The upstairs annex of the Holme Building was buzzing with excitement as Welcome Fest approached and the incoming USU Board directors attended their first official meeting. Nonetheless, business proceeded largely as usual.
CEO Andrew Mills took his report as read, presenting a PowerPoint with key upcoming legislative changes. USU lifetime member Ben Hines asked about the USU’s relationship with its alumni community, noting that the organisation wasn’t able to get in contact with them during his previous term.
Hines commented that “consistently, our [the USU’s] alumni relationships have been subpar.” Mills mentioned that he’s reached out a few times, and will continue to reach out with an aim of “rebooting alumni relations.”
Mills then went through upcoming changes for the organisation. He noted that there have been changes to casual conversion under the Albanese government, as efforts have been made to “firm up” permanent positions. Mills also noted the Privacy Act Review Report delivered in early 2023, however he reported that the USU collects “very little data on its members” (aside from SIDs and student email addresses) and holds no financial data, therefore will be adequately protected under the wider University cybersecurity positions.
Mills also spoke to the results of the most recent round of SSAF contestable funding. The USU received 40% of the funding from a pool of $914,000, totalling $365,000. $70,000 each will be allocated for the USU’s Festival of Creativity and the hiring of a new Volunteer Program Coordinator, respectively. The USU/SRC FoodHub collaboration, as well as other food security initiatives, will receive $150,000. Clubs and societies (C&S) management will receive $5000, while the clubs/communities program and wellbeing program will enjoy a 60:40 split of the remaining $70,000.
|Total SSAF contestable funding||$914,000|
|Total amount received by USU||$365,000|
|Festival of Creativity||$70,000|
|Volunteer Program Coordinator||$70,000|
|Food security (e.g. FoodHub)||$150,000|
|Clubs and societies management||$5,000|
|Clubs and communities program||$40,000|
Every year, $2 million of SSAF funding is set aside for infrastructure projects. Given the backlog which has built up over the past few years, Mills explained that the $2 million will be pooled with contestable funding for 2024.
Mills concluded his report by announcing that the long-awaited Manning Cantina will launch next week, and that the Holme Building’s Elliott Miller Studio has been moved downstairs. He spoke to the success of FoodHub over the semester break, averaging 60 visitors a day to the new space on Level 3 of the Wentworth Building.
The financial report pointed out the relative successes of USU vendors in the previous semester. Hines asked for a little extra data “for my own interest, if nothing else”.
Moving to reports from the executive, Honorary Treasurer Nicholas Dower thanked Immediate Past President Cole Scott-Curwood for a smooth transition and welcomed the organisation’s new CFO, Michelle Tonge — “I can report that Michelle is lovely”.
Vice President Madhullikaa Singh spoke to the culture of the organisation, stating “anything you walk by, you are accepting as your culture, so don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Naz Sharifi then delivered the President’s report, speaking about her “ambitious, but cautiously optimistic” approach for the coming year. Sharifi also congratulated the newly-appointed PULP editors, stating she was “excited for their upcoming editions”.
As usual, the meeting ended with question time. As Welcome Fest approaches, Honi asked Mills whether the USU had made any changes to the compensation structure for its volunteers (the V-Team).
“No changes” was the abrupt response from Mills.
In relation to the USU’s commitment to community consultation on behalf of clubs and societies (C&S), Honi asked for a progress update on the USU’s First Nations focus groups.
Mills responded by reaffirming the USU’s intention to onboard two new staff members — one permanent full-time position, and another casual student leadership position — to coordinate these focus groups. Despite an unsuccessful funding application, the USU has budgeted for these new roles, and position descriptions will be finalised within the next two months.
Honi then asked about the USU’s awareness of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), and how the organisation would approach compensating students for their involvement in consultations and focus groups.
Both Mills and Sharifi reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring First Nations students can benefit from engagement with the USU.
“We would not ask students to share their sacred knowledge(s) without putting in appropriate measures to compensate them for doing so,” said Sharifi.
Mills confirmed that optional compensation will be available for students who participate in focus groups, if they are otherwise forfeiting paid work to participate.
Finally, Honi referenced an action point in the USU’s draft RAP which reflects a commitment to engaging with First Nations businesses. When asked whether the USU will formalise a process for seeking free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from vendors, Mills stated that while he “personally doesn’t have a position on [the issue],” that the Board will consider a formal statement. Mills confirmed that the USU has been approached by the University of Sydney Business School to install Indigenous-supported vending machines, but the organisation’s main focus is to set up First Nations focus groups and finalise the RAP.
When pressed for a timeframe on this, Mills estimated that this process would take between six to eight weeks. Honi will continue to report on the USU’s reconciliation efforts.
The Board will next meet on the last Friday of August.