USU Board candidate interview: Jacob Masina

The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2017 Union Board candidate, Jacob Masina

Jacob Masina

Independent | Arts/Law III | Quiz Score: 57%
Interviewed by Jayce Carrano and Justine Landis-Hanley

HS: Would you just mind starting by saying your name, your degree, and if you have any political affiliations?

JM: My name is Jacob Masina. I am an Arts/Law student in my third year. I’m hoping to pursue an honours in my arts as well so it’ll be a six year degree all up. I am a member of the Liberal party however for the purposes of this election I am running as an independent.

HS: So you’ve been heavily involved in the Liberal club and campaigned for Liberal politicians. What was the reason you chose to run as an independent in the election?

JM: I think the most important thing for me was the purpose of the USU in terms of servicing students and fostering a healthy community across the entire university, for me that doesn’t require political interests. in fact it shouldn’t require political interests. As the board of directors, you are sitting on the board of essentially a corporate entity, dealing with significant amounts of money and where that goes towards fostering the student service and how efficient they should be. To me, running as an independent was crucial because the major goal of every candidate should be protecting student interests. So my political affiliations aren’t involved. It’s more a common sense, rational approach to saying that students are paying money to this organisation so that money should be going towards the best services that are cost-efficient, relevant, and engage with those ideas that the USU wants to promote of inclusivity, diversity, opportunity.

HS: You say you want to go for these student interests, don’t you think that politics comes into what interests are prioritised by the USU?

JM: I don’t think in the sense that we define it the major two party system within Australia. I mean, yes, there are philosophical differences and I encourage to take them into consideration when they judge every board candidate based on their experience, their character and what they’ve done and what their vision is. However, I think my platforms is robust in that it balances against those ideals by promoting what isn’t a political platform. It is purely that I see, in my experience as I third year student, as well as an executive on quite a few societies throughout my time at university, that there are things that the USU could be doing, that there are things that the USU is doing fantastically well, and I just want to serve the student body as best as possible.

HS: Do you think that running as an independent will help your chances of winning as opposed to running as a Liberal candidate?

JM: Yes, absolutely. I think there’s obviously a culture against Liberal politics on campus, I think that’s quite fair to say. You can put it down to opportunism if you like but at the same time I think that running as a Liberal would actually not be true to my candidacy in terms of what I want to achieve on campus. I don’t want to run because I’m a liberal or to support primarily the interests of Liberal students. I’m running for the student body, I’m running for the USU and the board of directors.

HS: Speaking of which, why are you running for board?

JM: I think that touches on my previous answers. As my experience as a student on the campus obviously is the number one thing. The USU’s primary duty is to foster a healthy, vibrant, engaging community on campus through its various programs like ACCESS and C&S and that sort of thing as well as the festivals that it does. My major passion, I guess, is harnessing the potential we have on our campus of the student body whether it be from international or domestic students whether it be various backgrounds, political or religious or anything and saying that we have such a great opportunity on campus to be engaging those communities as a larger community in achieving some great things on campus. My passion for running is to be involved in that as much as possible, to contribute in any way I can, to give a voice to views I’ve developed and in my consultation with the students, my experience in clubs and societies, executives, of reforming that process, potentially streamlining things and hopefully life better on campus as a whole.

HS: So you talked about the general goals of the USU, what do you think is the most important USU program?
JM: Clubs and societies hands down. For me, that is the greatest opportunity for students to explore their diversity. For first year students coming into this, the clubs and societies program does set the university of Sydney apart from any university in the country and even the world just because of that community. You can find your niche, you can get in touch with making new friends. I currently sit as the president of the Arts society which is a faculty club and one of the largest on campus and that was really what engendered this thought in my mind because obviously the arts faculty is extremely broad and covers a whole range of students  but running those programs, whether it be social or opportunities to engage with student representatives or otherwise, really shows me what students would like to achieve and interact with and potentially if they need some help with understanding how the university works, those experiences they can get from older students is always really helpful. I love the clubs and societies program, certainly a big fan, it can be improved but also what it’s doing is, I think, a phenomenal opportunity for all students.

HS: Speaking about your political views, you mentioned that you don’t sit with the USU having the whole liberal, labor, right, left dichotomy. What are your values or philosophies that sets you apart from other candidates?

JM: Especially within this election, I like to focus on a very sensible centre, which isn’t a cop out answer it’s more the idea that when we’re dealing with an organisation the size of the USU, with 26 million dollars, which is primarily student money and the investment of that student money into the various resources and assets that the USU has, my major ideological thing is more a common sense idea of where should that money go, where are the needs for students, and how best can we fund those services such that the objects and the goals of the USU to, again, foster the welfare and interests of the not just the student community but also the broader community in the best way possible. So we’re looking at the past couple of years, the USU has run at a deficit, and obviously there are investments within that that need to be taken into consideration, but I think that a big goal would be making sure that we can look at that money and where that’s actually going. negotiations for SSAF fee are a big deal for what the USU does, looking at the split of the SSAF fee between the gym and the src and supra and what the USU gets out of that is an important consideration for the broader community and what the USU can do with that money. To go back to the core of the question, ideologically, that’s a big focus as well as the idea that the biggest thing for me is empowering students to get the most out of their uni. I think that’s really the core of what the USU does. It’s about giving those students the opportunity to find their interests, to find their niche, to discover something new. That all comes down to students being able to surpass any barriers of entry that they might find socially, culturally, intellectually to really explore their potential and the potential that the campus can provide to them.

HS: You mentioned the USU’s deficit there. Would it be a priority of yours for the USU to not operate with a deficit?

JM: Yes, absolutely, I think it’s more just the responsible management of the USU. We’re obviously dealing with millions of dollars, I’m not going to pretend that I have years and years of senior business experience but the board of directors as student elected obviously has a responsibility that correctly and in the best way possible for students. I’m not saying that I’ll push everything away just so I can get a surplus because that’s a ridiculous proposition. We’re obviously here to invest in students and the community as a whole but looking at those finances is a big priority to make sure that they’re being managed correctly.

HS: So if you had to choose one area of the USU’s operations that you think could be drawn back to more further away from a deficit, what area of operations would that be?

JM: As part of the my policy statement, looking at a review of the C&S funding to reduce overfunding was certainly a consideration. It was, I will admit, to strictly phrase because broadly the funding services that the USU does provide I think could undergo some investigation things like the debating society for example certainly needs to be looked at. I’m not picking on debates but obviously the funding and how well the debating society is tied into the USU could be something to be looked at. Where that money could be better distributed for example, because not all students are involved in that. Although big props to the debating community for that do achieve within their space. Rather than cutting back on the USU it’s also about smarter management, looking at our investments, obviously Wentworth demolition is certainly a thing, and the Manning upgrade and those sorts of broader infrastructure discussions need to be had. I know that there are a lot of changes, the USU’s strategic plan for example for 2012-2016, and I know this previous board has composed the next strategic plan so implementing that in the most financially efficient way possible will be important. It’s more of a holistic process rather than saying we’re going to cut a whole lot of stuff.

HS: You have a policy to review the C&S funding to reduce overfunding and you have another policy to provide funding for on campus room bookings. So on the one hand it seems like you want to be quite stringent but on the other hand you want to give more money. How do those work together?

JM: I think the important with the on campus room bookings, my experience when it comes to on campus societies speaks to that and also there was an Honi article that came out a couple of months ago about the struggle that societies have and the exorbitant prices being charged. I think that policy touches on how the USU might expand its purvey towards supporting clubs and societies that might suffer those sort of exorbitant costs if they want to promote things. I know the united nations society is one of the biggest stakeholders in this because they do run huge conferences and the marketing of the uni is really important in those, like having a whole a bunch of students from the outside coming to the uni to enjoy the opportunities is fantastic. Opposed to that, the overfunding discussion must be held in balance. Whether or not there is societies receiving more funding than they should because they’re gaming the system with regards to access discounts or otherwise, I think there are a lot of opportunities to investigate that. It’s more about how we could restructure the funding such that the value for dollar is as high as possible and societies are able to do as much as possible within their freedom. I also want to touch on that broadly if I can, one of my policies relates to increasing revenue for the USU as a whole with the loyalty rewards system with ACCESS. I’m not sure if you were going to touch on it later but I think that’s really important for me in terms of looking at how my policy is a bit more sensible and quite driven and there’s quite a big vision for it. We have an opportunity here where, out of the approximately 50,000 students we have on our campus, 16600 are ACCESS card holders. Obviously the SSAF fee makes a lot of that revenue for the USU and the ACCESS program is another main source of that. And if the USU was able to double or triple that engagement with ACCESS, that would show a cultural engagement within the community, but also a great financial position for the union to be in so it’s about how we expand that. I think that the loyalty program and looking at that is a great in terms of increasing incentive for people to engage and also support the union and get involved in university and would also offer a way to support these ideas and these policies implemented that would free up the union to do more things.

HS: So you mentioned the loyalty reward system, can you elaborate on what you mean by that?

JM: Currently, we know that ACCESS gives you 15% discount on a whole lot of places on campus except for Ralph’s and boardwalk and that sort of thing. And we have various programs like free pizza at courtyard that the USU’s dishing out every now and then and also, I’m pretty sure it’s every 7th coffee is free, and that operates. My idea is really taking it down to every time you interact with the USU, you accrue a loyalty-reward point based system. So every dollar spent is a point for example, obviously the structure itself has to be worked out. Every time you buy something or even if you sit on club society executives, you get a certain number of points, you sit as a president or the core of an exec you get extra points and that can be traded in. There are opportunities here, 50 points gets you a USU jumper for example or the person with the most points at the end gets some sort of prize. And that can be all fed back within the system. And obviously for people coming into university, going to class, and going straight home and going to work, they can potentially pick up a bite to eat on the way at one of our fantastic outlets or people who hang around a bit longer, I think there’s a lot of benefits that can be gained from that. I think that that sort of system would be expanding the incentive for people to use USU outlets more regularly and also would promote a bit of a fun interaction within the union itself. As I said, I don’t think it’s the magic key to fix all our revenue problems but I think it’s an opportunity to increase what the union is picking up from those outlets as well.

HS: So with the people that you’re running against, who would you say are the three candidates you would most be happy to work with and who is the one candidate you would be least happy to work with?

JM: Good one. I think top three at this point in time are probably Hengjie, Liliana, and Zhixian. Various reasons. Zhixian and Hengjie are obviously international students. There are a few international students in this year’s election which is fantastic. Reading through policy statements and in personal conversations, they definitely come across as very passionate about what they’re doing. Hengjie stood out for me because a lot of his focus is on what domestic and international students can do together and how we can better integrate those communities and shared goals. And Zhixian as well is very passionate and has been quite involved. Liliana is obviously a very close friend of mine and I’ve known her for almost 10 years now and I know is incredibly passionate about the union and has done some fantastic things within that and I think we’d very much enjoy our time on board together. In terms of the least likely candidate, it’s a tough one, I mean you don’t want to pick up people. The first to come to mind would be Sally or Erika. And it’s a bit of a tie. Erika is probably the one just because, from her policies, looking a bit like a joke campaign and a bit more alt-right which I don’t think fit very well into the seriousness of what the USU is hoping to do, free helicopter rides and stuff. I do know Erika and she’s a very nice person, I think she isn’t taking it very seriously. Sally also I mention because it’s a bit of a come out of the blue, I don’t really know Sally personally but I’m sure if she was elected we’d work very well together.

HS: The USU often takes up quite seemingly progressive positions on a lot of decisions, would you have agreed to not put USU resources towards the screening of The Red Pill.

JM: No, I wouldn’t have. I think from the outset, initially it’s not a particularly politically motivated view I’m putting out, it’s more a criticism of how the decision was made. I think it was quite reactionary and brash but broader to that I guess on those progressive views I think when we looked at what The Red Pill screening by the conservative club was promoting and looking at the event page and the discussions on the event page that were happening, there is absolutely criticism to be made of the documentary in some manner or form, I think there always is with documentaries, especially ones that take such a stance. However, the aspect of that event was a discussion about the issues put forward by the documentary. We had some very prominent left wing, progressive people on the event page saying ‘I’m attending, I want to have discussion, I don’t like the views but we want to engage in the debate here.’ and I think that was fantastic. One of the objects of the USU is to help foster the exploration of social and intellectual, cultural diversity and I think also universities stand for that as well. I think the reactionary and very radical view to remove USU funding immediately stood from a very ill-informed position of what the object of the event was. Potentially also on what the documentary would have achieved and I think at the end was to the detriment of the student body and those people who did want to engage in that debate broadly.

HS: There was a lot of the student body that was very much up in arms against that screening, when there are divisions in the student body like that, how would you go about making decisions between sides?

JM: It’s interesting because events like this create some controversy and potentially that’s actually the point of why they’re happening. From my knowledge of the event itself, there was an aim to create discussion by sparking some flames and getting people excited, which they did. In terms of the split in the student body, I think it’s important to manage correctly as a potential board director, the union, the clubs and societies program that represents the union and therefore as a board director you are responsible for that. It’s about managing it so as per the objects of the USU, people are free to express themselves in any way possible as long as the environment is free from discrimination in any form or manner. We saw one way that may be resolved, I criticise the way they managed it, but at the end of the day it’s about how we can, if those groups are at arms against each other, how we can manage that relationship in the best way possible. I think we saw, over a year ago with the EU, a lot of that was religious and faith-based societies coming up against the union, maybe some members of the student body, and we had a process whereby negotiations were entered into such that many of the stakeholders were pleased with the outcome. We also had the creation of the interfaith council as a great policy outcome of that and a more discursive way of solving future problems. I think in issues like that, that a more consultative and democratic way of doing things is always the aim and will achieve the best outcome for the broader community.

HS: You mentioned in your policies that you would like to have international mentoring run by domestic student volunteers, why only domestic student volunteers?

JM: The aim of that program also was looking at how the services the USU currently provides for international students  are quite diverse. Going through the website not often aware to many students the conversation classes that are offered, Sydney campus tours and that sort of thing is fantastic but there’s not a lot of long term opportunities who may be here a semester or even up to a year. And a lot of experience I drew upon was my experience as a faculty mentor for both arts and law and looking at how regular catching up with small groups of international students or first year students was really helpful and beneficial. What I wanted to achieve with that policy is looking at international students who are coming, flying over here from very different culture, very different background, they don’t necessarily understand or be aware of the opportunities available to them and certainly domestic students within their experience, I mean obviously it would be domestic students with previous qualifications and that sort of thing, and even experience within the union itself to provide that insight and knowledge would be really important.

HS: Do you think that there should be affirmative action for board elections, that is that half of the candidates must identify as a woman?

JM: Specifically, female affirmative action because the question also covers international as well.

HS: Let’s look first at female affirmative action and discuss other affirmative action if you like.

JM: Principally I am against the idea of affirmative action on our board because I think for me obviously the board of directors in terms of the ultimate purpose of serving the interests of serving the interests of the community as a whole, we should elect our directors as democratically as possible which means relying on merit based tests on campus. Obviously that does raise questions as to whether or not the barriers to entry are potentially too high for women identifying students. I think looking at the way our university is run, especially history of the board itself, we saw all five candidates elected last year as women which is fantastic and I certainly think there is a role for the promotion and encouragement of women identifying students to sit on our board is very very positive. However, there would have to be a process where if there did come up to debate I would really appreciate an opportunity to consult and investigate how effective that is in terms of supporting the community as a whole. We obviously saw two years ago, based on affirmative action, there was a student removed because there wasn’t enough women elected based on the model and we look at that and those principles we stand by and otherwise of saying that if that person was the most elected based on their merit, why do they not deserve to be on the board? I’m not coming at this saying a blanket sort of thing, I’m not campaigning against affirmative action at all, I think the system of the USU we have to work within but certainly would be something I would be open towards considering.

HS: Would you be more open to affirmative action for women if the board was 90% composed of men?

JM: No, it’s a principle decision of whatever it is, the goal is always going to be the best candidates for the position.

HS: So if it was composed 90% of men, you would see that as being a result of meritocracy rather than anything else?

JM: No, that’s… I’m not here to discuss the cause and effect of whether or not it’s a result of anything, I think it doesn’t change my perspective of what the policy outcome should be though. If that makes sense?

HS: Not really…

JM: As in, if the board is 90% men, we can’t draw conclusions that that is because of a meritocracy I don’t think. I think with a system without affirmative action, if dealt with correctly, the correct opportunities for women, if the barriers to entry are as low as possible, then we operate as close to a meritocracy as possible. Whether or not I would then suggest we implement affirmative action because there are too many men on the board, I would stand against that policy.

HS: Would you use your position as a board director to take a stance against the cuts to university funding such as those predicted to be announced in the budget? 

JM: To me that comes to a stance of what the student body believes and certainly consultation should be had as to what the effects of that policy would be on the students and how those students view those policies. There’s obviously quite, with the rhetoric going around the new funding changes, a big deal about what that will mean for everyday students, I think certainly waiting until the budget comes out to work out what the actual policy is, is important. I wouldn’t be able to say right now that I would stand as a representative of the union and support or stand against those policies without proper consultation with the student body and evaluation of what those policies would actually do.

HS: Who do you think has been the most effective board candidate over the last few years?

JM: I actually don’t think I can go past Michael Rees, the current president, I think he’s been absolutely phenomenal in what he’s done both as an initial board director and now as the president. I really really respect how he handles himself and his role and certainly looking at the election last year, things like bringing WeChat in and delivering the USU app, those sort of big policy things that stand out, for me really really speak to his character and speak to his ability and if elected I would be very excited, he would be as the immediate past president, to serve within his knowledge within that.

HS: If you’re elected, who would you support for president in this year’s executive elections?

JM: So as far as I understand it both Courtney and Grace are the candidates. I’m not sure I’d be able to put my name towards either of the candidates, I certainly know that both of them have done fantastic things with the board and I’ve interacted with both personally in many different ways. I know that Courtney definitely has some really really strong support for her candidacy both in her experience and what she’s done and her experience at university and Grace served in many communities on campus as well. so a bit of a noncommittal answer, I apologise, however, I think the entire board will do very well for itself.

HS: To what extent do you think journalists should be allowed into meetings and do you think that it’s reasonable for USU meetings to go in camera in certain situations and why?

JM: The most important thing within this sort of question, is focusing on the fact that the USU is a corporate entity and obviously there are things that are confidential within investment discussions or primarily financial discussions that need to be confidential and in camera when those things are discussed. Obviously, the outcomes of those decisions need to be public and they are however the discussions that go behind those decisions absolutely need to be confidential. from a journalistic perspective, the board meetings are accessible as well as to every ordinary member and member of the union and journalists are included in that bunch, however, I don’t think there is a certain privilege that needs to be elevated for those and I certainly think that there needs to be an element of confidentiality kept in those discussions.

HS: As one of your policies says, you would like to publish quarterly reports in Pulp. Is it fair to conclude from what you’ve said there and in this policy that you think it’s ok for the USU to be transparent but on the board’s terms?

JM: Could you repeat that question?

HS: Do you think it’s okay for the board to have transparency but only if a board director is writing a statement or in a meeting if the board says yes you can listen to this but not this?

JM: Yes. The USU and the board of the directors operate to serve the interests of the USU and the broader community and I think that there are the sorts of discussions that if made public would breach those duties. So the policy about quarterly reports, from my end, a board of directors would publish reports from their various positions, whether you’re the chair of a committee or if you serve some sort of role within a program or otherwise so those positions can be kept accountable as well as also looking at keeping track of the policies that, out of the ten candidates, of the six that are elected, making sure that their policies, are they implementing those policies down the track would certainly be interesting. I think there is quite a history of board directors coming up with this coke in a bubbler type policy like ‘we want to make everything better’ without substantiating those, and they get to the union if they are elected and they disappear off the table and I think that’s a bit false and facetious towards the student body when they’re running in the election. So those quarterly reports would be put forward to hold the board directors specifically accountable but also the USU in terms of their direction and vision but the confidentiality aspects needs to be kept in track because of those discussions that need to be kept confidential.

Note: this is a full transcript of a Honi Soit candidate interview. Some words have been edited for clarity.