USU Board candidate interview: Daniel Lee

The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2018 Union Board candidate, Daniel Lee

Independent | Education (Primary) II | Quiz Score: 27%
Interviewed by Elijah Abraham and Janek Drevikovsky

HS: Do you wanna start by telling us your name, your degree and what year you’re in.

DL: My name is Daniel. I am in second year primary education.

HS: And what slogan are you running on?

DL: Better safe than sorry.

HS: Yeah. And what colors?

DL: Royal blue.

HS: In terms of the USU, why are you running for USU this year?

DL: Ever since I came into the uni I’ve been a member within the USU and I feel like I’ve seen things that executives and board directors perhaps missed maybe not on purpose.

HS: What’s an example of the kind of thing they might’ve missed.

DL: So for example I think Wentworth building is quite tired, the facilities, I think could use a bit of a revamp.

HS: Is that something that the board has missed given that Wentworth is already slated for demolition and reconstruction?

DL: I haven’t heard any official reports from the university about that. I’ve looked up the strategic plan and it mentions nothing about that. And also there’s no official confirmation from the university that they’re going to demolish Wentworth yet.

HS: It’s pretty clear that it’s on the cards or least its’s something the board’s been talking about for a long time. Do you think that your policy, then, of refurbishing is actually anything new.

DL: Yes I think so. In the meantime I think it might get demolished in five years time but there’s nothing wrong in helping make student life a little easier by updating the facilities and when we do knock down Wentworth there’s nothing wrong in salvaging the new facilities, for example in the boys toilets there’s no bag hooks.

HS: So let me get this straight, you’re say you’d invest in upgrading the current facilities in Wentworth and then knock the building down later all the same.

DL: I would try to avoid knocking down the building ’cause where will the students go for food, and other amenities.

HS: Well, given that the Board and the entire USU has been moving towards an entire demolition and reconstruction of Wentworth, you’d reverse that whole policy.

DL: If that’s the way the Board wants to go then I will follow along but I do believe that Wentworth should be updated right now to increase accessibility. Know what I mean.

HS: So you’d spend the money on updating an old building. (Yeah.) Even though that building is going to be demolished at some point.

DL: Yes I would. Merewether was, I’m pretty sure, planned to be demolished as well but it hasn’t been demolished just yet. And also the university hasn’t made a confirmation as to when demolition will be. So if they were gonna demolish it soon then they wouldn’t invest in fixing, for example, projectors when they break. I think investing in new, other amenities in the Merewether building…

HS: Don’t you think it’s kind of a waste of resources to upgrade something even though it’s going to be demolished later because you’re spending that money when it’s all going to be destroyed anyway.

DL: It won’t be destroyed because I’m pretty sure. (I mean, it’s hard to keep things there when you’re demolishing a whole building) Sorry (It’s hard to keep things intact when you’re demolishing a building.) Oh so before we demolish the building.

HS: Is there any point in upgrading it, isn’t it sort of a waste of money?

DL: So that means you’re saying that the students should put up with dodgy facilities until then.

HS: I mean if it means that they’re going to get better ones and at a lower cost to them later on wouldn’t it be better?

DL: For people like me or/and yourselves as well, our degrees are gonna end probably before the new building comes in and students pay the amenities fee every year. So I think they deserve better than what we have right now.

HS: So you think we should focus on channelling resources into short term investments that make the lives of current students better rather than longer term more stable ones that will benefit future students?

DL: There’s nothing wrong in buying new stuff, putting it into the building then pulling it down and then diverting the resource somewhere else.

HS: But what if there’s not enough money to do the new renovation as good as it could be.

DL: Then that’s a different story.

HS: Okay that’s a different story, how will you solve that problem.

DL: That one, I’ll have to get back to you.

HS: How would you describe your political views.

DL: So whether I’m left or right?

HS: Just a broad understanding of your political view and if you align to any parties or anything like that.

DL: No I’m not aligned with any. I’m neither left nor right or I don’t classify myself as that. But I know that I’m a lefthander and I throw a ball with my right hand. So you could see a mix of both in the middle.

HS: What does that translate to your view on policy? So let’s take a USU example, last year you might be aware the USU board had to vote on whether to strike in solidarity with union, NTEU workers. They voted to not strike in solidarity. If you had been on the board at the time, what would your vote have been?

DL: I believe yes I would have voted to strike because everyone has a right to equal working conditions. Everyone has a right to go to work and know that they can feed their families.

HS: So even if that disrupted union income and made the union’s budget unsustainable by cancelling a day of work.

DL: Yeah I think that’ll be alright.

HS: So in that case you think the Board should be political in a sense?

DL: Yes and no. There’s a time to be a political and a time to be neutral.

HS: What would you say the time that the board should be neutral in?

DL: So sensitive matters. (Can you give an example?) So this hasn’t occurred yet but international students are currently advocating for Opal Cards. This I do not believe is the board’s responsibility. Some people …. I’m aware that that issue is there and it has been proposed for policies from some other candidates. I will endorse it but I wouldn’t put it as a policy because it’s not something the union controls, it’s something that the government controls.

HS: But do you think as a sort of lobby entity, the union should be throwing its weight behind something like that.

DL: I believe the SRC should be doing that because they’re all about advocacy and student representation rather than the union which is about student life on campus.

HS: Isn’t a big part of student life how we get to uni and whether we can do that affordably?

DL: That is true but the union I think is more designed for within the uni boundaries.

HS: So you would support in principle the idea of international students having Opal cards, you just won’t do anything to bring that about.

DL: Well, I won’t use the union to do it, but I will use myself if you know what I mean. So I don’t want to get the union involved. If the union is willing to get involved then I don’t see why not. But if the union doesn’t want to look into that matter I’m willing to go by myself on my own.

HS: The union, last year was supportive of the campaign for same sex marriage equality. If you had been on board at that time would you not have supported that campaign given it’s not a matter that’s just restricted to the uni you said was the criterion for uni involvement. (Could you repeat that question again.) So you just said that the Board, the union should concern itself with matters that are restricted to the university. Last year the USU came out in support of the same sex marriage equality campaign. Now that’s not the issue which is restricted to the university, it’s a broader societal one. So by that standard would you, had you been on board at the time have not supported the same sex marriage equality campaign.

DL: That’ll all depend on the flow of the board.

HS: What does that mean. Do you mean that if other board directors voted to go along with it, you would too?

DL: I think it’s, the same sex marriage is on a different level to international student Opal cards I think. So there’s the Yes side and the No side. I would rather not get involved in the politics of that because I think there would be so much argument.

HS: And yet at the same time you’re willing to strike in solidarity with NTEU workers, that’s okay? But other political matters aren’t okay? Where is the line?

DL: So this is people’s livelihoods. We’re talking about wages.

HS: Well. Same sex marriage is people’s dignity and their ability to love the person they declared publicly they loved the person they love. What’s the difference?

DL: If you ask for a pay rise, that’s something that everyone goes goes through. Would you not ask for a pay rise if you could?

HS: It doesn’t matter what I would do in this situation. Are you suggesting that feeling basic human dignity and the ability to allow somebody else is not, or have, your relationship recognised by the state, is not something that all people necessarily go through.

DL: The student board is about student life on campus. Sir, I believe it’s best if I remain neutral in this argument because if I take sides that wouldn’t be looking at the whole university, the university is divided. There’s the Yes side and the No side.

HS: The university is equally divided on the issue of strikes though so there are people in university who believe that we shouldn’t be striking. There are students that want to be able to access university services. So then why don’t you sort of give the same respect I guess to that particular no segment.

DL: Have you been to the city where you’ve seen homeless people. It’s unfortunate but on the news. I saw an article about a person stealing baby formula for their child. I believe he was he was trying to feed his family.

HS:  I’ve seen countless articles about gay people who’ve been the subject of bigotry and have clamoured for the right to have their relationships recognised in the same way that straight people have. So that’s the reality now. But at the time, before that vote would you have felt the same way that you feel so impassioned about somebody stealing baby formula? (Could you repeat that again.) I’m just not understanding. I think before we get into this really specific argument, this comes back to the idea of how you would make decisions on board. It seems like you don’t have much of a clear idea of which political issues you speak of with your political opinion, on which you’d stay neutral. (Yep.) Is it just going to come down to you going with the flow of the Board like you said before.

DL: The Board doesn’t usually comment on political matters. And also if they do and if it’s a controversial topic that is very sensitive to everyone, I would remain neutral.

HS: So given that most political matters have two sides, are you saying that you’d remain neutral on pretty much any debate.

DL: As I said, the University of Sydney Union board is for student life on campus. I believe the boundaries are within the university.

HS: Okay. Let’s talk about a couple of the Union’s policies on student life in that case and judge your, gage your position on that. Have you heard about any recent change to the USU’s alcohol funding policy for clubs and societies. (Yes.) Do you support that policy?

DL: I believe there should be some exceptions. There’s a reason why the Board did it. But I don’t think it should be cut off like that.

HS: Where should the exceptions fall? When the current facilities cannot accommodate the demands of the society or Club is asking or is planning for.

DL: I mean given that Manning Bar can host parties of, I don’t know what the exact figures is, but I’ve seen hundreds of people in there during OWeek.

HS: Do you think that would ever happen? That it couldn’t cater for demand?

DL: Possibly. The faculty, the Arts’ society for example is a very large society. Yeah

HS: So on the rationale, then, for the policy. It was introduced to promote safety. (Yeah.) Why should we make an exceptions to big societies if promoting safety is a good thing.

DL: I am aware that clubs and society executives, the President, I think it was the Vice President and the Treasurer have to undertake training with the union at the beginning of their terms. So I think if we … big societies would have more responsibility. I believe they would.

HS: Do you think they would be more responsible than the trained RSA holding servers at USU venues, who have to go through rigorous safety training?

DL: I thought you needed an alcohol license, when you book. So the venues that the society’s book even if it’s outside of campus I’m pretty sure have to have that alcohol license so I’m pretty sure that they’re trained to do so.

HS: But the USU’s argument is that its staff have to go through particular training programs above and beyond that which has particularly to do with how to navigate sexual assault and dangerous practices in an alcohol fueled environment and given that that training is provided. Isn’t that a better protection than anything you could get off campus or anything that the more responsible executives of these societies you claim would be able to give?

DL: When you put it like that. Yes. I think it would be better to hold it on campus. But that was before I knew that.

HS: Ok, so you’re now backtracking on your position on that policy you would implement it with no exceptions.

DL: When you’re given new information that you’re not aware of. I think it’s alright to backtrack. I’m a soccer referee, we’re allowed to backtrack on our decisions. Why. Because we’re human and because when new information comes in we follow along because that’s fair.

HS: And with that policy is one big point of contention with a lot of clubs and society execs…felt that they weren’t properly consulted in regard to it. If you were implementing a similar policy and knew that would affect C&S executives, how would you go about sort of implementing that, and would you sort of liaise with these executives.

DL: Yes I would have a consultation period. So where they can… so the Board will release what they want to implement and then they can comment on it and then we’ll make changes accordingly.

HS: Yeah. And how seriously do you take their feedback?

DL: Very seriously.

HS: So if they overwhelmingly were against a policy but you and the Board felt that this was in the best interest of students what would you then do. How would you then navigate it?

DL: So every single society opposes it. Then I would stop, take a look again at the policy and find out why. What part of the policy is not … the students don’t enjoy

HS: Yeah, assume the differences are irreconcilable. It’s a difference that you and the exec won’t be able to come to an agreement on. Would you then go ahead with implementing the policy?

DL: Depends on the situation.

HS: If you felt it was in the best interests students.

DL: That will vary. Because there’s always two sides to the argument. Some people are for it some people are against it. If all the societies were against it, then yeah there must be something very wrong with it then.

HS: But what if there isn’t. What if it’s just a point of disagreement. What if you feel very strongly that this is the right direction to take and that the USU should follow this and then the clubs and society executives are disagreeing with you. Is it something that, you have to make a final decision on it, you can’t really mill about for too long because these are policy things that need to be implemented. What do you go ahead without it?

DL: I would analyse their feedback. And see what’s wrong and try to change it.

HS: So do you think the USU has a role to sort of parent in that way or do you think it shouldn’t be more of an arbitrator or a facilitator?

DL: So parent as…if we implement a policy then it goes?

HS: I mean if you implement a policy, it goes, that’s how it works, but as an executive board you will sometimes have to make decisions that are in the best interests that you believe in the best interest of people that people might not necessarily be enthused about. Do you think the USU should be going ahead with this policies or is the USU’s role to balance the tensions of stakeholders.

DL: Depends on the situation.

HS: But it’s a situation where you personally, it’s a hypothetical situation where you’ve come to a decision and you think something is right and there is disagreement. What then is your sort of point of action?

DL: I will look into that disagreement, try figure out the problem. If the problem is unreasonable then yes I would push for the policy to pass but if I believe that it’s going to cause injustice to the students then I would oppose it.

HS: Let’s ask about another USU policy of recent times. Do you support the USU’s affirmative action policy for elections.

DL: Was this uh, wait could you elaborate on that.

HS: So the affirmative action policy ensures that in any given election year, a certain number of candidates selected have to not be cisgender men which means that in a year where six board of directors are up for election, three of them have to identify not as cisgender men. In a year like this year where five are up for election, two have to identify as not cisgender men. Do you support that policy?

DL: I believe there should be equal opportunity for all because equal opportunity. That’s what I believe in. (So do you support the policy). Whether I support the policy or go against is futile because it’s already in place and that’s how I came into this election.

HS: The thing is, it’s not futile because if you’re elected as a board director and you oppose the policy then you could take steps to unwind it. So do you support the policy? (yes.) Would you support a similar policy for international students being elected to board?

DL: Now that’s taking things to a different level. I think. (why is that.) So it’s saying it’s favoring one group from another. I think that would not be fair.

HS: Is it a matter of favoring one group over another. Or is it a matter like you said before of providing equal opportunity?

DL: Right now international students, without the introduction of that policy, are participating in elections. So I don’t see why we would need that policy just yet but if they were to drop then yes, I think international students should get a say. Cause it’s their student amenities fees going in as well.

HS: Things on this year’s campaign then. Of the candidates this year, who are your top three picks.

DL: Rather than top three, I’ve got a few candidates that I think it will be good to work with. These include Lachlan… Bec, I think is pretty nice as well. Zimeng I think would be good. All of our policies tend to align in some area. And also I think Maya as well.

HS: Have you started negotiations for preference deals or anything like that.

DL: No not yet. (No.) Okay.

HS: On the flipside, who would you not be able to work with out of this year’s candidates?

DL: I haven’t communicated with all the candidates just yet so I can’t really comment on that.

HS: But surely you have some sense of the person who’s policies are least compatible with yours, ideologically is most different to you?

DL: So you’ve changed the question now.

HS: Right. No. I was just following up asking whether you have a sense of who you might not get along with as well.

DL: I think they’re all good people. I think we’ll find a compromise somewhere.

HS: In the upcoming board presidential election. (Yeah.) If you do get elected to board, who would you be voting for?

DL: I’ll have to see what each presidential candidate wants to bring to the board before deciding on that because I won’t look at people’s appearance nor how influential they are before deciding.

HS: Alright. And let’s have a talk about your policies now, broadly. Firstly, what is it that you think you can bring to the union above other candidates that are running this year?

DL: One of my policies is the Medical zones. So right now if I scraped my knee on the concrete, I wouldn’t know where to go. Or it’ll probably be the union pharmacy to get bandages but I think students should have access to urgent medical supplies including bandages, crutches, Panadol.

HS: Well I mean there is a University Medical Center. In fact, in this building, in the Wentworth building, why can’t students just go there?

DL: So you would go to the University Medical Center for a headache?

HS: Would I not also go for a cut or for antiseptic or one of the other things you mentioned in the policy?

DL: That hasn’t been, I think very well advertised so I wasn’t aware of that.

HS: I mean, do doctors need to advertise that they treat basic injuries?

DL: But I took a look at the appointment system and it’s backlogged for at least a week. So would I wait one week to go fix a cut. Or would I go someplace where I can go get bandages and antiseptic cream and fix it. Right now.

HS: Is this really a priority. I mean how many students actually do graze themselves while walking through university. This isn’t a school playground where people are falling out of trees. So these students are really clamoring for bandaids on offer?

DL: Not necessarily bandaids, but a panadol will be helpful because I was sick a couple of weeks ago. I forgot to bring Panadol from home. So rather than going and buying Panadol when I’ve got a full pack back at home I could go to the medical zone and then grab a Panadol and then feel temporary relief for that day. And then when I go home I would go get some more Panadol.

HS: Have you had a look at, I mean, I guess obviously, but have you had a look at how this would be funded and what kind of cost this could incur.

DL: The union pharmacy already buys medication to resell back. So I’m pretty sure they have a good relationship with suppliers.

HS: So are these, so these medical zones, are they are going to cost money or they going to be free to students.

DL: I think they should be accessible to students.

HS: Does that mean free? (Yep yep.) And is this for all students or just students with just ACCESS?

DL: I think they should be for all students. (For all students, okay yeah)

HS: So presumably that’s going to cost a little bit of money. Right. If nothing else changes where you going to take that money from, what are you going to reduce funding in the USU’s expenditure so you can fund this policy.

DL: I’m pretty sure the USU has sources of income which we can divert to this I don’t know. Yeah. (For example?) I’ll have to get back to you on that. But I’m sure they do.

HS: I mean just, just kind of impressionistically, you presumably know what kind of services the USU provides, what kind of programs it runs. Is there something that comes to mind which you’d cut money from which you could instead put into your medical zone program?

DL: No I don’t because I believe… equal. No I think all the activities that the union runs right now is equally important.

HS: Okay let’s talk about one of your other policies in that case. You want to enhance the ACCESS app. Yet in the same policy you want to reintroduce the physical ACCESS card. Yep. Why are you proposing to, at the same time, you improve something electronic but then bring around cards which were scrapped largely for being inconvenient and costly to produce.

DL: The ACCESS app right now is very problematic I think. Because I switch phones and it tells me to contact the ACCESS desk. (Yeah, mine does that too) And when I update my phone, the app tells me to punch in my access number as well as my phone number again and the keyboard is not very responsive in my opinion. So I think it’ll be best if we’d change that up.

HS: So does that mean rather than focus on improving the app, you just want the physical cards back?

DL: Both. I want to do both. So I want to. So obviously there’s some people who prefer electronic cards and some people prefer physical cards because mobile phones break, mobile phones run out of battery. So if mine ran out of battery or if mine broke and there’s an ACCESS event like free sausage sizzle for example or free breakfast and I can’t show my ACCESS card then that’s a waste of money I think for the students.

HS: So you then introduce reintroduce printing facilities for ACCESS cards. You would reintroduce photobooths for physical access cards. You would employ people during Oweek in order to take photos for access cards. All of that costs a bit right. And that’s money which you would then have to spend in addition to producing the app and improving presumably the app like your policy says. So isn’t that just not sustainable?

DL: The USU website, I’m pretty sure says upload a photo of yourself, so getting students to upload a photo of themselves I think will be good. I think it will save money there. Printing facilities, The University of Sydney I’m sure has printing facilities somewhere for I.D. cards.

HS: Sure the university might have it (I think they’re outsourced to Melbourne). Yeah if they’re outsourced to Melbourne then it’s probably out of the question, but even if the University did have them, would the USU be able to use those facilities?

DL: I think we can ask them cause if we don’t ask, how would they know that we want them.

HS: I guess you can try. So what kinds of changes are you proposing to make to the ACCESS app.

DL: Yep so, improve as in, so I don’t have to log in every single time I update the app, update so that I have more use of the app because right now I only just use it for scanning my card and I think it’ll be good if we can have some sort of activity log. So it shows how much we’ve saved, how much money you spend societies that you’ve recently visited. Even event attendance kind of thing?

HS: Are these really the key issues with ACCESS though. Surely what students are really clamouring for is cheaper ACCESS first. (Yep) Do you support that (yes). And how would you bring that about?

DL: I’ve looked at previous year and other people proposed like scholarships for e12 recipients. But that didn’t come about. Right now there’s Afterpay, one of the other candidates prefers Afterpay. I think that would be a good idea to help spread the cost of course that will make it cheaper, it’s just paying the same amount except over time. I think the USU comprises of a lot of students so I think we can get sponsorship deals from other neighbouring businesses to help cover the cost.

HS: And in one of your other policies, you talk about improving the main campus as well as the satellite campuses. What presence does the USU actually have on satellite campuses that can be improved.

DL: Yep so. The USU has food outlets satellite campuses (which ones?) Mallet Street has a cafe there, the Conservatorium of Music had a music cafe but it was closed.

HS: So the USU gave up the tender for, gave up the lease for that cafe quite a while before so would you then advocate that the USU repossessing that cafe or bidding for that tender again? (Yes I think so.) Okay. Given that it’s currently, the lease is currently not up for tender. How do you think that that’s going to be possible.

DL: I think we can introduce portable food stalls so it’s better than students running all the way down to Circular Quay to grab food and then run back for class. It will be much easier and hopefully it will save them more money.

HS: So is portable food stores one of the policies you want to implement for satellite campuses. Are there any other ones.

DL: Back onto the Conservatorium of Music, the short term term would be to implement portable food stores in the future, I’ve seen your articles and it shows that the University of Sydney and the Department of Education have to negotiate?

HS: My understanding is that’s because the Conservatorium of Music also plays host to a high school.

DL: Yep yep so I think the USU could perhaps assist in those negotiations.

HS: Alright, coming to the end now, beyond your policies, we just want to ask more broadly about what experience qualifies you for this role, the USU is an organisation with a 28 million dollar budget. You list some experience= on the policy statement, it’s limited basically to your experience in 2018. At least, of organising and executive roles, do you think that’s enough experience  to qualify you to be a board director.

DL: There’s nothing wrong with learning on the job. And there’s also youth. Lack of experience does not necessarily mean lack of dedication. So I think I’m very dedicated to support the students. And also it’s been shown through my involvement in the faculty board and also the academic board.

HS: So all the other candidates said, the same thing, learning on the job, they have the dedication. Dedication the great thing, but again at the end of the day, a lot of what the USU does is very much day to day administrative work a lot of pushing papers, liaising with different stakeholders, the AGM, the staff, the USU. Why are you more qualified than the other candidates to take on that role?

DL: I think it’s because of dedication. (That’s what they all said though). But I’ve been through a multiple society, if you could say. I’ve been through USyd Update. I’ve communicated with the production teams as well as the presenter in figuring out what would be the best for the video. I have liaised with other student members of the faculty board, as well as the academic board.

HS: That’s about all we had so might leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

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