SULS election round-up: Ticket responses

The full candidate list and policy responses.


FlareSplashVibe
PresidentWendy Hu (Comm / LLB IV)Dani StephensonCasper Lu (Comm / LLB IV)
Vice-President (Careers)Cameron Jordan (JD I)Tatiana Neumann-MurphyBen Hines (Comm / LLB III)
Vice-President (Social Justice)Sophia Semmler (Arts / LLB IV)Eden McSheffreyMelina di Chiara (Arts / LLB IV)
Vice-President (Education)Sinem Kirk (Arts / LLB IV)Max VishneyHarry Hendriks (JD II)
TreasurerTiana Dumanovsky (JD II)Maya EswaranVishnu Naranayan (JD I)
SecretaryAlison Chen (Arts / LLB III) Alex De AraujoJessica Fang (Eng / LLB IV)
SponsorshipGretel Wilson (JD II)Thrishank ChintameneniKelly Ma (Comm / LLB II)
CompetitionsCaroline Xu (Comm / LLB III)Carol LinJulia Tran (Comm / LLB II)
CompetitionsFelix Wood (Arts / LLB II)Kathy ZhangMrithika Shankarla (Eco / LLB IV)
SocialsOnor Nottle (Arts / LLB I)Grace WongVivienne Davies (JD I)
SocialsGeorgia Watson (JD II)Sophie DriverMax Glanville (Comm / LLB IV)
CampusSofia Mendes (Eco / Law II)Mikey Glover (Comm / LLB I)Zara Paleologos (Arts / LLB II)
SportCalvin Kwong (Eco / LLB III)Will Pyke (JD I)Ilona Ho (Sci / LLB I)
PublicationsJustin Lai (Arts / LLB II)Genevieve CouvretDavid Zhu (Arts / LLB II)
InternationalSissi Xi Chen (JD II)Anne PengKigen Mara (Comm / LLB III)
Campaign ManagerDasha MoskalenkoRosette SokRiley Vaughan

Flare for SULS – Interview Transcript

What’s your vision for SULS?

Connectivity
Remote learning precipitated by COVID-19 has undeniably caused us to feel isolated and disconnected from our friends, academics and the broader law school. FLARE wants to ensure that all students, whether returning to campus or learning online in 2021, feel a sense of the community SULS has always so pivotally fostered. In particular, emphasis will be placed on helping first year LLB and JD students, who have not had rite of passage SULS experiences such as First Year Camp or Law Ball, form support networks.

The SULS Executive this year has had the very unenviable task of taking a reactionary approach to changing pandemic conditions. FLARE is critically reflecting on how SULS can create meaningful spaces for interaction, engagement and connection.

Support
FLARE is committed to ensuring no student feels left behind by the disruption posed by COVID-19. FLARE understands the anxiety induced by the uncertainty surrounding career prospects, particularly for international students. As some level of social distancing remains in place, FLARE will expand and diversify opportunities to holistically engage with the law through programs such as competitions, publications, mentoring, wellbeing initiatives and discussion forums. Furthermore, FLARE will continue to bolster SULS’ equity schemes and work with Faculty to provide financial support to students in need.

Advocacy
SULS needs to be a strong independent voice when lobbying the Faculty to ensure the academic program is flexible in accommodating student needs and adequate support services are provided. COVID-19 has upended legacy systems of teaching and SULS has a unique opportunity in 2021 to substantially influence how law is taught for years to come.

Furthermore, SULS must advocate on issues, especially those concerning law students (e.g. fee hikes, wage theft) through educational insights and avenues for direct action. To most effectively push for change, FLARE will coordinate with other Australian law student societies, leveraging the reconnection with ALSA, and other legal bodies, in its advocacy.

What do you think is the biggest thing that SULS could have improved on this year?

I’m dismayed by the lack of support SULS has provided to international students this year. From the SULS COVID-19 Student Experiences Survey, it is clear that international students are disproportionately feeling anxious about career prospects, asynchronous learning, inflexible assessment structures, and unsustainable costs of living in light of the pandemic. SULS has an imperative to support ALL students, regardless of if they are studying in-person or online overseas.

What do you think is the biggest thing SULS has done well?

On the other hand, I am invigorated by the stronger advocacy role SULS has taken in 2020, especially on issues concerning law students. SULS should continue to leverage its unique position to shed light on social issues from an educational and legal standpoint.

Why are you qualified to run SULS?

FLARE is the only ticket with students who have served on the 2019 & 2020 SULS Executives and Committees. Having the experience of running SULS both in-person and online is incredibly important for tailoring SULS programs and events to suit the hybrid environment. FLARE has representation from every LLB and JD cohort, and brings a diversity of experience from other university engagements, industry and professional work.

Most importantly, those with SULS experience on FLARE have a proven commitment to meaningfully improving their respective portfolios. Elections should be about accountability. Elections are about allowing students to scrutinise the work of the SULS Executive and Committee members to identify whether they’ve genuinely fulfilled promises to promote ‘inclusivity’ and ‘accessibility’. FLARE is proud to stand by our track-record.

How can SULS adapt to the challenges of coronavirus and online learning, and what (if anything) would you change about the approach of this year’s executive?

SULS needs to remain adaptable to COVID-19 and critically reflect on how to meaningfully engage with students in a hybrid environment. FLARE will be dynamic in its responses and has taken a detailed contingency based approach to its policy-making

SULS itself should make accessibility to events, programs and activities a priority. The unfortunate reality is that not all countries have COVID-19 cases as low as Australia’s and many students will have to remain in their home regions in 2021. FLARE has incorporated a virtual component to every portfolio to ensure that students remain engaged no matter where they are in the world.

Furthermore, FLARE will capitalise on the unique opportunity presented by remote learning in 2020 to ensure the law school curriculum remains flexible and accommodative to student needs. FLARE will be a strong independent voice when lobbying the Faculty to make these structural changes to modes of teaching and assessment structures are permanent. 

Do you think SULS has a role to play in opposing fee and course cuts which affect law students? What action are you proposing (if any) to address these policy issues from a Law Society perspective? Is there a place for a Society led by you to advocate on broader policy issues in the community?

Absolutely. FLARE is staunchly opposed to the recently-passed University funding cuts. The 28% increase in fees for law degrees will only exacerbate the lack of diversity in, and structural inaccessibility of, a legal education. 

FLARE believes that issuing public statements can be an effective method of advocacy, but they must not be tokenistic. FLARE sees SULS as being uniquely positioned is in its ability to shed light on social issues from an educational and legal standpoint. FLARE would like to see SULS provide information on organisations active in the space, articles and other forms of commentary on the issue, as well as ways to get more actively involved (e.g. protests, petitions, donation drives). Of course, a line should be drawn where SULS is commenting on or affiliating itself with political parties or sitting Members of Parliament. 

FLARE also wants to leverage the experience of two of its ticket members (Wendy and Alison) having previously been ALSA Conference Councillors to make SULS be a more pivotal player on a national advocacy front. Wage theft, and bullying and harassment in the workplace, for example, are regrettably not experiences isolated to students of Sydney Law School. In order to effectively pressure organisations into changing their practices, SULS needs to coordinate with law student societies from across Australia in its advocacy. 

How will you approach decision-making on the SULS executive?

Decision-making on the SULS Executive should always be consensus based and involve input from all members. Where possible, guidelines on how to address contentious issues will be set at the beginning of the year. Where differences in opinion inevitably arise, an understanding of why views are held should be solicited. Most importantly, decisions should always be made with the diversity of law student experiences in mind.

How would you approach the issue of an under-performing Executive member?

My approach is informed by four years of being involved with various student societies and professional experience working in both corporate and non-corporate team environments. First, I would inquire into the wellbeing of the Executive member and if there are external reasons for underperformance. In my experience, it is often linked to a personal matter, and I will foremost want to support my team in the capacity of a friend. Second, I would inquire if there are SULS-related reasons for underperformance. If the Executive member is feeling burned out or experiencing conflict with other members, I will do my best as President to take on some of the workload and resolve any disputes.

In 2019, a slew of various SULS sponsors, including Platinum sponsors Freehills and Allens, as well as Gold sponsors Gilbert + Tobin and Ashurst, were reported to have been underpaying their graduate lawyers to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given the challenges students and graduates face in this economic climate, would you reconsider the arrangements SULS has with these firms? If not, why not, and how do you propose otherwise to protect students from similar harms in your capacity as the Society? 

To the extent possible, SULS’ sponsorship base should reflect the values and interests of the students it serves. FLARE is committed to diversifying the sponsorship base to beyond the major commercial law firms for this reason. Furthermore, FLARE will kickstart the Investment Project which will ensure SULS can remain financially independent and viable in the long-term, and not rely so heavily on corporate sponsorship.

FLARE sees coordinating with other law student societies through bodies such as ALSA the most effective way to address issues of wage theft and other insidious organisational practices. To avoid firms simply shifting funding to another law student society and avoiding responsibility, a State or National approach is how organisations will be pressured into changing workplace culture and behaviours.

How will you engage students who have not previously been engaged with SULS? Are there particular demographics of concern to you in this area?

One group FLARE recognises as not often engaging with SULS is our international student community. FLARE is committed to ensuring they feel supported, connected and heard. FLARE’s international officer, Sissi Chen, is a veteran international students rights advocate experienced in crisis intervention. She is academically trained in cultural studies and was awarded First Class Honours on her Thesis on international students’ lived experience with racism and sexual violence. Sissi will bring to SULS tried and proven peer support, fortnightly WeChat catch-ups, career workshops, ESL streams in the Introductory Mooting Program and the Negotiations Crash Course. 

Typically, the Sydney University Law Society designs its experience by thinking about its portfolios and building on what’s already there. We never start the conversation with the person who is furthest from the center of our community. We need to design a law student experience from scratch for the person who is furthest away from the centre of our student community. That means doing research into who that cohort is, what their needs are and investing in policies that address these silent minorities.

How will you engage with disadvantaged and marginalised law students? Do you believe your ticket is representative of the Law School, and why?

My personal experience, and those of similar backgrounds around me, has shaped a lot of my vision for SULS. I am a first-generation immigrant, the first in my mother’s family to attend University and I started at Sydney Law School not knowing a single other person in my cohort. FLARE will support disadvantaged and marginalised law students in numerous ways, including expanding opportunities for participation, restructuring programs so they elicit meaningful engagement, boost funding for SULS’ equity schemes and make events more accessible. Examples include: ‘Why Law’ Podcasts, Social Justice Lecture Series, Inter-Cohort Careers Mentoring, Competitions Community Facebook Group, more equity-supported socials tickets, all events being disability accessible. 

FLARE believes its ticket is representative of the diversity of voices within the law school with 11 non-cis men, balanced representation from all the LLB and JD cohort streams, and a broad range of experiences, from within and outside of law school. 

The Investment Project has been discussed at some length for a significant amount of time. What stops your policy being just another empty promise? Also, Splash have a similar policy, except that they have committed to ethical investments. Will you do the same, and if so, how will you work to ensure SULS is committed to ethical investments beyond your tenure?

FLARE’s understanding is that the Investment Project is ready to be launched, the reasons why it has not done so this year is because of the volatile equities market in light of COVID-19. FLARE is absolutely committed to making ethical investments and knows that there are multiple ESG-aligned ETFs which provide sustainable returns and fit within the Investment Project parameters. Coming from a Finance background, I am personally very keen to work with the Treasurer to launch the Investment Project.

You draw the ‘line’ in the social justice space at partisanship. In an environment where the attacks on law students from a policy perspective have largely if not exclusively come from the Coalition party room, how can you ensure your advocacy is actually effective, and how do you reconcile it with your Constitutional obligations to advance the interests of law students?

  • Related: Given the recent victories of student protest campaigns on campus, would you commit to SULS training legal observers, or encouraging organisation of protests for example?

FLARE acknowledges that there are competing obligations SULS has as a registered charity under s 11 of the Charities Act and the constitutional mandate to advance the interests of law students. FLARE will reconcile these by fully committing to advocating against adverse changes to the law student experience, including making salient avenues for direct action such as to protest, and training legal observers. However, FLARE does not think it appropriate, nor most effective, to explicitly endorse or renounce, a political party or sitting Member of Parliament. FLARE believes that students who feel strongly about an issue are already taking positive action and that where SULS can be most effective in its advocacy, is to inform, educate and make salient the ways in which students can take direct action to address an issue.

You’ve highlighted SULS’ advocacy this year as a highlight of the current Executive’s work. The administration has been explicitly reticent to encourage student activism, leading to Law Against The Cuts, an individualist movement detached from other Clubs and Societies being united with their Clubs Against the Cuts campaign. This even extended to legal observation, despite Professor Simon Rice being brutalised on video by police on the 14th of October. Is this reflective of the approach you would take to advocacy during your term, and if so, why? 

FLARE was commenting on the broad shift SULS has undergone this year to being a stronger advocacy body and acknowledges that more can be done to encourage direct action. FLARE will commit to supporting law students organising under Law Students Against the Cuts. It is as crucial as ever that law students can collectively voice their opposition to further fee hikes, staff layoffs and course cuts in the wake of COVID-19.

Do you have any political affiliations or history of campaigning for political candidates on campus or off, and if so how would this affect your management of the Society (if at all)? 

I have previously campaigned for Switch and was a member of the Australian Labor Party (for a year). This will not affect my management of the society. 

(Note: Wendy Hu also campaigned for Tom Manousaridis for USU Board in 2019)

Vibe for SULS – Interview Transcript

What’s your vision for SULS?

Vibe for SULS seeks a more inclusive, engaging and well-considered set of offerings  surrounding the provision of events, opportunities, and leadership. Our vision is one where SULS will see a group of students who have not been on the executive in the past take up leadership roles, yet have an incredible amount of experience and engagement with the society in other ways, and seek to welcome students who are yet to join SULS, however, with a vision of support, assistance and mentorship – which has not been the priority in the past. This includes guidance from the very first stages of law school, and addressing the anomalous statistics regarding mental health in legal professionals by reinforcing the fact that reaching out and that support services do not require poor mental health to access. CAPS as an example should be something that people utilise just to chat to a professional. We are so often told to take care of our physical health, so why does this not extend to mental health?

What do you think is the biggest thing that SULS could have improved on this year?

The SULS executive has changed its advocacy with regards to many socio-political issues this year. In doing so, it has shown restraint, but has offered clear and unequivocal support where appropriate. SULS this year has recognised the impact that the fee-hikes, racism and underpayments have had on law students and have responded flexibly and accordingly. It is important to note that these changes have come about because the executive had a number of heated discussions on each topic. However, we believe that alternative courses of action could have been proposed. A working group for a policy submission for the fee hikes, or a document setting out protest rights for those who chose to attend protests in this past period would have been tangible solutions. 

What do you think is the biggest thing SULS has done well?

The lockdown caused significant disruption to students in both their classroom and personal life. The biggest thing that SULS has done this year is taken a more active role in lobbying faculty on a number of educational issues, including ProctorU, summer school, and COVID-based learning procedures. This has been done in conjunction with student consultation on many fronts, including surveys, private discussions, emails, a “Dear Faculty” section in the newsletter, and has shown a strong intention to engage with students this year and to make sure that they’re heard.

Why are you qualified to run SULS?

We bring an incredibly diverse ticket to the executive. We have a ranged experience to the extent that a large number of our candidates have been in more than one portfolio. Others bring external experience either through other societies or through life experience. Our presidential candidate’s involvement with SULS committee work predates that of all the other candidates in this election and his knowledge of the society and its running is arguably unmatched in this election, and all of us are incredibly driven to make sure that SULS represents all students. 

How can SULS adapt to the challenges of coronavirus and online learning, and what (if anything) would you change about the approach of this year’s executive?

Vibe has discussed the challenges with the transition to online learning and believe the biggest difficulty came from mental health and Zoom fatigue. Students without academic support or networks of friends to rely upon for motivation found it a struggle, more so than others. That is why Vibe for SULS is pushing for a SULS that thrives off mentorship and support. Law school is difficult, and collectively law students are resilient enough to face the move to online learning. However, we don’t think that the hardship is a necessary one at times, and we feel that the support structure for all students should be reinvigorated. This will be through collaborations with CAPS and other mental health organisations to break down the perception that only those with poor mental health should talk to a professional, in order to foster a culture of preventative mental health care.

Do you think SULS has a role to play in opposing fee and course cuts which affect law students? What action are you proposing (if any) to address these policy issues from a Law Society perspective? Is there a place for a Society led by you to advocate on broader policy issues in the community?

Yes! SULS has a role to advocate on this particular issue. The fee hikes and course cuts affect all law students, and there is no doubt that SULS should oppose them, especially since they further exacerbate the experience and perception of many that a law degree is inaccessible and university financially prohibitive.

SULS should also take a part in advocacy on other broader policy issues as they arise. The two pronged criteria has been mentioned before. The first is whether the issue affects a not insignificant group of law students. The second is whether on balance a proposed action is beneficial to the society. Criteria include, by-laws, potential consequences (such as visa issues, deportation, reputational damage), the impact to the law students affected, and whether alternative courses of action are better.

How will you approach decision-making on the SULS executive?

Thus far, as a team, we have taken the approach that decisions are to be made on a basis where the majority is determinative, but that each perspective is uplifted and heard. It is the stance of Vibe that decisions will be made to ensure the majority is satisfied and those who are not in agreeance will be heard and involved in the outcome to allow for compromises. Fundamentally, the resolutions of the executive are made richer through vigorous debate. 

Students are also welcome to drop into the SULS office, engage with SULS via Facebook and instagram as avenues to have an input for decisions made – we will be listening and awaiting insights and input. 

How would you approach the issue of an under-performing Executive member?

It depends on whether or not the executive member is willfully neglecting their duties.  Issues of underperformance are something that would best be resolved internally before resorting to the Constitutional provisions. Something that Vibe has emphasised in policy and the debates is cross-portfolio collaboration. This not only for the purpose of sharing the workload and increasing the amount of resources available for particular events, but it is also to ensure that executives are not overwhelmed to the extent that they end up underperforming. As an example, in SULS, law ball is organised by the Socials committee alone, which is about eight people. Though this isn’t necessarily underperforming, it takes an extreme toll on the executives, which may affect their performance in their day-to-day duties including office hours etc. By contrast, SUBS has all 70+ executive and subcommittee members organising SUBS ball. Not only does this alleviate the mental stress on the Events executives and their portfolio, but it also allows to them to ensure that the work for other offerings is done well.

In 2019, a slew of various SULS sponsors, including Platinum sponsors Freehills and Allens, as well as Gold sponsors Gilbert + Tobin and Ashurst, were reported to have been underpaying their graduate lawyers to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given the challenges students and graduates face in this economic climate, would you reconsider the arrangements SULS has with these firms? If not, why not, and how do you propose otherwise to protect students from similar harms in your capacity as the Society? 

As mentioned in the debate, the working conditions in the legal industry have been brought to light in various ways including underpayments and bullying in the last year. The job market this year has been tight, with fewer clerkships being awarded across the board. This does not mean that graduates and clerks should be taking on roles in which they are underpaid. Where underpayments have occurred, SULS should reflect on the way they manage the relationship between them and sponsor firms. There are two ways to do this. The first is to cut off the relationship. However, given SULS’s sponsorships for some large firms break five figures, which makes breaking the relationship a poor choice. The second is for SULS to educate students on their work rights and promote awareness so that graduates and even paralegals know what conditions they can legally expect. This would involve firms that have been accused of underpayments coming in to assuage potential graduates of changing work practices. The number of roles in the industry is already limited so this course of action is more preferable. This is a way of allowing students to still be exposed to these roles, whilst also arming them with the knowledge of how to protect themselves. 

As a side note, SULS’ relationship with ALSA has been used in the past to address national issues of workplace harassment and bullying, culminating in an International Bar Association x SULS event at which Michael Kirby spoke. This level of national action can be used to send a message to firms that repeatedly breach payment conditions.

How will you engage students who have not previously been engaged with SULS? Are there particular demographics of concern to you in this area?

In discussions with people who haven’t been a part of the organisation, two main issues have been a pattern in the responses. The first is time. Events need to be accessible to students not only as a matter of perception, but also as a matter of practicality. Having free time as a law student is a privilege, and SULS needs to make sure that its events are not only well-considered, but also well-timed to maximise engagement. Vibe will work with an internal calendar with all assignments and major events plotted out so that you as students have every opportunity to engage with the society without the excessive stress of assignments, exams, and even other SULS commitments. We note that this is a concern mostly for JDs, who have work commitments, rent to pay, and spend their entire degree doing four law subjects a semester. Hence we’d be aiming to leverage the competitions bootcamp in an intensive, hands-on program, having casual socials events with shorter time-commitments, and finding ways for law students to be involved in short-term projects for SULS instead of the traditional long-term semester/year long portfolio commitments.

How will you engage with disadvantaged and marginalised law students? Do you believe your ticket is representative of the Law School, and why?

In discussions with students from disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds, the feedback has been that guidance and mentorship is more important than it is for other students. We are hoping to be able to provide a program for first years which does more than just meet twice in the first semester. This program should be run twice a year at the very least to ensure that transfer students are covered and that all students have the opportunity to gain an insight from multiple older students. Vibe for SULS is also seeking to introduce events which do not require a ticket over $200 as has occurred in the past. Given SULS’ surplus and current bank balance of $300,000, we also plan on increasing the budget for the equity portfolio to subsidise some ticket costs if the event cost becomes too prohibitive and to increase the number of specially subsidised tickets under an equity grant. Everyone deserves an opportunity to attend and should not be out of pocket. We are also planning on changing the SULS tutoring database to implement subsidies for tutoring services, which again goes towards guidance for underprivileged students.

It’s also important for SULS to emphasise what the eligibility criteria are for law students. A concern with equity grants and some of the scholarships given this year, was that people self-selected not to apply because they felt that they weren’t deserving enough, or that others had it much worse. 

With regards to representation, Vibe for SULS features 5 international students all from different locations, 10 people of colour, and 9 female-identifying candidates and at least 1 LGBTQiA+ identifying candidate. Our undergraduate degrees are also quote varied, from engineering, to commerce to science. We are also represented across all the possible cohorts for this election. Indeed, beyond this, we have students who have transferred from other institutions, and even transferred in halfway through the academic year!

What tickets plan to do with the Social Justice portfolio and executive advocacy is one of the most topical questions of this year’s campaign. Your Social Justice pick is Melina Di Chiara, whose policy statement is largely the same as those of VPSJ candidates of years gone by. Careers in non-corporate organisations which had limited opportunity for employment before the pandemic, as well as the continuation of programs SULS already runs, are the majority of her commitments. Your suggestions to student media regarding improvements to SULS’ advocacy this year, whilst solid, aren’t in her policy statement, suggesting it was an ad-hoc response. With more experienced candidates running against you in the Social Justice space, is it fair to say that the Social Justice portfolio isn’t your priority? If not, why not? 

I reject that it was an ad-hoc response. This has been discussed between our team for quite some time. If you watch the debates, look at our responses to the Honi Soit survey last time and read the Presidential policies, this should clearly suggest that we have been consistent on this during the whole election period especially regarding fee hikes. In the current circumstances, we also reject that social justice is not an area of expertise for us; at least four of us work at Marrickville Legal Centre, Melina herself has worked at Justice Action and Harry has been a part of the JJMS program. We also reject that the portfolio is not a priority for us; it simply must be in the current climate. Many of the socio-political issues that have arisen recently affect law students as much, if more than issues in other portfolios. We’re committed to addressing those head on.

You’re hesitant to cut off relationships with major sponsors, even when faced with issues such as wage theft, given their contribution to the finances of the Society. You’re also the only ticket without a commitment to active investment of the roughly $300,000 in cash reserves SULS reported at the end of financial year. Is this a shortcoming of your ticket and a function of its relative inexperience, or simply a detail that’s been overlooked that you’ll look to rectify with a commitment to ethical investment?

This is very much not a shortcoming of our ticket. Our treasury candidate is the only one that has been on the treasury committee this year. Additionally one of our competitions directors was on the committee this year as well. We are well aware of the ethical investment project; I (Casper) had spoken to Dean and Jeremy about it in 2018, and we were the ones that asked for it to be fact checked during the second debate, since we knew it had almost been completed. If elected, of course we will commit to that investment project, as this is a continuation of the work that in our minds, has already been done, especially since as mentioned in the first debate $300,000 in cash reserves is operationally inefficient.

Your commitment to representation for those not currently engaged by Sydney Law is admirable, but your senior executive consists of three men from Sydney’s elite all-boys private schools, two from King’s, and all of your vice-presidents are white domestic students. Is this a return to the much-maligned ‘clique’ of years gone by, and if not, why not?

Attending a private school isn’t synonymous with being part of the SULS clique. The SULS clique is hard to define; whether a person is “in” or “out” of the clique (or feels welcome to be involved) seems to depend in part on their involvement in SULS, and in part on their relationship with current executive members. It should be noted that our ticket won’t perpetuate the clique, and in fact, we believe it will help detract from that perception. This is because our candidates aren’t drawn from past SULS executives. 

Nonetheless, to the extent that attending a private school might make someone appear less approachable or representative, there should be a discussion about how to contend with that potential. 

First, we note that privilege is not one-dimensional. Two of those three senior executives were only able to attend those private schools with the aid of scholarships. Of course there are forms of privilege attaching to attending a private school at all (e.g. education and network). However, going to a private school on a scholarship provides somewhat of an understanding of not belonging at an institution. This can provide a point of insight for what it may be like for students entering Sydney Law without a great deal of educational or high-SES privilege, allowing us to empathise with students and to make representation and engagement with those of disadvantaged backgrounds a priority in our policies. We hope our Equity portfolio will provide even more leadership for our executive on this point. 

Secondly, we are incredibly proud of the diversity of our ticket. We have 5 international students (and one on our senior executive), 10 people of colour, 9 female-identifying candidates, and at least 1 LGBTQiA+ identifying candidate on our ticket. 4 out of our 7 senior executives identify as people of colour. We bring a wealth of backgrounds, experiences, cultures and perspectives to the fore. We believe this diversity and representation will help our ticket to be open and welcoming to everyone, limiting the potential for the formation of a clique.

Do you have any political affiliations or history of campaigning for political candidates on campus or off, and if so how would this affect your management of the Society (if at all)? 

I campaigned for Brendan Ma as a primary school friend in first year. This has no effect on my management and I’m not beholden to any political party. I’ve also been doing administrative roles in the Federal Election and SRC for the last three years.

Splash for SULS – Interview Transcript

What’s your vision for SULS?

SPLASH for SULS wants to bridge the gap and advocate for all law students. Our ticket sees three systemic issues in our law school – we want to tackle these head on with big, ambitious and evaluated policies. Firstly, there’s a gap — between the students who can already access the rich opportunities we provide, and the students who can’t participate and get left further behind. Those in this second group earn their place at Sydney Law School, but lose out on friends, parties, skills and jobs. We must fix that. This goes beyond being ‘inclusive’ but shifting the culture of SULS so all students feel that our society is for them. These are students suffering from mental health issues, financially-disadvantaged students, international students, first-year students, students with disabilities, those living in regional areas or overseas and students struggling to find graduate opportunities. We need to have policies that cater specifically for these groups so that we can make SULS for everyone.

SPLASH puts social justice and mental health at its heart and wants to advocate for students whose voices are not typically heard. There is no doubt that law students are disproportionately stressed, anxious and depressed. SPLASH wants to tackle these systemic mental health issues head on and continue the wellbeing focus the Executive had this year.

We also believe it is necessary to reimagine social justice as being at the centre of SULS purpose and offerings. Our students are confronted with headlines every day that reveal shortcomings in our society to which the law has failed to adapt. For too long, USYD law has been seen as a ‘corporate factory’. We want to change that by pushing our law school to be one that acknowledges how central our students are to the actualisation of social justice. As recipients of a legal education, we are the ones who will be trusted with shaping the law in the future. Our purpose as law students isn’t merely to interpret the law, but to change it – a role we do not adequately prepare our students for at present. Our legal clinic program will not only change this culture, but it will give more students an opportunity to gain experience in such an uncertain time. Now, more than ever, SULS and the faculty need to listen to students and go the extra mile to provide what is needed – whether this is through more flexibility, financial assistance or increased academic support.

What do you think is the biggest thing that SULS could have improved on this year?

While this year’s Executive did a great job shifting its programs online, representation of students’ interests in the face of generational attacks on higher education was ad hoc and insufficient. We do not fault the 2020 Executive for this – it is reflective of a long-standing narrowness in the Society’s self-perception that flows from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down. This year has shown changes to that, however, with signs of a real change in law students’ attitudes shown by the number of our peers who have actively participated in the fight against education cuts, many of whom we are proud to count as campaigners and ticket members. SPLASH would accommodate and nurture this change in attitudes with our policy on representative infrastructure, which would leave us better prepared to speak loudly on behalf of our students needs when the times demand it.

What do you think is the biggest thing SULS has done well?

As for successes, we praise this year’s Executive for adjusting under pressure to keep our student body connected. We created more events and quickly adapted to  Zoom l. On many events we achieved record participation due to the increased accessibility of SULS events. Many of our executive thought creatively in how we can adapt to COVID-19, for example, Dani in her role as Campus Rep held  online trivia nights and Zoom Consultations with Campus Reps while taking responsibility for the SULS Wellbeing and Mutual Aid facebook group. Max conducted the COVID-19 Student Experiences Survey and lobbied the faculty to accept its recommendations, resulting in a grant of $20000 to fund the textbook loans scheme. Alex as socials director created many online events with huge engagement.

Why are you qualified to run SULS?

Firstly, we have four current executive members, which gives us unmatched institutional knowledge. This will be particularly crucial as we will not be tied up relitigating internal questions on the scope of our duties under the ACNC as registered directors of an incorporated charity which have made this year’s Executive too slow to respond to education cuts. We also have existing relationships with faculty which we will be able to leverage in order to gain concessions while also opposing staff cuts and standing in solidarity with teaching staff.

Secondly, our ticket is diverse: we have representation across all cohorts, large JD representation, international students, a balance of people inside and outside of the SULS’ current reach, and we are experienced and genuinely invested in making SULS better. This gives us a richness of perspectives which will empower us to make SULS more inclusive of the students it has historically left behind.

How can SULS adapt to the challenges of coronavirus and online learning, and what (if anything) would you change about the approach of this year’s executive?

SULS’ response to online learning must take a two-pronged approach: first, by supporting students’ adaptation to the peculiar challenges of online learning; and secondly, by lobbying faculty to make appropriate accommodations. To ground this strategy in an example, this is how we would respond to the difficulties international and interstate students face with timezones: to substitute the loss of community which we believe to be essential in motivating students and structuring their study, we would host study groups over zoom in six time zones, allowing students to join peers within four hours of their local time in which they could arrange social activities or watch-parties for lectures. At the same time, we would lobby the faculty to dispense with mandatory attendance for tutorials so students aren’t punished for missing a 4am tute, and we would cry bloody murder if they so much as proposed proctored exams.

The approach of the 2020 Executive on this matter was proactive and well-implemented, however it could’ve been improved by greater involvement of students when lobbying faculty. The town hall on summer school cancellation which the education committee organised was a great model for this, however as the only event of its kind it was not representative of a systematic approach to student deliberation. We would change this.

Do you think SULS has a role to play in opposing fee and course cuts which affect law students? What action are you proposing (if any) to address these policy issues from a Law Society perspective? Is there a place for a Society led by you to advocate on broader policy issues in the community?

Absolutely. In our interpretation, SULS has an obligation to address issues which jeopardise the quality of legal education at the University of Sydney stemming from part 3 of its Constitution, and accordingly the recent fee hikes and course cuts must be fought at every opportunity. Not only do these changes put immense financial pressure on students, but they continue the worrying trend of commodifying the University Degree, and marginalising and excluding those who cannot afford to undertake such a program. SPLASH believes that there are a number of direct ways students can get involved, and our social justice platform is centred around practical ways students can make a difference. Beyond our Legal Clinic Program, more targeted advocacy opportunities we are planning to offer include submitting reports to parliamentary committees via working groups, leveraging our relationship with ALSA to encompass collective action between all law student societies, issuing statements of support, distributing educational material on the particular issue and advertising ways students can lobby for change. We also recognise the necessary constraint that SULS must cater to all students’ views and remain non-partisan, and for that reason SPLASH wants to centre student choice at the heart of advocacy, listening to students through town halls and assessing the scope of SULS involvement on a case-by-case basis. Our ACNC obligations do not preclude us from supporting a given movement at any time – what has to be factored in is an analysis of what the movement concerns, and whether it falls within the ambit of our organisation to get involved. SPLASH recognises the unique position SULS holds to effectuate change and voice the concerns of the most marginalised members in our community, and we believe social justice remains at the heart of this organisation. A society led by us will always have scope to advocate on broader policy issues in the community, e.g. advocating against wage theft, opposing hypercarceral policies and addressing issues of gendered or racial violence that the law perpetuates.

How will you approach decision-making on the SULS executive?

We want to foster a collaborative and supportive executive. Most importantly, we want extensive cross-portfolio collaboration. By pushing the limits of our portfolios and working together, we want all executive members to feel that they have a voice in every decision – this means that executive members need to understand all factors of a decision. We know that all members of the ticket are fully invested in our vision and we anticipate that people will have the passion to invest themselves in the ticket’s decision making, and we are keen to foster a deliberative environment.

How would you approach the issue of an under-performing Executive member?

We want to foster a collaborative and supportive executive. Most importantly, we want extensive cross-portfolio collaboration. By pushing the limits of our portfolios and working together, we want all executive members to feel that they have a voice in every decision – this means that executive members need to understand all factors of a decision. We know that all members of the ticket are fully invested in our vision and we anticipate that people will have the passion to invest themselves in the ticket’s decision making, and we are keen to foster a deliberative environment.

In 2019, a slew of various SULS sponsors, including Platinum sponsors Freehills and Allens, as well as Gold sponsors Gilbert + Tobin and Ashurst, were reported to have been underpaying their graduate lawyers to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Given the challenges students and graduates face in this economic climate, would you reconsider the arrangements SULS has with these firms? If not, why not, and how do you propose otherwise to protect students from similar harms in your capacity as the Society? 

SULS is in an unfortunate position of vulnerability vis a vis these firms due to an imbalance of bargaining power which has left past executives reluctant to speak up on these issues for fear of reprisals by way of reduced sponsorships. Given the expense of SULS’ most popular events such as law ball, which cost $125000 in 2019, these concerns are valid. However in our view, SULS has a duty to speak out against the exploitation of its members and should use its platform to shine a light on the prevalence of wage theft in our society. As such, we would navigate this dynamic by building a better position from which to put pressure on these firms to improve. 

This would entail a few things, the first being, collective action through ALSA, where we can leverage our network with other law student societies to put up a united front. This mechanism would also be effective in the fight against cuts to higher education: while there is comparatively little risk of SULS speaking out on that issue by itself, we believe we are stronger together.

Secondly, we would diversify the base of our careers programs so that our students are not so singularly reliant on clerkships with these firms to place themselves in a good position at graduation. Our internship for credit program, which we’ve discussed with faculty and are prepared to collaborate with them to implement, would give penultimate students and final year students practical legal experience and exposure with firms and NGOs. We would prioritise paid internships, which is in line with industry practice in the legal sector. Not only would this better enable our students to avoid firms known to underpay staff by giving them more employment opportunities, it would also enable us to drive a culture change in which public interest legal work is equally valued along with our legal clinic policy.

How will you engage students who have not previously been engaged with SULS? Are there particular demographics of concern to you in this area?

We have already started engaging students who haven’t previously engaged or been involved with SULS throughout the campaigning process. Our ticket comprises students that have been on past and current execs, as well as students that haven’t, merging fresh perspectives with exec experience. Having 5 JDs on the ticket has meant there’s an increasing JD involvement and interest SULS, and our international portfolio director, Anne Peng, has been able to expand our reach onto WeChat and further to inform students of our policies and goals. 

On the exec we will engage students who haven’t previously engaged with SULS by increasing the programs that effectively support students and encourage involvement. This includes: specific moots and social events for JDs tailored to their time constraints and interests; increased international student involvement through networking and careers events, and further moots for international students, and on international topics; including students’ art and design work and an advice/love letters/Q&A column in our publications; and organising ‘social spectating’ events where students attend both professional and university sports matches.

How will you engage with disadvantaged and marginalised law students? Do you believe your ticket is representative of the Law School, and why?

The problem for marginalised law students at an institution as demographically privileged as Usyd begins with the fact that they do not see themselves represented among their peers. The high ATAR entry makes E12 scholarship recipients feel lesser, and this is reinforced by the competitive culture within the law school, which reinforces classism by prejudicing students who are self-supporting, thereby supporting the assumption that they are less academically meritorious. SULS’ response must address the structural factors at play by connecting E12 enrolled students in first year and creating an autonomous space for them so that they do not see themselves and their peers as invisible. We would also lobby faculty to create more space for E12 enrolments and to adopt assessment practices that are more accommodating of work commitments (COVID has given us good inroads against archaic practices like closed book exams). In order to more effectively engage these students in SULS’ community, we would be more careful to schedule events in ways that won’t conflict with work schedules – for example, scheduling events such as our first year welcome party on a weeknight can lock out working students from the get go. We would take care to avoid these situations.

A wellbeing stipend for every student is a significant cost. SULS ran a modest operating surplus this year of roughly $45,000. Have you modelled the potential cost of this policy, and if so, do you anticipate it being sustainable in the current fiscal climate for SULS?

  • Related: An AGLC4 reference generator would be a godsend – however, software development can be expensive, particularly when it hasn’t been done before. Is there an understanding of how much something like this would cost?

We are aware the wellbeing stipend would be a significant expense, however it is by no means an unachievable one. We’ve discussed this policy with the Dean of the Law School and he has indicated that the faculty would be able to support such a scheme. In our experience, faculty has been very generous in dispensing money from its scholarship funds to help students in this time: for example since June, they’ve granted us $20000 from the Walter Reid Memorial fund to expand the textbooks loans scheme and increased the number of Pitt Cobbett Scholarships by 25 (totalling a further $62500) and Eric Cunstance Shaw Scholarships by 5 (totalling $10000). Likewise, they attained permission from the Yim Family Foundation to dispense over 15 scholarships worth $2500 (totalling $37500) specifically for students affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This is clearly a priority of theirs, and we believe their support, along with tied funding we could solicit from sponsors who would appreciate the opportunity to generate goodwill, will give us enough of an income stream to fund a worthwhile amount per student.

Social justice is a significant focus of the campaign, but on the executive this year in 2nd semester, your VP (Social Justice) pick, Eden McSheffrey has been picked over Max Vishney, who consistently championed, often by himself, the grassroots campaign against the cuts. This extended to questions of legal observers and a potential SULS policy on executive advocacy. Max is also a seasoned activist. Why is Eden the VPSJ nominee over Max? Is this a ‘practical’ consideration to win elections at the expense of the social justice portfolio? How can voters trust your brand of focusing on social justice given this body of work on the executive this year? 

Eden was not picked over Max – Max sought to join our ticket as the VP (Education). It is true that Max was particularly active in raising issues of social justice and specifically the education cuts for consideration by the Executive, however we do not think the fact that he was especially prolific in this regard diminishes the work that Eden has done. Rather, we think the fact that our senior executive team has a wealth of passion for and experience in social justice across its membership means voters are far more able to trust us to deliver on our social justice focus than if it were concentrated in one member (especially given the nature of decision making in SULS’ Executive). Eden was incredibly active as this year’s Queer Officer and among the most experienced candidates that has run for VP (Social Justice) in recent years. We have the fullest faith in his ability to oversee our focus on social justice, and we believe the policies he has formulated evidence that.

Do you have any political affiliations or history of campaigning for political candidates on campus or off, and if so how would this affect your management of the Society (if at all)? 

I’ve campaigned for Pru and Tom Mano. No political affiliations, just (as) friends. 

(Prudence Wilkins-Wheat and Tom Manousaridis ran for USU Board in 2020 and 2019 respectively)