SRC President candidate profiles
We sat through three 30-minute walk-and-talks with your SRC President candidates; here's what we learned.
Imogen Grant | 53% in our quiz
Interviewed by Justine Landis-Hanley and Ann Ding
Political affiliation: Grassroots
Imogen Grant came into our office accompanied by her campaign manager and current co-General Secretary Daniel Ergas. He read through a spare copy of the quiz we had while Grant filled in her answers, reassurring her “that was a really hard quiz, I wouldn’t have gotten 2 per cent” when she handed her paper over. Our interview with Grant was peppered with his choreographed nods of encouragement and well-timed laughs, making us feel less like journalists and more like live audience members on Everybody Loves Raymond. We don’t mean to imply any correlation, but we hear Michael Spence’s head of media relations sits in on his interviews too.
It’s understandable, though, that Grant’s team are as precious about her as they are about winning this election: she is their golden goose, the phoenix rising from the dumpster that is Grassroot’s SRC campaign (ah, we see a bird motif emerging here).
For the first time in living memory, Groots were excluded from the SRC Council race after handing in their forms in less than a minute late. Since nominations closed, Groots’ Presidential candidate, Grant, has been forced to abandon the green and run on the colour yellow in order to become the face of Switch brand – a group of independent-progressive candidates, who got their nomination forms to Paulene before COB.
As the current Co-Wom*n’s Officer, Grant boasts extensive involvement in the SRC and proven success in activist campaigning. Nonetheless, her test scores reflect holes in her institutional knowledge of the SRC — she names some, but not all, of the committees on which the President sits, and, despite supporting the staff strikes, incorrectly cites the universities’ inflation wage offer versus that which staff are demanding. She still came top of the class in our Presidential quiz, beating out current SRC co-General Secretary Bella Pytka.
Grant performed better during our interview, providing thoughtful and impassioned answers to our questions. She brands herself as a “genuinely” left-wing and progressive candidate, and perhaps most radical is her proposed stipend reform: Grant wants to redistribute some of the President’s salary to currently unpaid Office Bearers in the hope this will encourage more work from their portfolios. When asked whether this would impact her office hours, she admitted to hoping that cutting her pay would equate to cutting her time-commitment in the role. While explaining that this change would only come with the expectation that more paid Officer-Bearers would share a greater responsibility of SRC work, this kind of honesty is nothing short of a political misdemeanor.
Her ideas for getting councillors more involved in the SRC verge on idealistic. She plans on meeting more consistently, and developing professional relationships, with OB’s, councillors, and Ex-Officio SRC members to ensure portfolio’s are active and stop the slew of inquorate council meetings.
Unlike her competition, Grant stresses that she hasn’t come into this election as a “career politician” What Grant fails to realise is that hacks are hacks, and even if she isn’t running in this race for the sake of power, many of the councillors elected next year are. Not to mention, next year’s council will be comprised of almost solely Liberal and Labor candidates, unless Switch can pull some rabbit out of a hat.
Grant evidently lacks the political polish and stupol credit worth of her opposition. Her plans for the SRC’s future bank on its elected members being willing to prioritise an organisation over factional interest. For Grant, winning this election would only be the first hurdle in a series of improbabilities.
Bella Pytka | 50% in our quiz
Interviewed by Kishor Napier-Raman and Aidan Molins
Political affiliation: Labor (Sydney Labor Students)
Bella Pytka’s interview was like a 30-minute walk and talk, characterised by all the blandness you’d expect from someone who knows that the backing of 3 labor factional machines makes them an obvious front-runner. Pytka is a member of Sydney Labor Students (one of the two Labor left factions on campus), and is currently General Secretary.
As a candidate, Pytka offers little we haven’t seen before. She is by all means competent and experienced — as General Secretary she was deeply involved with crucial administrative issues such as the budget, and was instrumental in passing much-needed reforms to shorten the SRC election period. Given her ability to unite the three Labor factions behind her, Pytka is doubtless also compromising and pragmatic. In her own words, she has “always been a team player”.
Yet ultimately, Pytka’s is a classic Stand Up campaign, with much of her policy statement devoted to offering vague platitudes about fighting back against various government policies that affect students but which the SRC realistically has little ability to change, notably getting travel concessions for international students and stopping funding cuts to the higher education sector.
Nonetheless, Pytka provided a reasonably thorough, if slightly scripted, account of how the SRC might attempt to bring about such change. She wants to get the 10,000 signatures required to get a petition on international student concessions before parliament. Failing that, she would use committees to get University management to speak out in favour of this policy change. Whether both management, and the zealously anti public transport state government will listen is another matter. Pytka also noted the importance of student activism in halting proposed university fee deregulation in 2014 as an important precedent, when in reality that was largely down to a hostile Senate cross bench.
If elected, it’s safe to say that Pytka will offer little divergence from her predecessor. When pressed about what she would do differently from incumbent Isabella Brook, Pytka hesitated, before finally mentioning “publicising what I fight for in committees”, before conceding that Brook has “set the bar high” for future Presidents. Nonetheless, Pytka’s lack of a ‘bold’ vision may say more about the largely bureaucratic and managerial position rather than her own candidacy. Pytka stressed the importance of maintaining much of the good work Brook has done this year, such as increasing funding for caseworkers and legal services, and pushing for capped rents in student housing.
When questioned about whether its control by a series of Labor hacks might have contributed to feelings of cynicism and apathy towards the SRC among the general student body, Pytka indicated that the organisation perhaps needed to better publicise what it does well. In response to the high rates of absenteeism that has led to consecutive inquorate meetings, Pytka told Honi that she would “make sure councillors are . . . more aware that they must attend council”. Whether a stern talking to will fix a chronically lackadaisical attitude of our elected representatives remains to be seen.
Pytka reserved her strongest words for fellow candidate Brendan Ma, who she said had “a fundamental misunderstanding about how the SRC works”, characterised by his mixing up the roles of the Sexual Harassment and Women’s portfolios in his policy statement.
Pytka was definitive when asked about negotiating with Liberals at reps elect later this year — a firm No. Given Stand Up ran against alongside Liberals (and against Pytka and her faction) in last year’s SRC election, she clearly has a greater commitment to progressive values than many of her fellow Labor comrades.
Brendan Ma | 43% in our quiz
Interviewed by Siobhan Ryan and Nick Bonyhady
Political affiliation: Liberal
For someone who wants to take political egos out of the SRC, Brendan Ma sounds remarkably like a politician. He failed to specifically answer almost all of our questions despite being pressed on most multiple times. Honi asked four times whether he supported the SRC going on strike in solidarity with the National Tertiary Education Union this Wednesday, yet the strongest response he gave was that he wouldn’t attend his own classes but has “a zero-tolerance approach to intimidation or harassment” of students attending classes that day. When asked three times about whether he supported the Student Services and Amenities Fee, which his party, the Liberals, oppose, he framed his ticket as purely independent and “guided by the best interests of students”. He would not say if he thought SSAF was in students’ best interests, and also said “I think what we have to make sure is that … [SSAF is] used effectively”. The SRC is funded entirely by money from SSAF.
Ma spoke at length about the SRC’s issues with reaching quorum (the number of councillors required for the meeting to go ahead) at its monthly council meetings — there has not been a meeting held successfully since June. He appears very passionate about changing this, but was not specific about how he would do it. He said “people can expect a president that really commits towards KPIs for all of its councillors” (as if the SRC were a retail outlet) “and taking a really strong stance on making sure that we reach quorum”. When asked what this would mean, he said he would be “a president who is not afraid to sit down with every single person on the SRC” and make them aware of their responsibilities. Past presidents have adopted similar approaches to no avail.
Despite being the least experienced of his fellow candidates in the context of the SRC, on which he served as a councillor this year, he argued he was more experienced than them due to his experience on USU clubs and societies and at not-for-profit, “places that students really recognise,” he argued. Another of his CV points is his work as a student ambassador at USyd — the people who wear red shirts and sell the uni to prospective students. As a University employee, this effectively binds him not to damage the University’s reputation, an activity SRC presidents often spend a significant portion of their time doing. He said, “I don’t see any big conflict there,” and said the experience would be useful as he’s learned to explain aspects of the University such as the restructure. However, when Honi asked what he would do if he had to choose between resigning the presidency or his ambassador role if a conflict were to arise, he would not specify, saying, “I’m very comfortable saying whatever I need to say that is in the best interests of students as the SRC president.” Evidently, Ma is not so comfortable that he would commit to resigning a role that appears in contradiction with the responsibilities of the presidency.
Ma’s policy statement quoted the SRC’s small budget of $360 for its Sexual Harassment Department saying this meant it was not doing enough to fight sexual assault on campus. Asked whether that was misleading given the SRC also provides almost $5000 to the Wom*n’s Collective, which has led the campaign against sexual assault, Ma said he was “completely aware and cognisant” that WoCo received far more money but added “there’s a lot more to be done”. Given that Ma has not had any experience campaigning against sexual assault, in contrast to both of his opponents, it is unclear why he expects voters to believe he will be more successful in the area.
Overall, Ma walks like a Liberal, talks like a Liberal and, in his interview, parried questions like one.
1. How much money is USyd set to lose from the Liberal federal government’s proposed cuts to higher education? (1 mark)
2. What percentage of USyd students did the AHRC survey find had been subject to sexual harassment? (1 mark)
51 per cent
3. Which faculties are being amalgamated into the new science faculty? (2 marks)
Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and the Faculty of Veterinary Science
4. The SCA is coming to main campus. Where will it be housed? (1 mark)
Old Teacher’s College
5. How much money did the SRC give to the NUS last year? (1 mark)
6. How much money are USyd staff asking for as an annual pay rise? How much is the Uni offering? How much did staff receive in the last EBA? (3 marks)
2.4 per cent increase, 2.1 per cent increase, 2.9 per cent increase
7. How many days (including weekends) were cut from the SRC digital campaigning period this year? (1 mark)
8. Which senior USyd figure was in charge of the overhaul of student services? (1 mark)
Deputy Vice Chancellor (Registrar) Tyrone Carlin
9. Suppose someone wants to sue Honi Soit for defamation. List each party who could be liable. (6 marks)
Author, editors, Directors of Student Publications (DSPs), SRC president, the SRC, Spotpress (our printers)
10. On how many Uni committees does the SRC president sit? (1 mark)
11. How many council members are elected to the General Executive? (1 mark)
12. From lowest to highest, rank the SSAF received by student organisations in 2016. (6 marks)
Student Support Services, Cumberland Student Guild, Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association, SRC, University of Sydney Union, Sydney University Sport and Fitness
13. How much SSAF did the SRC receive this year? (1 mark)
$1,734,913 (would also accept $1,689,174 due to ambiguity after previous question)
14. Why are there 33 councillors? (1 mark)
One councillor per 1,000 undergraduate students.
15. How is a SRC constitutional change passed? (1 mark)
With 21 days notice, by a two-thirds majority of the Council or the student body in a referendum.
16. How can a president be removed from office? (1 mark)
A president can be removed with a petition of 500 students followed by a 2/3rds majority vote at a general meeting with at least 200 students present.
17. Name the committees that report to the Academic Board? (4 marks)
Academic Standards and Policies, Graduate Studies, Undergraduate Studies, Admissions
18. Who chairs Academic Board? (1 mark)
Associate Professor Anthony (Tony) Masters