Honi Soit: Your unopposed election to President is unprecedented in recent memory. Do you think you can genuinely say that you have an electoral mandate from the student body, rather than a coalition of factions?
Swapnik Sanagavarapu: Well I think in some sense, the factions are at least somewhat representative of student interest and student opinions overall. I think there is something to be said for the fact that a lot of people who I had political disagreements with throughout the year and a lot of groups that would otherwise find me totally politically unappealing had enough faith in me to think, “you’re, like, a legitimate candidate and we’re willing to support you, even if that means we have to make concessions ourselves.” I mean, there was plenty of interest among other factions to run a Presidential candidate and on hearing of my intention to run were like, “no we’re happy to have Swapnik.” I also think there is perhaps… there isn’t really a counter here because, and maybe I’m being a little presumptive here, but if there was an election, I think I could have done quite well and I think I could have made a case to students. And seeing as online campaigning starts tomorrow I’m going to continue to make the case to students that I should be running their student union, but ultimately I want to make the case to them that ultimately it’s not just me who is going to be in charge of the SRC, but there’s a whole group of tickets. People that I’m associated with, people that I put a lot of faith and trust in, and in voting for those people, that sort of implicitly gives me an electoral mandate.
HS: So it’s kind of been the electoral strategy of Grassroots this year and in the past to do big deals with a lot of different factions. Some of those factions are ones that Grassroots has not had the best relationship with in the past due to some inherent political differences, such as Unity, or histories of failing to do work in OB roles, such as Panda. What do you think happens to the SRC when Grassroots deals in these factions to paid OB positions?
SS: I don’t think the quality of OB’s or the quality of work that gets done diminishes in any significant way. Let’s just for a second assume the premise that other factions that we have disagreements with don’t necessarily do work, I don’t know if that’s always true, but in any case there’s always going to be really highly motivated Grassroots people, especially this year. There’s a whole slew of new recruits who are running really cool and interesting tickets and who have already expressed interest in a lot of office bearer positions. I think they are going to do a lot of fantastic work. I mean, I don’t think the quality of the SRC diminishes at all. This year the SRC has done fantastic stuff and we had a pretty broad-based coalition, and just during my time on the executive, working with people from Panda, from Advance, from NLS and from Unity we’ve accomplished a whole lot of things. So I don’t think it really inhibits the ability of the SRC to function effectively.
HS: In particular, Grassroots has previously strongly criticised Panda particularly under the President Jacky He and also Gen Sec Yuxuan Wang and there are also some pretty significant political differences with them. They’re not a left wing faction, they’re not an activist faction, they’ve backed regulation changes that you and other Grassroots councillors at the time strongly opposed. Why are you choosing to work so closely with them this year?
SS: A couple of reasons. I think the first one is that we don’t necessarily have the ability, and I don’t think we should try and impose our politics onto international students necessarily. I think we should take international students as they are and as they’ve organised into this faction, particularly Chinese international students, and then make political arguments to them as to why they should support particular left wing things. Even if they’re not necessarily an explicitly left wing faction, I’ve worked with people in Panda on mutual aid stuff, I’ve definitely seen them come into the SRC, for example, throughout… O-Week?, Orientation Week?, I forget the term…
HS: Welcome Week.
SS: Welcome Week. To pack bags and things like that. And then I also think, the second part of this, the part about whether or not they do work, some of that is about the sort of institutional culture that happens within the SRC and the role and the messaging that the President and the other OBs set and the expectations that they set. So with me as President, I want to set quite a hardworking institutional culture from the beginning, try and have people do as much work as possible early on and really emphasise the value and the possibilities that can be achieved by being a really effective office bearer in the SRC. So I don’t think there’s anything antithetical to what Grassroots would believe in to work with Panda.
HS: For sure. Does the deal you have now have a promise for a paid VP position?
SS: I honestly can’t remember. I’m going to tentatively say yes.
HS: Do you support the VP stipend?
SS: I think, I’m sort of ambivalent to a VP stipend, I don’t really planon diminishing it. I think what’s a more important thing than just getting rid of the stipend is actually clarifying the specific roles that the VP has to do. I think one of the big -well not necessarily one of the big things, but one thing I’ve discussed previously with other people, this isn’t a concrete promise or anything, but just the idea of getting rid of the VP position and having four General Secretaries, just to make sure that what the role constitutes is actually a lot clearer. But again, once we set those institutional norms within the SRC of like, here is what the VP has to do, I think it makes things a lot easier and justifies the stipend. So I’m not necessarily opposed to it. But at the time it was proposed I wasn’t for it, I’m just sort of ambivalent to the stipend.
HS: Ok, do you think there’s a reason why this year, under Liam Donohoe’s presidency, that there hasn’t been more of a clarification of the VP’s role?.
SS: I think the main reason has just been that there’s been an incredible amount of uncertainty about what goes on with the SRC this year. For one, all of our contestable spending was paused by the University, so we didn’t get a chance to undertake new projects and therefore the VP didn’t get a chance to come into their own in the position and work on those specific projects. Another thing is just that the VPs, I’m just going to take the example of Felix, has done a lot of work with mutual aid stuff, and has definitely been super involved on the executive. So I think the Vice President hasn’t been clarified because this is not normal operations and we’re sort of running things extremely ad hoc and trying to keep up with all the developments that are happening in the University and the wider world., But hopefully when things normalise a little bit, we can then clarify that role a lot more.
HS: I guess one of the initial criticisms when the VP stipend was introduced was that, in effect, it’s going to be like, as you suggested, having two extra General Secretaries, but there just isn’t enough work for that to be a worthwhile spending of money. So do you think there is enough work for four general secretaries?
SS: I definitely think there could be. At the moment… again, because we’re not operating with all of the things we need to do and all the things we had planned, perhaps at the moment there is a little bit of a dearth of work to be done. But, in any case, I think there’s always work to be done around the SRC and I think that kind of work could easily be taken up by the Vice President. I think that one thing that has been shown this year is that Liam as President has had to step in a lot and be extremely hands on, whereas I think with two very well defined Vice Presidents or four General Secretaries, I as President could be a little bit more hands-off and sort of delegate authority and delegate work a lot better, so that there is a fairer distribution of work across the board.
HS: So Grassroots is a non-binding faction. How, if at all would discussions by the Grassroots caucus affect your decisions as President?
SS: I’m am going to consult with people in Grassroots about major political decisions and I generally want to keep people in Grassroots informed, because at the very least, there’s a lot of really intelligent and progressive and thoughtful people within the faction and within the caucus whose opinions I always appreciate and whose perspectives I also appreciate. There’s also such a wealth of institutional knowledge: past Presidents like Imogen, Education Officers, when I become President Liam will also probably be around. So I think there’s a lot of wealth there that can be drawn on in making any decision. And at the end of the day, I think for people who have supported me and you know, pre-selected me as a Presidential candidate, at the very least, I sort of owe them some level of accountability. And I owe the whole student body accountability.
HS: How would you describe your politics?
SS: I would describe them as pretty left wing. I think the basic underlying premise of my politics, especially at a university level, is just that I believe all students, to some degree, have some kind of shared common interest in fighting for a better education, in fighting not just for a better education but also for a better world, and that’s why I’m really proud to support a lot of the tickets that we’re running, you know, like Grassroots for Free Education or Grassroots for Education Equity, things of that nature. So that underlying premise of that solidarity between students is what informs my politics.
HS: Are you a member of a political party?
SS: I’m a member of the Greens. Sort of joined because it was 5 bucks. But not really an active one. The Hills Greens Committee thing keeps sending me emails and I just sort of delete them.
HS: How do you plan to deal with officer bearers from your own faction and others who are failing to do much work?
SS: I think being the President you have a lot of ability to sort of lean on people interpersonally and just say “Hey, your work isn’t up to standard at the moment, I really think you should improve on it.” I think there’s a lot of things to be said about the power of that, like, interpersonal leverage you have over office bearers. I also think that one of the problems that leads to this in the first place is, again, a lack of clarity about what needs to be done, the fact that things can often be extremely centralised and only at the last minute do other office bearers find out about work that perhaps needs to be done throughout the SRC. So I think being really clear early on about what needs to be done, delegating work, delegating authority, and then later on, just sort of using that interpersonal leverage as President.
HS: SRC meetings have moved online this year due to COVID. They’ve been unusually short, and have met quorum each time which is different from previous years where meetings would be regularly inquorate. If it were safe, would you call for meetings to return in person?
SS: I think I would. I think there is a place for the sort of hustle and bustle of an in person SRC meeting. Perhaps it’s a bit odd, but I like being around and hearing everyone get mad at each other and talk about all the various political issues. That being said, I think an online option could be really useful. I think it could work similar to something like the proxy system or something similar to sending apologies where you can just email the Secretary to Council and be like “Hey, I’m in another state, I can’t make it” or “I’m overseas” or “I’m not feeling very well, can I call into this meeting online”, and I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to that.
HS: At a council meeting earlier this year, you hit back at criticism of the USU for staff cuts, saying “current anger directed towards the USU should also be aimed towards the government and the University”. Can you explain that position further?
SS: Sure. Well the USU is a $30 million student organisation, but it’s also an unincorporated one. I think the USU is an extremely fraud institution. I’ve previously expressed a lot of criticisms of it, and I think it’s extremely corporate and shouldn’t even be described as a student union. But at the end of the day, it’s a student organisation, and if the difference was between solvency and insolvency, with those two positions being the hypotheticals, based on the information that’s been publicly provided, I think I would prefer the USU to be solvent and not run by some auditor or run by the University. Compare that to the university on the other hand. It has $4.7 billion in equity, it has 500 and something million dollars in reserves, it has $500 million in land. At the very least it could liquidate some of its investments. But as is more common among large institutions, it could easily borrow against its balance sheet if it’s facing some kind of liquidity problems, and that money could easily then be used to bail out the USU, and because the University hasn’t done that, I think it’s deserving of a lot more criticism, because it has much less of a budget constraint and a hard sort of liquidity constraint than the USU does. But then again, you can displace the problem and displace the criticism one step further and say that perhaps it sets a bad precedent for the University to borrow money or perhaps it sets a bad precedent for them to exhaust their reserves. And I’ve been in countless arguments about government spending on USyd rants. The government doesn’t have a financial constraint at all, because, without getting too deep into it, it produces money, it prints the money and it could easily just bail out the university sector, and all of that could easily flow down and many of these problems could be avoided in the first instance. So I think, yes, criticism of the USU is extremely justified, but I think the more sort of useful criticism is of the University because of their failure to act, and of the government because of their failure to act. If anything, I think the USU’s biggest problem, aside from the fact that it did cut staff, is the fact that it hasn’t lobbied the University hard enough, it hasn’t taken Board Directors out onto the street, so to speak, it hasn’t agitated, it hasn’t had protests, it hasn’t done enough public work to say, “We as a student organisation deserve money, you should bail us out because you have a moral obligation to do so”, and I think that is a much more justifiable criticism of the USU than saying, you know, it should just become insolvent.
HS: How, if at all, do you plan to work with the USU and SUPRA next year?
SS: Especially with the USU, we’ve already begun working with them to establish a permanent outlet in Wentworth building for the SRC food bank, and one of the things, one of my policies is to formalise the food bank service and formalise the mutual aid service so working with the USU to make the mutual aid and food bank service would definitely be one of my big priorities, because I think the USU has wider reach than the SRC in some sectors of the campus, and it also has the ability to, you know, give us buildings and stuff. It has established outlets and supply chains and things like that. So I really want to work with the USU in that respect. I also want to attempt, as all previous Presidents probably have attempted, to push the USU leadership in more radical directions. On academic board today, I heard that all of the student representatives came together in a bloc to vote down a 12 week semester. I would want to formalise a student coalition on things like the academic board, on the various university executive boards that the USU President sits on and sort of agitate for common student interest. I think it would be the same thing with SUPRA:, I want to create sort of a bloc of student organisations and agitate around common issues. But I think there should be some sort of reciprocity for our good faith to the USU and SUPRA, which is that I think they should support more of our campaigns, I think they should perhaps take a bigger role in protest movements. I think especially within SUPRA there are a lot of really cool postgrads that work in the Casuals Network and who are really involved in the NTEU. I’m sure that SUPRA could be one institution that could channel their discontentment into a broader movement. With the USU, I think it would be really good rather than just putting out a press release about university cuts, say, “We’re going to endorse this protest, we’re going to commit a certain amount of funding if we can and we’re going to encourage all our Board Directors to go.”
HS: So in a change from previous years, Switchroots is running a Grassroots candidate, current President Liam Donohoe, at the top of a NUS ticket called Power for NUS. Another Grassroots candidate, Ellie Wilson, is second on the Grassroots for NUS ticket, you yourself are third, it’s feasible that she is elected as well. Is this signalling a shift in approach for Grassroots to the NUS?
SS: I think a little bit. Some of us have been involved with the national Independent’s faction for a little while. I think we see more potential in the NUS than we previously did. I’m still not entirely sold on the institution, I think it has quite ridiculous voting rules and I don’t think the University of Sydney gets a huge amount out of the NUS. But I think at the very least, it’s better to have Grassroots people than just Labor hacks who want to build a career. I think it’s super necessary to coordinate national education action at the moment, and I think the NUS is a good conjugate to run education campaigns. I think a lot of good stuff about education and welfare and things like that have already been run out of the NUS. Previously, the raise the rate campaign was pretty cool, so there’s definitely a lot of potential there and I think Grassroots understands that we can’t just ignore this massive part of the student representative landscape and that we should perhaps have a bit more of a role to play in shaping the direction that it goes in.
HS: So the national Grindies is pretty politically different, at least some of its members, from Sydney Grassroots. It’s much more of a centrist grouping and it’s often pretty hostile to Socialist Alternative. How do you see Sydney Groots working with Grindies in the NUS?
SS: I think at least from my experience, I haven’t been involved in the Grindies for ages, people have definitely begun to swing left. I think Liam is – I don’t even know what it’s called, like the executive of the national Grindies now, so I think that will definitely shape the political direction in which the national Grindies goes. I also think that the campaign against cuts has radicalised people within the space. So I definitely think there’s a lot more potential for it to be super left wing next year and actually agitate for really cool and progressive stuff. Lincoln, the current NUS Education Officer, is already involved in a lot of really cool, progressive left wing stuff and has been really involved in campaigns against the cuts, so I think there’s definitely a change in institutional culture.
HS: So this is the first time a Grassroots President has been elected for two consecutive years. How do you think you’re similar, and how do you think you’re different to Liam as a President?
SS: I don’t think it’s a huge secret that Liam and I are probably quite similar in our political priorities and in what we want to achieve. In fact, Liam’s the one that brought me into the left in the first place, at a debating social in 2018. In terms of differences, I already flagged this a little bit earlier but I think Liam takes an extremely hands-on approach to a lot of things, which often means it reduces the amount of time that he might have for other specifically Presidential endeavours. So I think I would be a little bit more hands-off and try and delegate authority more. There’s a lot of really good up-and-coming people within Grassroots and within Switch who are running on great tickets who have expressed interest in OB positions who I would trust handing the reins over to a little bit, so that I could work more on the presidential side of things. I also think, well this isn’t necessarily a criticism of Liam, but a lot of stuff didn’t get done this year because of the freeze on contestable spending. Hopefully that’s reversed and I differentiate myself by just carrying through and carrying over a lot of the promises that were made to students last year. But yeah, I think those are the significant ways.
HS: What do you think has been Liam’s biggest weakness as president this year?
SS: I think honestly, it’s just trying to do too much all the time. I don’t think it’s a secret that he’s a total workhorse and will do anything and everything as necessary for the SRC, but it often means that things get done on a really ad hoc-basis and things get done really last minute, so I think perhaps being too hands on and not being willing to delegate to more people, even people who are not office bearers – people who are involved with the SRC and involved with the collectives. I think there’s a lot of room for them to do, perhaps not the most sensitive, SRC-related work but a lot more of the hands-on, organisational stuff.
HS: It appears you were initially hesitant to nominate for President when, earlier in the year, Grassroots was looking for a candidate. Why is that?
SS: Honestly, I don’t know how else to say it, but my degree structure is fucked, like it’s so bad. aAt this point I’m going to be at university for like eight years, so I was hesitant at the start because I literally wanted to figure out what my degree progression would be like, and whether or not becoming President would alter my degree progression even further or even just totally throw everything out of whack. But I definitely was interested in it, I’ve been interested in it for a long time. I think also it was a little bit daunting at first, because I think the SRC has done fantastic work this year and they’re pretty big shoes to fill. But over time I think I’ve realised: A) that all hacks should be at university for as long as possible and B) that I think I am a person who could fill those shoes and could continue the legacy that Liam has started this year.
HS: So could you describe your experience within the SRC?
SS: Sure. I was involved with collectives in my first year, in 2018, not a super active member but I was involved with EAG, and I was involved with ACAR to the extent that it existed. And then in 2019 I was convenor of ACAR and basically helped revive the collective with my other office bearers and then over the past year I’ve been a General Executive and I think I’ve worked in really close collaboration with all the other members of the Executive to, like, get through a lot of the things that we’ve done this year. And I’ve been a councillor for two years consecutively.
HS: So when you were Ethnocultural Officer you oversaw the re-revitalisation of ACAR. At the time though, one of your female co-OBs complained that you and some of the other OBs did not do as much work. Do you think that was a fair assessment of your contributions in the role?
SS: I’ll just correct the record for one second, I got rolled out of Ethnocultural Officer, so I was Global Solidarity. Obviously that doesn’t change anything but I thought I would just correct it. I definitely think there was work that I could have done that fell onto other OBs, and I don’t think any OB ever has a perfect record, and if I could go back in time there’s definitely a lot more things that I would want to do. That being said, there were also a lot of institutional constraints, at the time, on me, like I was working three jobs, studying full time, commuting an hour and a half each way from university. I don’t think those are excuses but I think there were limits on what I could do and I regret that it fell onto other people. That being said, I still think I did a fair amount of work, in terms of setting up O-Week, organising protests, organising contingents, helping revitalise the collective, bringing an interest in the first place. The other thing is I don’t think collectives should necessarily be a top-down endeavour, and I think one of the faults that we had collectively was treating it as such. I think there probably should have been a greater distribution of work among collective members, because, at least nominally, they’re non-hierarchical, horizontal organising spaces. So I think we should have, or at least I should have done a lot better work in terms of delegating things to collective members when I couldn’t do them. But hopefully next year when I’m President and I’m paid for the role and I can hopefully live closer to university, I can just take on a lot more work myself.
HS: So compared to other previous, recent Grassroots presidential candidates, you arguably have quite a bit less experience. So Georgia Mantle, Imogen Grant and Lara Sonnenschein all had paid OB roles, and Liam Donohoe was an editor of Honi Soit. President is a significant step up from your previous roles and there is a reason why candidates often have had experience in a paid, more important OB position. Do you think that will disadvantage you coming in as President?
SS: I don’t think it will disadvantage me in any significant way. I have the same level of institutional knowledge and ability to work within the SRC as other people and other presidential candidates would have had, or at least a comparable amount, even if not to the fullest extent of someone like Imogen or Lara. But at least I have enough, and enough of a familiarity with the SRC that I don’t think it would really make it an issue for me to learn how things work, because I already sort of know what goes on. I’ve also taken on some of the roles that paid OBs would have done this year, in quite minor ways, but for example, sitting in on academic board meetings, sitting in on undergraduate, uni executive education meetings, working with Liam and being acting President for a while. And then I also think whatever the limits of my knowledge and institutional knowledge are, I have a whole heap of people around me who can really help, like I said, people like Liam and people like Imogen who are still within Grassroots, people like Jazz, but also, like I said, a whole incoming wave of new Grassroots and Switch people that are running on a lot of really cool tickets, have expressed a lot of interest, and have spent a lot of time familiarising themselves with the SRC this year. So I don’t think I would be disadvantaged in any significant way.
HS: Are you planning on anything specific to upskill for the role?
SS: I definitely am planning to just sit down with Liam, especially when the SSAF allocation is being worked out, so that we can spend time and I can become a lot more familiar with the specifics of the SRC’s budget and everything. I’m also planning to spend time speaking to Julia, speaking to other people working in admin, and speaking to the caseworkers, as to what they think their priorities are. This is going to sound really lame but I planned on reading a book on organisational management and stuff just to bone up on what I felt might be relevant skills. I don’t know if that’s a thing that people do, but Lenin was into Taylorism, so maybe I can read some first year management textbooks.
HS: So you mentioned earlier about your degree structured being pretty fucked, to quote you. You didn’t commit to deferring studies during your term at the time you were pre-selected by Grassroots. Being the SRC president is a full-time position and deferring is something that Grassroots candidates have previously committed to. Grassroots also heavily criticised Josie Jakovac last year for failing to commit. Can you commit now, on camera, to deferring?
SS: I’m planning on deferring, I think I’ve come to that position. There are some constraints that I can’t exactly discuss that may mean I need to do one subject a semester, but I wanna just caveat what’s been said already, which is that two out of the past three SRC Presidents have studied while they did the role. I think Liam was an anomaly in totally deferring. And then, the criticism of Josie was not that she was going to study but that she was going to study a full four subject study load, and I think that’s not at all comparable to doing one subject a semester. In any case, if it becomes necessary that I have to do one subject a semester, it’s not going to be the SRC that suffers, it’s going to be me, because I’m always going to prioritise SRC work and where there’s a conflict of timing or a conflict of scheduling, the University and my marks are going to be the ones that take the hit. But in any case I think I’m someone that can manage time well, like I said I’ve done previous OB positions, studied full time, I’m still a Distinction to High Distinction student. Also just the fact that I have a lot of people around me who I can lean on to do work, but even just in the past week, I’ve sort of sacked university to work on the SRC’s senate submission and amended it multiple times because they very kindly let us. So I’m always going to prioritise the SRC as an institution. I’m going to be in the office in office hours, I’m going to attend all the meetings, and then, if I have time, I’ll go to my classes.
HS: So SRC presidents have only constrained time and money in the role, what are your priorities in office?
SS: I think there are three main priorities for me. The first is continuing education activism. Students are facing an unprecedented attack on their education. Things are so bad I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this since the attempts at fee deregulation, so I really want to continue working with the Education Action Group, I really wanna continue working with the NTEU, and working with the Casuals Network, and the National Higher Education Action Network. We have a lot of people running on tickets this year like Grassroots for Free Education, Switch for Educational Equity, Grassroots Against the Cuts – a lot of people that are really keen to continue this fight and I, sort of similar to Liam, want to be at the vanguard of a national campaign against education cuts and hopefully work more collaboratively with the NUS, the USU and SUPRA. The second thing is I want to improve the accessibility of the SRC services, one sort of main area is that I want to make casework and legal service just able to be booked online through the website. I think it’s kind of an annoying ad hoc process at the moment. I also want to explore the ability of having permanent after-hours and online casework and legal possibilities so that students who are stranded overseas or stranded in other states can participate and use these services. We have a lot of cool tickets, people running on student welfare and services and equity who really want to pursue things like that. And then finally I want to improve communications with the student body from the SRC. One thing I really want to establish is like a newsletter that I could send out via email. At the moment, obviously the President’s report is published in Honi, but I think, because it takes a couple extra clicks and you have to go to the website, or you need to go onto the Facebook page, or you need to pick up a copy, students don’t often see it. So I think that we can do a lot more and get a lot more information across if we directly gave information to students. So those are the three big areas, and then, sort of aside from that, I really want to pursue and continue the food bank and mutual aid programs.
HS: So opposing cuts to education is central to your platform. What does that opposition look like in a possible future where the higher ed bill, currently subject to the enquiry, is passed?
SS: I think if that’s the case we’re going to, the left and the SRC is going to have to spend a lot of time thinking strategically about what can be done. I don’t claim to have answers about how exactly that opposition would look like, I definitely think consulting with previous and whoever the Education Officer is at the time will be crucial, consulting with the NUS will be crucial. I think one big thing is we really need to make an effort to win over, or in the event that an election happens and a Labor government wins, we really need to make an effort to reverse some of these issues, at least in some kind of classic, nominal Labor way, because at least that will improve our position slightly and allow us to not just be totally on the backfoot. But I think it will continue to be things like student protests, continue to be, like, campaigns of conscious-raising and awareness-raising and also I think, because the enterprise bargaining agreement is about to expire, if and when staff do go on strike, I think that will be a massive soapbox for us to voice all of the criticisms that we have of the proposed or after-the-fact passed higher education legislation. So I think there are various fora through which we can express that disagreement, but I don’t necessarily know how exactly it would look.
HS: So in your policy statement, there’s no mention of WoCo or the anti-sexual assault campaigns which have been less active this year but have been previously important for Groots. Why is that?
SS: I think, like you mentioned, because they’ve sort of diminished a little bit, there hasn’t been a lot of time spent thinking about it, at least on my end. That doesn’t mean I don’t consider it to be important or I don’t consider it to be something that I would support, and if the anti-sexual assault agitations and movement continue over the next year I will be very proud and happy to lend my support to it. We have people running on Grassroots for Feminism that I suspect will want to have a lot to do with this kind of campaign and I definitely want to continue it. But I think there just hasn’t been a mention of it because it’s sort of taken a backseat to the education campaign, perhaps unfortunately.
HS: So you promise in your policy statement to secure funding from USyd to continue and expand the SRC’s vital mutual aid work. How do you think you’ll be able to go about this?
SS: I think the University has been surprisingly receptive to things that the SRC has done this year. I think obviously the university management is not a great institution, there is a lot of awful people but there are still some occasional moments of humanity from them in which they realise the vital function that the SRC poses, and I think we can make a really clear argument to them on things like the student life committee, and the student consultative committee, about the fact that, you know, because of the pandemic and because of the economic crisis, students are suffering, they’re unable to access food and unable to access necessities, the government cutting the coronavirus supplements will devastate them even further, and you have a very basic moral obligation to protect the interests of these students by giving them things like mutual aid. To go back to the classic theme, we have Priya running on Grassroots for Mutual Aid, and I think she’s really going to emphasise this if she gets elected, and sort of help me work out what exactly to say to the University. If the University management is worried or cares about things like rankings and things like test scores and employability, they’ll probably, at the very least, think that students should be fed and clothed and be able to access toiletries, so I think there’s a very easy argument to make for them. Hopefully as well, enrolments rebound a little bit next year. There’s supposed to be a little bit of a baby boom, at least within Australia, over the next couple of years. I was reading in the annual report that they’ve forecasted a whole bunch of people becoming university-age between next year and, like, 2025. So hopefully that causes SSAF to rebound a little bit and we can use the extra money to make the argument that we deserve more and we should use that for mutual aid and our food bank service.
HS: A section of your policy statement discusses improvements to SRC communications, but makes no reference to Honi Soit, which is the SRC’s largest publication. Why is that?
SS: To be honest, I don’t think there’s a lot of improvements to Honi that need to be done that would come from me. Perhaps that’s extremely complimentary to you. But I think that would be more the foray of the incoming Honi ticket, I’m really excited to work with them and discuss their ideas as to how to improve Honi and what the SRC can do to make it better. One thing that, at one point, I thought about but didn’t end up putting into my policy statement because I didn’t think it would be feasible was, like, an Honi delivery service, for old hacks and all those Chief Justices of the Supreme Court that still think themselves to be good old USyd students. If that’s financially viable, then I think it could be something that works. But yeah, I think for the most part, I’d be interested to hear what Bloom has to say, and work on improving Honi in consultation with them.
HS: You haven’t made a commitment to not interfere with Honi Soit in your policy statement. Can you make that commitment now?
SS: I believe very firmly in Honi Soit’s free speech and I’m not going to interfere in it, with the limited caveat that I would DSP it if it was defamatory, and would expose, or would generally expose the SRC to legal liability, because I don’t want Honi Soit and the SRC to come crashing down, because I don’t know, someone made a joke on page 23. But otherwise I will happily commit to not censoring Honi Soit.
HS: In your policy statement, you state that you would work with the Education Action Group, USyd Casuals Network, National Higher Education Action Network and all other staff and student bodies organising against the gutting of higher education. You don’t mention the NTEU, the most important staff organisation on campus. Why is that?
SS: Well I think it’s kind of a foregone conclusion that I would work with the NTEU. I think I’ve made reference to it throughout this interview. That being said, I have some substantive criticisms of the NTEU national leadership. I think the branch here at Sydney does a lot of really important work and I would be really happy to work with them, but I think people have sort of splintered off from the NTEU and have begun doing a lot more on-the-ground organising, namely the Casuals Network, namely NHEAN, the National Higher Education Action Network. I think next year, because of the end of the enterprise bargaining agreement, there’s a possibility of a strike. I would be the first one on the pickets, and I think the SRC would absolutely be in solidarity with the NTEU if they chose to go on strike. But the reason why there’s no mention of them in the policy statement is because I think I have a lot closer connections to the Casuals Network and to NHEAN. I mean some of my tutors and friends are involved in both of those and I think they do a lot more, sort of, on-the-ground organising.
HS: Your policy of setting up a weekly SRC stall on Eastern Ave might not be possible in ongoing pandemic conditions. What sort of ways are you planning on connecting with students while much of the student body is remaining off campus?
SS: Totally, yeah. I think I’ve already flagged it before, but I really want to establish a weekly SRC newsletter and send it out to all students, so at the very least, students that couldn’t give less of a shit can just see ‘SRC’ in their email inbox, and then people that were genuinely interested could click it and read all of the information. I think the way that I was conceptualising it was similar to what the USyd email looks like, where there’s various sections that could lead you to different reports., For example there could be a section that leads you to the President’s report, there could be a section that leads you to casework and legal service. I also think a really important thing that I would want to include is, like, information about ongoing campaigns and also like a staff section, just so the NTEU, the Casuals Network, NHEAN, whatever, could just say: “Here are the terrible things that are happening to staff this week, here is what’s going on, get organised, get involved.” I think the other thing that I really want to do is just to improve the SRC’s website overall, I think it’s quite archaic at the moment. So just being able to readily access information on a well-designed, easy-to-use website would go a long way in making the SRC more accessible for students who are off campus. Just literally being able to click and see, ‘here are all the reports right in front of you, here are all the ongoing campaigns, here’s updated information. Having a better search function would definitely go a long way, I tried to search for things on the SRC website and I only got results from like 2015. So you know, working with the PUBS managers as well to design a newsletter and design a better website, and then also just improving our general social media presence.
HS: The University doesn’t expect to recover its revenue losses this year in the next, and indeed it might even see losses higher than projections at the moment. If you had to cut $50 000 from the SRC’s budget, which is maybe something you’ll have to do if SSAF decreases, where do you think you’d be cutting from first?
SS: I don’t think I would cut from one specific area, because I don’t think that’s how cuts of this nature work. I think there are a lot of places in which I could economise and just sort of take money from all kinds of different places that would sort of cumulatively add up to $50 000. I think for one we could economise heaps on printing costs, we spend an absurd amount on printing, I’m not sure how much, but before I came here I was chatting to Julia about this and we literally discussed the fact that so much printing happens, rarely is any of it is used, we could cut down quite a significant amount of money from that. I also think, just generally, you could reduce some of the money that was allocated to certain contestable projects, so if I had to freeze some of the things I wanted to get done, then, you know, that’s a likely possibility. And then, maybe, as a final resort, I would consolidate some of the budgets of departments, like I don’t think residential colleges needs any money, I think maybe welfare and social justice could share a budget, but even then I think perhaps I could divert more resources into the council’s general fund, cut down some of the departmental budgets and then just get everyone to get their money through the council’s budget overall, and I think, cumulatively, you could probably get up to $50 000 that way.
HS: You’ve committed to hiring a third lawyer to expand a legal support service for students. Do you think that’s feasible given the SRC might see revenue loss next year?
SS: I’m dreaming big. If there is revenue loss, then I don’t necessarily know if it is feasible. I think, again, we could make an argument to the University that that’s something that’s absolutely necessary. Perhaps, because of their abysmal record with sexual assault, they wouldn’t be as receptive to that as something like a mutual aid/food bank, but in any case I think we can make the argument to allocate a certain amount of money for that. You know, if push comes to shove and we literally don’t have money for it, then there’s nothing we can do about that.
HS: So both Honi and the SRC President elections are uncontested this year, which is a big change from the very competitive multi-candidate elections over the last few years. What do you think that says about the state of student politics on campus?
SS: I think… well I’m obviously quite happy, I don’t think I was ever complaining about it. But I think there is a little bit of a shame, I would have liked it to be a bit competitive, because I think that encourages healthy debate and that encourages more democratic participation and I would have liked to have bested a competitor in the marketplace of ideas. But I think what it says about student politics is, firstly, that this year has been so unprecedented and just so disruptive that people don’t feel they have the energy or time or the willpower to edit the student paper or become the President of the SRC, but I also think that it suggests the competence of Grassroots overall, because factions, like I said previously, that we’ve had serious political disagreements with in the past were willing to support me, because they’ve sort of seen me as building on the legacy that Grassroots established in the SRC this year. I also think it really speaks volumes to what the SRC can do for students, because, again, people are willing to compromise on their presidential ambitions and elect who they think is a competent and progressive candidate in order to just make sure the SRC continues supporting students. As far as Honi goes, there didn’t seem to be any rogue Liberal tickets in the making. Perhaps Liberals have just realised that, for all their love of free speech, they’re just not that good at writing.
HS: Imogen used to have old CCP posters decorating her office. What are your plans for redecorating?
SS: Oh I have plenty, I’m already on Redbubble looking at the cheap, glossy posters. I think I definitely want some more stuff about previous student campaigns. If we can get some old photos or even some old Honi’s, I’d love to have those up framed in the office. I also really love old, like, anticolonial posters, there are some really cool ones about Patrice Lumumba and the Congo that look really sick that I’d love to just adorn the walls. I’d maybe clean up the couch a little bit, it’s kind of grotty, but you know, a little bit of a makeover. Perhaps add some more stickers.
HS: Nice. Was there anything else you wanted to say?
SS: I think people should register to vote if they haven’t already, the council is obviously a really important election, and I’d encourage people to vote for as many Grassroots and Switch tickets as possible because, I think, all the things that I’ve promised, all the things that I want to do are not going to be possible without a really competent, experienced and hardworking team around me, and I think Grassroots and Switch are the people that can deliver that.
HS: Cool, thanks so much.