USU Board candidate interview: Ben Hines
The full transcript of Honi's interview with 2020 USU Board candidate Ben Hines.
HS: Let’s just start off with some basics. What’s your name, degree, year campaign colour and slogan?
BH: So, my name is Ben Hines, I’m in the third year of a combined Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws degree, majoring in finance. My campaign colour is a turquoise with my slogan being “I’m backing Ben”.
HS: Cool. Who’s your campaign manager?
BH: My campaign manager is Alex de Araujo.
HS: Are you in a political party?
BH: I’m a member of the Liberal Party outside of this election but I am running as an Independent.
HS: Great and are you a member of a campus faction?
BH: Not necessarily, no. I am part of the Sydney University Liberal Club but I don’t necessarily subscribe to the whole factional thing.
HS: Okay, cool. Have you campaigned for any candidates in previous elections or run in any previous elections?
BH: I did campaign manage for the satirical ticket if you noticed, “Privatise the SRC” but I’ve never formally actually run for anything or sort of gotten involved.
HS: Okay. Well, with that being said, why are you running for USU Board?
BH: I think there are a few reasons why I’m running this year. I’d probably say, well, three main ones. The first one is kind of your generic answer that I’m assuming you’re going to get from most candidates which is obviously the USU has played a major part in my university experience through providing things like clubs and societies, facilities like courtyard, and I think that’s really enabled me to get the most out of university. It’s where I’ve made most of my good friends in university and when I look back on university and what I’ve enjoyed and what I’ve kind of got the most out of, it hasn’t been studying in Fisher library, it’s sort of been all of those things that the USU has provided. I think kind of like everyone I assume will have, I have a desire to give back in some way and make sure that those sorts of things are available for people into the future. I’d also say that in kind of a smaller and more personal level I think being a board director would be something that I would just genuinely really enjoy. I think the sort of responsibilities and actions involved with that are something that I would be able to enjoy, like I said, and put a lot of effort and time into without seeing it as being a burden, and I think alongside sort of giving back that’s always going to be a good thing. Thirdly, I would say that this is a really important time for the Union. I think noticing things like the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic just and its scope and we’re not really sure how that’s going to affect things like the Union. I think this is a really important time to have strong policy positions and strong management, and I think that I would be able to do that quite well given my financial commerce sort of background and experience and I think that making sure the Union is strong into the future is something that I really want to make sure is available for all students and therefore was something that I thought made me want to run this year.
HS: Okay, well, what makes you better placed than some of the other candidates running or what makes you stand out from the pack? Why should students vote for you?
BH: So I think there are two main areas in which I would differentiate myself from other candidates. I think a lot of the other candidates are really well placed as well, but I think I would stand out in two main ways. Firstly, the kind of nature of my clubs and society experience. Secondly, my financial background and experience there. So on that first idea of clubs and societies experience, I think I have the benefit of not only sort of depth of experience, I know other candidates might have, for example, high up positions, whilst I have that sort of position in some societies I’ve also had lower down positions in numerous different societies so working my way up the entire sort of line kind of shows different things that need to be considered by different positions and societies and I think that’s always important to consider in USU decisions. I also have kind a width of experience as well so I think more than just having that experience in one society or one type of society, I’ve managed to get involved across a wide range. So different types of societies in different sort of positions as well. I think what that kind of would allow, if I was lucky enough to be elected USU position would be being able to consider things that affect a lot of different types of people and stakeholders rather than just sort of one specific type and furthering one specific set of interests and I think that’s always going to be important. So that’s sort of what I think my clubs and societies experience does for me. In terms of my other background, I think, like I said, the USU, whilst it doesn’t run as like a for profit organisation, obviously it’s financial situation is sort of intrinsically linked to how well it’s going to provide services and provide things for people and I think therefore, it’s going to be important to make sure that whilst not necessarily turning a profit or operating contribution, I think it’s important that there’s some stability there because whilst the Union needs to be putting money into things especially in this period, it needs to make sure that it’s sustainable in doing so, so I think making sure that those decisions are made in the best interests of the union and students will be benefited by my knowledge of things to do with finance and financial management.
HS: Cool. Which candidates are your top two favourites and which candidate is your least favourite or because we’ve had like a couple of issues and people kind of wanting to answer this question, which two would you say you’re like more compatible with, and who do you think you may be less compatible with ideologically or otherwise?
BH: So I’ve spoken to a lot of the candidates and I think a lot of them are really good. I think if I had to pick two of them it would be quite hard. Firstly, having spoken a lot to Nick, we get along quite well on a lot of policy positions and a lot of ideas for what we think the Union should look like in the future and I think we have a lot of sort of the same ideas in that sense. I think we get along quite well and we’ll be able to work together quite well. I also think that having had discussions with a lot of the independents, a lot of those people have a lot of similar ideas but I think it might be a little bit unfair to single out one or two. So I would also say maybe Belinda. I’ve spoken to Belinda and we have a lot of similar ideas and similar values, and I think it’d be really fun to work with those sorts of people. In terms of who I would think I would be least likely to work with I think that’s, like you said, a bit of a difficult question. I would probably say some of the candidates that I haven’t had a chance to talk to yet just because we haven’t had that discussion over what we think is important in this union race. So I would say, whilst I would be incredibly willing to work with anybody if I was lucky enough to be elected or even beforehand in the election, I think just in so far as I haven’t been able to talk to, I think it’s Ruby and Prudence at the moment. I think obviously there might be some issues in terms of getting to know each other and that might sort of hinder it a little bit, not that I wouldn’t be willing to work with them at all though.
HS: Cool. So if you had to cut a million dollars from the USU budget, where would you cut it from?
BH: I think it’s probably a little bit myopic to say one specific area. Is that what you’re asking?
HS: Yeah, preferably. You can answer the question however you wish but yeah.
BH: I think my intuitive answer would be to say I wouldn’t cut a million dollars from any one specific area because the revenue of the USU is like $31 million. Proportionately $1 million is probably going to be a very substantial area. Preferably if I was having to cut a million dollars I would go through different programs and maybe reduce the spending individually on different levels depending on the nature of that funding. I think if it was going to have to be from one sort of area, I would probably avoid certainly the things that directly impact student experiences such as clubs and societies probably. They should be left to their funding, I would probably aim for things that are more like marketing or that sort of area. Insofar as whilst they’re important for furthering the Union, they could probably be wound back slightly without having a huge impact on student experience in the short term.
HS: Okay, let’s talk a little bit about obviously the unprecedented times we’re in, and how the USU is facing what seems like a pretty precarious financial situation at the moment. Do you think that the staff of the USU needed to be stood down recently as a result of the decrease in money coming in or do you think there could have been an alternative solution?
BH: I think that issue was obviously one that was quite hard to deal with and I think Connor’s statement put it quite well in saying that the decision wasn’t one that was obviously the first hope but it was kind of one that was required. I think in that a lot of the positions the USU had to stand down, there’s the potential for government subsidies such as JobKeeper, I think that was going to make it probably less of a hard decision to do so. I think, ultimately, I would have to look a bit more at this year’s financial statements. I know they haven’t really been released properly yet but I think unfortunately because so much of the USU revenue comes from on campus operations, you’re going to have to scale back in some sense and looking at past financial statements wages and employment benefits are an incredibly large cost to the USU. So, I think that’s probably not something that was going to be sustainable without that revenue per se, considering the costs were in the multiple millions. I think then, you have to look at the alternatives, of what you can do and I think the USU applying things like JobKeeper to make sure that there is some support for those people was going to be a good thing. Ultimately, to answer your question a bit more directly I think temporarily standing down people was probably the only way the Union could have gone. But that said, I think I support the Union’s decision and would probably try and go further in providing support apparatus and structures to make sure those people in the short term when they’re not employed by the USU have some other alternative or other potential ways to get employment, and potentially offering things like guaranteeing them the opportunity to have those jobs back as soon as like on campus operations resume would have been a good way to go as well.
HS: Okay. And principally speaking, do you think the CEO, Heads of Department and board directors should take a pay cut during this time?
BH: During this time, principally speaking I wouldn’t necessarily be against it. I think you’d have to kind of look more specifically into the situations at hand. But I think if you’re going to be having dramatically reduced responsibilities for those people then it’s possibly something I would be considering looking into if I was to make that decision. I think another thing that’s important to notice is maybe reductions to things like other benefits directors get. So I know, obviously the daily lunch allowance and think things like that are probably less important in a time like this, not that they’re probably being claimed anyway. I think there is some sort of scope to maybe reduce the salaries of those people as well. I think I’d probably have to look into it a bit more though in terms of like how they would be affected directly by that considering they are still providing the key services they need to be doing like Board meetings or whatever.
HS: And do you think free ACCESS introduced last year is still viable given the USU’s current financial state?
BH: So I think what was quite good about free access was that it was at least in part funded by the University and I think the university, whilst obviously there are some hits as a result of the pandemic, is in a much better financial position to be able to continue to provide that into the future. So I think as long as the USU can get that commitment to funding again, which I think was in the works or if not sort of tentatively verbally confirmed, if they can get that base of funding I think there is always going to be a greater likelihood it’s possible. I think in terms of providing it into the future, it’s something that the USU you should definitely prioritise or try and work around to make sure it is viable. Again, I think it probably requires a bit more analysis of this year’s financial statements as to the cost associated with that, to make a final decision and something that would probably be better placed by someone with access to that confidential financial information Board has. I would definitely, if elected make it a priority to try and do everything to make sure that it was viable if it wasn’t already.
HS: Cool and kind of continuing on with the interrelationship with the University, with the USU in a precarious financial situation as we’ve already covered, would you support or stand against a University takeover of the Union?
BH: I would definitely stand against that. I think the independence of the USU is kinda central to its function. I think the fact that the USU you should be, like I said in my policy statement for students and by students, that it’s important that it maintain some autonomy to be able to accurately represent student interests and be able to advocate for them. I think whilst the university and the USU working relationship between the two is incredibly important to enable that, having the university takeover the Union, will directly undermine its purposes and its ability to best carry those out so I would be against it.
HS: Okay, we had a conversation not long ago with Nick Rigby, and he basically told us that he thought politics really had no role in the USU. What’s your kind of stance on the USU taking a political stance?
BH: When you say political stance, do you mean for example the Ramsay Centre thing or do you mean like factions running candidates?
HS: That can be an example. Do you think the USU you should take a stance on how the university is acting or on external issues?
BH: Yeah, so I think the USU should. I think that’s probably a sort of divergence from other candidates and maybe from Nick as well. But I think the uni, sorry the USU should be taking these stances and I think that’s true for a number of reasons. I think it’s true firstly because I think that demarcation or distinguishing between the SRC as purely activist and the USU as purely providing services is somewhat artificial and not always helpful. I think the USU has incredible sway within the university. The USU inherently represents students and their interests and I think on certain issues it’s well placed to voice the concerns of the student body. I think it should probably not be doing so to the extent that the SRC does. The SRC obviously comments on a wide range of issues and it’s incredibly activist. I don’t think that’s the role of USU. But what I think the USU can and probably should be doing is taking stances on things. For example, the Ramsay Centre letter that Maya and Nick made last year; I was actually quite supportive of that because firstly I thought that with the amendments made in the meeting, it was quite balanced and quite a fair assessment but I secondly thought that it was something that was always going to incredibly impact student interests and the student experience of university. The USU is kind of inherently involved with that so I thought that there was always some place to have that stance taken. What I don’t necessarily think is the USU’s role in taking those stances is imparting or furthering certain specific ideologies over other ones. What I think it should be doing is taking certain values or certain ideas and pragmatically applying them to other situations to take a stance in the interest of students. I think that doesn’t necessarily have to be political in the sense that some people might term it but I think taking those stances is always going to be a good thing. And I think it’s something that the Union should be doing.
HS: With that being said, do you think the USU should be taking a specific stance against the University or, you know, regardless, for or against the university in terms of how they’re supporting students during COVID, or what do you think that stance should be that the USU is taking?
BH: So I think the USU obviously should be taking some stances with regards to how the university is dealing with this pandemic whether or not that looks like actively undermining or speaking for or against university policy. I’m undecided depending on what the policy is. So for example I think there’s a large student movement currently against the use of ProctorU. And I think the SRC has been heavily involved in that, but I think the USU could for example, reflect the views of students by doing more consultation to make sure that it’s a wide ranging view, but I think when there’s things like that which have major effects on students major privacy concerns associated, the USU could, noting its sway within the university, put that to good use and try and stand up for students on behalf of students. Issues like the coronavirus are always going to be something that affects the student experience which is probably something I would associate as like a concept with the USU is the student experience at University. I think the USU should be taking a stance, but making sure that is on behalf of the majority of students. Taking a stance against ProctorU is going to be a good thing. What I also think the USU has the scope to be doing is assisting aiding the University in providing specific services such as mental health support, like CAPS. I think it could go further and do its own things on top of what the University is doing. I think the first section of my policy statement deals with this pretty comprehensively, things like providing support for the transitioning online. I think all of these things that kind of may not necessarily be the focus of the university because the university has to deal with like all those logistics, I think the USU is quite well placed and involved in doing. I think they could take stances on that, and I think they could be doing practical things to be helping students as well.
HS: Moving into more kind of Board focus questions, what is your opinion on how successful the current Board has been and what is your opinion specifically on Connor Wherett’s presidency?
BH: So I think this current Board, you can kind of split it into pre coronavirus and what has happened since coronavirus happened. I think this Board has been quite successful. Looking at the policies it’s implemented and kept going. I know it’s been responsible for dealing with the ongoing sort of support with the whole free ACCESS system. I think that’s been done incredibly well and making sure that that continues to be viable into the future. I think this year the Board did incredibly well with Welcome Fest obviously being like the largest one it has in history. I think the Board did an amazing job of getting that all set up, obviously consulting a lot with Dane who was running that I think they did a great job there. I think the Board has also done a good job on things, like I said earlier, with taking stances like the Ramsay Centre stance, whether or not people agree with the stance itself I think the move towards doing things like that by people like Maya have been incredibly strong. I also think the Board has been doing good things in its most recent meeting for example where I think it was Benny Shen brought up, potentially, considering the effect on people who have paid for ACCESS rewards going forward. I think the Board has been even well engaged and well informed and well reasoned on dealing with those issues. So I think what the Board has done in those areas in policy terms has been quite strong. Moving more so on to optics and that will lead up to Connor, I think they’ve also been doing a great job. I think when you kind of go around University, go around courtyard or around welcome fest it’d be hard to not meet at least one person with the USU lanyard who you know as a board director, getting out there and being the face of the USU Board and interacting with people and I think that’s had a really good effect on people being more engaged. I think Connor has been the head of that. I actually think Connor has done a really good job with the USU, he is always so happy to talk about the union, tell you everything that’s great about it and be the face of that union and spread the word to everybody. He’s incredibly enthusiastic about his job and I think that sort of spread to a lot of people. And I think, honestly, in some way, the extent to which he’s been enthused by it and involved with it was one of the reasons that sort of pushed me a little bit more to want to run. He made it seem like an inclusive university experience to everybody and I think the Board and Connor himself embodied that and pushed that idea to everybody: that the union can be something for everybody, something that can impart that great social experience to everybody. So, I think, yeah on the whole the Board’s done quite a good job.
HS: And what would you say the Board’s biggest weakness is if you could identify one?
BH: Going back slightly to the issues that were held over consultation with clubs and society executives — I know this was probably more so, a bit more relevant at the start of last year, but I still think it could be a little bit relevant now. A lot of decisions don’t necessarily seem to be made with wide ranging consultation to a whole group of different people and a whole group of different impacted stakeholders. I think what could be done more, especially for things like funding changes that happened beforehand and even the changes that came in, winding those back a little bit, I think consulting with a wider range of people was always going to get you more opinions and come to a better conclusion and maybe change a few policies in ways that might not have occurred otherwise. So, I think whilst the Board has done quite a good job I think just a bit more consultation with a wider range of people would always be good.
HS: Cool. What we’re going to do now is move more specifically into your own policy statement. What would you say your overall policy priority is if you could just pick one general area? I see that you have a bunch of things on your statement.
BH: Crystallising my statement down to one area is quite hard but I would probably say the focus and like the vibe, if you will, of what I’m trying to achieve is really the best sort of student experience possible for people both in the short run, and the long run, and that university life being the best it can be for everybody. Why I think that’s the case is that I think obviously looking at the different splits on my policy statement there are things that are probably a lot more short-term so that’s looking at things like coronavirus responses. Of course, that’s probably going to be more relevant now than it might be later. I also think that improving things like clubs and societies, like logistics for execs, and the experiences there is incredibly important, but also campus culture, they are all kind of linked together. They’re all a key part of someone’s experience at university. And I think what that kind of needs to focus on is that experience for everybody and making sure that your experience outside of the classroom, makes you want to come back to university and continue to be engaged in the social side of it because, ultimately, I think University whilst we come out of it with the degree is in itself, a life experience and I think making that the best for people relies inherently on a strong USU and I think a USU that provides and backs and fosters all of those things is going to be the best to make sure students get the most out of their experiences.
HS: You’ve noted in your policy statement that the USU should be about, and this is quoting “ideas but not ideology.” Could you elaborate a little bit on that statement?
BH: Yeah, I was alluding to this a bit earlier. What I think the politicisation of the Board in a bad way might look like is where candidates are, as some are, in the status quo pre-selected by factions and in some ways either softly or hardly beholden to the ideas or views of those factions and not able to make decisions in the best interest of the USU on their own basis. What I kind of think that looks like is people being a little bit overly committed to ideology. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between ideology and like ideas or values. What I think ideologies often look like are more narrativistic, teleological ideas of things that should be followed regardless, and sort of applied as a blanket statement whereas I think what’s more important and what the USU specifically, as sort of, more of a service-providing, inclusive dynamic culture-based society should do is take a more pragmatic approach and apply ideas and values on more of a case by case basis. So what I think that means is, not adopting a full blown narrative. So for example, this is probably not applied to the USU but things like a free market ideology is kind of a blanket statement whereas commitments to ideas like freedom or liberty would be values. I think that if you commit fully to an ideology and impart that on most of your decisions, you’re not going to make good pragmatic decisions. So for example taking that analogy, if you commit entirely to free marketism, you might like neglect the effect on the environment and that’s not a good thing. Whereas if you apply values of freedom or like whatever you can still have an ear to other values. So I think what’s important is you have people taking ideas and values and putting that to their Board decisions, rather than necessarily taking ideology too far rather than running on like a left wing platform. I think it’s probably better to run on like specific like left wing values or certain policy positions that kind of can help you out there, and I think just coming back quickly to that idea of being beholden to different factions as well, I think generally, even if it’s more of a consultative sort of role with a faction like plan ideas I think that’s going to be detrimental because I think a board director should be elected on their sort of own merit and their own, like I say in my statement, ideas for what the union should look like. Even if it’s a non-binding role, but even more so when there’s a binding role, that’s always going to be somewhat problematic and impart ideas and policies to the Board that probably aren’t necessarily going to be in the best interest of all students. So summing up, what I think is important is that essentially ideas and values can be applied on a pragmatic basis without necessarily resorting to tokenistic ideological sweepstakes.
HS: So leaping off from that, in terms of ideas and ideology, obviously we’ve already talked about the Ramsay Centre, I’m kinda curious. Obviously in 2018, SULC hosted Bettina Arndt on campus for a talk which was very controversial and the process of the Women’s collective organising protests against that I’m aware that a number of students wrote to the USU essentially to complain about the hosting of the event, which is also something that happens in relation to clubs such as LifeChoices. How in your capacity as a board director would you respond whether to happen again, were SULC for example to invite, probably not Bettina but someone similar on campus, and there were complaints raised about that, how would you respond?
BH: Yeah, so I think it would be important to look at the specifics of the event at hand. I think it’s probably more informative to analogise based off the whole Bettina situation. I think it’s important that the USU fosters an environment that is inclusive so I think that would initially tend towards people who felt like putting her presence on campus wasn’t a good thing. I think the first consideration should probably be lent to that idea and why that might be the case. But secondly, I think USU should be somewhat reticent to outright stop events like that from happening. I think that’s probably true for a number of reasons, firstly for the Bettina Arndt event specifically, I think, much more attention was drawn to that a much more sort of publicity was given to that, by the fact that people wanted it to not happen. And by the ensuing things that did happen so for example, at the protest that happened a lot of that footage sort on to the news and I think that necessarily the involvement of the USU saying ‘no this event can’t go ahead,’ would probably draw a lot more attention to that and draw a lot more attention to sort of the things that are specifically being discussed. In this case to Bettina Arndt herself and I think that was probably not going to be a good thing if all the concern to do with Bettina Arndt were going to be considered to be true. Secondly, in terms of that event itself again I think the best way to combat that would also then be something that should be up for consideration, whether the best way to deal with the issues would be to ban the event or to let it go on and deal with it in that scope. And I think the latter would probably have been true and I think, specifically in terms of Bettina Arndt, because that event was like a live stream online event, and it was an event where anybody could theoretically go, I think the best way to sort of deal with that would to be to go through the event and engage with that it little bit and I know that could be argued to be lending credence to it or whatever but I think that is the best and most effective way of combating the ideas that Bettina Arndt had. If they were to be disagreed with, someone could have gone to that event and got up and asked the question and sort of debated that. And I think in that, Bettina Arndt isn’t someone like Ben Shapiro who’s going to post a Bettina Arndt destroys USYD student video online and get much more publicity. Having seen that video she was honestly in my opinion quite underwhelming and wrong on a lot of issues and I think it was quite easy to point that out. I think in that example specifically, the USU could have organised something or made some comment saying this event is happening. There’s an opportunity for you to go and disagree and go and put your ideas out there and deal with it and that way it’s probably going to be more effective in combating those issues anyway. So I think the USU should probably always again in summary, be hesitant to outright stop things from happening and I think you should take it always more of a pragmatic basis based on what the event itself looked like. Taking the example of Bettina Arndt, I think the USU, rightly by not stopping it did the right thing because I think other avenues were available to deal with it that were probably more effective.
HS: Cool, that was a very thorough answer. Moving back into policy again, many of your policies seem to be focused on improving existing efforts of the USU, such as improved consultation with C&S executives and reformed funding. What specific innovations will you bring to the USU Board?
BH: Firstly, the innovations are going to be quite focused around the situation we’re in right now, that is coronavirus. Considering the whole new situation of things that are online, I think supporting the transition for executives in clubs and students themselves through things that the USU can help with like training. I know the USU already does training for people like treasurers but that sort of thing can be expanded, made a new thing to help these online transitions. I also think, like I said earlier, taking more stances on things is something that can like be innovated and sort of happen. I think, again, in terms of what I would sort of bring that is innovative, it looks like things like increased student input on decisions. So for example, new food outlets that can possibly come in I think we don’t necessarily have an incredible amount of student consultation in that area. I think would kind of translate to a whole wide range of things not just sort of food outlets, but I think in like specifics right now, that would be a great way to innovate. I also think that just looking at having consulted with students at satellite campuses, like the Con, I think innovating in the sense by having them more engaged and more involved with the wider USYD experience is going to be a good thing and letting them get of the benefits that the USU can provide. For example, what that looks like is bringing back/improving campus charter buses from the Con to campus to make sure that they can be involved in clubs and societies. This also includes things like, while the USU has great things like Incubate, which helps tech startups or other startups, also helping Arts students who probably don’t have the same sort of investment in that and getting them things like industry projects or work experience in that area. I think the USU can do things like that. I think innovating and making sure again in this time of coronavirus that we can adjust and be innovative in the way that we deal with our current projects and experiences and making sure they can still be viable into the future.
HS: So, you spoke just then about the Con. One part of your policies that we thought was fairly interesting was the fact that you’ve packaged together the Con and the Colleges. What makes them similar in a way that you think you can deal with similarly?
BH: So I think just in terms of pure logistics in terms of packaging them together, it was kind done to represent the fact that there are certain groups on campus that don’t generally get too much recognition in terms of like USU policy. They were linked in that sense. It showed that I was going to be a Board candidate that could potentially represent all types of students so while I have a section on international students because they have very distinct sort of ideas that affect them, mentioning the Con and Colleges was a way to show that the USU Board even though I’m not a student from the Con or a College student, in keeping with the theme of increased consultation and increasing input from all groups of students, I could take their ideas on Board and put them into a policy position. Honestly, putting them together on a policy statement is purely to show that they are linked as groups that generally might be ignored by other candidates.
HS: Do you think there’s a lack of engagement with the USU from the colleges in general?
BH: I think we’ve had improvements in that area recently so for example Cady getting on Board I know she’s quite like a big figure in the whole college thing. I think that’s been a good thing. In terms of college engagement with the USU, I think unfortunately in the past that the historic trend from colleges, is that they’re much less likely to get out and vote in physical elections at least when there’s not a candidate who’s actively sort of pushing for the interests of college students specifically just because it’s not like a key part of their life. Student politics seems to be something that has had sort of a disconnect with that group and I think, making sure that all board directors are aware of that potential disconnect and focusing and prioritising some of their interests as well, means that if there were any issues in terms of engagement that they can be sorted out. And yeah, I think that’s how it’s best done.
HS: Sorry to just dip you back into politics again. But the USU regulations state that a director shall and I’m quoting from the regulations here…
BH: I know where this is going.
HS: “Seek to inform USU members in the broader community of the detrimental effects of voluntary student unionism, campaigning against the VSU in all of its forms during state or federal elections if it arises some issue and work with other student organisations to fight VSU and all of its forms on State campus and a national level.” Obviously, you know there’s little bit of a tension there between that and you being a member of the Liberal Party. What would you do if this became an election issue?
BH: So I think the tension doesn’t necessarily arise because I thankfully as a member of the Liberal Party am able to have my own views on certain issues and put out my own perspective on those issues without necessarily being beholden to the Liberal Party. I think similarly if it came up at an election, which I don’t think it will considering the whole timeframe, I would be more than happy and more than able to campaign against that specific policy. Obviously with voluntary student unionism, I would be willing to campaign against that, whether or not that looked like actively campaigning on the issue itself, or whether or not that looked like attempting to change wider policy views within Liberal Party or whatever, I think obviously, knowing that it’s like part of the board director’s duty statement, that would be something that I would kind of have to do but be also something that I wouldn’t be against doing just in general.
HS: So, would you say that you are broadly against voluntary student unionism?
BH: Especially in the context of the USU having strong engagement with students and the Union, is going to be incredibly beneficial for those students so I think that necessarily any sort of policy position that detriments that is probably not going to be a good thing. I think in terms of like a wider dichotomy between Voluntary Student Unionism and the alternative, I think it would ultimately depend on like how you characterise voluntary student unionism, and how it kind of worked. I think luckily, the USU is in a position where especially with things like free ACCESS, it’s like effects are somewhat mitigated. It kind of depends how I was going to be seeing that manifesting. The USU is in a great position right now in that, despite the situation in terms of wider voluntary student unions and policy, because it’s managed to get back to levels of above $30 million worth of revenue it’s in a considerably strong position. I think that’s due to benefits of past Boards and past Board policy and engagement with students. So I think again it ultimately depends on the situation at hand, which I think is kind of a theme, with most of my policy positions in terms of the Board. It’s important to look at things pragmatically, consider the context in which its operating and especially in the case of what we’re talking about now considering the context is the USU. I think it ultimately would depend on how any policy position changes would manifest on the Union itself whether or not I would like actively get out and support them.
HS: Cool. And so, your Privatise the SRC campaign was, as we said previously, satirical. Some of the ideologies behind that campaign seemed to me to be a little bit different to what you’re expressing now. What’s changed with your attitude towards stupol?
BH: I would say nothing has changed my attitude towards stupol. I think in terms of why I ran that campaign or why we sort of decided that would be funny, I think what it did was a few things. I think firstly it had the potential to engage people with stupol who otherwise might not be engaged and whilst I appreciate the nature of that engagement might have first been with things like laughing and having fun, I think it potentially gave them an avenue to actually be more invested in general. I also think on a purely practical level, if people were willing to get out and vote for Privatise they would be at the booth anyway and would probably consider voting for more legitimate candidates underneath, or having a say in the Presidential election for example. But I also think what it did was it was purely just to let people have fun during the SRC season. I think the SRC season, looking at USyd rants or talking to your friends to people who aren’t engaged in stupol was not a good thing, people don’t like being harassed on Eastern Avenue, no matter how good that cause was going to be so I think what Privatise was provide some laughs and provide a good time for people during that sort of time. I think my attitude to student politics was never one that was like it’s not important. I think it was one of making sure people were more aware of it in a more positive light, and hopefully that would flow on in future to seeing that they could have some impact.
HS: Yeah, and how attached to the ideology of Privatise would you say are, despite it being satirical, for example Defund Honi. What would you say your kind of relationship to that is?
BH: I would say that was just entirely a joke. I think what was funny about it and I think you kind of can appreciate it, noticing that you’re kind of laughing, is that it played up a lot of stereotypes, a lot of anti stupol stereotypes and corporate stereotypes you’d associate with privatising things. I think just going way too far with that was funny, like PwC presents Honi Soit was so ridiculous that no one would hopefully take it seriously. I wouldn’t say that I was attached to that ideology, any more than satirical people like The Chaser are attached to things that they do.
HS: Okay, cool. Just to continue a little bit of a student politics questions. So, SULC has in recent years had a bit more of a hands-off approach when it comes to stupol, particularly the Union Board. What’s changed this year?
BH: Oh, I think it’s solely because I’m not running with SULC at all. I think in terms of being an Independent, I understand that there’s that stigma around Liberals and Independents and Lib-dependents, and I kind of get why that might be the case and I think in the past, people have run purely pragmatically as ‘Independent.’ I’m not doing that. Quite frankly, I’m not running with SULC supporting me, whilst I’m sure people in SULC might get behind me, I’m sure they might vote for me. I’m not running with SULC managing my campaign or involved in my campaign capacity. For example, Alex is running my campaign as my friend, and he’s running as a former Switchroots campaigner for example. Other people on my team are former members of NLS, former campaigners for NLS, former Unity campaigners. Luckily, I’ve, and I’m really grateful for the amount of people who have said that they’re really keen to get behind my campaign, managed to get a legitimately independent wide-ranging view base campaign going. So I think whilst SULC might be hesitant to do Stupol, I’m not running with SULC or on behalf of SULC at all so I guess that kind of explains that for you.
HS: Yeah, we noticed that Alex Baird was on the Zoom information session. Is he a part of your campaign?
BH: I think he agreed that he’ll help out maybe get some friends along in the future. He’s not involved in terms of planning, design or anything like that.
HS: Okay, cool. Just one more question probably. Do you think the fact that there’s two Liberal candidates in the race this year means there’s less of a chance either of you get up, or do you think there’s going to be tensions there?
BH: In terms of tensions I don’t think that, like at all. I think me and Nick got along well I think we’ve had a lot of good chats about this election and everything seems to be really good there. In terms of electoral viability, I don’t think there’ll be that much of an effect either, I think historically the Liberal vote hasn’t necessarily been a huge proportion of Stupol anyway but I think even if it was, neither of us are necessarily appealing to that sort of voter base. I think Nick, as SASS president is probably focusing mainly on that sort of voter base in general and I’m appealing to well, obviously trying to appeal to some Arts students but I’m appealing to a wide range of people who aren’t necessarily going to be voting on the basis of whether they are a) liberal or b) that’s their general ideology. And I assume that in so far as my policies are probably what I hope to get me elected anyway in my personal capacity, I guess I’m sort of competing against nine other people as well and I think that’s probably where like the issues and competitiveness will come about, not necessarily just me and Nick.
HS: Are you going to be preferencing him then?
BH: I haven’t made any decisions in terms of preferences as of yet. I’m still talking to all the candidates. I think I’ll make a preference deal in the end with the people that I think best align with my vision for what’s good for the Board, and what’s good for the USU to do in general and I think obviously I’ve said before that I’d love to work with Nick, having had brief chats with him. We’ve had similar ideas in that vein, but I wouldn’t lock anything in yet and nothing has been confirmed yet.
Honi Soit Okay, cool. That’s all I have I have to ask. Is there anything that you wanted to add?
BH: Not specifically no. Thank you for having me on.