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Senate campaigner accused of racially profiling international students

Andrew Bell reports.

Alessandro Cowley (R) campaigning in Fisher.

Law student Alessandro Cowley has been accused of racially profiling international students while campaigning for University of Sydney Senate candidate Francis Tamer.

Students have submitted accounts to Honi that Cowley has been circulating study areas, selectively approaching students of Chinese appearance to solicit votes on his laptop.

One student told Honi, “He came up to the male student behind me, interrupting his TV show. He said, ‘Can I have 10 seconds of you time? My friend is running for a position in the university, and I was wondering if you would be able to vote for him. I have the website on this laptop here, and all I need you to do is log in’ The student, who was of Asian origin, didn’t say anything, but logged on and voted.”

“[He] then walked past me (I’m Caucasian) to the female student at the end of my table, who was also of Asian origin. She declined to vote. He then proceeded to bounce between all the students of Asian origin on the seats on the open study area before talking to a group of people in one of those study alcoves with a table and bench seats.”

“Five minutes later, he was walking towards the lifts, laptop closed, with a Caucasian male. The Caucasian male said ‘you are a machine’ to the campaigner.”

Cowley declined to deny to comment, or to deny the allegations. He received requests for comment on multiple occasions.

Students have submitted photographic evidence of Cowley campaigning.

Without that comment, Honi cannot detail the reasons behind Cowley’s alleged strategy. Students have suggested that Senate campaigners prioritise international students because they are perceived to be more compliant, owing to language barriers and heightened disconnect from campus politics.

Tamer said, “I understand the concerns of those who have complained, but I can assure you without a doubt that my campaigners have been instructed from the beginning to approach and speak to everyone regardless of their identity. At no point was there instruction to specifically target Asian and/or other international students.”

“As a son of Lebanese migrants, I have been on the receiving end of racism for much of my childhood and would never instruct my campaigners to treat a group of students differently based of their identity.”

“I have full faith in the integrity of my campaigners, especially Alessandro, in the way they conducted themselves during this campaign. These stories regarding racial profiling are nothing more than attempted character assasination against him. I maintain full support for Alessandro.”

Similar allegations have been made against other students.

Honi requested that the Returning Officer, David Pacey, comment on these allegations and the recurrent issues that have tainted this election.

Pacey said, “As the election is currently underway and I am actively considering matters which have been brought to my attention I do not believe that I am in a position to provide you with a response at this point in time.”

The allegations are still unconfirmed.

The election result will be released this Thursday, 22 September at approximately 4PM.

Update: This piece has been updated with comment from Francis Tamer.

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