In 2011, the Union Board election was characterised by a single issue: the continuing negotiations between the university and the USU regarding ownership of commercial outlets on campus. A common theme was whether candidates would and could negotiate with the university well enough to ‘save’ the union. This diminished the individuality of each candidate. This year, however, there is a different key issue.
‘Universal Access’ provision has been raised as a policy by every single candidate (so every student gets an Access card and union membership for free). It’s easy to see why: being able to say “I’ll save you $110” is rather persuasive to the average union member, and this belies the true appeal of the scheme – to get more people involved in the union. With the introduction of the SSAF (that extra $131 you paid this semester) it makes sense that this money contributes to a ‘free’ Access card.
The problem here is that a universal Access scheme is already being pursued by the Union Board. It was announced in November last year; it’s on the board’s blog page. So, essentially, we have seven candidates running on a policy which is already happening. What’s more is that these candidates have put this policy front and centre of their online and physical presence, with A-frames and lecture bashing by certain candidates pushing this as their primary focus. Yawn.
Let’s face it: as reported in Honi last week, policy is not considered as significant in these elections. Most are rehashes of policies of the year prior. An open-air cinema was promised by Zac Thompson, and now again by John Harding-Easson and Sophie Stanton. Brigid Dixon and Tom Raue have both promised campus grocery stores. Pop-up outdoor bars were promised by Mr Thompson, and now by Vale Sloane. Thai on campus was promised by several candidates, and again this year.
Promised policies might already be on the way, like Jacqui Munro’s / Nick Coffman’s USU smartphone app. As seen on candidate Facebook pages, other policies raise questions over their validity and practicality. Clearly, policy development and originality has not been deemed as vital.
Last week’s soapbox was a chance for candidates to show what their online campaigns and policies thus far hadn’t: their vision for the union.
While there existed the opportunity for candidates to show off their knowledge of the union’s financial position (such as Hannah Morris) and their public speaking ability (such as Mr Sloane), it was the overarching vision of where candidates would take the union that should have taken precedence. Mr Raue, to his credit, did have a consistent vision throughout the online campaign and the soapbox that was in tune with his left-wing stance.
Ms Stanton tried to paint herself as a representative of the disengaged – quite how you can represent students that are not union members while being a director of the union was not made entirely clear. Mr Coffman emphasised USU-student communication and college integration.
Others simply trotted out their policy statements and slogans, under the vision of ‘improving student life on campus, with varying degrees of success. Mr Harding-Easson shunned ideology altogether, asking students to vote for him “because he’s competent”.
That last point is an important one; many candidates, and many more voters, are simply running on this idea of competency, happy to spruik their long list of credentials. Having competent directors is, undoubtedly, an important concern. The cost of this importance seems to be the dropping of proper policy development and cohesive vision for the union by most of the candidates.