Pick your poison: SRC presidential candidate profiles

We sat down with this year's crop of SRC presidential candidates; read all the howlers below.

Jacky He | 18% in our quiz

Remember back in Year 6 when the kid running for school captain promised coke in the bubblers? That’s Jacky He. He thinks the SRC should serve students—especially international students. But unlike the other candidates, He imagines “service” not as activism or casework, but more as providing utilities, something closer to what the USU does currently. Think subsidising mobike rides, offering academic tutoring or holding careers fairs.

Most of these policies are well outside the SRC’s current funding levels or organisational capacity.

That may speak to his faction’s lack of experience within the SRC: though himself a domestic student, He belongs to Panda, a Chinese international student grouping. Panda only debuted on the stupol scene in 2017, and despite winning the highest number of council seats and several executive positions, has taken a hands-off role over the course of this year. Its founder and key personality, Board Director Hengjie Sun, has strong ties to the Liberal Party through ally Jacob Masina. Jacky He denies he is a Liberal, and is running as an independent who stresses that he really likes former Labor premier Bob Carr.

The more we asked about He’s political beliefs, the cagier he got: eventually he confessed he puts little stock in ideology, and for him it’s about whether or not “you treat me well” and “whether I like your values”.

That said, He seems genuine in his support for international students. One of his key policies, in common with Alex Yang, is continuing the campaign for international student opal card concessions. He’s also been active on the executive of the China Development Society, a pro-China campus group. In spite of this, he was equivocal when asked whether he supported Tibetan independence. Another of He’s more achievable policies is translating Honi Soit into languages other than English.

But that’s where He leaves the world of the doable. His policy suite proposes 20 per cent subsidies on all textbooks, buying two charging stations for every University building and offering a discount for all mobike rides on campus. He doesn’t seem to have costed these measures, but Honi’s conservative calculations suggest they’d come in at over $100,000. The SRC’s budget is so stretched that its 2018-19 surplus of just under $300 was a cause for celebration.

He claims these measures appeal to the average student, and there’s data—surveys asking what students want—to back it up. But clearly, he missed the part where voter-driven policy actually has to be achievable, because otherwise voters get Very Disappointed when you don’t achieve it. He says he’ll seek corporate sponsorship to fund his policy suite; it’s unclear which companies will want to invest in a notoriously anti-business, radical organisation. Probably not the arms sector, for a start. Or the fossil fuel industry. Or any firm with investments in Israel. He’s own proposal: get newspaper companies to donate, which they’ll do since they definitely have lots of money and aren’t currently laying off hundreds of staff at a time…

During his interview, He became flustered when Honi raised the obstacles his policies would face. He said he “hadn’t thought too deeply” about where he’d get the money, and resiled from a few specifics, admitting a 20 per cent textbook subsidy wouldn’t be feasible.

The real risk is that a He presidency would neglect the key areas where the SRC actually can help students. His policy platform had nothing to say about the SRC casework, legal or tenancy services; even though He himself served as 2018 housing officer, he seemed not to see any room for improvement, saying “we’ve developed a very refined service here that meets the needs of a large number of people on campus.”

Mobikes, careers fairs and chargers might sound great in a walk and talk. But casework is at the heart of what the SRC does. When it’s a question of passing or failing a unit, eviction or keeping a roof over your head, these are important services indeed. It would be a mistake to overlook them.

The full transcript of Honi’s interview with 2018 SRC presidential candidate, Jacky He is available here. 

Chia-Shuo (Alex) Yang | 24% in our quiz

Chia-Shuo (Alex) Yang’s policies for SRC President are brief to the point of non-existence. His single paragraph policy statement manages to use all the synonyms in the dictionary for “fight” and “discrimination”, which would be admirable if this were a competition for how many buzzwords you could fit into a paragraph. During our candidate interview, we gave Yang the opportunity to explain his vision for an SRC under his presidency.

It turns out that when boiled down, Yang’s platform can be reduced to one word: ‘publicity’. For a self-identifying left-wing activist—a political economy major, who positions himself as an independent alternative to Grassroots—it is ironic that his policy platform is essentially networking and publicity.

Yang wants to raise the profile of the SRC, through running events with the USU and SUPRA. He wants to go to USU club and society events to spruik SRC services by word of mouth, and to ask his society-executive friends to pass along the message. He wants to increase the following of the SRC Facebook group. He wants to “reach out” as President and personally attend as many collective meetings as possible. He wants the collective groups to “be active”, and says there are many things collectives could do additionally. Like what? Throughout our 30 minute interview, Yang gave no concrete suggestions on what those additional things could be, other than a suggestion that ACAR run a workshop on ‘How to identify what is racist’.

Managed by current Board Director Decheng Sun, Yang’s policy is in much the same vein as Sun’s ‘Fairer Uni for All’ campaign. The bottom line for Yang is that he wants to advocate for disadvantaged groups; a noble intention, which would be even nobler if it were backed by some substantial proposals.

Like fellow candidate Jacky He, Yang is not an international student, but says he considers himself “more related with international students because of my background”. However, Yang took pains to differentiate himself from He’s Panda and Shake Up backers, saying his team is far more involved with the SRC, engaging in protests and reaching out to other international students to raise awareness about the organisation.

Along with a lack of policies, Yang’s leadership experience leaves much to be desired. He cites his time in the Taiwanese army as providing valuable skills in organising people. He’s certainly fast to call out others for not being organised: during our interview, Yang accused current co-General Secretary and Panda member Yuxuan Yang of wrongly taking credit for a petition calling for international student opal card concessions, as well as not helping his counterpart Nina Dillon Britton with the creation of the SRC Budget. However, when asked how he would deal with councillors or office bearers not doing their jobs, Yang could only offer that he would “talk to [them] personally”; when pressed, he added he’d “exclude [them]” or “have some penalties”—actions that aren’t actually within the president’s powers, since only a 2/3 majority of council can remove an office bearer.

Yang also claims he’s a big supporter of the SRC’s activist side, but has so far only participated in protests, with no organisational experience. “For now, it’s participate, and then later on, once we become the office bearers, we will start to have more power to initialise operations,” he said. It’s a good thing  he’s not promising to Take Initiative.

As for the other services of the SRC? Yang said he would like to add a caseworker to help with the workload. “I don’t have any idea about how to collect more funds,” he said when asked where the money for the salary would come from. When pressed, Yang said he would cut the NUS affiliation fee and travel subsidies for delegates. Which is the closest he’s come to a tangible policy.

The full transcript of Honi’s interview with 2018 SRC presidential candidate, Chia-Shuo (Alex) Yang is available here. 

Adriana Malavisi | 66% in our quiz

They must be giddy over there in Labor land: for only the second time in recent memory, the presidential incumbent is not a Labor hack. Which means it’s suddenly easy to make a Labor hack candidate look like a breath of fresh air. And Adriana Malavisi is certainly a cog in the ALP machine: she’s a Labor right stalwart who works for the Australian Workers Union and has electoral backing from Reboot, a coalition of Unity and NLS (Labor Left). In any other year, she’d be old news—a party diehard looking to leap from SRC president into a political career. But given Grassroots’ radical year in office, Malavisi can promise to shake things up: goodbye to divisive protests; goodbye to firebrand speeches and solidarity pizzas. Hello to calm “representative activism”.

The gambit is basically this: students are sick of protests, so run on a platform prioritising welfare and services. Except Malavisi wants to have it both ways. To be sure, she waxes bilious about the “disconnect” between SRC and students, something she claims to have seen as 2018 SRC vice-president. If that’s true, the obvious solution might be to abandon messy activism altogether and give students uncontroversially popular things like free food. But Malavisi still wants the activism: she said she would fight for survivors of sexual assault, and described her political beliefs as “left-wing” and pragmatic.

In the end, it seems the only difference between Grassroot’s activism and her own is rhetoric. “Not the campaigns themselves, but the way people go about them.” The only piece of objectionable rhetoric Malavisi could point to? “Things like ‘Burn the Colleges’.”

In any case, it’s unclear how the president alone could bring about this culture of nicer protesting: in any year, a whole medley of office bearers are responsible for the the organisation’s campaigns and political direction. It’s possible key figures like the education officer will lead campaigns that are just as vitriolic as ever, especially if they don’t share Malavisi’s politics. The best solution Malavisi could come up with was holding discussions.

Malavisi also asserts University management is “reluctant to listen to us”, and promised she’d fix the relationship. Exactly how the relationship is broken is unclear; it’s also unclear what will make Malavisi such a uniquely effective negotiator. As a second year student, she has one year of experience as vice-president and a few club executive roles. When we pressed her further on experience, she told us to check her CV.

As far as her VP experience goes, Malavisi leaves a lot lacking. Her big ticket achievement this year was this semester’s Welfare Week, an event plagued by organisational disasters. Malavisi took some of the blame herself, but was eager to point out other councillors and office bearers “were not on board with it”. What followed was a chaotic explanation of slipshod volunteer rosters, marquees falling through and a last minute Bunnings run. Perhaps more worryingly, Malavisi didn’t submit a budgetary request for the Welfare Week event—and then later complained during an SRC meeting that she hadn’t been allocated funding. Malavisi’s version is that she didn’t bother applying for funding after Imogen Grant told her she’d be limited to “$500 for snacks”. Because fuck snacks.

Next year, if elected president, Malavisi wants to run two Welfare Weeks, one each semester, and hold more stalls on Eastern Avenue to engage students through one-on-one discussions. It seems these front-facing PR-campaigns are much more her style than rallies, and she says the two Welfare weeks “may not sound revolutionary, but it’s something”.

Another of Malavisi’s key policies is a specialised SRC lawyer for victims of sexual assault, something she calls her “dreamer policy”. To pay this extra lawyer’s wages, she said “we need to find more creative ways of getting funding”. What those creative ways are, Malavisi admitted she wasn’t sure, revealing a worrying lack of financial consideration. Her main suggestion was cutting the spending of office bearers (she took aim at the environment collective).

Interestingly, Malavisi was the only candidate to say that if she had been SRC president this year, she would have stopped the infamous ‘Nine Days in North Korea’ article from going to print. Normally, the SRC president only steps in to halt publication if an article could lead to civil or criminal liability or is discriminatory. Malavisi instead said she would have cut the North Korea piece because it was “ridiculous …. puff piece”

When asked what she thought the most notable achievement of the SRC has been in the past five years, Malavisi was stumped. She hesitantly mentioned Fisher 24-hours, free wifi on campus, and loan programs. How she can claim to “love the SRC”, but also not be impressed with any single one of the organisation’s successes is a head-scratcher.

The full transcript of Honi’s interview with 2018 SRC presidential candidate, Adriana Malavisi is available here. 

Lara Sonnenschein | 80% in our quiz

Lara Sonnenschein is left wing. Lara Sonnenschein is radical. Lara Sonnenschein says she won’t be a hack. Lara Sonnenschein promises effective activism. Lara Sonnenschein will be—more of the same?

It’s a hard conclusion to escape: Sonnenschein is cut from the same progressive cloth as current SRC President Imogen Grant. They’re members of the same faction, Grassroots—a diffuse left-of-Labor coalition. In fact, Sonnenschein has been a stalwart of the Grant presidency, serving as Education Officer and collaborating closely with the administration to oppose the Ramsay Centre’s western civilisation course.

There’s no doubting Sonnenschein is a passionate progressive and an effective activist. Perhaps her biggest achievement has been the Disarm Universities campaign, which is calling for an end to any investment or collaboration between Universities and the arms sector.

When asked what she’d do differently from Grant, Sonnenschein said she’d introduce a longer induction for SRC office bearers, bumping the current five hour session to a three day affair. The reason she’d do this? “A lot of office bearers and councillors are […] currently in the dark about how to run an effective campaign.” Again, activism is the touchstone.

If you share Sonnenschein’s politics, all of this is great. If you don’t then, too bad: she said she “would be lying” if she said she could appeal to all students. And, anyway, according to Sonnenschein, you’re an anomaly: the majority of young people, in her view, support socialism.

These views are common among the left: Grant’s presidency has been criticised as alienating all but the Grassroots converted. This year has seen spicy socialist memes flood the SRC facebook page and protests have largely been run by Grassroots alone.

Sonnenschein wants to double down on these areas. Each of her policies promises commitment to a particular campaign: think opposing cuts to education or pushing for a rebrand of buildings named after colonial figures. None of these are new campaigns, but it’s likely Sonnenschein would prosecute them with drive and skill.

But there’s a twofold risk here. One is that, since activism is highly visible, the casual, centrist observer may well assume that’s all the SRC offers, or that the SRC only engages with students who share its president’s politics. That mindset is a problem if it discourages students in need from using the SRC’s other, non-political services, like casework or housing support.

Sonnenschein denies a political presidency would turn students away from the SRC’s free services; she’s happy to continue running, non-political SRC info stalls, like the ones during OWeek.

But even if Sonnenschein doesn’t alienate students, the bigger risk is simply neglecting the SRC’s non-political services; Sonnenschein’s written policy statement simply does not mention them. In her interview with Honi she did say she’d look into bringing on board a specialised sexual assault solicitor. This wasn’t one of Sonnenschein’s launch policies, but it is a key part of rival candidate Adriana Malavisi’s platform. Make of that what you will, but at best this proposal looks like an afterthought. Fighting for students’ rights is great, but there are critical improvements to be made in the service sphere—improvements some of this election’s other candidates are promising.

Sonnenschein also doesn’t make it clear what kind of administrator she’ll be when the megaphone finally drops. She says she’s not afraid to sit down with Uni admin and be a lobbyist. And she’s confident she’ll be able to forge relationships with University staff, even when they’re exactly the figures she’s lambasted on the protest trail: take Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, for example, who is also chairwoman of arms company Thales and frequently in Sonnenschein’s sights.

Sonnenschein also promises she’ll set president’s consultation hours and isn’t cagey about budgetary management: if the University reduced SSAF funding, she’d cut the $20,000+ in travel subsidies offered to observers attending the National Union of Students annual NatCon. Sonnenschein herself attended the national conference as an observer in 2017, along with then-newly elected President Imogen Grant.

The full transcript of Honi’s interview with 2018 SRC presidential candidate, Lara Sonnenschein is available here. 

Quiz for SRC Presidential Candidates 2018

1. Who replaced Tyron Carlin as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Registrar)?  (1 mark)

No one, the position is vacant.

2. Name this year’s Welfare Officers (4 marks)

Sean Young, Seth Dias, Niamh Callinan, & Rebeccah Miller

3. How much SSAF did the SRC receive this year, as announced in the July SRC budget? (1 mark)


4.  Under the 2018-19 budget, what new staff role did the SRC introduce as a six month trial position? (1 mark)

Research Officer for Casework Department

5. The National Union of Students holds its National Conference, or NatCon, in December every year. Briefly explain NatCon’s purpose, who attends, and how the conference works. (3 marks)

NatCon votes on the NUS’ policy positions for the coming year and elects its office bearers, incl president; delegates from each university attend; the conference lasts three days, involves plenary session debate like SRC,  delegates receive one vote and vote along factional lines.

6. By how much did the SRC increase its NUS contribution from last year? (1 mark)


7. 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)

8. Which USyd academic is under investigation for supporting a former colleague’s decision to wear an offensive patch? (1 mark)

Tim Anderson

9. Name the six Uni committees that the SRC Presidents sits on (6 marks)

Student Consultative Committee, Academic Quality Committee, Undergraduate Studies Committee, University Executive Student Life, University Executive Education, Academic Standards and Policy Committee

10. Name four SRC collectives (4 marks)

Womens, Education, Enviro, ACAR, Queer, Disabilities, Indigenous, International students,

11. If there are 33, 447 undergraduate students, how many SRC councillors should there be, according to the SRC Constitution? (1 mark)


12. USyd has settled a legal claim laid by a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor earlier this year. What is the name of this former DVC? (1 mark)

Shane Houston

13. What was the substance of the legal claim? (2 marks)

Dr Houston claims rumours of a relationship with a junior male colleague were behind his dismissal in August last year. After being dismissed, he lodged a legal suit against the university claiming $1 million in compensation.

14. Name a member of the SRC permanent staff, other than Julia Robins. (1 mark)

Many answers.

15. Presuming that the role is shared, what is the size of each SRC general secretary’s stipend, as a fraction of the minimum wage? (1 marks)


16. Under the regulations, which office bearers are required to co-sign any contract that the SRC enters into? (2 marks)

President, General Secretary

17. According to the constitution, how often should the Executive of the SRC meet? (1 mark)

“The Executive shall meet regularly and if possible weekly during semester.”

18. Who is the NSW Education Minister? (1 mark)

Rob Stokes

19. Who is the federal Education Minister? (1 mark)

Daniel Tehan

20. Who is Philippa Pattison? (1 mark)

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education)

21. What month/year did the SRC Bookshop close? (1 mark)

March 2018