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Left bloc supermajority makes for (mostly) uneventful RepsElect 2020

A fight between Grassroots and Socialist Alternative was the most eventful part of Repselect.

Covering the annual chaos that is RepsElect usually provides some entertainment. In previous years we’ve seen rooms flooded, fire alarms go off, observers locked out, endless meetings with no positions being filled and a heck of a lot of screaming. We had no such luck this year. Last night’s RepsElect was conducted over Zoom, meaning there was a distinct lack of the customary hullabaloo. A left bloc supermajority and the muting of mics made the RepsElect of the 93rd Students’ Representative Council a real snooze-fest. Petty name-calling was largely confined to the Zoom text chat. 

For those not invested in the stupol cyclone of sordid campaigning, personal jabs and raucous SRC meetings — a smart move — RepsElect is an annual event that usually leaves behind a trail of collateral damage to the mental wellbeing of those who attend. As the first meeting of a new council, its purpose is to elect those who will fill executive and office bearer (OB) roles for the coming year. Any undergraduate student can be nominated (for most positions anyway). However, only the 35 SRC councillors elected by the student body in October this year can vote. Newly elected councillors begin their terms on 1 December 2020. 

Up for grabs are positions on the SRC Executive, which includes the President, five General Executives, the Vice Presidents and the General Secretaries. The Executive group facilitates the everyday operations of the council. All these roles have much-cherished stipends, save for the General Executives. There is also a mad scramble for OB positions, including the sought-after roles of education officer, women’s officer and environment officers, which come with well-funded departments and function as a central node in student organising. Via backroom deals and cunning politicking, factions fight to obtain the best roles for their members, filling most roles (unofficially) prior to RepsElect. 

This RepsElect, a deal between Switchroots and Penta (formally Panda) created a council majority. Panda had been left out of the majority left bloc last year after backing Liberal candidate Josie Jakovac. This deal in particular, alongside deals with NLS, Unity, SAlt, Phoenix (now including Milktea) and Engineers for SRC, means that the left bloc “supermajority” holds 31 of 35 SRC councillor seats, leaving only the Liberals and Colleges for SRC out. Though newly-formed Phoenix, led by current Honi editor Iris Yao, had previously threatened to form a minority bloc with Liberals after being denied a paid position, the coalition remained stable. The supermajority divvied up OB positions, both paid and unpaid, accordingly in negotiations prior to RepsElect.

*  *  *

With intermittent shouting and orders of business, SRC meetings tend to drag out, rather like a bed sheet failing to dry on the washing line in torrential rain. Hours blend into each other, coalescing into a pool of tedium. RepsElect was (disappointingly) no different. Technical difficulties and establishing proxies meant that it took over an hour and a half for the meeting to even begin. Fan-favourite Electoral Officer Geoff Field, who we previously only knew by intimate phone conversation, made a Zoom appearance in all his shining glory.

For the first few hours, the night was largely uneventful. Most students were elected unopposed.

But over the course of the evening, cracks began to emerge. Jack Mansell (SAlt) began the night producing probably our favourite zinger of the evening when he labelled one of two Vice President-elects Roisin Murphy (NLS) a “card carrying hack shill” after she described herself as a socialist. Deaglan Godwin (SAlt), meanwhile, decried General Secretaries as careerists.  But as is now custom when SAlt is part of the majority bloc, SAlt diligently withdrew their nominations from these positions, ensuring the candidates were elected unopposed.

The more significant divide that emerged was between Switchroots and SAlt. In recent weeks, SAlt has attacked members of Switchroots for various leftist sins. Last week, Lily Campbell criticised Switch councillor Jayfel Tulabing-Lee in a Facebook post for her election to the Real Estate Investment Student Association: “Vote switch for ‘anti capitalist’ aspiring landlords hahahahahaha.” On Tuesday, a heated discussion broke out between Switchroots and SAlt members in the USyd Enviro Collective Facebook group over the fourth Environment Officer position. SAlt alleged they had been locked out of the position, with Switchroots preferring to keep it empty than hand it over to SAlt. Throughout the year, SAlt have criticised USU Board Director and current SRC Environment Officer, Prudence Wilkins-Wheat (Switchroots), for not naming directors who had voted in favour of staff cuts, calling her a “capitalist” and a “boss”.

The tension appeared to have settled by RepsElect night though, with SAlt being dealt a position for Environment Officer. Deaglan Godwin (SAlt) was elected alongside Lauren Lancaster (Switchroots), Isabella D’Silva (Switchroots) and Drew Beacom (Switchroots) unopposed.

But over the course of the night, SAlt made escalating jabs at Switchroots. Campbell accused current co-Education Officer for failing to do enough in the role and for not writing enough reports for Honi. Mansell labelled the rest of the left bloc “reformist factions” and said that the SRC should be led by “true socialists”. After being cut off for exceeding the speaking limit in a speech, Godwin launched into a tirade against Wilkins-Wheat calling her (again) a “capitalist” and a ‘boss”. Incoming President Swapnik Sanagaravapu moved to limit speaking times to one minute, prompting accusations of censorship from SAlt.

At this point, a fight in the left bloc’s room had broken out, with onlookers in the call not being able to hear what was being said. Things only ramped up when Oscar Chaffey (Switchroots) used his Queer Officer nomination speech to cry: “Fuck Mark Latham, fuck the cops, and fuck Socialist Alternative!”. The speech was particularly jarring given SAlt’s leadership of the campaign against Mark Latham’s religious discrimination bill.

This was followed up a brief but inflammatory speech from Iggy Boyd (Switchroots), who quoted Stalin to rapturous applause from Switchroots: “I know that after my death a pile of rubbish will be heaped on my grave, but the wind of History will sooner or later sweep it away without mercy.” 

At some point after this, members of SAlt who had been watching the meeting in another to confront Switchroots. Various other members of SAlt used their speeches to attack Switchroots. The punchiest line coming from Yasmine Johnson (SAlt), in her speech for Social Justice Officer: “Sounds like the start of a sick joke: a stalinist, an anarchist, a capitalist and a landlord walk into a bar, except the joke is Grassroots and the thing that brings them all together is sheer opportunism.”

This gave rise to perhaps the most bizarre part of the night: with most of the left bloc gathered in a classroom, a fight broke out in-person. Members of the Zoom and watchers Honi’s livestream, watched a muted fight between SAlt and Switchroots members, with Secretary to Council Julia Robins calling for order to no avail.

“When every man and his dog gets up and claims to be a radical anti-capitalist of some stripe or another, it’s important to correct the record on what people have done in practice,” outgoing Education Officer Jack Mansell (SAlt) told Honi. “Otherwise, what passes for anti-capitalism on the student left could include being an aspiring landlord or worshipper of dictatorships. Pretending that differences don’t exist, in the name of ‘unity’, just means that the dominant liberal politics of the student left would go unchallenged at a time when we need a radical response to the crisis.”

But Sanagaravapu told Honi that the altercation between the factions had very little to do with the speeches given by Switchroots members. “While the speeches may have been the initial trigger that led to members of Socialist Alternative flooding into the room where we were gathered, it was clear that there was a premeditated agenda for Socialist Alternative to air their petty interpersonal grievances with our members,” he said.

“While political disagreement and debate should be encouraged, Socialist Alternative chose to ambush and bully people (particularly younger people) for things that they had little or no relation to. Genuine political discussions should be had within the SRC, but Socialist Alternative’s conduct last night was counter-productive, in bad faith and epitomises the reason why people think that student politics are toxic.”

With less than an hour left until the meeting hit the required 12AM stop time, incoming President Swapnik Sanagavarapu moved to stop allowing speeches for candidates at all. Onlookers watched the muted leftist brawl as several final minor OB positions were elected uncontested.

Boyd did not respond to Honi’s request for comment.

Your executive and officer bearers for 2021:

Vice President – Roisin Murphy (NLS) and Maria Ge (Penta)

General Secretary – Priya Gupta (Switchroots) and Anne Zhao (Penta)

Executive – Cole Scott Curwood (Engineers for SRC), Lauren Lancaster (Switchroots), Oscar Chaffey (Switchroots), Zheng Jie (Grace) Fei (Penta), Lei Yao (Phoenix)

Education Officer – Tom Williams (Switchroots) and Maddie Clark (Socialist Alternative)

Women’s Officer – Amelia Mertha (Switchroots) and Kimberley Dibben (Switchroots)

Welfare Officers – Lia Perkins (Switchroots), Katherine (Haimingyue) Xu (Penta), Shreyaa Sundaraghavan (NLS) and Owen Marsden-Readford (Socialist Alternative)

Ethno Cultural Officers – Azizza Mumin (Switchroots), Bonnie Huang (Independent) and Kritika Rathore  (Switchroots)

Indigenous Officers – Matilda Langford (Independent)

International Student Officers – Zeyu He (Penta) , Yuezhou (Grace) Liu (Penta), Hildy Zhang (Penta) and Angela Li (Penta)

Environment Officers – Lauren Lancaster (Switchroots), Isabella D’Silva (Switchroots), Drew Beacom (Switchtroots) and Deaglan Godwin (SAlt)

Global Solidarity Officers – Kigen Mera (Penta), Alex Whitehead (Switchroots), Haoran Zhao (Phoenix) and Sophie Haslam (SAlt)

Intercampus Officers – Grace Hu (Unity), Kristina Sergi (Unity), Matthew Carter (Unity) and Alexander Polirier (Unity)

Sexual Harassment Officers – Li (Kelsey) Jin (Penta), Misbah Ansari, Courtney Daley (NLS) and Hao (Raymond) Yan (Penta)

Queer Officers – Oscar Chaffey (Switchroots) and Honey Christensen (Switchroots)

Disabilities and Carer’s Officers – Margot Beavon-Collin (Independent) and Sarah Korte (Independent)

Mature Age Students’ Officers – Corie Sutherland (SAlt)

Interfaith Officers – Jayfel Tubaling-Lee (Switchroots), Jieyi (Kiki) Yan (Penta), Antoine Nguyen Khanh (Switchroots) and Ibrahim Taha (Penta)

Social Justice Officers – Paola Ayre (Switchroots), Jiaye (Arya) Liu (Penta), Iggy Boyd (Switchroots) and Deaglan Godwin (SAlt)

Refugee Rights Officers – Drew Beacom (Switchroots) and Isabella D’Silva (Switchroots)

Residential Colleges Officers – Yanjun (Irene) Fang (Penta) and Ruiqi (Rachel) Jia (Penta), Alexis Bundy and Victor (Ruifeng) Liang (Pheonix)

Student Housing Officers – Felix Faber (NLS), Casie Zhao (Penta), Kristin Miao (Penta) and Haomin Lyu (Penta)

Chair, Standing Legal Committee – Max Vishney (Switchroots)

Directors of Student Publications – Jayfel Tulabing-Lee (Switchroots), Shiyue (Stephanie) Zhang (Penta), Shiqi (Josie) Jiang (Pheonix), Paola Ayre (Switchroots), Xi (Joe) Guo (Pheonix) and Ben Jorgensen (Liberal).

Lei (Iris) Yao was not involved in any SRC Repselect coverage.

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