USU Board candidate interview: Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz
The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2017 Union Board candidate, Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz
Student Unity (Labor right) | Economics II | Quiz Score: 64%
Interviewed by Siobhan Ryan and Maani Truu
HS: Could you describe your political beliefs?
CGD: So on the spectrum I sit centre-left, is where Student Unity is, so socially progressive, but I guess my politics have been moved a bit more to the centre because of my studies in economics, so that pushed me a little more right than I used to be maybe, maybe a little more fiscally conservative.
HS: Is Unity a binding faction?
HS: How would your factional affiliation affect the way you vote on board?
CGD: Well it means that, at the end of the day, I have the final say, but if something comes up that is complicated and it’s alright for me to ask other people’s opinion on it then I guess they’re the first people I’d go to for any advice. Obviously nothing that’s confidential though.
HS: Why are you running for board (not just because you like/love it)?
CGD: I moved to Sydney last year. I’ve lived in Queensland my whole life, and I did a year of uni up at UQ. And my year there was just not that fun, and the student culture there was pretty non-existent. So when I came here, for me what really distinguished USyd — and I’ve visited plenty of other campuses as well, because I never really wanted to be in Brisbane — but for me USyd’s culture is just exceptional and I know that it’s because of the USU that that all happens. Like I’ve made friendships here that I’m sure will be life-long because of clubs and societies, and I want to be able to be involved and give back to the union somehow.
HS: That sounds a lot like you love the union, why are you better placed to be on board than some of the other candidates — what do you bring to the table?
CGD: I think I’m someone who has a personality that’s sort of fit for working in teams of people that come from different political backgrounds, and looking at situations objectively and being able to present it to someone even if they sit on a totally different end of the political spectrum. So for me I think that’ll be a really interesting experience, which I’d love to have.
HS: One of your policies is that you’d like to provide meal vouchers for low-SES students. How would that work practically?
CGD: It would have to be capped per semester, I would say, because otherwise financially that doesn’t really make sense, and there would have to be some sort of application process. I know there’s an equity scheme in the works for ACCESS cards so whether it could work hand-in-hand with that is a question. But it would probably be like five per semester or something. It would have to be baby steps.
HS: In terms of who would qualify for these vouchers, would it be Centrelink recipients maybe, people who can prove financial disadvantage, people who come from low-SES high schools — what would be the metric that you use to decide who is entitled to these vouchers?
CGD: I’m honestly not sure, I would think it would be the same metric as is used with the ACCESS card program.
HS: So there’d be an application process where people have to prove financial hardship?
HS: Who are your top three candidates, and do you have a least favourite candidate who is running?
CGD: For the people I like, Caitie McMenamin is someone who really stands out to me, maybe because I’ve worked with her on the SRC and I think she’s someone whose heart is really in the right place. She also always surprises me with how willing she is to stand up against anything she doesn’t believe in. In SRC meetings, it’s happened regularly where she’ll speak on whatever topic and it’s always, I don’t know why it surprises me, but I think I’m really impressed by that, even if we do differ a little bit politically. Probably Adam Torres as well is someone I know pretty well, who’s been really involved in ACAR, SHADES, stuff like that. I think he’s really fun and would add a bit of pizzazz to the union. The third person… I don’t know, maybe one of the international students? I really like Zhixian, she’s really cool, but there’s no third person whose policies I’m particularly aligned with, I would say. And as for who I would preference last, it would have to be Erika Salmon. Just because, apart from the fact that we are pretty ideologically opposed, I just don’t think she’s taking this seriously. None of her policies make any sense.
HS: In terms of the top three candidates, will your personal preferences for those candidates be reflected in where you direct your preferences in how-to-votes?
CBD: I’m sure it will have some influence but obviously, in an election, you want things to be a two-way street, so it depends how deals go.
HS: Are you in talks for preference deals/can you reveal anything?
CGD: Vaguely… Yeah I think the people I’ve listed will be involved. But I don’t think anything’s official yet.
HS: Would you have allowed The Red Pill to be showed on campus/funded by the USU?
CGD: I don’t think it should have been funded by the USU, and it wasn’t. I wouldn’t really have that much of a problem with it being in a space on campus… or would I? No. Like it is student money that’s being used for those things and there was such backlash that I don’t think it’s fair for the union to put funds into something when at least the vocal side of things didn’t want it to happen at all. I don’t know with that one, because I think a lot of the problem came from the reaction. If it had just gone ahead, I think 5 people would have shown up, it was, like Kerrod organised it. And it would have blown over. But instead, I think there was such a reaction that that causes a reaction from the other side and then you have the problem of whether violence is going to be incited. And actually, well we wouldn’t want that on campus so no, now that I’ve thought it through.
HS: And would you have voted as the board did to withdraw USU funding from it?
HS: One of your policy statements is to extend de-stress initiatives, and the examples you’ve listed are therapy dogs, sleeping pods, ballpits and bubble soccer. We’re wondering, do you think those might be a waste of money considering that money could go towards more effective mental health initiatives?
CGD: That is a fair question. The union is also about culture and having fun and that’s why that policy section is split into the fun one and then an awareness campaign, because basically I think a big problem of the uni when it comes to mental health is people don’t like using CAPS, or when they use it, their experience isn’t great, but they don’t know where else to go. So if some union funding could be put towards linking students with appropriate mental health services I think that would… so yeah that’s why that’s got a policy with a bit more substance, plus something that’s fun and easy. I also think, mental health-wise, when I get stressed the first thing I do is withdraw from other people. So if we put on fun things like that, and can get people to come and be outside, I do think it’s productive, but yeah I would want to put the money somewhere with more substance.
HS: You’ve also said you want to introduce college representatives to help with USU events. College parties have come under some scrutiny for creating perhaps unsafe environments on campus. So why do you think it’s appropriate for college students to be helping out organising USU parties?
CGD: I mean obviously the people who organise those events never do it with the intention of creating an unsafe environment, so I don’t think that would necessarily translate from one place to the other. The main purpose of it is that college events… Part of it is the nature of having a group of people that live there, but college events, like Surreal Sounds or Drewtopia or whatever, do attract a huge amount of non-college students as well, and I think they know how to market things that will make it cool for other people to go to. Which is what I think a problem with the USU events is at the moment. So it’s sort of that part of college events that we want to transfer, not the unsafe environment.
HS: Yeah of course, I’m sure that wouldn’t be your intention. Also on that marketing side of things, a lot of the way college parties are marketed is by college students selling tickets to their friends and on Eastern Avenue and such. Do you think the reason college parties get a lot of people is because of that stuff — which probably the USU wouldn’t be doing — or something inherent in the programming that college kids could bring to the USU by being on the events committee?
CGD: Well I do think it’s all just quite well-advertised. And I think even — USU parties happen and college kids don’t go to them either. And I think if there was a bit of liaising between the USU and the inter-college committee, they could work together to promote events at colleges as well, and then hopefully that attendance would pick up, and then, because more people are going, more people want to go, is the main idea.
HS: Stemming from this, another one of your policy statements — better live music — is something which is quite well-worn, people keep trying to reinvigorate Manning, so how are you going to do that?
CGD: I know it’s not the Board Directors who pick who is performing, it’s done by an external corporation, I guess, but I think there probably needs to be more student input into who is playing there in order to garner some more attendance. But also, … obviously big headliners are expensive, but if you combine having a big headliner with smaller student shows, so you’re not just getting five relatively unknown people, but you can get one big one to get people in, and then show some smaller people as well is the idea.
HS: A lot of your policy is stuff that is repeated this year — that a lot of other candidates mention — or is things that have been talked about a lot. There’s nothing really unique about your policy. Why do you think it’s important for you to be on board. What is the difference that you’re going to make/how will you do the things that other people have said they’re going to do? What’s it about you that will make it happen?
CGD: Well I guess what does differ me and my platform is that I am a college girl. The college obviously all — there’s mandatory ACCESS card funding. The USU has 16-17,000 members, and the colleges are about 2000 people who all have to pay. That’s a huge portion of the funding that is paid by college kids. So I’d like to see a bit more liaising between the USU and the colleges, and there is the inter-college committee that I think could be of use. So I think potentially seeing that involvement rather than just someone on events committee would be nice. College kids I think are particularly disenfranchised with student elections and I would love to see people take a bit more of an interest, instead of being more caught up in just the events that happen at college.
HS: What do you think is the most important current USU program?
CGD: I would have to say the clubs and societies for sure. That has such a far reach and it caters to so many people with completely different interests, so it’s kind of representative of a cross-section of the student population.
HS: What’s the best policy the USU has introduced over the past year or so?
CGD: I really like that there is now an International Student Portfolio. I think the vision of International Students being more involved has been a really successful one over the past few years. And there’s obviously room for improvement but even if you look at the fact that we had one international student running last year and now there are three, that’s a massive improvement. And I think Koko [Yifan Kong] has done a really good job with following through with those sorts of things.
HS: Who do you think the most effective Board Director over the past few years has been?
Of last year I would say Koko for those reasons. But I also really do admire Michael Rees. He also had a bit of an international student platform that was pretty successful I understand. And I know he’s President and he’s expected to have a deep understanding of the union, but I think he’s just really effective.
HS: If elected, who would you support for President (out of Grace Franki and Courtney Thompson)?
CGD: I don’t know either of them particularly well, and like I know it’s not personality-based, but I do really admire Courtney Thompson. I think she has strong beliefs and she’s someone with a lot of integrity, so potentially her. But I don’t know much about Grace Franki and what she has to offer on the other side — not offer me, but offer the uni.
HS: Do you believe that the board should be allowed to discuss certain matters in camera?
CGD: Yes. Obviously things as much as possible should be public, because it is there to serve the interests of students, but obviously logistically some things have to be done in private.
HS: Would you ever consider breaching your duties to the Board if it was in the public interest?
CGD: Well it depends how serious it is. But if something’s obviously really against the interests of students, then of course I would consider it. But obviously first I would try other avenues, and try to get it solved internally. So for example with Tom Raue, trying to convince the board that those documents should have been disclosed instead of leaking them. But it does depend how serious. We are elected, and the students know — or they should know — that there are fiduciary duties in place. But if something’s really serious, then I feel like I would not live with myself if I didn’t speak out about it.
HS: Can you provide an example of when you think this might be appropriate?
CGD: Well I think the police on campus was probably a fair one. But I do think other approaches probably could have been taken first. I just think with a board of people who are all really there to serve students, I can’t imagine a case where, if something’s clearly in the best interests of students, that the board doesn’t agree to disclose as much as possible.
HS: To what extent do you see the board as an activist organisation as opposed to more of a corporate entity providing food and fun?
CGD: I see the biggest difference between the SRC and the USU as the SRC is the group focused on activism and student rights, whereas the USU is in charge of managing businesses, so it is a bit more corporate. That being said, I think the USU should make an effort to invest in ethical businesses. And like with the CUB incident last year, I think making an effort to support other workers and stuff like that. But yeah obviously the nature of it is that it’s pretty corporate.
HS: On your CV, it says you’re currently the vice president of the History Society. From what we understand, that society is either pretty inactive or non-existent — it’s not on the USU’s website. Why does that appear on your CV if it doesn’t seem like you’re actually doing any work for it?
CGD: This CV obviously was written a month ago, and it had just started.
HS: So they’d just had their AGM?
CGD: Yes. So the club had been non-existent for a while, and then I was approached and asked if I’d want to be involved in bringing it back. But since then, there’s been some pretty serious allegations about one of the members of the executive, so I think it just kind of fell apart because no one wanted to be working with that person. So as much as I would have loved to have brought it back, it just didn’t pan out the way we’d hoped.
HS: What has your experience with the USU been/what experience with the USU do you have that’s going to help you be a board director of a multimillion dollar corporation?
CGD: I know my biggest flaw here is inexperience, because I haven’t been on executives of several clubs. I’m coming at this as someone who’s been involved as a member of lots of things. So I know that’s my flaw here. So [my experience] would just be through clubs and societies and trying to go to events whenever I can, and making friends that way. But it’s just clubs and societies.
HS: How do you plan to make up for that lack of experience?
CGD: Well yeah obviously if I am elected I suddenly have a much greater platform really, so it would be much easier to liaise with executives and discuss what needs to happen. I also think that on a board of 11 people where the collective C&S experience is pretty expansive, me not having that isn’t going to… like, I’m always willing to learn and listen to other people on the board, and I don’t think that my inexperience is going to bring the board down.
HS: What do you believe is the biggest economic drain on the board if any?
CGD: I know a lot of people — actually I wouldn’t say it’s a lot of people — but [there are] people taking issue with the amount of funding that debates gets, so maybe that one. But… yeah you can’t really name any of the businesses because they’re bringing in revenue ideally. My issue with finances is that I think it’s ridiculous that SUSF gets more money than the USU does, but that’s obviously not in control of the USU. I mean, it is a little bit but not enough. I don’t have a particular one in mind.
HS: What’s your slogan?
CGD: It’ll be Claudia: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
HS: That’s quite a departure from alliterative campaign slogans. Why did you go with that?
CGD: Well I always thought it was convenient that Claude and board rhyme. But I talked it over with my younger sister who’s been doing a lot of the design stuff, and she was like “that sounds so juvenile”, and then we sort of had a discussion about it and thought that Claudia was enough of a name on its own.
Note: this is a transcript of an Honi Soit candidate interview. Some responses have been edited for clarity.