Honi Soit: So, as we’ll be posting this online, lots of people might not have seen your campaign before, so let’s just start off with some basics. What’s your name, your degree/year, your campaign colour and your slogan?
Nick Rigby: So my name is Nick Rigby and I’m in my third year of a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Politics and Political Economy. I’m running on light blue and my slogan is “Rigby’s Ready”.
HS: Who’s your campaign manager/campaign managers?
NR: I have two, I have two campaign managers. And that’s Nicholas Camino and Zac Pitkethley.
HS: Are you in a political party?
NR: So I am running as an independent for this campaign, because that’s the closest thing to how I want to be a board director, basically.
HS: Right, but you are in a political party, though. That’s correct?
NR: Yep, so I am in a political party but that exists outside of my involvement in Sydney University politics and representation.
HS: Fab, and which political party was that?
NR: So outside of the uni I am a member of the Liberal party, but my campaign doesn’t have any affiliations to that whatsoever.
HS: Beautiful, and then just kind of running on from that: what faction are you in on campus? Or could you go through your history of student politics with us?
NR: Yeah, so I have helped out in a number of independent campaigns over my time at Sydney Uni, mainly in the University of Sydney Union. I haven’t dabbled very much in SRC, only just to kind of help out friends, but I mainly… yeah so I helped out in 2018 with Lachlan Finch’s campaign, and then I obviously managed Cady Brown’s campaign last year, so that’s pretty… I authorised that, and that’s pretty common knowledge.
HS: Fab, and then your faction is…?
NR: Well I identify as a moderate, so I’m very centrist on campus and I usually get the support — or the moderate Liberals usually support me with any… well I haven’t ran for anything, really, yet, up until this I haven’t needed much support, but yeah.
HS: So why are you running for USU Board?
NR: So I have an amazing time at Sydney Uni so far. I’ve had an unbelievable time, I’ve loved so much, and the main reason for that is the workings and the programs of the University of Sydney Union. I’ve had an unbelievable time through clubs and societies, as seen on my resume, and I really think that I can make a really great change and a really important change to the Board, and I could bring a really great and positive energy to it. And I think that I have the experience for it, I think that I have the competence for it, and yeah, really excited about it.
HS: Do you want to talk us, a little bit, through that experience and that competence then?
NR: Sure, so I have had a number of positions across clubs and societies over the past — ever since I’ve been in first year. So in first year, I was elected as the First Year Officer for SASS, and then at the end of that year I was the Secretary, and then towards the end of that year I was also the Treasurer of the Politics Society, which was really really good but really, sort of, got… as Treasurer and Secretary, those kind of brought me into different operations of the USU and the Clubs and Societies program, having us experience in both those portfolios, in things like treasury and finance, and… in those clubs, and Secretary in terms of book-keeping, and all the rest. And then, I’m, at the moment, the President of the Sydney Arts Students Society, which is, obviously, a very demanding role, and has required a lot of work and a lot of work with the Union and with the Clubs and Societies program, and I’ve absolutely loved it.
HS: Which candidates would you say are the two that you’re most compatible with, and which would you say are the two that you’re maybe less compatible with?
NR: I don’t really… like, I don’t have favourites or anything like that. I think it’s a really really diverse, interesting group of candidates. I think there’s a lot of talent, there’s a lot of competency. I know that I just have relationships already with some of them — obviously I’ve worked with Belinda, as she’s the Secretary of SASS, and we’ve worked close together on a professional basis. And I knew Ben prior to this just through friends -— we’re friends. And yeah, I don’t have any least favourite candidates, I don’t think, I don’t have any… that kind of thing, if that’s alright. Sorry.
HS: Yeah, that’s ok. So there’s like no candidate that you would really identify as someone who you might not have that much in common with, or who that you think that is maybe not as well-placed as others to run for Board?
NR: I don’t think so, no. I think… well, I assume that all of the people that are running are running to be really good Directors, and, you know, to be Directors in the interests of the Union. So no, if they’re true to that, then I don’t think there should be any conflict whatsoever.
HS: Back to the question of your involvement in the Liberal Party as well as obviously running as an Independent, you said you don’t think those sorts of politics influence your current campaign. Why would you make a statement like that? What’s the justification?
NR: Ok, so I think that if I’m lucky enough to be elected to the Board, that there’s no… personally, I don’t think that politics should have any place on the Board, or any place in the way that board directors work, so I will not be espousing any form of party policy from any side of the political spectrum if I’m lucky enough to be elected as a board director. I think that we’re legally obligated to work in the interests of the Union and the interests of students, and I don’t think any form of politics should come in the way of that.
HS: I mean, politics is quite central to the USU, in both its history and, to a degree, in a contemporary sense. We’ve seen previous board directors kind of struggle a little bit around motions relating to the Ramsay Centre. Do you not think that it has a little bit to do with it?
NR: I definitely think that circumstantial politics in terms of Ramsay Centre and different motions and everything — that definitely inolves a level of opinion. But if I am involved in any form of motions that require that kind of knowledge of current affairs or politics, then I’ll do it, completely — as I am politically centrist — pragmatically, in terms of… I’ll view every single side and make the most informed decision that I possibly can, and that won’t reflect any interests at all, of any faction or any party.
HS: Interesting. Just moving into some financial stuff now — if you had to cut $1 million from the USU’s budget, where would you cut it from?
NR: This is a question I think I saw last year in some related media coverage, and I remember all of the candidates being really nervous about answering it, so I definitely understand why. That’s a very very tough question, I think, especially at the moment with the state of the University of Sydney Union with such revenue downfalls all over the place because of coronavirus — where would I cut $1 million? … Yeah, it’s really really difficult. It’s a really really difficult question. I haven’t really thought about cutting anything, frankly. My policy statement doesn’t involve any cuts or any form of decrease in funding to anything. I’m not really sure, that’s a good question. I mean, $1 million is also a lot of money, that’s an entire… you know, that’s a lot of revues, and that’s a lot of… that’s the revenue of an entire outlet for the USU. Yeah, I’m not particularly sure, I might have to answer that at the end of the interview if that’s ok.
HS: Yeah, sure, have a think about it. So just continuing with the financial stuff, especially in the wake of COVID, as you say — do you think that staff at the USU needed to be fired recently as a result of decrease in money coming in?
NR: So I think a lot of the financial operations of the USU at the moment are obviously… as I was attending the USU Board meeting last week — a lot of the proper in-depth financial things are in camera, or on camera… yeah, it’s done privately. So I think a lot of those things are… you know, I’m not privy to. I think, on a general basis, there have been job cuts all over the place due to coronavirus. It’s completely unexpected, it’s damaged all forms of businesses all over Australia, and I’m very very upset that it’s damaged the Union, because I know that employees really are the heart of the Union — and the staff, and it’s upsetting that the staff cohort has been affected in the form of these things. And look, it’s very upsetting — I don’t necessarily… because I don’t know a lot of the really in-depth information that’s confidential to the University of Sydney Union, I can’t take a position on whether I support them or not, I just know that it’s a very very rough period for the Union. Very very rough indeed.
HS: Do you think that kind of lack of transparency, just kind of generally, is an issue within the USU?
NR: I think the USU’s taken some good steps recently to have more transparency. I think Pulp have done a really really good job in the past 2 years of uploading Board meetings really quickly. I know that before that, there was a really long backlog, so I think there are definitely some ways that student media has informed that transparency. That being said, I know that there’s some confidential information that is not for the average student to see in the Union. I do think that there are a lot of areas in which that’s justified in ways such as negotiating sponsorships — all of those kinds of things — but I do think that it should be more transparent overall, definitely. And I think that there are ways that, if I was elected as a board director, that I would bring that and have more of a relationship with the student media to get those kinds of things out constantly, so the students know what their representatives are doing.
HS: A bit more on response to COVID — do you think that the CEO, Heads of Department and Board DIrectors should take a pay cut during this time?
NR: Once again, I think those… that scenario is something that I — as I’m not privy to the personal finances, or the confidential finance of the Board that I would be able to take an opinion on. I assume that there are salary cuts all over all businesses across Australia and New South Wales. I know that that’s just an effect of the economic downturn of COVID. I don’t think I can speak on… about whether the CEO should take one or not, that’s up to the CEO. frankly, and the Board of Directors currently.
HS: And obviously last year we saw a bit of a shake up in the USU’s revenue streams, with free ACCESS being introduced. Do you think that’s still viable in the current situation? Should something be done about the pricing of ACCESS, or do you think it should be kept free?
NR: I think it should be kept free, personally. I think that making it free was one of the best things that the Union has done ever, really. I think it was fantastic, and I remember being – as Treasure of the Politics Society, viewing the information session that would update Clubs and Society executives on what was going on with the Board and when they announced that ACCESS was free. And it was moving, genuinely, because students no longer had a financial barrier in order to take part in what I think is the best union in the country — best student union in the country. So I really really think that it was a great thing, I don’t plan on changing that whatsoever if I’m lucky enough to be elected as a board director.
HS: So with the USU in a precarious financial situation, would you support or stand against a potential university takeover of the Union, were that to arise?
NR: I think… look, that’s a very… that’s something that I haven’t necessarily considered. I mean, we are in very very uncertain times at the moment, so it’s good to consider those scenarios. But I think that the Union definitely has the capacity if it’s led under the right leadership to be an upstanding organisation due to this, and I think that it works best when it has a close relationship with the uni but it’s also independent in its processes.
HS: Moving on, and kind of drawing to something that you mentioned before about how you think politics shouldn’t play a role – do you think that the USU should take a stance on how the university should be supporting students during this time? Do you think they should maybe be criticising the university, or what do you think this stance should be?
NR: I think that does come down to the board directors, and as I’m running to be a board director, I definitely think that, if I was elected, that I would seriously consider all possibilities of that relationship with the uni. I think keeping a relationship with the uni is really really really important, and our relationship and the Union’s relationship with the university has been very strong over the past year, and that has paid a lot of dividends. But, that being said, I know that it’s good to have professional criticism between organisations, and I think that if all board directors agree that there’s a genuine case that the university is mistreating students, or anything, that the Board is justified to maybe criticise the university – in a constructive way, not in an insulting way; not in a way that deteriorates that relationship.
HS: What’s your opinion on how successful the current Board has been, and maybe as a follow-up question to that, what is your specific opinion on Connor Wherrett’s presidency?
NR: I think, and I know I’ve said this already, but I think it’s worth repeating that, right now, we’re in absolutely uncertain times across… definitely within all areas of the university, and within the Union. I don’t think that anyone expected, no one expected this to happen, at all. So I think that the Board has done a good job in taking things online: they’ve done things like do Incubate events online and they’ve pushed societies for more ideas. That’s something that I have experienced personally as SASS President, which is that I’ve been receiving tips from the Union and from the Clubs and Societies program on how to bring some of our events online, which we’re working on. So I think that that area has been good. THat being said, I know that there are things that could be better-done, but I don’t think any of the board directors expected this to happen – it’s all happened very quickly. What was the second part of the question, sorry?
HS: What’s your opinion specifically on Connor Wherrett’s presidency?
NR: Ok, I think that… no, I’m satisfied with Connor Wherrett’s presidency overall. I think that he’s done a good job in dealing with something that’s so unexpected and so volatile.
HS: Is there something that you would say that is the Board’s biggest weakness? Or is there a particular part of the Board that you would identify as something that you would like to fix if you were elected?
NR: Yeah, I think there are a couple of things. I think that mainly it’s the weaknesses that transpired from the current situation that the Board has to deal with, so I definitely think that staff relations, and those kinds of things and moving forward… taking care of the staff cohort and the employees of the Union is something that the Union really has to prioritise, definitely, moving forward… as we move out of this crisis, or more into it, depending on what’ll happen. I think, as well, the Union really needs to prioritise Clubs and Societies as it comes out of this crisis, because that’s, in my opinion, and from my experience, the best way of reconnecting with students and revitalising campus life after this time. So those are some ways I think that the Board can definitely use to move forward, and I would see it as a weakness if the Board didn’t.
HS: What role do you think Pulp plays in reporting on the USU? Do you think the current editorial team is maybe a little bit afraid to criticise the organisation, or that the organisation itself has too much control? And I think an example of that that we would point to would be their interview with Connor Wherrett in the wake of those staff layoffs.
NR: So, the bit with Connor Wherrett, I kind of missed, what was that…
HS: So they had an interview with Connor Wherrett in the wake of staff layoffs that perhaps wasn’t as critical as it could have been.
NR: Ok, well I think Pulp, as any student media outlet, should have the right to say and criticise however they want. I think that’s an amazing thing about university and campus politics is that student media such as Honi Soit and Pulp should be allowed to criticise. I think that they have done a really really good job, as I mentioned before, in doing things like releasing minutes, making sure that updates from the USU are available. Whether, because Pulp is owned by the Union, and the Union has a very direct link to them, whether the information given to Pulp by the Union, and Pulp redistributing it as a means of telling and informing students of updates — whether that’s seen as being too supportive, I think, is a matter of subjectivity. But I think that Pulp adequately does, and I think the editorial team does, really inform students on what’s going on with the Union.
HS: So who would get your vote in, say, an upcoming USU Presidential Election, which will probably happen next year. Who would get your vote on the Board?
NR: That’s a good question, I’m not particularly sure at the moment, as in, I haven’t really looked into it in terms of, like I’m just running the campaign, focusing on myself getting elected to Board. I haven’t had any talks with any person regarding who I think would be a better President, that’s something that I would decide if I’m lucky enough to become a board director, and I had a professional relationship with the candidates, and I could make an informed decision.
HS: We’ve heard that Benny and Nick are both considering running. Is there –
NR: Sorry, that’s Benny Shen and Nick Forbutt?
HS: Yeah. Are either of those kind of like a candidate that would appeal to you more strongly?
NR: I don’t think that either of them appeal to me necessarily more strongly. I think I would have to seriously look over, if I’m elected to the Board and I do take part in that AGM, that I would really look into how they’ve operated over the past year as being board directors, and I’d make an informed decision from there. But I don’t have any thoughts on that at the moment.
HS: Moving into policy now, could you just let us know what your overall policy priority is – maybe if you just pick one, and identify that one?
NR: Were there too many?
HS: No no, we’ve just had candidates kind of read out their entire policy statement to us when we ask them this question so just pick a general kind of… thing.
NR: Yeah, well that obviously is a bit difficult, cause I have 3 main areas which I have policies under, as I’m sure you would have seen by the statement. My overall goal is to reconnect, re-energise and regrow the Union. That involves a whole bunch of things underneath and a whole bunch of policies that basically means that I want to… if I’m elected to the Board, I want to ensure that students can come back to a uni, and be allowed to reconnect with each other in a way that is stronger than it was before. This includes things like mental health services, and having more events done by the uni, but done by the Union; sponsored by the Union, so there are easily accessible social events that people can see their friends again after isolation [at]. The re-energise — sorry to run through it all, I feel like I am but I’ll try and condense it as much as I can… But making sure the campus life is really really really revitalised, and making sure that it’s really energetic, and diverse, and dynamic when we all come back. This includes things like bringing more large-scale events to campus, which I think Union has done really well, creating more performance opportunities and live music opportunities for areas like Courtyard. And the last one, to regrow the Union. I want to make sure that Clubs and Societies are the absolute priority in terms of moving forward from this crisis. I want to ensure that we have a foundation of environmentalism, the way that we move forward, making sure that the Union is very eco-friendly in the way that it builds itself up and the foundations that we set, and making sure that the staff cohort is heavily heavily considered in all initiatives that come forward. I want… I think that I am a very very — I would be a very very sensible board director. I’m not coming here with any “Coke in the bubblers” policies, I think I’m coming here with genuine, achievable things that can be done that don’t put the Union in more of a state of financial detriment than it already is.
HS: Just kind of running on from that, you see every year a lot of candidates propose policies, and very few of them are put into action. Do you have an idea of why that is, and what kind of ideas do you have for your own policies to make sure that they are put in place?
NR: Yeah, well I think, just answering the first part of your question, I think it’s endemic across all forms of politics, whether it’s student or state or federal or international or anything like that, that people tend to stretch their promises a bit to increase the chances of them being elected, and I want to go against that completely when I run for Board. I want to propose things that I can genuinely achieve, that the Union can achieve, and that don’t put the Union in more of a state of risk than it already is in, because I think if candidates say that they are going to do really really big, and exciting and risky sort of things — which would be appropriate a couple years ago when we weren’t experiencing this crisis — than I think that that would be very very dangerous for the Union. I think that right now we need really sensible managers of the Union that know the things that can be achieved, know that certain areas, certain ideas are too risky at the moment, and things that can genuinely help students in the best and most responsible way.
HS: Getting into a couple spicy ones now, do you think the fact that SASS is so factionalised turns students off?
NR: I haven’t seen that over the past couple of years that I’ve been involved. I have seen an amazing amount of independents, and the general body of SASS is totally independent and not involved in any politics, and I’ve had a great joy in working with all of those kind of people, and I haven’t seen students been necessarily turned off by any of that kind of stuff.
HS: Yeah, cause there was quite a lot of criticism from the old executive of SASS last year with the election that obviously elected you into President, as I’m sure you remember. Do you think that this is… the things that they aired, do you not think that they’re shared widely by the student community?
NR: Well I think all… you know, AGMs across all societies have attracted attention in the past with criticism and appraisal from all sides of the students community. It’s not all about… it’s not — what’s the word I’m looking for — it’s not just from SASS. There’s been plenty of times where AGMs have attracted criticism. And look, that’s something that’s very circumstantial, that is based on an executive’s own experience, and what they think is going on, and what they personally think should be the right thing for any society to go. So I think it’s very very circumstantial. I think you’ll find that… there are plenty of years, the vast majority of years have occurred without that really, and with a lot of societies, without that intense kind of… any form of criticism, really.
HS: Going back a little bit to your policies now — so you mentioned when we asked you about your priorities, some of those include large-scale festivals, parties, coffee catch-ups, trivia nights. These don’t seem to be particularly compatible with the current situation, especially with social distancing, and probably won’t be compatible for the foreseeable future. How do you plan to adapt these when you do get elected to Board, if you do?
NR: I think at the moment if the social distancing does continue and the crisis continues for a long time, which it’s expected to, I’m definitely in favour of, 100%, any form of social interaction that can take place online. I’ve been a huge supporter of everything the Union has done in terms of online social interaction, and we’re working on that with SASS as well. The policies that I have outlined there are definitely forward-thinking, they’re looking to whether, when the student population comes back, obviously it’s very difficult to kind of see when… and that’s an element of instability with a lot of candidate’s policies, or what I expect a lot of candidate’s policies, which is: when do we go back? When do students go back? When are we allowed to have large-scale parties? But I’m confident that I’ll be able to enact those things on the time that I’m hopefully elected as board director, or the time I’ll be serving.
HS: So these are future measures, what are some of the measures — maybe give an example of a tangible measure you might implement to help recovery from the COVID crisis?
NR: Yeah, definitely, so I… 100%, my last point on regrowing the Union, ensuring that the Union is built upwards from now on and all of their processes as environmentally friendly as we move forward, and as we sort of repeal these social distancing measures and we’re allowed to have smaller things, ensuring — and smaller… potentially larger things as time goes on, exponentially larger — ensuring that all the processes of the union are completely environmentally and eco-friendly. An example of that is that, if we are allowed to have smaller gatherings by the time we get back to uni, possibly, in Semester 2, that things like reusable cups for alcohol and reusable straws and all of those kinds of things are provided abundantly.
HS: You’ve also indicated in your policy statement that you wish to campaign for increased mental health services on campus. What sorts of services will you be lobbying to introduce?
NR: So I definitely think mainly — I’m sure you’re both aware of the CAPS program, and very familiar with it, as Honi Soit has written up a lot of pieces of it in the past, a lot of which I’ve read and are very very interesting. I’ll definitely lobby for the Union to kind of plug those gaps and those administrative errors that CAPS has. I’ve spoken to a lot of students, and I’ve read some articles – a couple days ago, actually, as well – about how CAPS has a lot of bureaucracy about how it has… it’s inaccessible to a lot of students, and I definitely think that the Union has a place in ensuring that the university plugs those gaps, or the Union can do it itself. Furthermore, just on that, the policies in my area of reconnecting students are very much around mental health in terms of… as we are exponentially allowed to have smaller to medium-sized gatherings. That substantially increases the mental health of all students, if students are allowed to reconnect with each other again after we’re all out of isolation, which is a very very testing and tough time for students all across Sydney Uni. And I know I’ve talked to a lot of people, especially from SASS as well, who are struggling with mental health, and the idea that they can come back to an environment that is welcoming is one that I really really support.
HS: So you were suggesting before then that the USU introduces their own sort of counselling service or some sort of mental health support service as well to fill in the gaps?
HS: Do you think that that’s viable, given obviously the financial state of the Union at the moment?
NR: I do think that’s viable, and I think that it’s incredibly important to the students of the Union. I understand completely, and my main, as I mentioned before, my main policy; the theme of my policy is that it’s sensible, it’s not outlandish, it’s not risky or anything like that – it’s all sensible changes and policies that can lift the Union from this awful place, and I definitely think that putting money into mental health is a very very sensible area which the Union can explore. It will pay huge dividends in terms of students being able to… enjoy themselves at uni and be more involved in the Union and be more involved in Clubs and Societies, yeah.
HS: And how do you propose that the Union would fund it? Because obviously the Union was already on shaky financial ground before the COVID crisis, where do you propose to get the money to fund this from?
NR: I think that there are a whole lot of different non-for-profit organisations that can definitely help in terms of sponsorships, in terms, and the way that the Union can fund these kinds of areas. I think that the deficit at the moment, as I’m not aware because it’s confidential, but I am aware that we’re in a very very tumultuous time in terms of the Union’s finances and its activities. But I definitely think going outside the uni and finding sponsorship in areas; in organisations that focus on mental health and support; would be really beneficial to the Union and provide those funding avenues that we need for these kind of changes, which we really do.
HS: I just have a couple more politics questions to round off the interview.
HS: So obviously, coming back to Ramsay again — Lachlan Finch was the only Student Director who opposed the anti-Ramsay motion last year. How would you have voted on the motion?
NR: I think… very very circumstantial obviously, in terms of how board directors voted on it. I think board directors would have and, if I was elected as a board director, that I would look at all sides of every single debate and every single motion that’s put forward. Personally, I think I would have abstained from that, as my general, and as I’ve explained before, my general attitude towards the Union is that politics and very very intense politics and any sort of political party positions shouldn’t have a place on the Board.
HS: So will you be abstaining from any sort of political motions during your time as board director?
NR: So yeah, as I said before I will definitely look at all scenarios if any of those motions come up. I would love to be involved in them in any way that I can, because I do think that discourse at any point is required of student representatives, as we need to represent the student body. It’s something where I will incur my own, sorry, not incur, that’s the wrong word, I’ll involve my own attitude towards political problems, which is very centrist, and I’ll look at all areas and I’ll vote accordingly to what I think is the most educated point of view and one that I think represents most students.
HS: And so the USU regulations that Directors shall, and I’m just gonna quote from them here: “The USU regulations state that directors shall: (i) seek to inform USU members and the broader community of the detrimental effect voluntary student unionism (VSU) in all its forms would have on the USU and all other student organisations, (ii) campaign against VSU in all its forms during the State or Federal elections if it arises as an issue, (iii) work with other student organisations to fight VSU in all its forms on state, campus and national level.” So how do you reconcile this with your Liberal party membership, and what would you do if this became an election issue? Would you abstain again?
NR: So, once again, my membership with any political party doesn’t have any involvement in myself being elected as a board director, or my campaign. So no positions of any form of political interest will be prioritised in my mind when I vote or am involved in these things, so I don’t think that any party membership is relevant whatsoever towards that, and any opinion on unions at all… Yeah, the Union at Sydney Uni is representative of the student community because it has so many members and it has such a vivid and dynamic student body and community that are all so involve in each other that I don’t think that any opinion on unions from any sort of political parties would inflict my judgement, if that makes sense.
HS: Do you have a response to that million dollar question from before?
NR: Oh, the “cutting from the million dollar” one? The one you guys really want to hear?
HS: Well, I mean, you said you would come back to it, so…
NR: Yeah, no, of course, of course, definitely. I think… yeah, it’s a very very difficult one. I’ve been so focused on answering your questions since then that I haven’t given it enough… I unfortunately don’t have a second brain that I was able to think very clearly through that. The fact of the matter is that I don’t think I would cut $1 million from one specific place. I think that would, frankly — whatever it was, whether it was an outlet, or revues, or anything like that — it would completely dismantle that program, whatever it is. I know that was the base of your question, but I think I would have to spread out that somehow, because I couldn’t just completely axe something. That’s just completely against what I’m campaigning for and I’m going for as a board director.
HS: Is there anything else that you wanted to add? …To your viewers online?
NR: Not really, no. Thank you for having me.
HS: Thank you as well.
NR: Awesome, thanks guys.