Two weeks of SRC elections take place in September every year. The result? 35 student councillors, and an assortment of office bearers that are voted in at RepsElect shortly afterward. The most coveted roles are those with stipends: Women’s, Education, General Secretary and most recently, Vice President. These positions are awarded two thirds of the President’s salary, which amounts to $27,820, usually split between two office bearers.
In other words, a select number of students are paid to complete various administrative and activist roles. The productivity and output of these offices varies year to year, and incompetent or absent office bearers are by no means unusual. We took a closer look at this year’s cohort summer activity.
Abbey Shi (Advance) and Liam Thomas (Unity)
Total Annual Salary: $27,820*
As second in command of the SRC, General Secretary is a prized position for factions. Gen Secs manage the SRC budget and funding negotiations with the University, organise the SRC’s presence at Welcome Week and hold positions on SRC’s Legal Service board. Over the holidays Thomas and Shi tell Honi they’ve interviewed candidates for a new SRC lawyer and have been putting together the SRC’s merchandise and Welcome Week bags.
One key test of incoming General Secretaries’ competence and dedication is putting together the SRC’s Orientation Guide, a guide for first years with insights into courses, University management and the struggles of university life. How many General Secretaries does it take to make such a guide? This year, two GenSecs, one President, one current Honi Soit editor and one retired Honi Soit editor (Bob He, who was unjustly returned to the SRC offices to help in a last minute scramble to finish the guide on request of Abbey Shi).
Disorganisation delayed printing past the SRC’s publication deadline, meaning the General Secretaries overstayed their welcome in the Honi Soit office. Not that we’re bitter. It also meant that one article was recycled from the SRC’s 2018 Counter Course, including an embarrassingly outdated reference to then General Secretary Nina Dillon Britton.
This lateness is perhaps understandable considering Shi’s significant work in leading the USyd Chinese international students’ response to the recent travel ban. Over several weeks, Shi founded and circulated a petition (now with 4000+ signatures) opposing the ban, lobbied against the ban to media, spoke at a rally against Sinophobia related to the coronavirus and appeared in a University video.
Felix Faber (NLS) and Charlotte Bullock (Unity)
Total Annual Salary: $27,820*
The role of Vice President has historically been symbolic: an unpaid position with CV appeal but a hazy role in the SRC. In 2018, as part of a deal to entice swing councillors to join a right-wing majority, the role became paid. Due to similar factional dealings (this time, a left-wing coalition) the VPs will be paid again this year.
It’s unclear whether that’s money well spent. The role is in effect the same as General Secretary, paying four people for work traditionally done by two.
But the VP’s have done very little over the break. No one that Honi spoke to had seen Felix Faber in the SRC offices since his term began in December but he has found time to write a play. Charlotte Bullock has been slightly more involved, assisting with some of the SRC’s Welcome Week organising.
Perhaps a stipend could be justified if they could articulate a vision for the role. When asked about their plans however, the response was vague. The VPs said they were creating “working relationships with external organisations,” “liaising with faculty societies” (about what?) and “attending University committee meetings,” something VPs have done previously without a stipend.
Jazz Breen (Grassroots) and Jack Mansell (SAlt)
Total Annual Salary: $27,820*
Climate activism is well and truly at the forefront of our 2020 Education Officers’ minds.
During Welcome Week, the Education Action Group (EAG), convened by the two EO’s, will be, as Breen describes “using its resources to promote various campaigns and events as well as recruit interested people to help organise throughout the year.” It’s not difficult to pinpoint what specific campaigns will be focused on, especially as Mansell promises to participate in “an occupation of a yet-to-be-unveiled climate criminal’s headquarters” during Welcome Week. Mansell says this will be in his “capacity as Education Officer.”
While Mansell and Breen’s personal activist work is admirable and undeniably significant, one can’t help but feel that the conditions met by students that directly relate to their education are a footnote in the work the two have done thus far. 40% of articles included in CounterCourse have been published in other SRC publications, and little by way of other meaningful action has taken place over the holidays.
Credit where it’s due, the pair’s justification for this is at least partially persuasive. They argue the climate movement has provided student activism with the opportunity to not only rebuild itself, but soar to new heights of influence. With greater student involvement in the activist community, the EO’s are confident that major threats to higher education, specifically funding cuts, will be met with more resistance once they rear their ugly head again.
Mansell made a point of highlighting that currently, there is “no explicit attack on higher education.” Therefore, his and Breen’s ‘obligation’ is to help build student activism in areas in particular need of mobilisation. This begs the question whether Morrison’s travel ban on international students can be considered an “explicit attack on higher education.” Breen did mention the pair’s involvement in the response to this but once again, this seemed more of an aside given Shi’s mammoth workload in dealing with this crisis.
Breen and Mansell submitted separate responses to our questions. Is there trouble in paradise?
Ellie Wilson (Grassroots) and Vivienne Guo (Grassroots)
Total Annual Salary: $27,820*
The most important duty involved in this role is convening the Women’s Collective which, as per the SRC website, “is the most active, left-wing and activist Women’s Collective in the country”. After last year’s inactivity, you’d think that the 2020 Women’s Officers would be working harder to vindicate this statement.
Their time spent in office over the summer break appears to have mostly been spent on Growing Strong, the Collective’s autonomously-produced annual publication. Beyond this, there’s not been much else.
Aside from a Welcome Week ‘stunt’ to protest campus sexual violence there’s little WoCo-spearheaded demonstrative action on the horizon. Though the officers have promised ‘public action’ as well as a press release following Universities Australia’s 2020 survey into sexual assault, they haven’t made concrete plans to continue the anti-sexual assualt campaign that ran from 2016 until the end of 2018.
When asked who they had met with over the summer, Vivienne and Ellie name dropped the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and a number of other campus based collectives. There was no mention of meeting with any members of University management, aside from members of the Safer Communities Working Group.
It would seem that what was once one of the SRC’s most active departments is now no more prolific than any of those run by unpaid OBS — a sorry start to what should have been a big year for WoCo.
Liam Donohoe (Grassroots)
Total Annual Salary: $38, 521*
Liam Donohoe is certainly a hands on President. If there were a critique to be made, it would be that he is a little too involved. Faced with a paid OB team that is barely functioning, Donohoe is taking a direct approach.
Liam was heavily involved in the construction of the Countercourse handbook, the SRC anti-sinophobia rally and upcoming Welcome Week protest. He also seems to have organised the majority of Welcome Week from coordinating stalls to pushing the broader OB team to organise themselves.
His response to the coronavirus, alongside Abbey Shi, is commendable. The SRC is currently leading the student response to the issue, and their work negotiating with University management, advocacy and activism have been substantial.
Liam’s heavy involvement is due to the underperformance of his paid OB team, particularly the Vice Presidents and General Secretaries. With four people paid handsome stipends to do the work of two, Liam should be free to focus on managerial issues. In picking up the slack of his paid OBs in tandem with his already significant duties in management and advocacy (the man sits on 35 committees) we wonder – does Liam sleep?
The success of the firebrand “save our union” campaign promised big things for the 92nd SRC. Thus far, it hasn’t delivered. Though by no means as messy as last year, the 2020 paid OBs are falling behind on activism and administration.
The most concerning are the Vice Presidents, who have arguably done nothing to justify the substantial amount of student money that they have received. Grassroots have also proved to be underwhelming. For a faction that publicly prides themselves on getting things done, their OBs are doing very little.
Despite this, and despite the initial overreaction in closing the SRC for several days, the response to the coronavirus has been one of the high points of the administration thus far. Where similar organisations have dawdled on the issue, Donohoe and Shi’s action has been decisive and swift.
Ultimately, the first few months of the new administration have been lacklustre. With the rest of the year to redeem themselves, we can only wait and see how it all plays out.
*As per 2019 SRC budget.