How Repselect wet the bed

Honi mops up stupol's giant, sticky puddle

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Disclaimer: Honi editors Lamya Rahman and Liam Donohoe are not involved in SRC coverage.

Finally, the carpets are dry beneath MacLaurin Hall; the fire trucks have returned to the station; and the Nicholson Museum’s treasures are safe. Big questions still hang over last Thursday’s flooding, caused when fire sprinklers were triggered in the south western corner of the Quad. But, for now, let’s leave those questions aside, and return to the sodden stupol event cancelled by the delugeRepselect 2018 (Part 1).

Help, what is going on?

The essentials, for readers with hobbies healthier than stupol: Repselect is an annual SRC event, the first meeting of a new council following the September elections. This year, 33 councillors took office, all undergrads, for a term that will run until November 30, 2019. At Repselect last Thursday, they had one job: to vote in the SRC executive and office-bearers for 2019.

The exec and OBs, as they’re called, oversee the SRC’s day-to-day operations. These roles are big prizes: some come with generous stipends, like the general secretary position, which pays over $12,000 per year. Others, like the education officer, come with well-funded departments and networks of influence, useful for mounting activist campaigns.

For most roles, anyone can be nominated, so long as they’re a USyd undergrad. But, at Repselect, only the 33 councillors actually vote on who gets a share of the spoils. Think a US Senate nomination, except somehow even more partisan and shouty. Council votes by simple majority, which means a successful candidate needs support from 17 councillors.

Got it? So let’s take a look at how things shaped up this year.  

In the backroom where it happened:

In most years, no faction has the magic number (17) on its own. This year was no exception, so the standard backroom dealing was done to form coalitions—or voting blocs. This year, a majority bloc and an opposition emerged. The exact alliances are, as always, murky, but here’s what we’ve pieced together:

The majority 

This voting bloc controlled the meeting, with 18 councillors to its name. Its members were Chinese international student group Panda (11 councillors); Shake Up, a mixture of moderate Liberals and allied independents (four councillors); James Ardouin, a moderate Liberal, who ran on pro-college branding; and three Labor councillors. The majority’s voting patterns were complicated, and not all members voted the same way for each election (see especially on Labor below). Also, while the Shake Up independents (Gabi Stricker-Phelps and Dane Luo) supported the majority, they negotiated sepraretly from the Liberals in Shake Up. 

The minority 

This was the opposition group, which styled itself as left-wing: its members were Socialist Alternative (one councillor); far-left collective Grassroots (eight councillors); and another Chinese international student group Advance (three councillors). Together, this bloc wielded 12 votes. Short of a majority, but because of quirks in the voting rules, enough to clinch minor positions, like members of the general executive and one director of student publications.

This bloc didn’t take its minority status well. Grassroots in particular, which has controlled the SRC this year, reacted badly to its loss of power, and Advance and Socialist Alternative joined them in attempts at disruption.  All three factions were loud and aggressive; they spent much of the evening drowning out speakers with chants and personal attacks; many of their supporters had open bottles of alcohol.

Confronted with this behaviour, tempers on the majority side also flared, especially among Panda. At one point the two groups came close to physical violence: Liam Donohoe (Grassroots) and a Panda supporter nearly reached blows, and both had to be restrained.

The Far Right

The two soft-right Liberals (which means ‘further right than the Mod Libs’) have confirmed they joined neither the minority nor the majority.  At the meeting, the pair nominated for positions, running against the other two blocs, and did not hold back in airing their views: Zac O’Farrell (soft-right Liberal) spoke in favour of Western civilisation and the Ramsay Centre.

What about Labor? 

Labor’s coalition deals were complicated. It’s clear that neither NLS (Labor Left), with its single councillor, nor Centre Unity (Labor Right), with two councillors, voted with the opposition bloc. This incensed the three minority factions, who spent the evening raining down abuse on Labor. Anger was directed at NLS in particular, who had been close to signing a deal with Grassroots. Chants of “1, 2, 3—fuck the ALP” punctuated speeches, and Nick Forbutt, NLS’ sole councillor, looked shaken for most of the evening.

Instead, NLS signed a deal with Panda and Unity. During our live Repselect coverage, Honi reported that NLS had signed with the Liberals as well. This was inaccurate, as NLS headkicker Will Edwards helpfully pointed out to us on the night.  Edwards was obliging enough to show us the deal itself, signed by Panda, Unity and NLS. He also drew our attention to a section exempting NLS from supporting any Liberal candidates. Edwards was careful to fold the paper so that all other clauses were obscured. 

There’s a catch: nothing we saw in the deal or have heard since would have stopped NLS from voting for or negotiating with independents from Shake Up—a grouping, as we saw above, with strong Liberal influence. Three Shake Up independents were elected on Thursday, and neither Shake Up nor NLS seemed concerned with attacking each other in their speeches.  For their part, Shake Up members have confirmed they did not vote for any NLS candidates.

It’s also possible that the NLS-Unity-Panda deal is part of a practice known as ‘vote washing’. Under its internal policies, NLS cannot negotiate with Liberals. There’s a workaround, though: in the past, NLS has agreed to work with a third faction who can negotiate with Liberals. This third faction then acts as an intermediary, organising which positions go where, and ensuring the Liberals and NLS vote in a way which that makes the arrangement work. Backroom deals like this saw NLS and the Liberals jointly nominate for and win education officer in the first Repselect of 2016 (yes it was re-held that year too).

Sources have been unable to confirm whether vote washing happened this year. But, if it did, either Panda or Unity could have played the intermediary role.

In the end though, NLS’ deal with Panda and Unity was probably responsible for the only major left-wing victory of the night: NLS member James Newbold was elected co-education officer, an important and well-resourced position, which tends to orchestrate large-scale campus activism, such as the SRC’s campaign against the Ramsay Centre.

That said, some NLS members weren’t as enthusiastic about other parts of the left.  Early in the evening, Lily Campbell (SAlt) nominated for the role of vice president so she could make a florid speech, saying that the SRC should pursue leftist ideals. Will Edwards (NLS) then rose, and in a parody of Campbell’s speech, mocked those who run for SRC roles on a socialist platform or with promises of success in causes like the free education movement. 

As for Unity, head kicker Adriana Malavisi confirmed her faction voted for Panda and independent candidates. The only independents to nominate were from Shake Up, so they’re presumably who she means. Unity sources wouldn’t confirm whether Unity had in fact signed a deal or negotiated with the Mod Libs (who have a strong hand in Shake Up, as we’ve seen).  But stupol figures from outside Labor have said Unity was negotiating with Liberal figures ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

What’s certain is that, alongside any possible deals with the Liberals, Unity signed the three-way agreement with Panda and NLS.

So who actually got elected?

In nearly two hours of debate on Thursday, only four positions were filled: vice president, general secretary, the five general members of the executive (or ‘gen exec’), and education officer. The lucky winners were as follows:

Vice president:

The role was split between Wanlin Chu (Panda) and Dane Luo (Shake Up, independent).

General secretary:

Again, the role was split, between Yuxuan Yang (Panda) and Niamh Callinan (Reboot, Unity). Yang has already spent one, controversial term as general secretary, a role he shared this year with Grassroot’s Nina Dillon Britton. Yang returned home to China for three months of his term, before refunding part of his $12,000 stipend to the SRC.

Gen exec:

Josie Jakovac (Shake Up, Modlib) Juming Li (Panda), Adriana Malavisi (Unity), Prudence Wilkins-Wheat (Switch, Grassroots-aligned) and Alex Yang (Advance). Malavisi served as this year’s SRC vice president, before unsuccessfully running as Labor’s presidential candidate in the September elections.

Education officer:

James Newbold (NLS) and Yiting Feng (Panda). Newbold’s nomination attracted outrage from the minority bloc, who perceived NLS’ refusal to vote with the opposition as a betrayal of the left. Lily Campbell (SAlt) and Lara Sonnenschein (Groots) approached Newbold when he rose to speak, shouting abuse in his face.

Collective autonomy: Denied

And if you thought things weren’t hot enough, here’s where Repselect really turned hellish. The last agenda item before the deluge was the election of the two Wom*n’s Officers. Traditionally, the autonomous Wom*n’s Collective (or WoCo), an activist body separate to the SRC, preselects two nominees for the role. Council has historically respected WoCo’s decision and elected these two candidates. Not this year.

WoCo preselected Jazz Breen (Grassroots) and Layla Mkh (Grassroots) for the role. But the majority bloc decided it would not respect WoCo’s wishes and would nominate two candidates of its own: Crystal Xu (Panda) and Gabi Stricker-Phelps (Shake Up, independent), the daughter of Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps. 

The majority’s move drew ire from the opposition bloc and from WoCo members in particular. Outgoing Wom*n’s Officers Madeline Ward (Grassroots) and Jess Syed (Grassroots) spoke against Xu and Stricker-Phelps’ nomination. Ward said she had spent the previous month “pretty much begging” men in the Liberal party not to ignore the collective’s preselection. She condemned “men in this Council who think they’re somehow more equipped than the Wom*n’s fucking Collective to decide who our own office bearers are”.

Syed went on to question Stricker-Phelps and Xu’s activist credentials, saying “we don’t give a shit about your activism, we think it’s shit”. She said neither she nor Ward would give any of their resources to Stricker-Phelps and Xu, and indicated WoCo would not work with the pair if elected.

Grassroots and Advance drowned out Stricker-Phelps and Xu’s speeches with chants of “Libs off campus” and “shame”. Xu pointed out that it was ironic the opposition would stop women from speaking in the name of feminism; a male Panda supporter, however, also attempted to silence women, by shouting “shut the fuck up” when a female minority member interjected during Stricker-Phelps’ speech. 

The vote count was underway when the meeting was evacuated, and in the end no result was declared. But the majority bloc had the numbers all night, so there’s no reason to think they would have failed when it came to Wom*n’s Officer. Even if all three Labor councillors had voted against Stricker-Phelps and Xu, the majority’s 17 vote bloc would have prevailed.

The gift that keeps on giving

That’s right: there’s going to be another Repselect this year. That’s because, when fire sprinklers were triggered, flooding out the meeting, there were still 19 positions to be elected.

Repselect Part 2 will complete the agenda—provided we all stay above the waterline. As Honi understands it, Council will have a choice at that meeting: it can vote to accept the minutes of Repselect Part 1, which will mean the three positions already filled will not have to be re-elected. Or it can scrap the first Repselect, and do the whole thing over. If the majority coalition holds, it’s almost certain the minutes will be accepted.

That said, meetings of Council can only be called with two week’s notice. Two weeks is a long time, and there’s a chance the factions will renegotiate their deals in that time. If the current majority coalition loses control, anything is possible. The notice requirement also means the earliest the meeting can be held is the second week of the exam period. Honi understands some councillors are worried they won’t be able to attend, which could leave Repselect Part 2 inquorate.

 

This article was edited at 7:00 pm, November 4, to more accurately reflect the course of debate during the election of the wom*n’s officers. It was edited again at 8:00 pm, November 4, to accurately reflect the way the soft-right Liberal councillors voted during the meeting. Previously, the soft-right Liberals were listed as part of the majority bloc. The article was edited again at 10:20 pm, November 4, to make it clear Lily Campbell did not seriously contest the role of vice-president. The article was edited again at 11:40 pm, November 5, to: clarify that James Ardouin, while a moderate Liberal, is not part of Shake Up; clarify that the Shake Up independents negotiated separately from the Liberals in their grouping; and to correct Josie Jakovac’s factional alignment.