SRC President profile: Matthew Carter

Like many centrist candidates who have come before him, Matthew Carter sees wasted potential in the SRC.

Degree and year: Music (Performance) IV
Faction: Student Unity
Quiz score: 70%

Like many centrist candidates who have come before him, Matthew Carter sees wasted potential in the SRC. In his interview with Honi, Carter waxed lyrical about his desire to create a student-focused council: promising “pragmatic” policies that will improve the lives of everyday students. 

In terms of the SRC itself, Carter is the less experienced candidate. Like Lancaster, he’s currently serving his first term on the Council as Intercampus Officer, an unpaid Office Bearer position. However, he hasn’t worked with the Collectives, nor has he served on nearly as many committees, though he says he led contingents of music students to climate and Pride in Protest rallies off campus.

As a student at the Conservatorium, however, Carter boasts several wins — he has successfully fought against unsafe teaching practices and course cuts through lobbying management. In Council, he moved and carried a motion extending the FoodHub service to the satellite campus.

As Treasurer of the Conservatorium Students Association last year, Carter also demonstrates some administrative and bureaucratic experience, managing the finances of the association and negotiating funding increases. He has also established an equity ticket program for the Con Ball 2020. However, Carter would need to brush up on the workings of the SRC due to his lack of experience within the institution itself.

Carter scored 70% in the Honi Quiz, just 6% behind his opponent. He confidently answered SRC-related questions. However, his knowledge wavered when asked to name the faculties with the highest number of enrolments and their Deans and information relating to the higher education sector at large, such as the Robert Menzies Institute or the recent inquiry into free speech on campus. 

When it comes to his politics, Carter is mild-mannered, moderately left-wing and calls himself a “proud unionist.” When asked to define “left-wing”, he steered away from typical jargon, instead loosely tying his politics to various issues — seeking “climate justice” and “justice for marginalised communities.” He says his working-class background informs his political involvement and that he believes in “the power of the working people to create change for themselves.” 

But when push comes to shove, Carter is the less left-wing candidate, and has the backing of the campus Liberals. He has a pragmatic approach to working with management. He insists he won’t undo the left-wing work done by his predecessors, though he sees negotiating with the University as key to getting better SSAF funding and a better SRC.

Carter is a candidate for Unity (Labor-right) and is a member of the Australian Labor Party. He claims he’s not beholden to his faction, nor is he concerned about the faction’s relationship with Federal and State Labor coming up to the election. He claims not to be a careerist candidate and has no political ambitions beyond Stupol, with his sights set on musical success. 

However, Unity’s recent attacks on student unionism on other campuses and long history of striking preference deals and voting in blocs with campus Liberals would raise concerns for the activist left if he were to be elected. At UTS and Monash University, Unity-led SRCs are censoring activists, while the Unity-led La Trobe student union has been defunded in favour of an ‘apolitical’ corporate body.

In his interview, Carter criticised Unity’s actions at neighbouring universities and insisted that the USyd branch is entirely independent. His voting history at Council might suggest otherwise — at a council meeting in April, he dissented to a motion condemning the UTS Students’ Association for its suppression of education activism. 

While Carter has attracted criticism for garnering support from campus Liberals, he denied making any preference deals with any Liberals in his interview, chalking their support up to his student-focused policies, which “attract the endorsement of students in general.” 

Carter is critical of the fierce ideological debate that characterises the SRC. He wants to “present an SRC that does left-wing work for students rather than left-wing work for left-wing work’s sake.” Critical of the institution’s culture, he argues the SRC is “insular” and “based on fear and intimidation … exploited by a few to the detriment of many.” Carter promises to lead a council with less ideological to-and-fro, fewer descents into shouting matches, and more motions that will improve the lives of everyday students. 

When it comes to his plans for education, Carter offers similar policies to his opponent. He opposes course cuts, the casualisation of staff and the Federal Liberal Government’s Job-Ready Graduates package. He has a stronger COVID exit plan, promising to push for caps on remote learning, more vaccination opportunities, and an end to ProctorU in favour of take home assessments. However, Carter’s work at the Con and emphasis on pragmatism indicate a squarely lobbyist strategy. Beyond a commitment to attending protests, it is unclear how activism fits into his agenda. 

Carter also wants to put the interests of low-SES students at the forefront of the SRC. Informed by his experience as a student from a working-class background, Carter’s plans to improve student equity are measurable and arguably more achievable than that of Lancaster’s. However, they are predicated on a more reformist vision than systemic change. He wants to expand the Foodhub to include toiletries and establish a weekly food drive for struggling students. He wishes to lobby the library to make all textbooks freely available online and “review” the centralisation of student support services.

Carter’s policies fall short in his pledges to revive campus life. While the introductory canvas module he proposes would improve the SRC’s visibility, many of his other policies are beyond the institution’s control. His promise to reform the University alcohol policy and making the Seymour Centre “more accessible” harks back to many unsuccessful USU campaigns. Beyond lobbying for Opal concession cards and improved financial support, international students stuck overseas are noticeably absent from his policy platform.

Unlike Lancaster, Carter has committed to deferring his studies for the duration of his term. He told Honi that the $42k stipend would allow him to fully commit to the job and actively support the SRC’s movements.

With all the left-wing factions supporting Lancaster, Matthew Carter has a tough road ahead of him if he wants to land the top job. On social media, the Carter campaign is small but mighty. The page has very few posts, but they’re garnering far greater engagement than the Grassroots campaign.

Being from The Con is unusual for an aspiring SRC President. It leaves him without many of the typical voter bases — he doesn’t have strong society support and is less recognisable on campus. However, the online election could fall in his favour, as the distinct advantage of on-campus campaigning is nullified for the left. Both Liberal brandings support him, as well international student group Phoenix and presumably students from The Con, so if Carter can mobilise the typically disengaged punter, he may stand a chance. 

You can read the full transcript of Carter’s candidate interview here.

Disclaimer: Editors Vivienne Guo (a candidate for Council) and Marlow Hurst (involved with DRIP’s campaign) have declared a conflict of interest for election coverage (including this edition) and are not involved in any of the 2021 coverage of Honi Soit, NUS and SRC elections.