USU Board candidate interview: Mike Mao

The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2018 Union Board candidate, Mike Mao

Independent | Biomedical Engineering (Hons) II | Quiz Score: 31%
Interviewed by Alison Xiao

HS: Could you start by saying your name, degree and whether you’re in a political faction?

MM: My name is Mike Mao. I’m in my second year international student from China. I’m now doing Bachelor of Biomedical Engineering and I’m not affiliated with any political party but I would take everything case by case basis.

HS: So do you have any political views outside of university campus.

MM: No. I’m running as an independent.

HS: Should the board be political? Should it be motivated by your political thoughts?

MM: The board of directors should make a decision which will bring the Board on the right track but rather if it’s the decision is from a political party but it also would benefit the board and its students, I think that would be good. But otherwise there’s no real connection between the board itself and some other political party. It’s not necessary to have those connections.

HS: Why are you running for Board and not just because you love it?

MM: It goes back to my first year, I signed up for so many stuff all week. And I did a lot of international and exchange student orientations. As a member of the USU volunteer team, I see all the different kind of student lifestyles and I develop my own vision of the USU, which I think some things should be improved, some things should be addressed. That’s all from my previous experience.

HS: What do you think you can do with the Union that’s different to other candidates?

MM: My vision of the USU is to increase students well-being as well as close the gap between divisions that exist campus. I see many kind of different divisions. There are cultural divisions, social divisions, economic divisions and political differences. That’s something I want to close the gap with.

HS: Which of your policies best closes the gap?

MM: Out of my five policies, my Humans of USYD, Welfare Code, Access, basically just everything, all my policies can achieve my vision.

HS: How will the welfare code attract new students?

MM: The thing is if students’ mental health problem cannot be solved then it’s very hard for them to engage. So this welfare code, I aim to solve those problems which are below legal matters. The University of Sydney, they have their welfare code, called the Bullying Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy 2015 Edition. And addresses a lot about the definition of unlawful stuff. But they didn’t, everything is about unlawful. When you can define something below the legal matter, which is what I’m trying to achieve.

HS: Clubs and Societies already has a lot of individual welfare policies in place, as well as the USU clubs and societies education program. How does your policy differ from what they’re already implementing?

MM: My policy will be more in detail. I can show some examples of how my policy will be implemented on some situations. For example, let’s say that the alcohol consumption problem, it’s a really big problem in this university. Sydney Uni has some reputation about alcohol, and then let’s just imagine there is a guy. He goes to a Club and Society event regularly and always consumes a lot of alcohol and gets drunk. And that will damage both Sydney Uni and the Union’s reputation. Is there a way to prevent him from doing so? Restrict him from drinking too much alcohol in club and society events. Something we can propose in the Welfare Code is, let’s say, if the society executive, or the majority of society members think this person has drunk too much alcohol every time, then we can initiate a General Meeting, which if the majority of members vote yes, we can put some conditions for drinking alcohol on him. Such as, you can only drink three standard shots a night. Something like that and also for harassment. Before the harassment is getting worse to the point of it becoming a legal matter, how do we prevent and reduce those potential harassment. If there is a guy sending other people harassing messages on Facebook messenger, but it’s not illegal enough that you can call the police or let the uni security handle him. And then this Welfare Code will initiate a way that you can expel him from the society if you get a majority of members that vote yes. Something like that. 

HS: What is the USU Club or Society that you value the most?

MM: Right now I spend a lot of time on the international revue society. It was a proposal by the board of director Zhixian Wang last year as one of her campaign policies and she made that happen now. So I value this society very much. I had a great time with all of the cast during rehearsal

HS: What’s a policy or initiative that has impressed you

MM: I think the very recent one the alcohol consumption outside campus, the USU decided to no longer funds those events. I think this is reasonable for me.

HS: It was quite controversial. How would you have reached out to students who didn’t agree with the policy?

MM: When the Board made this decision to vote yes for this policy I think they have already reached out to many different identity groups, many different groups and asked them for their suggestions. I think this has already being done.

HS: What experience do you think you can bring to the table when it comes to leading students, or a proven example of your commitment to students?

MM: That goes to my experience in the USU Volunteer Team. I’m in a program called the ambassador program which we do lots of orientations and as the ambassador members, we also design some social events for exchange students. So I have the experience of leading new arrival students, hosting campus tours, hosting tours around Sydney as well as designing social events for them to engage with each other.

HS: Is there a reason for you to run this year as opposed to next year when you could’ve gotten more experience.

MM: The reason I think this year is the best choice for me is…from an independent’s perspective, I’ve already built up this vision of my USU. I think I could not wait for one or two more years to implement it.

HS: Do you think a lot of your policies target international students?

MM: No. My policies are targeting everyone in general, except the one that offering interpreting and translation services for mental health purpose to international or exchange students. That’s the only one. As a board director we have to think about everything not just one group. That will create more divisions. That’s something I don’t wanna see

HS: Would you support an Affirmative Action policy for international students?

MM: Last year, one of the candidates, Alexander Shu, he wrote down this affirmative action for international students, at least one board director has to be an international student in every year. I think this sounds reasonable but this is not a priority that the USU board needs to look at. If someone has the ability to lead students as a board director, and he or she got enough people to support him then this person definitely will be the board director. It’s the people’s choice.

HS: Do you support affirmative action for women?

MM: I wasn’t a person who voted yes for affirmative action in the board, but I would rather discuss with different people in this union and then make decisions.

HS: So you would consider getting rid of the affirmative action policy if there was enough support on board? You said you didn’t necessarily agree with that, is that correct?

MM: I believe people will choose the right candidate. It doesn’t matter their gender, religion, it doesn’t matter. People will choose the best candidate for USU Board.

HS: So say in this election you get the fifth amounts of votes, but there’s only one woman who gets more than you. That would mean a woman would be elected in your place, that you wouldn’t get a role on board because of the affirmative action policy. So do you agree with having that policy?

MM: If that is the case, and there is a woman identifying candidate taking my place, this is a part of USU regulation and I already signed and said I will obey all regulations. So I will have no argument for this.

HS: Would you continue to have this policy?

MM: I would think about it, if I was elected as a board director. As I mentioned many times people choose the best candidate, it doesn’t matter their gender.

HS: Let’s talk about some of your policies. This Humans of USYD page which you said would get rid of social divisions and barriers, why do you need to use student money to create this page rather than creating it yourself?

MM: So for those kinds of platform, we need a very broad audience space and the USU has already got their audiences, which is everyone who bought an access card. And then those programs require a very reasonable amount of human’s time to implement. Without USU funding, it’s very hard to make those kind of program. Do you know the Humans of Sydney Law? It’s on Facebook and you see the last post they did was in 2017 and it hasn’t been updated for a while. And I’ve seen some other Humans of Sydney…and it all died out because there wasn’t support for them.

HS: The USU already has their FB page showcasing students at Funch. Doesn’t the USU already take pictures of students?

MM: Right now the USU takes pictures of student to promote their events, all the volunteer photos in Funch are to promote Funch events. It brings people’s understanding to the USU. But my goal is to use the USU’s platform to get people’s understanding about each other.

HS: So you do think this is a good use of students’ money, to be starting a new FB page?

MM: It’s not necessarily a Facebook page. It will be, in my vision, it will a program of the USU.

HS: What do you mean by program?

MM: It’s like other programs which you get people to take care of. There will be editors, like Honi Soit, something like that.

HS: What form would it take if not a FB page? How will students find it?

MM: It’s like Pulp Media on the USU’s page. Of course this program will also use Facebook page to promote

HS: So you’re thinking of it as more of a website like Pulp? Could it be in Pulp?

MM: Pulp focuses more on media kind of thing, but this is just a photo blog so I think it would be separated from Pulp. But if there is a way to combine them together, of course.

HS: Another of your big policies was the access membership, splitting it into month by month. Have you considered the reason that the USU wants people to pay upfront is so that they know how much money they have for their budget for the year and that’s how they kind of forecast their budgets.

MM: I understand what you mean. Of course I acknowledge that our problem but the way this monthly thing will work, is there are two ways. First way is you still buy the whole year membership but instead of paying 75 dollars straight away, you pay $75 divided by twelve, plus maybe some surcharge fees for direct debit payment. You still pay the money for a whole year, you still purchase a whole year membership but you pay monthly. And the second way is to make you pay one month’s membership but that will cost slightly higher than $75 divided by 12. Let’s say you pay $10 every month, this will definitely attract those people who think ‘Ok if I purchase ACCESS membership for one year and then holidays and exams kick in, then it’s a waste and I will choose not to purchase ACCESS membership’. Some people will think in that way, and if they can purchase ACCESS membership just for one month, two months, three months but pay $10 every month, this will definitely attract them.

HS: A lot of those people won’t buy the yearly access card and then ACCESS membership might decrease. Do you think the union will run into difficulties at the beginning of the year when they count how many people have signed up at OWeek and they’ll have a smaller budget to work with?

MM: So for your question this would be the union…of course there would be difficulty if we implement another kind of payment options. Yeah of course it will be difficult. But this is something which, before this proposed model goes to light, this is something which the union must go investigating.

HS: When you created this policy did you think of any other alternatives to make ACCESS more affordable?

MM: Many candidates this year they wrote down something about decreased access payment. Yeah I think everyone wants ACCESS to be cheaper. Of course there are also alternative ways. But the way I propose, I think for myself I think it’s the best way.

HS: If you get elected to board, who out of this year’s candidates, would you be able to work best with?

MM: Everyone in this year, they are very competitive. very way in this year they are very competitive. So I think there are some people, they have the potential to be board directors, because from what I can gather, their policies are pretty good and their teams are very strong. So for example, in the male candidates there’s domestic students, there’s Lachlan Finch and Connor. From what I can gather, they are pretty strong candidates. I’m very strong as well.

HS: Do you think you could work best with …

MM: I will say their policies are very attractive. But if you are talking about working with them like a preference deal or later on in board, yeah definitely.

HS: So do you agree with those candidates the most, with their policies?

MM: Every candidate their policy sounds reasonable, but I think they are the people I would like to work with. There is also, in international people, there is also Janet. I know she’s a great person. We do international revue together. And I think she would be a great representative for international students if she gets elected.

HS: Which candidate do you agree with the least?

MM: That’s a tough question. For their policies, I think Daniel Lee, I agree with least. The reason is because, after I read through all this policies, I think he hasn’t done enough research about it. This is nothing personal, just from what I can gather from his policy. He said he would renovate all the USU buildings, that’s a money thing, that’s definitely a money thing. He didn’t give details on what exactly he wants to renovate. Of course after he discusses with Honi, and once that goes public, I will see more about his vision. His other policies such as medical zones, we already have medical area in Wentworth building, a pretty large medical area. And the last line of his policy focuses on main campus, as well as other campuses. That’s not even a policy.

HS: You mentioned you’d like to work with Connor, Lachlan and Janet. Do you think you will direct voter preferences to these candidates?

MM: There are too many unstable elements in the campaign. For example, I will know more about it once Honi Soit publishes their interview online. Right now, I don’t know much about the candidates except maybe Janet because she is a close friend of mine. But if we speak about a preference deal, there are too many unstable elements. If I decide to make a preference deal, then maybe it will be the last couple of days of the campaign where I can see how every candidates perform and how their vision of the USU is like.

HS: So you haven’t started negotiations yet?

MM: I’m open for negotiation

HS: Who do you think you’ll support in the upcoming presidential election if you’re elected to Board?

MM: Everyone knows there’s Liliana and Jacob. They want to be the president, I think they are very competitive. I’m not sure which one to choose but I know my friend Zhixian Wang, she is also quite a good Board Director and I think she has the potential to be president as well. But that’s a very tough thing to choose, and I can only choose if I get elected.

HS: So there’s been some controversy over recent changes made to the USU polling stations, so the Merewether polling booth has been closed and the ISL booth will only be open for pre-polling. What do you think about these changes?

MM: I think the uni has its own reasons for closing the voting station, but in my opinion, what one of the SRC people on Honi Soit said, all the voting stations should be equally distributed in the campus. I don’t support these changes but since they already changed it, it’s something we need to adapt to. It will make those people who only focus on international students, and say some international student candidates, their policy only focuses on international students, they are doing an international student campaign. I think it will be harder for them because there are many international schools they are in ABS doing a business degree it will take some time for them to walk to PNR and Eastern Ave and Wentworth building.

HS: You mentioned you don’t want to only focus on international students. If you were elected to board, would you follow people like Koko and Zhixian in wanting to do the international students portfolio, or is that something you don’t really want to focus your attention on.

MM: My vision is to close the gaps. I will do what’s necessary to close the gaps. If the international student portfolio is a way to let domestic students know more about them. But if there’s something in domestic for domestic students that will attract more international students getting each other to know, then of course I of course will also do it.

HS: When you talk about closing the gap, what are the biggest issues you see happening?

MM: So language barrier and also it’s hard for some people to get out of their comfort zone. And the last thing is the promotion hasn’t done enough. Many of my friends, when I tell them there’s an event today somewhere, maybe in Courtyard, they are like ‘Oh I didn’t know it’. The promotion hadn’t been done enough.

HS: How do you think you can promote it better?

MM: There is something in my mind, such as USU can use its own Facebook and Instagram to promote some clubs and society’s major event. Last year, there was a Japanese festival in the international student lounge at nearly the end of semester 2. This is something that the USU should definitely put on their Facebook. Let’s use the wasabi society as an example. The Wasabi society is going to host their annual Japanese festival in the International Student Lounge. Because the USU has their audience base on Instagram and Facebook, but right now, the USU spends most of their posts on social media doing some other stuff. Last year, they were focusing on coffee mugs, and there were some times they were focusing on campus fashion. I think they can do something for Clubs and Society using social media.

HS: When you talk about the language barrier and feeling out of your comfort zone, do you think that those two things that you said are more issues that face international students or face all students?

MM: It’s facing all students

HS: Even the language barrier

MM: Not the language barrier, but getting out of your comfort zone. The Language barrier will only cause the process of getting out of your comfort zone worse. So the priority is to make people get out of your comfort zone. Let’s say for promotion if they don’t know an event exists on campus, then of course they already feel ‘Ok, if I talk with strangers, I might feel a bit awkward,’ then this is a time that you need to let them know there are so many things going on. Maybe try out one or two and then you’ll feel better.

HS: Let’s talk about this counseling service translation policy. You’re suggesting that we provide free mental health psychologists to international and exchange students in different language. Are you thinking the USU will duplicate the CAPS service for non-English speakers?

MM: So for the CAPS service, they provide free mental health counseling services in English. What the USU can do is provide interpreting and translation services to international students, or students whose English is not that great. There are many organisations in NSW such as Multicultural NSW. They provide interpreting services, but it costs $200 for two hours, it’s something that a student could not afford. That’s why the union’s resources has to be spent on the most important stuff. For example our mental health problem.

HS: How many languages do you want to provide?

MM: It depends how many languages people are requesting

HS: If the USU says it’s too expensive, what are some other ways you could use the Union to achieve the same goal?

MM: I think my answer will be, so the alternative way will be providing more training to USU staff members. This is something other people also propose, like providing more training to USU staff members, club and society executives, to minimise the problem from the source. Something I know is prevention is always better than the cure. If the USU and clubs and societies can function in a way that will reduce potential mental health problems, then it’s definitely a choice to do so. I will put my main focus on translating and interpreting first. It is my vision and something I want to propose.

HS: Is it the Union’s responsibility or should the University be providing these services.

MM: The University hasn’t been providing these services and if the University hasn’t done it, then I think the student union should consider doing it.

HS: Have you considered lobbying using the Union to get the union to convince the university to hire people who speak languages other than English?

MM: I think this is something the union can also suggest to the University. If we also get support from the University, that would be much better.

HS: It will cost a lot of money to hire all these people who are trained in mental health issues and can provide translating services, where will you find this money, what will you take it out of?

MM: The money has to come from somewhere. There are many ways to get money in the USU, for example the recent alcohol policy change. The USU no longer funds off-campus alcohol events, that’s some small amount of money that can come from. As a board director, we see the financial situation of the Union and decide where to put the funds in. If I get elected, I’ll take a really deep look at the USU’s financial situation. This is something I can’t do before I get elected.

HS: Last question, your open air cinema is also going to cost money. How much do you think it’ll cost realistically?

MM: The thing that costs money is the licensing costs of the money. Projectors and screens are a one-off purchase, the thing that costs money regularly is the license. Different movies have different prices for their public screening licenses.

HS: So you think the only costs would be the movie costs?

MM: Yeah, let’s say we have the movie in Courtyard, and that happened in OWeek this year. We already have all the chairs from Courtyard so that doesn’t cost money because they already exist. The only thing is the license.

HS: And are there enough students keen to see these movies? Why do you think people want to spend their time watching movies on campus?

MM: This will be one of the ACCESS perks that membership can get. Just think about how many people have engaged with the FUNCH event every Wednesday. I was a volunteer for FUNCH and this is an event where the USU gives out free food, and all the food is gone in 20 minutes. People want free stuff to happen, and this free open air cinema in general can be other free stuff which can bring more engagement with students and also students who do not have ACCESS membership, after they see so many perks they might think about purchasing ACCESS. My other policy which is monthly payments for ACCESS will bring more accessibility for students.

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