2019: A year in review

2019, in 4693 words

A note from the Editors

The air is hot with smoke, salt and summer rain. 2019 is drawing its dying breath. And now, another year is primed to rise on the horizon. It’s December, folks. In the twilight hours of this year’s editorial term, here’s a recap of the big stories in the year that was.

Honi goes from strength to strength every year. This year proved, once again, that student journalists — unafraid of speaking truth and willing to contend with the norms and acceptabilities of the time —  will go far in breaking stories that challenge the ignorance of the day. 

Keep reading. 

Baopu He, Pranay Jha, Karishma Luthria, Amelia Mertha, Nell O’Grady, Jessica Syed, Liam Thorne, Joseph Verity, Carrie Wen, Annie Zhang and Alan Zheng

Workplace dramas

The seeds were sown for a workplace dispute early on, with staff and student researchers told of changes to research laboratories in the Anderson Stuart Building back in January. These changes would uproot the collegiality within the 130-year old building and they were cloaked in the tenuous justification of workplace safety advice. Management told staff they would be moved to undefined locations, and possibly the Australian Technology Park. The move endangered teaching and research quality, sources told Honi. The changes had come without consultation and constituted a breach of the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, the NTEU said. Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence offered a few concessions, but the NTEU took it to the Fair Work Commission and won. While consultation is secured, jobs remain on the line with up to 160 staff redundancies planned. Elsewhere, libraries saw opening hours cut, relentless managerialism and changes to staff health services. All the while, the new Sydney Operating Model and increasing casualisation sent the NTEU into red alert. 


The clamour of geopolitics came to the University of Sydney with the force and confidence dormant since the days of staff and student opposition to the Iraq War. Campus’ HongKonger community rallied in solidarity with family and friends at home, calling for the ‘five demands’ and “democracy now!” in a rally in rainy August, just weeks after fights broke out between pro-China students and Hong Kong activists at the University of Queensland. After two cancelled protests, the protesters donned masks and echoed the calls of thousands who took to the streets and in other campuses nationwide. Resistance inevitably came from some quarters. On Eastern Avenue, the first Lennon Wall came down. The New Law School and the Graffiti Tunnel followed soon after. A motion in solidarity with Hong Kong was never passed by the SRC. A SUPRA meeting which was to deliberate a motion supporting students in Hong Kong was cancelled for lack of quorum. Liberal-aligned clubs refused to support Hong Kong student protesters, afraid of the consequences of rocking the boat with its SRC coalition partner and Chinese international student grouping, Panda.

Gold stars for participation

The 2019 SRC administration is a shining example of what not to do if you’ve been tasked with the job of running a student union. Discontent with Jacky He’s presidency began before his term even really started. Four RepsElect meetings each produced their own unique havoc; indeed, fire alarms, fisticuffs, and fury at a certain Zac O’Farrell have become enduring features of the mythology of the 91st Council. The now infamous “stickergate” also attaches itself to this mythology. In retrospect, members of the mod-Libs on campus citing WHS concerns when peeling off decades-old activist stickers from the walls of the OB room in December foreshadowed the sheer vapidness of the incoming administration. 

Council meetings followed a repetitive pattern: the President and Vice Presidents would table their reports, the broad-left would pick at inconsistencies and false statements therein – let’s not forget Jacky He accusing office-bearers of lying about his lack of support for a vigil for victims of the Christchurch shootings, despite evidence to the contrary – and decry the hollow motions put forward by the right bloc. These ideological tensions came to a head when the right bloc proposed regulations changes to the SRC Constitution. The changes would establish new polling booths at the Abercrombie Business School, Holme Building and the Charles Perkins Centre, and remove voting booths at the Sydney College of the Arts and the Conservatorium of Music. They would have also granted the Electoral Officer the power to censor and suspend editors of this newspaper during SRC elections. Unsurprisingly, the left wielded procedural aspects of council meeting protocol like swords in attempts to thwart the passage of these regulations. Memorably, Vinil Kumar of Socialist Alternative slayed the metaphorical dragon in a lengthy filibuster. 

As the council expanded to 35 seats, the most strange meeting of the year was yet to come. In a meeting held in the common area of the United States Studies Centre, the SRC approved Electoral Officer (EO) Casper Lu – a widely criticised choice due to Lu’s proximity to Vice-President Dane Luo; they were both on an SRC ticket together in 2017. Looking back, it was not this perception of bias surrounding Lu – who emerged pompously and victoriously as EO – that was catastrophic in the end. Rather, it was Lu’s sheer inexperience as Electoral Officer. He made a habit of being neither being able to correctly apply nor understand the very regulations he was tasked with interpreting, once having to rescind his original ruling. 

Lu’s odd presence in the SRC election was but a sideshow to that of the main contenders for the Presidency this year: Josie Jakovac and Liam Donohoe. The election was marred by several incidents centered around Jakovac: her interview with Honi in which she faltered trying to defend herself describing the French national football team as “Africa”, a leaked screenshot of a message she had sent in where she describes migrants as people who “bring their war with them”, and allegations of harassment against Chinese-speaking students. As if matters could not get worse, Honi found that Jakovac’s former employer, Julian Leeser — a key proponent of the Ramsay Centre’s Western Civilisation course — dropped by at the Boost campaign fundraiser. Alongside the first broad-left coalition in some years, comprised of all factions bar Panda and the Liberals, who campaigned fervently in favour of Donohoe, so much was enough for Josie to lose the race. With a single RepsElect meeting managing to fill most office bearer positions back in October, it’s safe to say that the SRC is very much back in the hands of the left. Tories shouldn’t fret – you can find the bulk of Jakovac’s “independent” campaigners on the executive of the USyd Conservative Club, where they have taken up a year long residency.

The most stunning disaster of the SRC campaign was not the SRC race, but the Honi one. Watching the fall of Cream was like watching a plane crash – you really couldn’t look away. Here they were, ascribing to vague and abstract ideals of “independence” and “political diversity”, only to fall apart a week later, falling victim to the ills of that same “diversity.” A week after the Honi debate, in which John-Paul (JP) Baladi was unable to confirm whether or not any Arts students were on his ticket (despite the prevalence of Arts students being Cream’s criticism of Honi), Honi broke a story that demonstrated Baladi’s sympathy for convicted pedophile Cardinal George Pell, as contained within a rather reactionary post on the USyd Catholic Society Facebook group. Baladi was swiftly kicked off the ticket, then two other members — Emma Goldrick and Austen Hunt — dropped out. The remaining seven members of the ticket continued to campaign with no plan or indication as to how they would go on to edit the paper with only seven people. In the end, they hovered just below 40 per cent of the total vote, and lost the election. What an opera.

All this comprised much of our surface-level coverage of the happenings within the SRC this year, but it’s prudent to comment on how exactly your student politicians functioned bureaucratically throughout the course of the year. This year saw the absence of any substantially new campaign from the Education Department from the SRC, despite office bearers being paid upwards of a near $13,000 stipend. The Women’s Office, occupied by liberal-minded officers, failed to continue the campaign against sexual assault on campus in any meaningful way, merely leaving behind a legacy of tepid corporate feminism and homebrand pads in the bathrooms of the Law School annex. The only thing that is more of a waste of money than all this is the continued absence of Yuxuan Yang, in his second year as General Secretary, who at this point has amassed over $26,000 of student money through his stipend, and has been more inactive than a desk chair within the role. Great work Yuxuan. 

The workings of the 2019 SRC executive, whose meetings and decisions are ever murky and oblique, have actively stifled student interests. It’s apparent that this year, the SRC executive has functioned as a clandestine body with interested parties therein exerting soft power to influence the design of the institution; among other things, going in camera numerous times to discuss the use of student money. The fact that a vice-president of the executive can be awarded a new stipend based on the subjective opinions of other members of the executive as to the veracity of their work ethic is questionable. The fact that two Secretaries to Council – who are members of staff and not elected by students – influenced decisions where money should be distributed reveals the inexperience of this year’s exec. Beyond this, though the word transparency doesn’t spring to mind, the word incompetence does: collectives waited almost a week to hear back on their funding requests after the executive failed to meet – which they are only required to do once monthly (onerous, we know). 

In light of this sort of conduct, it’s unsurprising that President Jacky He took to the extreme of censoring content published by Honi about his own behaviour. After this year, it would be smart to look past the usual yardsticks of engagement typically employed to gauge the success of any student politician: they can have a stellar attendance record, but what are they actually doing within their role?

For his part, He spent less time in the office than presidents in recent memory, despite a constitutional crisis. He balanced his time running another organisation, the Young Chinese Engineers Association (YCEA) and at one point, made a trip to China to star in a reality TV show on the student dime. Rumours even circled that He — who has been adamant that he has no affiliation with political parties — had acquired a staffer job with Liberal Senator Jim Molan, one of the architects of Operation Sovereign Borders. Molan’s office joined He in denying these rumours.

The older-sibling of the SRC, the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) saw the second year of rule from the Chinese-international student led faction Weihong for President / Infinity. Despite Weihong Liang taking the presidency once again, he left only days into his term, reportedly for a government position in China, although he has denied such allegations. Yanning Bai and Minran Liu took his position in the first meeting of the council year.

Racism 🙁

The mainstream media amplified its sinophobic dogwhistling this year, and the effects on Asian students at the University continue to be visceral and readily observable, leading to an anti-sinophobia rally in late October. Acts of racially motivated physical violence went up this year. Chinese students were attacked outside City Road on account of their racial background, racist posters were found in various spots around campus and anti-Chinese abuse was hurled at students in the Wentworth Building near the international students’ lounge. In the background, Honi reported on the presence of a neo-Nazi network on campus, spanning back as far as 2017, and involving campus members of the Young Liberals and other groups that student activists rallied against at the inaugural Conservative Political Action Conference in August. An Honi corpus analysis unearthed some of the systemic ideologies buried in the mainstream media’s reporting of foreign interference and a new foreign interference taskforce was slammed by the SRC

Foreign interference was a hot topic back in March when the United States Studies Centre (USSC) signed an arrangement with the United States Department of State. The arrangement allowed that institution of US soft power to conduct general political lobbying on campus. The USSC continues to take funding from US government bodies.

SUSF goes even more corporate

Meanwhile, this year saw the long-running investigation into Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF) continue as student dissatisfaction over SUSF’s costs and its big slice of the SSAF pie hit a crescendo. Honi revealed back in April that a longstanding rental deal between SUSF and former president Bruce Ross was still in play, had undergone limited rental reviews and remained at a rate far below market value. We were told that the lease was in holding over status, the first sign that big changes were coming to the exclusive sports’ union. Changes came quickly thereafter. A major governance restructure was pushed through in May. SUSF would become SUSF Limited, take on a company board and give the university greater control of its direction. SUSF became the subject of an ICAC complaint but lawyers’ letters swiftly silenced our coverage. Senior members of SUSF were made redundant. Criticisms of SUSF continue on USyd rants. For now, it’s abundantly clear that a new path is needed for the embattled sports’ union. 

Free speech on discount

The fall-out of last year’s Women’s Collective protest against Bettina Arndt — including misconduct findings against two of the protesters involved — manifested in ongoing debates surrounding free speech on university campuses. There was no threat to free speech, Robert French’s review found in April, but universities should implement a model code to enshrine certain protections. The ever-useful Minister for Education Dan Tehan made it his life goal to crack down on the non-existent problem. Vice-Chancellor Spence followed suit, establishing a task force which then recommended a revamped new charter of academic freedom. The impact of the new charter will continue to be felt in 2020. 

From December, the University brought disciplinary action against academic Tim Anderson for comparisons he drew between the state of Israel and the Nazi regime in lecture slides posted on social media — in particular, the embedding of a swastika in an Israeli flag. Suspended and then fired, Anderson continues to fight the matter in the Fair Work Commission. 

Do you need essay help?

The University’s war on contract cheating found allies in government this year. Criminal penalties for contract cheating suppliers were proposed in April. Over the year, students continued to routinely receive targeted marketing — EasyGPA, Yingcredible, KJEssay, amongst others — in uni.syd inboxes. The USU signed a pact with the University, enlisting its resources to promote a uni-wide crackdown on students who engaged contract cheating services. According to a University submission, it was most concerned with international student participation in contract cheating. But the overall incidence of contract cheating, measured against other forms of academic dishonesty, remained low and disproportionate to the university’s response. In an investigation, Honi laid out a new angle on the issue — that students who cheat were vulnerable and a solution for contract cheating needed systemic fixes, not mindless crackdowns and villianisation. 

The goings-on at Macquarie, UNSW and UTS

But Honi didn’t merely stay bunkered in this University, at least, not while the biggest student movements in recent memory developed in other campuses.  At the University of New South Wales, thousands took to the University Mall to ask Vice-Chancellor Ian Jacobs to cancel trimesters. Hundreds marched down Wally’s Walk at Macquarie’s bushland campus, before occupying the Chancellery. Down on Broadway, the Traditional Chinese Medicine degree copped the axe, leaving close to 300 students in the lurch. In UNSW, the University acceded to the SRC’s demands. At Macquarie, the Vice-Chancellor responded to the strikes, giving in to calls for an all staff town hall meeting. And at UTS, an eleventh-hour vote saved existing students enrolled in the degree.

Our Randick neighbours saw a new special considerations rule implemented, attracting the ire of the People with Disabilities Collective and international students were conned by a corrupt student concierge company.

The fight beyond universities

As New South Wales burned and wind and rain poured through the cities — climate activism hit a new level of support with renewed calls for a just transition. 30,000 came out in March for the first strike and students incurred no penalties for participation. In September, 80,000 were in the domain, including a sizeable contingent of close to 2,000 University of Sydney students — a success partially due to the immense amount of organising done by Spreading the Climate Strike group, who spoke to at least 190 classes in preparation for the day. Within the Camperdown grounds, Fossil Free USyd exposed the extent of University investment in the fossil fuels industry via a freedom of information request, revealing that in 2018, $28 million dollars was invested in Stanwell Corporation and Origin Energy, both of which primarily derive energy from fossil fuels. This is a marked difference from UNSW, which announced a $13.3 million divestment from fossil fuels. Climate activists were fighting an uphill battle, with extinction rebellion protesters detained after a sit-in on Broadway. Read Climate Strike Honi here. 

Much of the year’s climate activism pushed the importance of incorporating an anti-colonial approach in its politics. More broadly, the year saw significant energy from student activists given to various First Nations’ issues. The coronial inquest into David Dungay’s death in custody was followed, from preliminary hearings through to the handing down of findings — an all-in-all devestating yet unsurprising outcome — none of the officers that held him down as he shouted “I can’t breathe” were recommended for disciplinary action by the coroner. Large gatherings organised by groups including Fighting In Resistance Equally, the Indigenous Social Justice Association, and the Anticolonial Asian Alliance were held for flashpoints including Invasion Day rallies, the anniversary of the Northern Territory Intervention, the introduction of racist adoption laws in the state parliament, the threat posed by a Victorian government road project to Djab Wurrung trees, the ongoing fight of the Bowraville families and TJ Hickey’s family against police brutality, and the brutal and unjust killing of Kumanjayi Walker — the last of which was partially vindicated by news that the offending officer had been charged with murder, now awaiting trial. Read this year’s Indigenous Honi here.

Ramsay Street tumbleweed

In the midst of this, Spence took the front seat in pushing for “alternative models” in order to finally settle on funding from the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation after months of silence and uncertainty surrounding USyd–Ramsay negotiations. In September, the Vice-Chancellor sent an email to staff about a new proposal for a major in “Western Tradition” that would be offered as part of the current Bachelor of Advanced Studies. The Ramsay Centre rejected this new proposal and the negotiations have once again ground to a standstill.

While Spence’s Ramsay dreams may currently be in logjam, the USU finally took a stance on the issue more than a year after it was first raised by the student body. The USU Board passed a motion in late September urging the University Senate to refrain from implementing a degree in partnership with the Ramsay Centre if it impedes on freedom of academic thought and refuses to encourage critical perspectives on Western Civilisation. 

On the other fronts, Ramsay’s degree infiltrated the University of Wollongong under the cover of night. The Academic Senate resisted the move and the NTEU took management to court. The degree will go ahead.

The University of Queensland fell to the Ramsay wave later in the year with an MoU signed and a degree in the works to start next year. But in the first general meeting of the UQ Student Union held since 1971 — when students voted to strike against South African Apartheid — 500 UQ students voiced opposition to the new degree.

Colleges are still shit, to no-one’s surprise

While the University gave itself a pat on the back after implementing its sexual assault reporting portal in August last year, issues surrounding the toxic culture of sexual assault and hazing on campus continued to emerge in 2019. Last December, St John’s College withheld its internal review into hazing and sexual assault. In February, Honi reported the existence of a loophole within the University’s nascent sexual assault policy that would have permitted a 23-year-old tutor to have sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old student, despite this being repugnant to NSW law. Revelations that alcohol-fuelled acts of hazing transpired within St Paul’s College during Anzac Day appeared as late as May 2019. St Paul’s students got a slap on the wrist with the local watering hole shut down briefly. All the while, reactionary college residents continued to mobilise through mechanisms such as what has now become an annual “Colleges for SRC” electoral ticket. Inaugural meetings have taken place for the SRC’s “Intercollegiate Collective”, borne through one college student’s election to council on that ticket in 2018. Although the University released a new alcohol policy attempting to police student consumption of alcohol, they were either unwilling or unable to extend the policy to college bars. What rights and privileges these people hope to accrue through this mobilising is ever unclear.

All the while, protests against campus sexual assault continued with the National Day of Action in August. 

Clouding all of this is the revolving-door wardens of St Paul’s College: Don Markwell, hailed as a progressive reformer, left the post around a year into his tenure, and Reverend Dr Edward Loane took his place, a return to Anglican leadership after only three semesters of its absence. What this means for the sincerity of the place in absorbing any progressive cultural change is unclear but far from promising. For now, St Paul’s continues to flout its internal culture changes.

Divisions within the colleges were also uncovered early into 2019 when Sancta Sophia College boycotted a greyhound racing event promoted by senior students at St Andrew’s College.

Campus security insecure

2019 betrayed deep flaws in USyd’s campus security. Most recently, head of Campus Security, Simon Hardman, has come under fire for homophobic conduct. In September, an Honi FOI request found Campus Security, under Hardman’s supervision, targeted campus bathrooms where queer students were having sex. Two men were accosted by security staff in an accessible cubicle where they faced derogatory and homophobic slurs. In November, a tribunal found that he had been “homophobic” in his previous job as a superintendent at Newtown Police Station, referring four officers to extensive drug testing on the basis of their sexuality. These revelations have created discomfort in the student community with a petition circulated calling for his removal as security chief.

Former campus security contractor, SNP Security, also fabricated up to $120,000 in fake timesheets, ICAC heard. ICAC’s inquiry — named Operation Garda — has yet to hand down its findings. 

A new security contractor — Australian Concert and Entertainment Security (ACES) — has since taken the reins. 

But uni fuck ups didn’t end there. Student experience ratings at Sydney continue to slide with USyd falling to 39th out of 41 universities according to the 2018 Student Experience Survey.

University management censored activists at UNSW where Cancel Trimesters posters were removed. On this campus, a vigil dedicated to the Christchurch shooting victims was removed by Campus Assist officers.

In its pro-policing bent, the Uni invited cops on campus for an ill-fated “coffee with a cop” event in May. It was cancelled after Honi revealed that the event was under threat of protest from student activists. 

And to cap it off — current Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence had his contract extended. Long may he reign, until at least 2022, it seems. 

Spence’s counterpart, Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson also came under the microscope. Thales — a weapons company she chairs — was found to have underpaid workers by $7.44 million. Little flak came from academic quarters towards Hutchinson. Times have certainly changed since former University Chair of the Graduate School of Management Nick Greiner stepped down after academic protest towards his chairmanship of British American Tobacco.


The year started off with a bang for the USU, but not quite the right type. The rebranding of ‘O-Week’ to the Broderick Report’s recommendation of ‘Welcome Week’ was outshone by its controversial implementation of a new funding model for its clubs and societies. The membership fee for ACCESS was scrapped, meaning that students could join clubs for free. The exclusive ACCESS Rewards program was launched, for which students would need to pay a new fee to access discounts across USU outlets. But the overall benefits were never certain.

The USU gave a lot of publicity to free access, marketing it as its crowning achievement in student engagement. What was less publicised was that the $1,000,000 funding for the access scheme was taken out of the contestable pool of SSAF, meaning it came at the expense of money for other student organisations. Meanwhile, as a major provider of service outlets on campus,  the USU did nothing to make food more affordable on campus or take any noteworthy steps in reducing the cost of living. Welcome Week itself was also laughably corporatised, with major banks being invited to prey on students just months after the banking royal commission. 

The fallout from that new funding model seeped into the first few months of the year, with then-President Tai holding an open meeting to address the concerns of club and society executives. Indeed, the funding model was an issue that permeated into May, going on to dominate the campaigns of many an aspiring board candidate in the 2019 elections.

The 2019 USU Board Elections saw victories for Panda and losses for the left.  Libdependence persisted with Lib-dependent Caitlin (Cady) Brown making good use of preferences to secure herself a seat. Also leading to an opportunity for ambitious Labor Right frontrunner Connor Wherrett to secure a position as President of the USU. Lachlan Finch (Liberal) secured Vice-President, whilst Decheng Sun (Advance) became Honorary Secretary and Maya Eswaran (Switch) took Honorary Treasurer.

It wasn’t long after Tom Manasouridis’s Board loss that things took quite a turn in the Unity inner circle. In a year marked by the rise of Sinophobia on campus, screenshots were released of Manasouridis commenting “foreign interference stopped” on a post announcing Wherett’s presidency. Wherett’s first act as president was to remain silent on instances of xenophobia in his own faction. 

Nevertheless, the work began for the new board and as they progressed it appeared the USU’s marketing side transformed as well. One look at the latest photo of the board directors resembles a Ray White Real Estate ad. 

Meanwhile, a student allegedly took $12,000 from the coffers of three USU clubs

The USU overlooked the underpayment of international students at one of its own retail outlets, Epic Tea and was slammed by PETA for signing a promotional agreement with the makers of the Sydney horse race Everest Carnival.

CEO Andrew Woodward went out the door, replaced by Alexis Roitman. 

In May, Honi reported that the USU saw revenue rise in 2018, despite reporting a near half a million dollar loss, with both Manning Bar and Hermann’s operating at a significant loss as the flame of campus life continues to dwindle.  

Years of stacking continued, still to no one’s surprise, in the Sydney Arts Students Society, with the moderate-Liberals dealing with their fateful friends Labor Unity to lock out the existing faux-faction of SASS kids. This was possibly in the hope of a final-hour surprise victory for the right in the SRC’s RepsElect later that month. 

The SRC’s core services were not in great shape. At one point, the Legal Service closed for a month after the disarray caused by the dismissal of the long-time principal solicitor.

Find every edition this year on Issuu.

Filed under: