the Board—to really strive to get the minutes out. And that comes down to every single Board director having that same commitment and vision to the kind of transparency that I really want to bring to Board and that I really want to see from all the Board directors and the whole Board itself. So I think the best way that I could ensure that it happens is to—if I was elected—then I can have those really important conversations with every other Board director—in saying: “These minutes are really really crucial and these reports are really really really crucial. All of the things that we’re doing affect students so fundamentally, we really have an obligation or responsibility to make sure that we’re being really upfront and transparent in a timely way.” There’s a five-month backlog but I’m sure if every single Board director had the same sort of commitment that I’m telling you about, that that wouldn’t exist and we could publish those reports regularly.
HS: But what if they don’t go along? What if you’re hit with a brick wall?
LF: I’ll see what happens.
HS: So if transparency is important to you, do you support the Board continuing the practice of in camera meetings?
LF: Yeah, yeah I do. Obviously, there’s going to be confidential information—like confidential financial information and stuff like that—and that probably shouldn’t be [published], just to protect the integrity of the organisation. But I do agree that, if it’s possible that the information isn’t super sensitive, that they shouldn’t be in camera. Yeah absolutely.
HS: But if the organisation is there to serve its members, then don’t its members deserve to know important details about its financial operations?
LF: Yes and no. I think, yes, there are some parts of financial information that obviously, as members, we would want to know—say, why are they making certain decisions about choosing to spend money this way, or choosing to spend money that way. I think things like negotiating contracts or negotiating sponsorships with different types different companies: if that information was published, then obviously all the different companies vying to have sponsorship—like Tsingtao or the sponsorship we got recently—that would obviously be detrimental to the future of the organisation and what it’s trying to achieve. So there are some things that, just logically, shouldn’t be released or should be in camera at a later date once things are settled, as opposed to at the time.
HS: That makes me think it would be very hard for another policy of yours, which is meet ups with Board members, to meaningfully allow students to interact with their Board directors and say “Look, this is an issue I feel strongly about, here’s what I want you to say about it” if students aren’t able to know what is afoot in terms of contract negotiations or wage bargaining. How can they possibly exercise their rights through their democratic representatives?
LF: Yeah. I think it’s important to note that when I say in camera information and that some of it is sensitive, the large majority of what goes on in those Board meetings should be published. And the large majority of all the conversations that are being had and all the decisions that are being made should be published and available for all of the members to scrutinise and ask about. It’ll be a very very small subset that the Board would have to say “This is really sensitive information, a whole bunch of our future decisions really rely on this information remaining confidential. So these will come out in future minutes or at future in camera sessions.” And I think that the issues that matter most to students—when I’m trying to implement these consultations on Eastern Ave where you can just come and chat to a Board director—aren’t those super sensitive topics. I think students want to ask things that pertain to their everyday life at uni. Like: what can the USU do to provide more open space? What can the USU give me more healthier food options on campus or to help me destress or something like that.
HS: Would you publish the CEO’s salary?
LF: I’d have to make that decision once I was on Board.
HS: So do you think student meet and greets with Board directors is the best way to engage with students who don’t really know or care about Board. Is there a demand for this?
LF: I think there is a demand for it. I think especially if it was advertised and all the students knew about it I think there would be a lot of things that students were gonna come and ask Board directors about. Obviously, there are going to be some disengaged students that don’t really care or don’t want to chat to a Board director, but I think they would definitely be a lot of students who want one issue resolved. Or want to ask “why does this occur the way that it does, or why did you make this decision.” And I think it’s a good way to engage those students. Especially if there’s a really small issue or just something that they want cleared up that is kind of a barrier to them engaging further with the USU, then why not. If I was lucky enough to be elected, I want to be able to sit on Eastern Avenue and have students come up and know that I’m sitting there for two hours. And they’d be able to come up and say “Hey why is Fisher Coffee Cart open for this amount of time?” Or like “What new healthy food are you going to be providing in the next six months?”
HS: I guess it comes down to a matter of representation. It seems like you’ve identified a desire among the student body to feel their views are reflected on Board. Do you think the Board currently is representative of the student community?
LF: I think the Board does its best to be representative of the student community. Obviously, it’s hard to get the balance exactly right. I think there’s always some level of disconnect because communication—especially at a mass level because we have so many members—is really really hard. So I think the Board does its best to represent the best interests of students, and that’s part of what this election is all about.
HS: As part of representation, do you support the current affirmative action policy for non cis-gender men?
LF: Yeah, I think the current policy works really well. If I was a Board director, I would not change a thing.
HS: And would use support extending it to international students?
LF: I’d have to consider that while I was on Board. I think a really diverse Board is a really awesome thing. And having a diverse Board has the best outcomes for all of the members. So I hadn’t thought of that specific issue before. but I had to have to think about it when I was on Board.
HS: So there’s also been some recent changes to the USU polling stations, with Merewether polling booth being closed and the ISL polling booth only being open for prepoll. So do you support this changes? Would you continue with this policy?
LF: Polling stations…Yeah, so some were closed. Oh yeah of course. Um.
HS: So this has the potential to affect a lot of international students. A lot of international student votes are cast there.
LF: I think it would be very important to ensure that it’s being promoted effectively especially to international students, and on international student-heavy communication lines, like WeCaht for instance. I think if ISL is going to be closing down o for the main voting day, there needs to be some sort of supplementary form of advertising that the elections are on. But I think if students are really engaged and they really want to vote, then the booths that are open are quite central and quite well advertised.
HS: On another policy, you mention in your policies statement that you’d consult more with C&S about controversial regulations, and the example you list is the alcohol funding policy. What’s your position on that policy? Do you support it?
LF: I think that there was a huge error from the Board in not consulting with the clubs and societies before they introduced the funding changes. Clubs and societies typically—especially the big ones like SASS and Engineering and SUBS and all the big faculty ones and most of the smaller ones as well—have their AGMs at the end of the year and all the exec work really hard over the summer planning an amazing year for students. And realistically, the clubs and societies are what create the atmosphere at uni and create the community. For them to go through all that work and planning, and then a few weeks before the semester starts to be told straight out of the blue with no consultation that these funding changes are going to occur, and those funding changes are quite fundamental—surrounding alcohol consumption off campus—a lot of societies have a lot of events off campus. I think that was a real spanner in the works for a lot of us. And I think it has inadvertently damaged the culture at Sydney Uni for this semester. Obviously, now that it’s in place, societies can plan ahead and take that into consideration. So it probably won’t happen again. But even the fact that they didn’t ask any clubs or societies about their culture or the way that they go about things before instituting the change and that they didn’t tell them with enough time to prepare has sort of damaged the culture—at least this semester. So regardless of the merits of the policy itself, the Board really should be consulting with clubs and societies on issues that affect them and their members a lot.
HS: It comes down to a question of whose interests you prioritise again, given there’s a very good argument that says this was a policy that was long overdue, that the USU has a duty of care to anybody who’s drinking on the budgets of its clubs and societies, and it was imperative that it introduced this policy as soon as possible. In that instance, getting back to that question of how do you decide what the right thing to do is as a Board director, where is the balance? Or what’s the process that you use to reach a balance?
LF: Yeah. I mean, you’ve got to ensure that you have students or the members of the USU—you’ve got to have their best interests at heart. And all of these students that are attending the events are members of the USU, so you have to have their best interests at heart. I think it would be fair to say that the decisions that have been made by Board to change the policy would have been considered well before the two weeks before semester where they brought it in. So I think there was a large amount of scope for them to say at least “Hey guys”—like all the clubs and societies—“we’re thinking about changing the funding policies surrounding alcohol. Just wanted to let you know. In case it does change, maybe you should factor this into your calendars and maybe you should factor this into the way that you operate.” I think what the Board is trying to do and their motivations for doing it are really really good and I completely support them. Because obviously student safety is first and the members of the USU deserve to be safe at all the events they go to. I just think that it could be executed in a better way. I think there could be better consultation.
HS: This example raises another issue, which is that there were some suggestions that the USU was forced to act by an ultimatum that the University gave it—or a lot of pressure was put on it by central university admin, where, in light of the Broderick review, there was a strong desire for the alcohol policy as the USU ultimately introduced it to be introduced. There’s still a question mark to what extent that did influence the Board. But say in a similar situation, you were faced with a decision you had to make very quickly, or with professional staff who had a particular policy they wanted implemented or a particular way of doing things, how do you as a Board member with a particular policy platform and a particular set of goals you want to achieve—how do you manage that situation? How do you ensure your vision comes across?
LF: Yeah. I think obviously it’s very contextual. So it’s going to apply differently in each circumstance. I think the environment of the Board at the time and the university is going to have a huge influence on me on how I do that if I’m lucky enough to be elected. But as a general rule, if there are things that are going to be affecting the clubs and societies which are the bedrock of the community here and the bedrock of the USU programme in my opinion—if there are going to be decisions that fundamentally affect how they operate, especially in the short to medium term, then I would want to consult with them or at least let them know as early as possible. The Clubs and Societies programme has given me so much. My real passion is making sure that they continue to give to students the way that they’ve given to me—all these clubs and societies. So as a Board director, one of the key decision-making processes I’m going to have is ensuring that the framework of clubs and societies that really interacts with students in the biggest way out of the whole program is notified and consulted and works closer with the decision-making process of the Board.
HS: So the only way for students to currently access the clubs and societies on campus is to buy an ACCESS card, and so cheaper ACCESS is promised every year by nearly every Board director. Do you think that your idea of a tiered membership system will overcomplicate it for students who already aren’t sure what the USU is. At least now it’s a one-time payment, you know what you’re getting, you know what everyone else is getting. How are you going to practically implement a gold, silver, bronze-tiered platform?
LF: My dream right is informed by my experience with clubs and societies over the past three years. So every year at OWeek, we have so many students who come up and say “I really want to join this society—really fantastic, let me rip in. I really want to get involved in uni.” And we say “awesome, great—it’s free to join the society—sign on in.” And they don’t have an ACCESS card. And we say “Oh you’ve got to go get an ACCESS card.” And they say “Oh, it’s too expensive. I don’t spend want to spend 60, 70, 80 bucks on a card that I don’t really know what it does. I don’t know if I’m going to get all the benefits out of it.” So my dream—and the gold, silver, bronze is kind of just a suggestion—my dream is that at the very least there is an alternative ACCESS card that you can buy that just gives you access to clubs and societies. I think the membership of especially faculty-based clubs and societies would be so much bigger if students could go up to the ACCESS tent and buy a clubs and societies ACCESS card that cost five bucks or 10 bucks. And the only thing you get from that card is that you can join clubs and societies. And we’ve got the current ACCESS card with which you can join clubs and societies and you get all these perks—you get to go to all the parties and festivals that we have, and get greater discounts, and you can get free coffees on campus, and you get all these extra benefits which a lot of students get a huge amount of value from. Like, some students are here so much and they use all the facilities and clubs and societies so much that the current ACCESS card pays for itself within the first semester. And then they have heaps more value from it. But there are so many students who just want it to join clubs and societies. That’s why I think the tiered ACCESS scheme is important—because the USU is here to engage students, right? So the best way to capture all those students that currently don’t engage—and they don’t engage for one reason and that’s because the ACCESS card is too expensive—the best way to do it is just to advertise super simply: “Here is this new ACCESS card where you just join clubs and societies. And then there are these other ones with different benefits.”
HS: Don’t you think this is an immense financial risk? Yes, you might argue that more people will sign up, but there’s currently probably a huge number of people who do have ACCESS cards who will be attracted to a far cheaper ACCESS card—who would swap in a $70 per year model for a $5 per year model. ACCESS provides the USU with something like $300,000 of its budget, which is not an insubstantial figure. You cut that in half and you’re looking at a big deficit. What do you say to that?
LF: I’d say that I’d have to look at the figures as a Board director before I made any decisions like that. And obviously, the strategic direction of the Board that we’re not privy to at the moment that only the Board directors know would be informing my view on exactly how much the new card would be and all the viable options like that. I think the most encouraging thing for me out of this whole process with thinking about ACCESS reform is that every single candidate has identified that it’s an issue. And every single candidate has said we need to reform it in some way possible. So regardless of whether or not my dream of having a tiered ACCESS system so that people can enjoy clubs and societies more actually eventuates, it’s going to be enough pressure from all the Board directors that we will see change from the ACCESS system in the next few years.
HS: So if the $5, $10 card is deemed too radical a risk, which other candidate’s proposal of cheaper ACCESS do you think you’d prefer? Or what kind of middle ground are you considering?
LF: Yeah I think, yeah.
HS: Because this is a very radical change.
LF: It is a very, very radical change. I think that being on the Board and having access to the strategic direction of the Board is going to be obviously fundamental in this whole process. That’s my dream. I don’t know whether or not that tiered ACCESS scheme can come to fruition because I just don’t know the strategic direction of the Board. And neither do any of the other Board candidates. We all want to change ACCESS so that students get better value from ACCESS but we don’t know how they can interact with the Board yet. Right? So I think the best thing to do is to say “this is my ideal circumstance”—which I’ve done. And then any deviation from that is going to have to be informed by my experience on the Board. So I don’t know what it might end up looking like but I’m extremely confident that students are going to get better value from their ACCESS or at least see an ACCESS system that they want to see in the next few years.
HS: One of your other policies was for a supermarket on campus. Do you think students really want a supermarket on campus?
LF: I think they do. I really really do think they do. So UNSW has an IGA and so many students there use it so frequently. And from everyone that I’ve floated the idea with here at USyd—everyone is so enthusiastic about it. It ties into my broader sense I’ve gotten over the past three years both personally and from all my friends and everyone I’ve interacted with at the society level that options for more food is a key issue. And it comes up every single year in USU elections. Candidates always say “We should have more food on campus, we should have more options.” I think the best way, most effective way in a really small setting to provide more food options is to have a supermarket that just has heaps and heaps of options—whether that’s an IGA, or Woolies or … Harris Farm. I think that that’s less important than—students want more food, and having a supermarket is a very dense, more efficient way of giving them heaps of food choices.
HS: I guess your choices are restricted unless you live nearby and can prepare that food. So isn’t this a policy that benefits people who live on campus or close to campus? Because otherwise, the amount of food you can buy at a supermarket is to like, eat raw capsicums off the shelf.
LF: Yes, it would benefit disproportionately people who live nearby, but there are so many students who live nearby. There are so many students who live in student accommodation for instance—like right on campus or right next to campus—that it would really benefit. But there are so many items that students might want from a supermarket. I think it’s having that really really wide range of food that they don’t currently have in a supermarket setting that would really be beneficial for students.
HS: So one of your other saving policies is an ACCESS rewards scheme that rewards students for the amount of money they spend at the USU, giving them more benefits or more discounts later. Is this not a little bit classist, or at least unnecessarily divisive?
LF: The aim of it—the ethos behind it is that if you spend heaps with the USU because you really loved what the USU provides, then there should be some sort of incentive for you to continue to, for instance, buy a coffee on campus at Courtyard instead of hopping over the road and buying it in Glebe. And that’s kind of the motivation behind it: providing an incentive for people to use what they can. Because almost all the stuff that the USU does, you can get off campus as well. All of the outlets, for instance, where students spend most of their money—there are heaps of cafes in Glebe just across the road or in Newtown just across the road. But the incentive is there in that policy for students to stay on campus and buy their beer at Hermann’s instead of going and getting a cocktail at Kuleto’s. Or getting a coffee at Courtyard instead of getting coffee at Well Co. in Glebe.
HS: But currently all students are on that equal footing, so even if in ethos if that’s what you’re hoping, in practicality, it does end up helping the students who already can afford to spend money at the USU. So is there anything you’re going to do alongside this policy that kind of remedies that?
LF: I’d be really open to remedying it. I haven’t thought about the specifics of how to. But I’m definitely open to amending that policy and working with other Board directors, if I’m lucky enough to be elected, to make sure that it’s fair.
HS: We might finish up by asking a few things to do with the rest of the candidates and how the campaign might turn out. Of the rest of the field, who are your top three picks? Who would you ideally work with on Board if elected?
LF: I think that Zimeng is really good. I really really like Daniel. And my third pick would be—it’s hard because they’re all so good… Probably Decheng.
HS: So why do you list all those candidates?
LF: So firstly, having a really diverse Board is really important to me. And I think having a really diverse Board will be better for the USU because it’s representing more of the members. So having international students—students with lived experience as an international student on the Board will help a lot. There’s specific policies that I really like about each of those three as well that sprung to mind and you ask about what’s good. So it’s pretty niche: the charger policy from Zimeng is so good, because I run out of battery every day at uni. So having the charger thing would be amazing. So I really like that but also just like the way that she’s outlined all her policies and just in chatting with her she is so passionate about helping. So I really like that.
Daniel was really fantastic and so genuine in his desire to help students. The first thing he said to me when I said “Mike, why do you want to run for Board?” was “I just want to help the little guy.” And I like “You’re making my heart melt, man.” So that’s really awesome and you’re clearly doing this for such an honorable reason. So I really would love to work with him. Decheng—his motto, or he’s striving to have a fairer USU for everyone, and I really love that.
HS: Are you working on preference deals with any of those three?
LF: I have not decided on preferences at all.
HS: On the flip side then, who would you not be able to work with out of this year’s candidates?
LF: I would be able to work with everyone.
HS: Who is your least ideal candidate?
LF: I don’t have a least ideal candidate.
Note: this is a full transcript of an Honi Soit candidate interview. Some words have been edited for clarity.