USU Board candidate interview: Liliana Tai
The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2017 Union Board candidate, Liliana Tai.
Independent | Economics/Law III | Quiz Score: 58%
Interviewed by Siobhan Ryan and Natassia Chrysanthos
HS: How would you describe your political views?
LT: So I think, broadly speaking, my political views tend to be quite progressive. I know a lot of people use the word progressive, and it’s quite hard to define exactly what that is. But generally speaking, what I mean is, that on a lot of social issues I am quite left leaning. So by that I mean I think, for example, that the University should not be run as a corporate entity, that the USU should be run for the students, not just as for profit maximization.
HS: Do you then see the USU as a place for activism, or as a place for providing fun on campus, or something in between?
LT: I think the USU is a bit different to the SRC, in the way that the SRC has a much bigger role in activism on campus. I think the USU is more about inclusion and diversity. What I mean by that is I think the USU has a role in making sure there are non-exclusionary activities happening on campus, and that means making sure all social events are inclusive and for example, doing things like when there are screenings of The Red Pill for example, making sure that the USU does something about that.
That being said I do think that the USU currently turn-over things like a profit, and I think that is important for the growth of the organisation. I think that is important for making sure they can maximize the amount of services they can provide.
HS: Why are you running for board (and not because you love the Union)?
LT: So, I am running for board because I have been involved with the Union through activities since first year and I think throughout my involvement, I’ve been able to see the ways it can improve people’s lives but more importantly the ways it can often exclude students. Also, importantly, the time frame when I decided to run for Board, like officially, was while I was away on exchange last semester. So, last semester I wasn’t at the University of Sydney, and I think that time away gave me a lot of time to reflect on the way the Union works currently and of course the way students do engage in campus life. I think it is important for the USU to recognise that there are a lot of people outside just ACCESS members, or outside the loud, outspoken, ACCESS members, who have a lot to benefit from the Union. So, I think a lot of people who will be targeted, and perhaps campaigned to, I know there is more and more traction, for example, about involving international students and I think that is definitely incredibly important, but I think beyond international students, people like postgraduate students, people who live really far away from campus, who often might not be able to stay really late at Manning, I think these are all students who need to be included in the Union and that is why I am running.
HS: How do you plan on engaging those students, as you are very much someone who is involved heavily in the Union?
LT: I think, from my personal experience at Uni, I have been someone who has been very involved since first year, which is why I think my semester away as someone who didn’t know anyone going to this University, I had a much more, I guess, standard experience of someone who starts University not knowing anyone. I think through that process I’ve been able to understand that a lot of the ways you engage people is having things on campus during the day.
I’ve talked to some students on campus who live really far from University, who say often it’s hard for them to engage in events because for example, if it runs late they don’t want to catch a late train home, which is why I think there’s much more that can be done.
Like one of my policies for example is about having a book cafe and I know people are like “oh those books will be stolen” but the way I envisioned it, was sort of similar to, I don’t know if you guys have seen some airports, like you will have these corners where you will like leave a book and take a book in return. I think a lot of that does happen on a trust system, but given that it’s broad daylight, everyone can see you, I think it’s one of the more diverse range of activities that the University should provide.
HS: So, what do you think is the most important program that the USU currently runs?
LT: I think the most important program, and maybe this is a bit of a cop out, is the Clubs and Societies. I know that is a giant umbrella for a lot of things that the union does, but from my experience I think that it is the most important, because a. it involves a lot of different groups, but b. also, I think groups are the best way for people to engage, I know for example that I got really involved in a bunch of really big clubs, a lot of my friends that maybe have less connections on campus, some of their best friends were made through those smaller groups and clubs. I think also, in particular, when I was away in a new University the only way I made any genuine connections was because I signed up to one or two smaller clubs. I think it is really important that the Union supports them and I think it’s important that the Union doesn’t overlook them, because I think it is the best way for a big organisation to connect with people individually.
HS: Would you breach your duty to the Board if it was in the interest of students?
Yeah, Okay, I feel like this is like a Tom Raue situation. So, I think, as a Board Director, it is absolutely in your duty to be looking out for the interest of students. That being said, I think the reason that people do not just arbitrarily breach their duties is because you understand that there are legal ramifications. So, that being said, I think maybe it’s because I’m a law student, but in general it is important to not do things that are illegal or you are reverting on what you said you would do. So, in those instances I would 100 per cent talk to the executive first and I think obviously, depending on the circumstance, but if it was something incredibly serious and I felt like it was worth sacrificing my legal obligation, I would. But I think in most circumstances I would first talk to the executive, talk to the Board, before I made any unilateral decision.
HS: Who are your top three candidates running, who you would vote for if you weren’t running yourself, and who is your least favorite?
LT: Uh, okay, I think my top three are … I know this year there are a lot of international students, three if I remember, running. I think out of those three I really admire and support two of them, not saying that I hate the third one, but just like politically, I think I align more with two of them. So that would be Zhixian and Alex. So I would probably put them in my top three. The other person I would support, would probably be Adam. I’ve known him well over the last few years, through class or SRC and I really respect his politics and admire him as a person.
HS: And do you have a least favorite?
LT: Um, probably Erika. Having read her policies and having seen her at the events we have been going to, I feel like maybe she is taking this a bit of a joke, a bit of a meme. I think that whilst it’s OK for people to think that student politics is a meme, I think it’s not very helpful, I don’t know if she applied for the $500 grant, but I think it’s quite a waste of that money if you are not really taking it seriously. And also, even if her policies are serious, I wouldn’t support them either, they’re not very good policies. Like I know having McDonald’s on campus sounds really popular, but if you think about it in the long-term is it really a good idea?
HS: In terms of your top three candidates, will they be reflected in your preferences?
LT: I haven’t finalised my preferences, and obviously it’s not like I can just be like “ah, these are the people I want,” without it being a group discussion. But, I would ideally like to have at least one or two of them on my preference list.
HS: You can direct your preferences to whomever you want …
LT: Yep, yep I can, but I think in order to ensure those preferences are effective in the general scheme of things I want to have a discussion with the candidates I am directing them to, before.
HS: Would you have allowed The Red Pill to be shown on campus?
LT: Yep, so, I think that is probably something I wouldn’t have allowed to be shown on campus and the reason I think that is true, is because I agree that there are some instances where there will be controversial people who will come onto campus and say some things, but I think in the instance of The Red Pill, it was a documentary that was clearly exclusionary and when things are exclusionary, especially in a University environment where a lot of people already might not feel incredibly safe, I think that is something I wouldn’t have allowed.
I know there were other controversial things that happened this semester, that guy who was meant to come and talk at PolSoc?
HS: Mark Latham?
LT: Yes, Mark Latham, I think other controversial figures like that, I probably would have said should have been allowed on campus, and the reason I think there is a difference is in that instance, there was more ability for people to openly talk about it in a forum and obviously because the speaker is there, you can get direct engagement and a direct response. I think that is much more constructive to discourse around those issues, and I also think the kinds of things he was saying were much less exclusionary.
HS: On to a few questions about you as a Board Director specifically. A lot of your voter base, we assume, is going to come from debating, which is often criticised as being over-funded, so would you support any attempts to cut money from debating, or introduce means testing for flight subsides, or things like that?
LT: One of the things about this campaign that I wanted to steer clear of was making a lot of generic statement that a lot of Board candidates make every year, and one of them is always going to be that we should cut funding from debating. I think the reason that funding probably hasn’t been cut over the last few years, and decades maybe, is just the way the Union works is that the University expects a lot of that money to go to debating, and it I think obviously, that even if debating can lock out some people, I think the committee over the past few years has tried really hard to include more people in debating and I think the benefits we get from a good debating program, obviously it comes with a lot of prestige, also it does develop a lot of people. Last year, they just passed a Person of Colour AA for our Easter’s teams, I think things like that have been really beneficial.
They are also talking about setting up more ESL, so if you do debating and English isn’t your first language, which also includes a lot more people, that being said, I think I am very happy to defend a lot of debating’s benefits given the costs, but I do recognise it is definitely over-funded in comparison to a lot of other programs in the Union. I would support cutting down as not giving them, I think there are some things you can’t cut down on, based on the way the program is structured.
I think for things like mean testing, it’s actually incredibly hard to means test debaters, and I think that is also because a lot of debaters income comes directly from debating, so for example, because they became involved in the program they were then able to seek their jobs. Which I know often comes out in the way that ‘oh, a lot of GPS boys, then get good GPS coaching jobs’, but I’ve also seen it play out in the way that, for example, some of our international students who have been involved have been able to get coaching jobs, as well. So I think that is something that would be really tricky, but I would be in favor of looking over the spending costs and trying to cut things where it is excessively unnecessary.
HS: One of your policies is renaming the Wentworth building, where do see that as fitting into your take on the role of the Board?
LT: Renaming the Wentworth building, while it seems like a bit of an activist policy in that you are actively trying to sort of engage in, in quotation “progressiveness”, I think in that instance it’s a really important step towards inclusion and making sure that students welcome. I think that, that change in itself might be seen as something which is slightly activist, but I think it is okay because the benefits you get from actively including people, and also not the change itself, but the discussion that comes with that change, and more importantly the social message you are sending out to all students while that is happening is I think what is really important for the Union to be involved in.
HS: Okay so on to a specific policy of yours, which we assume has come from your experience on exchange, which is the collaboration between the USU and the Sydney Abroad office to run information sessions on scholarships and help loans. Why do you think it is the USU’s place to have a policy like this, as opposed to the Sydney Abroad office or the University running it?
LT: I have worked in the Sydney Abroad office for the last few months, and from my experience there, I think they do a really good job of expanding their outreach and trying to give students as much information as possible, but I have notice there is a huge disconnect between students actually understanding that we do have a Sydney Abroad office and also students understanding that it is actually something that they can seek out on their own.
That being said, this year the USU did a collaboration with the Sydney Abroad for the Sydney Abroad Fair, which was two separate days that happened to coincide with the USU’s International Day, the reason why it’s important for the USU to get involved is that currently the Sydney Abroad office is not currently being accessed as many students as it could be, and I think the reason is that a lot of students are unaware and I think also, I wrote in my policy statement with things like scholarships and OS help, but also what I wanted was things like forums, so having exchange students coming to talk about it.
I think this is really valuable, for me the process for applying was very contingent on me being able to ask people I knew who had already gone for advice and especially financially and socially how I should plan my trip or whatever, was really heavily reliant on that, but in my role as someone who is a peer advisor, I have had so many people come in who just don’t know anyone who has gone on exchange, and for them it’s really hard to make the first move of deciding if they want to go, and then it’s even harder for them to then plan out how they will do these things.
So I think for those reasons, these forums would be really beneficial if they were run by the USU because, a. the USU has the structural capacity to do that, also, b. I think it could also involve a lot of international exchange students who come here. And it might incentivise them to get ACCESS cards or just be more involved in the union.
HS: 2016 SRC Councillor is on your CV, but according to last year’s Honi attendance report, you only attended 2 meetings. Do you think this could be a comment on your commitment?
LT: The SRC and me just kinda clashed. That being said, the first thing to clear up with the attendance, the way they took attendance was that they took it at the end of the meeting on who was still there. I was on the Debates Committee that semester and our meetings were also on the Wednesdays, and I was the Socials Director, which meant that I was the one charged with passing the card to the socials venue. I will admit that I did skip some meetings, but there were many that I did go to and leave early because I wanted to go to the social and pay for everything.
I definitely do agree that my commitment to the SRC would be unparalleled to any commitment I would have to the USU. The reason that is true, is because for me personally for someone who isn’t involved on a faction on campus, I felt like I was often marginalised as someone who wasn’t, so for example I did run with Grassroots as an independent, and even though I made it very clear I wasn’t going to be like voting with them or going to join, I felt like a lot of times on council, if I was the one who was the split vote in the middle and perhaps could change the outcome, people were very heavy in targeting me and yelling at me in a way I was very uncomfortable with, didn’t feel like I had much of a voice on that council, so yeah, I think my commitment to the USU would be quite different.
Firstly, it’s a much smaller board. Secondly, it’s much less factionalised. Thirdly, the kinds of organisations and day to day administrative work is much more laid out.
HS: So to clarify, if you had a clash with USU Board meetings, you would prioritise USU Board?
LT: Yeah, I think.
HS: At the beginning of your policy statement, you point out that less than 30 per cent of students have an ACCESS card. We were wondering how the policies that you have then laid out, which are all very specific, relate to improving membership?
LT: I think that the membership problem is quite a significant one, but also, incredibly hard to tackle, which is why my policies are very specific in the way that this is one policy that leads to this. I was initially thinking of some creative ways to improve ACCESS membership, but all the ones that I spoke to people about and especially people who are already on Board, were not very feasible. So, I know a lot of people want free ACCESS or we want means testing, but when I talked to people about that those things were just not feasible so I didn’t want to include them.
That being said, I would 100 per cent be in favor of looking towards ways of expansion, for example, the one idea I had was exchange kids getting ACCESS and maybe having more programs that included people on campus, so people saw the benefits of the Union, they would be more likely to join. Those are sort of the tangential ways I think I could improve it.
HS: Who do you think has been the most effective Board Director over the last few years?
LT: Ohhhh, ummm, ahhh, I don’t want to give too generic an answer. I kind of want to say two people to be honest. Maybe I’ll say my first one.
I think Koko has been incredibly effective, and I think she has been effective because of my one on one conversations with her and also my conversations with Mikey, it sounds to be me like she has been very … I mean, she ran as an international student and I think she had a clear agenda in mind but I think what stood out to me more than anything is that she is someone who is not willing to let people push her around or let their voices be heard over hers.
I, for example, heard that when they were making the USU’s WeChat, that there were a lot of things that people wanted to change from what she initially suggested and I heard she was very firm in making sure that the things she wanted got through and I think that makes you a very effective Director, if you know what you want to achieve and you are willing to do that even if you might have to stand up to some people, and I think especially given that there are lots of structural reasons why other people may be able to use their influence, she has been very effective in that respect.
HS: If elected, have you thought about who you would be supporting for President?
LT: I think Honi knows this, but Grace is obviously helping a lot with my campaign, not just as friends but also we have worked together before on the Debates Committee, I think Grace is incredibly competent person, so I guess my answer to that is I would probably vote for Grace, touch wood, if I get elected.
I think the reason I would is my experience of working with her is that she is incredibly efficient and I also think she is someone who is good at prioritising things that need to be done and not stressing out about needing them all to be done at once. And I have also felt this with her helping me out on my campaign.
Also, over that, she is also very good at making sure she doesn’t divide or alienate people, and for a President, I think that’s one of the things that Mikey has done very well, he has been very inclusive. I think that is something that Grace is 100 per cent likely to follow with.
HS: Do you think the Board should be able to hold meetings to discuss certain things in camera?
LT: Oh like, to be filmed?
HS: No, like, in camera as in private, so confidential discussion items, no media, no minutes …
LT: Oh, oh, yeah, I think that sounds fine. But it’s like filmed?
HS: No, no, in camera is just like a fancy term for it.
LT: Oooh, you mean like before the meeting when they close the door and it’s just …
HS: So yes, it’s part of the meeting but only the Board Directors are allowed in and it is not minuted and the discussion items, are themselves, confidential.
LT: Yeah, I think there are some things that the Union does and they needed that because of like legal or political reasons for decisions they may make in the future, um, I think that is fine. I think also that if you are a Board Director and you know that something is being kept actively away from the students because of not just commercial interests, but for example, it is infringing on student interests, then I think that is the time when you as a Director should say this should be minuted or this should not be in this session.
But I think if it’s for a commercial interest which could help the USU’s standing then that should be fine.
HS: One last question on your policy, where would you want to see more menstrual products introduced and where are they currently sold?
LT: I know that right now they are sold in bathrooms and also at the mart next to Courtyard and also sold in the chemist in Wentworth. I think that they should be sold in places like Fisher Coffee Cart, like, and even if they are currently sold in bathrooms, the problem is that they only take coins, so even making it that you could pay on your card or actually be able to get change if you put in a note, that is what I want to see, yeah.
Note: this is a transcript of an Honi Soit candidate interview. Some responses have been edited for clarity.