RepsElect 2022: Campus left retain dominance despite Enviro officer debacle

The meeting was almost shut down due WHS-violating noise levels and the risk of a physical fight, after the Left lost an Enviro Convenor position to the Liberals.

Another RepsElect has come and gone, with the office-bearers (OB) of the 2023 Student Representative Council (SRC) elected in a marathon seven hour meeting last Wednesday night. You can catch up on what RepsElect is and why it is held here, but read on for the summary of what went on!

The results:

As expected, the Left bloc collected all of the paid OB roles and almost all of the spots on the SRC’s Executive. 

The Vice-Presidents in 2023 will be Daniel Bowron (Unity) and Rose Donnelly (NLS). 

“Rose and I have big shoes to fill,” said Bowron, committing to furthering the SRC’s roles in activism, advocacy and representation.

In her speech, Donnelly promised to continue the work of FoodHub and advocate for disabled students and students struggling with mental illness.

The General Secretaries (GenSecs) will be Tiger Perkins (Switchroots — no relation to new President Lia Perkins) and Jasmine Donnelly (NLS — decidedly a relation of new Vice-President Rose Donnelly).

Tiger Perkins, who was one of the Environment Officers this year, said that GenSecs should care about “social justice”, particularly in the context of the NTEU’s ongoing strike campaign. 

Donnelly said “I will perform the burden of bureaucracy with meticulous honour,” promising to make the SRC more accessible to students. 

The Education Officers will be Ishbel Dunsmore (Grassroots) and Yasmine Johnson (Socialist Alternative). 

The Education Officer was contested by Honey Christensen of Student Left Alliance and anarchist organisation Black Flag. They spoke about the need to revive the Left on campus and lamented the use of electoral deals to allocate positions: “I know this position has been dealt away, but any serious education activist will support [Black Flag’s strategy regarding the NTEU strikes] now,” they said. 

Christensen was met with shouts of “give us one thing you’ve done!” from SAlt. Both Dunsmore and Johnson were eventually elected on platforms of a “fighting” student unionism that resists the ALP.

The Women’s Officers are the preselected Women’s Collective convenors, Alev Saracoglu (SLA) and Iggy Boyd (Grassroots), who were automatically voted in due to the SRC Regulations, which, as of this year, stipulate that the Collective’s preselected picks must be elected Women’s Officers.

Saracoglu said, “The women’s collective has been one of the foremost radicalising spaces on campus.”

Boyd took aim at the “veritable three stooges” of the Liberals and joke tickets on Council, arguing that they use the tactic of joke tickets to cover over their support for misogynistic systems. 

“The colleges should not exist,” she said. 

Both speeches were punctuated by heckles from SAlt, who expressed outrage at collective autonomy and the absence of references to protests in Iran in both Women’s Officer speeches.

There are five General Executives, who are not paid but do sit on the SRC Executive: Emily Mackay (Engineers), Daniel O’Shea (Unity), Eliza Crossley (Switchroots), Harrison Brennan (Switchroots) and Michael Grenier (Independents Inc.).

The candidates broadly emphasised the importance of effective administration within the SRC.

“The SRC has the power to enact meaningful change but only if resources go to the right places,” Crossley said.

Both Mackay and Brennan highlighted their desire for ongoing support for FoodHub. 

Grenier, however, used his speech to express that, despite being “not the most popular person on Council”, he hoped to improve the body’s record on racism. He started to discuss a motion earlier this year to refer to ‘Chinese New Year’ instead of ‘Lunar New Year’, however his speaking time elapsed.

Regrettably, the First Nations Officer portfolio remained unfilled at RepsElect for a second year. The Mature Age Officer was the only other position to remain vacant, which it has done since the graduation of Vinil Kumar (SAlt), despite his undying presence at RepsElect. 

Here’s the full list of SRC OBs:

Vice-PresidentsDaniel Bowron (Unity), Rose Donnelly (NLS)
General SecretariesTiger Perkins (Switchroots), Jasmine Donnelly (NLS)
General ExecutiveEmily Mackay (Engineers), Daniel O’Shea (Unity), Eliza Crossley (Switchroots), Harrison Brennan (Switchroots), Michael Grenier (Independents)
Education OfficersIshbel Dunsmore (Switchroots); Yasmine Johnson (SAlt)
Women’s OfficersAlev Saracoglu (SLA), Iggy Boyd (Switchroots)
Welfare OfficersElla Haid (SAlt), Felix Tonkin (Unity), Harrison Brennan (Switchroots), Eleanor Douglas (Switchroots)
Ethnocultural OfficersRand Khatib (Switchroots)
First Nations’ OfficersNo candidates nominated for this election.
International Students’ OfficersAshrika Paruthi (Switchroots), Clare Liu (Penta), Lily Wei (Penta), Yuchen Li (Penta)
Environment OfficersMaddie Clark (SAlt), Simon Upitis (SAlt), Rory Larkins (SLA), Satvik Sharma (Liberals)
Global Solidarity OfficersJasmine Al-Rawi (SAlt), Deaglan Godwin (SAlt), Skye Dannaher (Switchroots), Cooper Gannon (Liberals) and Satvik Sharma (Liberals)
Intercampus OfficersAlex Poirier (Artistry), Lydia Elias (SAlt), Ting Hou (Penta), Wenqing Xiao (Artistry)
Sexual Harrassment OfficersAlana Ramshaw (Switchroots), Eliza Crossley (Switchroots), Grace Porter (Unity), Zoe Coles (Switchroots)
Queer OfficersElla Pash (Switchroots) and Yasmine Andrews (Switchroots)
Disabilities OfficersKhanh Tran and Jack Scanlan (NLS)
Mature Age Students’ OfficersNo candidates nominated for this election.
Interfaith OfficersJosh Norena (NLS), Sargun Saluja (NLS), Siwan Xu (Penta), Thomas Thorpe (Liberals)
Social Justice OfficersJordan Andersen (Switchroots), Julius Wittfoth (SAlt), Keira Garland (SAlt), Eddie Stephenson (SAlt)
Refugee Rights OfficersAkee Elliot (SAlt), Amelie Roediger (Switchroots), Annabel Pettit (SAlt), Lydia Elias (SAlt)
Student Accomodation OfficersAlana Ramshaw (Switchroots), Ishbel Dunsmore (Switchroots), Jordan Andersen (Switchroots), Michelle Ung (Unity)
Standing Legal CommitteeGrace Wallman (Chair); Lauren Lancaster (Switchroots), Bowen Gao (Penta)
Directors of Student PublicationsGerard Buttigieg (NLS), Grace Porter (Unity), Simone Maddison (Switchroots), Jasper Arthur (Liberals), Victor Zhang (Engineers), Xueying Deng (Penta)
Intercampus CommitteeAlexander Poirier (Artistry) and Belinda Thomas (Unity)

The implications of recent changes to the Regulations:

A host of changes made to the SRC Regulations earlier this year had wide-ranging implications for how RepsElect played out.

Interestingly, where previously minor roles involved two positions that were split between four people, they are now four discrete positions. This has two implications. First, in theory, it means that you could technically have eight OBs for any given position, as people can still jointly run for the roles. This only applied to one position — the Global Solidarity Officers — which had five candidates elected, with Cooper Gannon and Satvik Sharma (Liberals) running jointly. However, Honi hears this interpretation of the Regulations is contentious and may be challenged at a future SRC meeting.

Second, it raises the bar for factions to achieve a supermajority. In previous years, a two-thirds majority on Council would deliver the allied factions total control over the Council. Indeed, with the support of both Penta and the Engineers, the Left bloc this year did have a two-thirds majority. However, they did not secure all positions, because the expanded set of positions available now requires a three-quarters majority to wield total control.

On some positions, Student Left Alliance voted with the Left bloc, allowing them to lock out the Liberals. However, where this did not occur the Right were still able to secure some positions, including one General Executive. It appears that Independents and the Liberals largely voted together throughout the meeting.

Another big change was the enshrining of collective autonomy for some positions, which practically meant that roles like Women’s Officer, Queer Officer and Disabilities Officer were not open to nominations so long as there were candidates preselected by the relevant collective. 

This drew ire from Socialist Alternative in particular, as it meant they could not nominate for a number of positions. It was unclear whether they intended to seriously nominate, or to nominate in order to deliver a speech and withdraw. Regardless, they made frequent complaints about the Regulations being “undemocratic.”

There was some confusion about how the Regulations applied to positions where there was an autonomously preselected candidate as well as additional nominations to fill the remaining three positions, which was the case for Ethnocultural Officer. 

Electoral Officer Riki Scanlan’s initial reading of the Regulations saw the preselected Convenor of the Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR), Rand Khatib, automatically elected along with three other nominees. However, the Chair of Standing Legal, Felix Wood, overruled this reading, determining that Khatib was the only valid candidate. 

Liberals try stand-up comedy (not their strength)

First-year Councillor Satvik Sharma, of the Liberal joke ticket Gymbros, made a series of awkward attempts at riffs throughout the meeting, running for just about every position he could to secure more speaking time.

Sharma embarked at one point on a rather boring dramatic reading of Milton Friedman and at several points on off-key satirical renditions ofSolidarity Forever’.

Cooper Gannon joined in the musical fun with a slightly more tuneful rendition of ‘Hypocrisy Forever.’ Gannon also launched into an extended bit about everyone on the Left growing up on the North Shore, attempting to analogise that assertion with claims from the Left that Liberals are racist and sexist.

“I’m a racist, sexist, misogynist transphobe,” Gannon concluded.

Freya Leach embarked on a bizarre rant entreating the Left to get a job instead of striking, extolling the virtues of working in cafes if people dislike casual academic jobs so much. According to her LinkedIn, Leach has worked as an Intern at UBS and as a Researcher at the Liberal-aligned think tank Blueprint Institute.

“You guys claim to care about the working class, but you’ve taken the work out of working,” Leach said. “What the SRC needs to do is take a stance against taxation.”

Some Liberals stayed serious, but still managed to elicit cackles from the audience. 

Thomas Thorpe took his speech for Interfaith Officer as an opportunity to evangelise: “There is a unique need for the message of grace, which is uniquely preached in the Bible.” 

Thorpe was elected in a rare win for “Judeo-Christian values”.

Colleges for SRC rep Bryson Constable unsuccessfully ran for Student Accommodation Officer, eliciting condemnation by arguing that, “The colleges know what it takes to end sexual assault”. 

Rampant inter-Trot beef

Socialist Alternative and Solidarity butted heads frequently throughout the meeting, with the former Trotskyist faction accusing the latter of supporting the Labor Party. Solidarity, for their part, criticised the practice of pre-election deals and took aim at SAlt’s strategy regarding NTEU strikes.

The tensions reached a fever pitch when the meeting got to the election of the Environment Officers. Four candidates had been preselected by the Environment Collective: Angus Dermody (Solidarity, running for a second term), Marcus Langdale (Solidarity), Rory Larkin (Solidarity), and James Sherriff (Black Flag).

SAlt, having long been critical of collective autonomy as a concept, contested the vote, with both Maddie Clark and Simon Upitis running against the preselected convenors. 

Clark described the preselection as a “sham election” to which Larkin responded: “Frankly I think it’s hilarious that members of Socialist Alternative call the Enviro Convenor Election, which had 30 activists there, a sham election.”

Honi hears the Labor factions voted with SAlt, and Switchroots did not bind, meaning their votes were likely split between the two factions. 

The eventual result was the election of both SAlt candidates, along with Larkins and Liberal Satvik Sharma. The announcement of this result caused an explosion of anger across the room, with both sides accusing the other of allowing a Liberal to be elected. 

“Shame on you,” screamed SLA. “What a fucking joke!”

The ensuing furore involved WHS-violating noise levels and nearly escalated to a physical fight. Secretary to Council Julia Robins eventually intervened, threatening to shut the meeting down if the chaos did not cease.

Global solidarity: who with?

Just like in 2020, Socialist Alternative and Grassroots got into an altercation over Stalinism, after Skye Dannaher (Grassroots) started their speech for Global Solidarity Officer with a quote from Mao Zedong and identified themselves as a Marxist-Leninist. Dannaher is a member of the Communist Party of Australia.

This set in motion extensive denunciations from SAlt.

“We should be supporting Chinese students fighting back, we should be supporting the Iranian revolt,” Sophie Haslam said. “Skye should be expelled from your faction.”

“Grassroots, what are you doing about this!” yelled Ella Haid, with other SAlt members shouting “Shame on you!”

Grassroots headkickers eventually led Dannaher outside for a word.

Satvik Sharma and Cooper Gannon also ran for the position, continuing their attempts at comedy.

Gannon passed on “a message of thanks from the Murdoch media” (curiously, he did not mention Sky News) and shouted out the “Cooper Clan”, whatever the fuck that is. 

Sharma appealed for the “consultants for the world… we need to protect the rights of all workers.”

Eventually, Jasmine Al-Rawi, Deaglan Godwin, Skye Dannaher, and Satvik Sharma and Cooper Gannon were all elected, contributing to what will no doubt be a fractious year for the Global Solidarity portfolio. 

The year ahead:

RepsElect marks the formal conclusion of this year’s SRC election season. With the election of a brand new executive and a suite of office bearers, Honi can analyse trends in the changing balance of power between the various factions, as well as forecast issues that are likely to emerge next year.

In terms of the factional composition, Switchroots has maintained a strong position, picking up five extra OB positions in comparison to last year despite a marginal decrease in Council seats. As predicted, SAlt has made significant gains in OB positions, which is reflective of their growing presence on Council. However, due to their indifference to less activist positions, they claimed less of the positions — especially those on the Executive — than their numbers might have justified. The Labor factions NLS and Unity have seen marginal gains, picking up both Vice-President offices and one General Secretary position, with NLS winning an additional three OB positions. The Liberals have also had marginal gains, with two more OB positions than last year, including Enviro Convenor.

Going into 2023, the ongoing NTEU bargaining campaign is likely to crop up again as a key issue for student activist organising. Activists have been successful this year in informing students about staff demands and mobilising to build student-staff solidarity. However, judging from last night’s speeches and the composition of the SRC’s OBs, Honi is expecting more debate regarding the political strategies activists should be taking in education campaigns.

The Enviro Collective and subsequent climate action organising is expected to be a site of political contestation in the upcoming year. With three out of four convenors being experienced left-wing activists, Honi is confident in the continuation of important environment activist campaigns. However, with no Grassroots candidates elected and a Liberal gaining office in what has traditionally been a Grassroots stronghold (historically, both USU and SRC Grassroots presidents have cut their teeth as Enviro Officers), the strategic and political direction of the Collective is expected to change. Further, the Left Enviro Convenors come from rival Trotskyist factions Socialist Alternative and Solidarity, which will certainly make for some interesting dynamics.

Debate around the SRC’s position on the Israeli occupation of Palestine is expected to continue. This year has seen multiple attacks on left-wing student unions across universities for taking pro-Palestine stances – UniMelb’s UMSU was threatened with legal action over a motion standing in support of the BDS campaign, and an Adelaide University On Dit editor was removed from office over a pro-Palestine article. The USyd SRC has also faced similar pressures from Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott and management for similar pro-Palestine motions. Notably, the election of Rand Khatib, who was born in Palestine, as Ethnocultural Officer, will likely bring Palestinian voices to the fore on Council. With the election of Michael Grenier, who has defended Israel frequently throughout 2022, on the General Executive and gains from Liberals in securing OB positions, this will likely not be the last time the SRC is forced to defend its position.

With a new Labor government and an upcoming state election, the SRC will likely see robust debate about the position it should take in relation to the Labor party. As more details about the evasive Higher Education Accords are released, the prospect of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum approaches, and various industrial action from the public sector increases, these issues are expected to be raised as motions and discussed in Council. The marginal gains from the Labor factions will likely factor into these debates.

After a record low voter turnout in this year’s SRC elections, as well as the election of a number of younger Councillors and office bearers, the incoming SRC will have the unenviable task of reinvigorating campus life and student democracy. Indeed, this year’s President and Honi Soit elections were uncontested, and the SRC elections had the lowest participation amongst all three elections this year, even losing to the Senate elections. The incoming SRC will have to labour in 2023 to genuinely engage with students, especially as the gradual return to campus continues.