Students Representative Council, University of Sydney

USU race sees Liberals claim independence for third year in a row

A claim to independence comes with significant benefits for right-wing candidates

Cady Can USU logo and Liberal

Disclaimer: Honi Editors Pranay Jha, Nell O’Grady, and Liam Thorne are not involved in the 2019 USU Board Election coverage.

One of this year’s nine University of Sydney Union (USU) board candidates, Caitlin (Cady) Brown (“Cady Can”), has repeatedly claimed political independence despite extensive connections to the Liberal Party ahead of the final day of voting in this year’s USU election.

Brown’s campaign is being managed by Nick Rigby, and both have been involved with Moderate Liberal politics on and off-campus.

Rigby campaigned for Liberal Jack Abadee’s failed council run in the St Ives Ward race last year. Brown managed the “Colleges for SRC” ticket in last year’s SRC election, later endorsing Liberal party member Patrick Hendy for Undergraduate Senate Fellow.

Despite her political affiliations, Brown told Honi in her interview that she does not “like this union to be politicised.”

On the ground, Cady Can’s light blue campaigners include several rising figures within the Young Liberals.

Brown also previously told Honi she is “an active member of SASS, Politics Society and Ecosoc.” All three clubs have featured Liberal Party members on their executive in the past four years, often achieved through stacking measures and deals negotiated with other campus factions.

Honi makes no suggestions that Brown herself was involved in these stacking measures.

A claim to independence comes with significant benefits. Liberal-aligned candidates who have been forthcoming with their political allegiances have experienced electoral defeat in the past.

Unsuccessful USU candidate William Dawes admitted to Honi he was “a branch member and club member” of the Young Liberals back in 2013 and went on to become President of the Sydney University Liberal Club in the next year.

Liberal Party member Callum Forbes, who claimed to be running for USU Board “as an individual,” who would not “hide or shy away from [his party membership]” was disqualified after breaching electoral regulations in 2014.

In 2015, card-carrying members of the Liberal Party, Kerrod Gream and Jennifer Zin — who were openly backed by SULC — were both excluded in the initial ballot counts.

Gream went on to work with Barton Deakin, a lobbying firm founded by former NSW Liberal Party Leader Peter Collins, which exclusively works with the Coalition.

Rounding out recently defeated Liberal candidates is Dom Bondar, who received a measly 93 votes in 2016. Bondar now works for David Elliott, Liberal Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

Liberal candidates have faced an uphill battle for a spot on the USU, struggling in Honi’s candidates’ quiz and often contesting an election against candidates with diametrically opposed political views.

In this year’s quiz, Brown tied for bottom place in the quiz. In her answers, she described the USU as “for profit” and failed to acknowledge that board directors are required to campaign against voluntary student unionism in all its forms under USU regulations.

Claiming independence has enabled past candidates to assert that they represent student interests, whilst receiving funding and  campaign support from Liberal Party figures.

Moderate Liberal Brendan Ma’s unsuccessful Vision for SRC campaign was privately funded, in part, through Liberal Party figures back in 2017. An event, hosted by current USU Board Director Jacob Masina, titled “Vision for USYD SRC (Libs Only) Launch and Fundraiser” charged entry tickets at $20 general admission, and $15 for students.

In the body of the event, Masina wrote “For years the Liberal presence on campuses across the country has waxed and waned.”

“In the past two or so years, we have seen an (almost) legendary ascendancy at Sydney University, widely dubbed the most left-wing (and insane) campus in Australia.”

Since then, Liberal candidates have deviated from attempts at political transparency, opting instead for opportunistic claims to independence in an effort to enhance their electoral prospects on campus and enter traditionally left-wing student bodies. The current USU Board features two Liberals who were elected on the back of claims to independence: Jacob Masina — who has been employed by the Attorney General and Liberal MP for Bennelong John Alexander — and current President of the Mosman Young Liberals Lachlan Finch. Brown credits Finch as an inspiration in the way she conducts herself around University.

None of this is particularly new. James Flynn was elected a USU Board Director in 2010 after openly admitting membership of the Young Liberals. Flynn went on to become a Liberal Party staffer in 2016.

Brown confirmed to Honi that if elected to the Board, she would not cancel her membership of the Liberal Party.

“I wouldn’t sever my ties with the Liberal Party.

“I am very adamant about keeping my professional life and my student experience different.”

“My interests are in the best of the USUs and not bound to a political party,” Brown commented to Honi.

Voting for the USU election ends on Wednesday.

View day one of Honi’s live blog coverage.

View day one’s exit polling data.