“No one gives a shit because they never do anything.”
Thus reads the leading post on the University of Sydney’s Reddit page. And, unfortunately, it’s popular for a reason: jonathan102’s dismissal of the USU Board elections has captured the prevailing disillusionment that students feel towards the organisation.
Further down the page, a 2002 Sydney graduate comments: “It is pretty funny for an alumni such as myself… to see the same campaigns on exactly the same issues being run a decade later.”
More often than not, USU Board campaigns are characterised by rehashing, repetition, and recurrence, with the perpetual reappearance of policies and promises. Not an election has gone by in the last five years without a vague promise to increase student engagement or involvement, or an assertion that a candidate will increase the Board’s transparency and sustainability.
Even those more measurable goals – such as the establishment of an on-campus cinema and the renovation of Union buildings – resurface every few election cycles. Some of these have supposedly been achieved – “we conducted a survey!” they said – yet they rarely appear to make any tangible difference, otherwise Miso Honi would’ve been booted years ago.
Fortunately, not every policy goes this way. Winning policies, it seems, come in the form of expansion of the Union’s cultural program department. In 2009, Lizzy Watt proposed a humanitarian program, and in 2010, voila. Same thing with James Flynn and his Interfaith week. In 2012, Tom Raue wanted fair trade coffee, and so it came to be, just a few months later.
Some candidates’ “achievements”, however, come in the form of policies that the USU has already implemented or put in the pipeline, for which elected directors can later attempt to claim credit. In 2009, Giorgia Rossi promised a new cafe space in the Law building, even though Taste had already leased the space. And despite what some candidates might tell you this year, the USU already has Hoyts Broadway discounts (plus countless more off-campus benefits some of our candidates don’t seem to know about), keep cup discounts, and policies in place to ensure students are prioritised for employment.
As well as these already existing platforms, this year sees some of the oft repeated policies resurface. Building renovations, on-campus cinemas, greater ACCESS benefits and/or cheaper food, C&S reforms, USUonline upgrades, it’s all been promised before. C&S reforms, in some way, have been promised no less than 16 times in the past four years. These are all policies that have already disappeared into the nether of Union bureaucracy on multiple occasions, and are likely to meet the same fate in the hands of this set of candidates.
USU President Astha Rajvanshi says that limitations of time, money, or resources are the main reasons that candidates fail to realise their policies once they gain a position on the USU Board. She says that the reality of collaborative work with other Board Directors also necessitates compromise on campaign promises.
“When you’re running in an election, your main focus is on improving the student experience through your vision,” says Rajvanshi. “But when you get elected, you are exposed to nearly every big and small facet of the organisation, including the legal, financial and operational aspects. You are charged with the responsibility of managing a $21 million organisation, but you’re also balancing that with being a leader and a representative of students, and that’s not an easy task.”
So, perhaps jonathan102 is right. No matter how bright the t-shirts, how exciting the promises, how catchy the campaign slogans, remember that many of the candidates’ promises have been tried and tested several times already, and rarely have they ever translated into any substantive and meaningful change for students.
My advice to you, dear reader, is to vote, not for which policy you like best, but for which candidate you feel best represents you. Because they’ll be making decisions they’ve never even thought about, and honey, you’re never gonna get that cinema.