Later today, student politicians of all stripes will pile into Eastern Avenue Auditorium for the longest, loudest, loopiest SRC meeting of the year: Representatives Elect, commonly known as RepsElect.
At RepsElect, the newly elected councillors of the 95th USyd Students’ Representative Council meet for the first time to elect the students who will hold office-bearer positions within the SRC throughout 2023.
What are office-bearers?
While students elect councillors to the SRC, they are not the only people who act as student representatives in the organisation.
Councillors act somewhat like parliamentarians – meeting once a month to vote on motions put to Council.
However, a lot of the everyday work of the SRC is performed by office-bearers, or OBs for short, who are not directly elected by students. Instead, they are elected by the Council itself.
Unless OBs are also councillors, office-bearers do not vote on SRC motions. However, they do report back to the SRC on their day-to-day work and are responsible for running SRC portfolios.
What office-bearer positions are available?
There are a host of positions available. The most attractive positions are on the SRC’s Executive, which gives the lucky office-bearers (and their factions) a set of benefits, including decision-making power over the SRC’s resources, sway over the way the organisation runs, and in some cases a stipend.
Along with the President, the Vice-President, General Secretary, and five General Executives sit on the SRC Executive. Technically speaking, there is only one of each position, but in reality VP and GenSec roles are split in two. The Vice-Presidents and General Secretaries are paid a stipend of $19,000, with the stipend for VP being introduced controversially in 2019.
The General Secretaries have a clearly defined role, most pertinently including organising the SRC budget for the year. The VPs role has grown somewhat in recent years, but tends to capture external-facing aspects of the organisation, for example, managing FoodHub or liaising with USU clubs.
The other two paid positions are the Education Officers and the Women’s Officers. The Education Officers convene the Education Action Group (EAG) and are responsible for conducting education organising. The Women’s Officers are chosen autonomously by the Women’s Collective (WoCo) — following constitutional changes made earlier this year, the Council must abide by the preselections of the Collective. Collective autonomy was the norm for many years, with a notable exception of 2019, when the preselected Women’s Officers were locked out of the position by a Liberal-dominated Council.
After the election of the paid positions (the ‘majors’), there are a smorgasbord of unpaid OB positions (the ‘minors’) to fight over.
Some of these are elected directly by the council, for example the Mature Age Officer or the Global Solidarity Officer. Typically these portfolios are divided between four students.
Others are elected by a collective: Queer Officer, Ethnocultural Officer, Disabilities Officer, and so on. New regulations enshrined earlier this year mean that, where applicable, the SRC must elect collectives’ preselected convenors to the relevant office-bearer roles.
Typically, these minor positions are split between four people.
How are positions allocated?
Put simply: the Councillors vote on who gets what.
However, that is far from the full story, with months of election deals occuring behind the scenes between factions to apportion positions. Given that no faction gets an absolute majority on Council, they must work together to form majority voting blocs, trading away positions as bargaining chips.
Beyond the trading and reshuffling of OB positions, larger factions are often able to bargain with positions and votes outside of Council, such as NUS delegate positions, which deliver greater power and influence to factions within the National Union of Students.
Where factions can negotiate a simple majority deal, they are guaranteed all of the major positions and half of all the minor positions to share within the majority.
If factions can negotiate a supermajority deal, securing a two-third majority — which the Left has done for the last three years — they can collect all of the positions available (although typically a position here and there slips through the cracks).
A short history of RepsElect
RepsElect has frequently been, at its best, comical, and at its worst, sordid.
Back in 2018, there were four whole attempts at holding RepsElect. Between violations of WHS noise regulations, errant fire alarms, and inquorate meetings, office-bearers weren’t successfully elected until early 2019.
In 2016, Young Liberal Alex Fitton falsely identified as a non cis-man to sidestep affirmative action requirements — an incident that hit the mainstream media. Fitton was ultimately thwarted by his unwillingness to sign a statutory declaration confirming his supposed gender.
In 2015, someone tampered with the fuse box to turn out the lights in a meeting that saw surprise betrayals between Labor factions.
The last few years have seen relatively sedate RepsElects as the Left has secured comfortable majorities. This year looks likely to be the same, with Switchroots (Grassroots and Switch coalition) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt) alone holding nearly 50 per cent of seats.
The lay of the land
This year, the huge swing towards Socialist Alternative could give them more bargaining power than usual. However, given SAlt’s typical indifference towards ‘administrative’ positions like GenSec and VP, they will likely prioritise seeking activist minor positions and the Education Officer spot.
The Left will definitely form a majority, with SAlt, Switchroots, NLS and Unity having a solid 23 seats out of 41.
If that bloc can persuade Engineers and Penta, who have been involved in previous supermajority deals, to sign on, they will secure a supermajority with 29 seats.
Student Left Alliance holds three seats, but has indicated a political aversion to deals, which suggests they will not automatically vote along with the Left majority. However, given they largely politically align with the bloc, they seem unlikely to pose a threat to Left dominance on SRC for a fourth consecutive year.
Disclaimer: Khanh Tran is not involved in the coverage of RepsElect due to their candidacy for one of the Office Bearer positions.