SRC 90th Anniversary

SRC 2019: Fact checking the first 48 hours

We put the brands' social media campaigns under the microscope

An animated GIF which displays a rotating SRC logo on a grey background with text over the top that says "SRC 2019: POLICY"

Editors Pranay Jha and Liam Thorne are not involved in the 2019 coverage of the Honi Soit, NUS and SRC elections.

Stay tuned for Honi’s interviews with the presidential candidates and the results of the presidential and Honi quizzes.

The cat’s out of the bag. The hacks are ready to descend upon Eastern Avenue and their socials are up and running. There’s no turning back now for the 79 tickets in this year’s SRC race.

Honi knows that the beginning of online campaigning is an anarchic mix of last-minute photoshop and artificially excitable personas. It is, after all, the first hurdle for the contenders of the SRC race. Most brands have passed this test with flying colours (except Advance’s new brand Pro-Team, who failed to launch any public social media presence), but early exhaustion has set in for some, and it seems rather unvirtuous mistakes have been made. We’re here to fact-check the main brands in this year’s race.

Panda 

Panda has come a long way since its first foray into the electoral arena in 2017. For one thing, it has dropped “Warriors” from its name, and its page “Panda for SRC 2020” has doubled its Facebook likes from 2017, jumping from 80 to 160. Beyond a video that appears to have been made using Windows Movie Maker, Panda claims that Jacky He was the SRC’s “first international student as president,” a claim which is categorically wrong.

Although He is the first to win the presidency with the support of a substantial international student base, he is a domestic student, he holds permanent residency and he went to high school in Sydney. It’s not clear whether this error was made as a result of falsities told by He or whether it is an oversight made by a new generation of Panda campaigners.

Panda’s social media team seem to have realised this error because a WeChat article was amended to say He was the “first chinese student who won the Presidential Campaign in the entire 91 years history of SRC,” a claim which is, again, categorically incorrect. Vanessa Chan served as SRC President in 1979-1980. Some of these mistakes can be credited to the fact that Panda is a relatively new grouping and lacks the institutional knowledge of other more-established factions.

Panda also alleges that it “did a lot this year” in its video without the specificity that other factions have given to setting out their historical records. In 2016, Labor brand “Stand Up” went as far as to publish a Buzzfeed community post outlining 10 things it claimed to have achieved for students. Panda’s WeChat campaign cites the fact that it established the SRC’s WeChat platform and hosted Orientation Week, a pizza and beer party, and a recent free breakfast event.

Panda is contesting the election with the most tickets it has ever fielded, doubling to 10 from 5 in 2018, in a sign that it is gunning for the majority to lead the SRC alone, akin to what former SUPRA President Weihong Liang achieved with Infinity this year. 

Panda’s WeChat presence is also up and running, helped along by an early article penned by the SRC’s official WeChat page last week which claimed Panda “represents all international students” and omitted Advance. That article was taken down on request by Electoral Officer Casper Lu.

Noticeably absent from socials is Panda-offshoot “Cupcake” which is being managed by current Panda Councillor and Wom*n’s Officer Crystal Xu. Cupcake have promised Chinese breakfast on Eastern Avenue, hot water on every Fisher Library floor, free instant coffee before exams and a female leadership mentoring program.

The Labor Factions (Pump and Unite) 

Right out of the gate are the Labor factions, whose socials are planned meticulously by caucuses every year. This year proves no exception. Pump’s campaign materials, authorised by current SRC Education Officer James Newbold (NLS), are colourful and excitable. With promises as aspirational as lobbying to raise Newstart and cancelling OLEs, it’s fortunate some of Pump’s policies, like advocating against the University’s draft alcohol policy in order to “Keep Happy Hour,” and pledging Wom*n’s spaces at satellite campuses, are on the more achievable side.

Pump toes the Labor party line in a way which, if Labor’s current effectiveness is anything to go off, will face an uphill battle on campus as well. Conversely, Pump’s campaign video is a walking, jogging, awkward forward-rolling high-spirited emulation of Fit for Honi’s sports-themed video. Pump’s video features a cameo from USU Board Director Nick Forbutt and a few of yours truly’s articles this year. Pump, like the presidential candidate it supports, promises an end to the organisational turbulence that has defined this year’s SRC.

Speaking of toeing the ALP line, enter Unite. Aligned with Labor’s official student faction, Labor Right/Unity, Unite has promised policies which Liberals have advocated for in the SRC, including improved Wi-Fi on campus and ending Saturday exams. Unite’s policies are rounded out with a rhetorical flourish, headlined by its emphatic pledge to make “USyd more compassionate.” It remains unclear when Unite will begin doing this but we’re sure that this compassion won’t begin on the hustings with annual SRC elections seen as far more contentious than semester 1’s USU race.

Boost

Boost have opted for the format oft-favoured by presidential candidates with a conservative bent: drone shots of the Quadrangle, and closeup shots of several ‘University of Sydney’ signs around campus, as if to mimic a promotional video made by the University itself.

The video somehow goes for a whopping four minutes, and at times, it feels like Jakovac is trying to recite her entire policy document as fast as possible without stopping. We see a pastiche of candidates on Boost tickets who state their name and ticket name. We then segue into a commercial, Brand Power-esque presentation of her policies, with each appearing cleanly on the right of the screen as she explains them.

Among the policies Jakovac describes in the “Boost Your Studies” section of the video, many already exist. Jakovac wants to provide lab coat loans to science students, but the SRC already offers lab coat loans — they’re advertised alongside the nascent textbook subsidy program on the SRC website. Jakovac was supposedly involved in the implementation of that program, so one would think that she might already know this.

Similarly, in the “Boosting Student Welfare” part of the video, Jakovac proposes ‘new’ caseworkers for international students and satellite campuses. While the former idea has merit, Honi understands that SRC caseworkers do already make regular visits to satellite campuses.

A bulk of the promises have comparative adjectives placed before them to denote some kind of improvement: more free counselling, better support for special consideration and credit point transfers, bigger welfare week and health days, and so on. As is evident, there’s little explanation as to how anything will be more, better, or bigger.

For example, the SRC doesn’t provide mental health services (as we were all reminded after current SRC President Jacky He incorrectly stated the opposite in one of his Honi reports). It’s uncertain how Jakovac will implement “more” free counselling services on campus — will she lobby the University to employ more staff within CAPS?  Even if she does lobby the University if elected, there’s no guarantee that they’ll do what she asks of them. Will she herself see to the employment of an in-house SRC counsellor? If so, where? There simply isn’t enough physical office space in the SRC. There are a myriad of potential issues with this policy, none of which are addressed in this video. But there you go. More free counselling.

What is probably the most bizarre part of the video is no doubt the thirty or so seconds devoted to international student issues, during which Jakovac, SRC President Jacky He, and a few others engage in a painfully awkward exchange of some kind of transcultural baked good — we can’t tell whether it’s a cookie, a brownie, or a chocolate truffle.

Having borrowed a brand name used in lacklustre campaigns of old (see: veteran hack Cameron Caccamo’s 2011 disaster and Chloe Smith’s effectively uncontested 2015 campaign), we can only give Jakovac’s Boost our best wishes.

The Left Bloc (Grassroots and Switch)

The Left Bloc has taken the thematically consistent stance of using the same display photo, albeit with different colourations. The photos employ high school visual analysis techniques, using  vector lines to draw a viewer’s eyes to Liam Donohoe backlit by the afternoon sun and on higher ground than the F23 Admin Building, the home of University power. Make of that what you will. Switch’s social presence is decidedly and unashamedly activist. In its first two days, Switch has called for donations to the Djab Wurrung Embassy and also condemned the Monash Student Union’s decision to lock out international students from running in the annual election.

Grassroots’ page follows a very similar tone, although student services have been given greater prominence in its video with an emphasis on “better legal services” and “better mental health services.” According to their video, the only similarity between the Left Bloc and its opponents — including the “Liberals” and the “Ramsay Centre” — is a penchant for three-word slogans. “Independent,” “activist” and “experienced.” Perhaps, not all three are entirely true in Grassroots’ case. Donohoe told Honi in his interview that he couldn’t remember whether he was still a member of the Greens, having attained membership to take part in internal party ballots. However, by all measures, his membership would have expired a year ago if he failed to renew it.

Pro-Team 

Advance’s new brand, “Pro-Team,” has yet to come out with public socials at the time of publication. Their only presence has been isolated to private posts like that made by USU Honorary Secretary Decheng Sun.

Pro-Team has either labelled itself or Liam Donohoe “the true progressive one,” it’s unclear to us.

“Please also support my best friend Liam Donohoe for SRC president. I dare say he’s a person who understands how exactly SRC can help students to the largest extent but with minimum cost. Although from a Caucasian background, he fights so hard against racism,” Sun said in his Facebook post.

Cream for Honi 

Cream’s campaign has begun with lactose-induced enthusiasm. At least we know these wannabe editors are willing to put in the hard yards, and by that we mean cover themselves in food. Cream may hope the theatricalities of this dessert-themed stunt will distract from the fact that they still have no experience writing for the very paper they wish to edit, and seem to have no plans to stack their Honi CVs in the coming weeks.

For one thing, this video is certainly enthusiastic. There’s a collective energy that suggests a united front in the push to revamp this paper to something very different to what it currently is. In this completely visual montage devoid of voiceover, Cream turns inwards in a policy game that will look to highlight Clubs and Societies, introduce love letters and provide study tips and tricks for students. If this team are to be our new editors, students may end up with an eerie hybrid publication next year of USU news outlet PULP, the USyd Love Letters Facebook page and C&S newsletters.

Sporty coverage is a high priority for Cream. They promise to work with Sydney University Sport and Fitness (SUSF), an organisation subject to an ICAC complaint as well as a long-running Honi investigation into everything from its major governance changes to its funding allocations.

Cream’s fast-paced debut screening is no doubt effective, as is their quality cover photo. The brand of this campaign is well-planned despite their teams policies and quiz results leaving a little to be desired. That salmon pink campaign colour and the fanciful, fun allusion to all things sweet may nevertheless be timely with the emergence of Spring. We would also like to ask why this team would even consider putting whipped cream on a cornchip. It’s not a dip.

We might add that Cream’s video and their pastel colour scheme are reminiscent of the culinary mood of one such Spice campaign from back in the day. But culinary concerns aside, it’s obvious to us that Cream member Ben Hewitt has had cream photoshopped onto his face in Cream’s cover photo. The photoshop job, perhaps symptomatic of a lack of Adobe competency on Cream, is as glaringly obvious as it is different to Fit’s cover photo, who we can be sure have at least all met before the campaign’s commencement. Logistically speaking, Cream’s socials haven’t been very coordinated, with ticket members applying frames to old DPs before rolling out new display photos a day after.

Cream’s ice cream branding also reminds us of 2016 establishment ticket Scoop. But as a ticket with almost no engagement with Honi, it’s possible that Cream’s thematic allusion is unintentional, especially since members of the ticket have described this paper as “pretty trash.”

We’ll the first to admit that Cream has gone the extra mile. We only ate our chillies after all.

Fit for Honi

Fit’s contribution to the online campaign race is a nostalgic ‘Let’s Get Physical’ plan for a newspaper in seven aerobic exercises. Though we appreciate their ode to the classic tracksuit, we can’t help but find similarities in their sporty logo to previous Stupol campaigns. Retired USU Secretary Claudia Gulbransen-Diaz reached her USU board victory in 2017 with a fiery red muscle logo, that Fit might as well have just inverted on Photoshop. As we’ve mentioned, the logo also matches that of 2016 UTS Vertigo Campaign Flex.

Fit’s branding isn’t the only thing that feels eerily familiar. Most of their promises are not daringly original — more news, more multimedia content, more multilingual. Fit hopes to reintroduce an Honi podcast — but we’ve beaten them to it, having brought Rag Off to life only a matter of weeks ago. Their other promises of multilingual content, GIPA workshops, an events section, a comedy revival and video content are also recycled from previous tickets. Fit’s objectives seem based around continuing pre-existing parts of Honi, rather than coming up with new ideas. When they do have more novel policies, they seem questionable in terms of practicality or necessity. A paid Honi Soit delivery service? Would anyone pay for a free student newspaper when digital copies are readily available on various online platforms?

Like many a fun-filled aerobics class, Fit’s video looks to ensure that its participants will be satisfied with their gainss. One other promise suggests that the Fit team will be raising their heart rates and ensuring that all Honi editions are delivered to every satellite campus, even though satellite campuses already receive copies of Honi. 

With this  promise to bring Honi to satellite campuses and another commitment to platforming more student performance, one would assume that their Conservatorium member, Grace Johnson, will be a major voice in the development of this satellite campus reportage. However, Johnson is notably absent from this week’s fitness class, not featuring in the video at all. Furthermore, Fit’s two international students are pigeonholed into a twelve-second segment on the multilingual section.

The vintage joketastic fanfare of Matthew Forbes’ out-of-sync audio is, we have to say, a little daggy — though its inclusion does thematically match the 1980s splendour of Fit’s exercise routine. Perhaps this means we should expect some brilliant video coverage from this ticket… or perhaps this only reflects the introduction of some fairly flimsy comedy. Only time will tell.

Polling opens on campus between 24 and 26 September.

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