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Before the storm: a USU pre-election analysis

Exploring the electoral landscape

Tis the season to be hacky! Every May, Facebook and Instagram feeds (and inboxes) are flooded with budding student politicians and campaigners, all vying to claim one of the six available positions on the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board of Directors.

Why care?

The USU is a non-profit organisation, led by a board of 11 elected student directors and two Senate appointed directors. It receives a significant portion of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), amounting to nearly $5.5m in 2020 (the Students’ Representative Council’s allocation pales in comparison, receiving just under $2m).

A Student Director is paid $4,994.20, per year, with the exception of the Honorary Secretary, Honorary Treasurer, and Vice President, who each receive $14,982.59, and the President, who receives $29,965.17. The Board meets at least 10 times every year, with directors required to attend each one. Of the directors to be elected this year, three of the six must be women identifying in line with the USU’s Affirmative Action regulations.

While the directors run the board, represent the student body and vote on the operations of the USU, CEO Andrew Mills handles the day-to-day management of the union. Broadly speaking, the USU is meant to act as the benefactor of student life on campus (although given their extensive record of staff cuts, bizarro grocery boxes, and the tragic closure of Manning Bar during the shitshow of 2020, this status is questionable). The USU runs food outlets on campus, events such as Welcome Week, a number of identity revues, and maintains Manning House and the autonomous identity spaces within. The USU also funds and publishes Pulp, an online student publication run by three editors.

Key dates

The USU elections, as with all student politics, are an ordeal. 

If you’re curious about the platforms of the candidates or are just itching to see a fight break out, consider going to the election soapbox! It will take place on Wednesday 12 May.

Online campaigning begins at midnight on Saturday 8 May. On campus campaigning will commence 2 days later, on Monday 10 May. This gives candidates two weeks to beg the student body to please, please care enough to sacrifice “just a second of your day” to vote.

Voting opens 9am Monday 17 May, stretching across 5 days before polls close at 5pm on Friday 21 May. In order to be eligible for voting, you must be registered as a USU member by 4pm Friday 14 May. 

Our predictions

With only one year of online voting in the history books, it’s hard to guess what’s to come, but these are our best bets:

Switching it up

Last year, Switch was king. Prudence Wilkins-Wheat, the sole Switch candidate, was elected first with a primary vote of 1,040, beating the second-placed candidate Vikki Qin (Independent) by over 400 votes. Ostensibly gathering support from activist collectives on campus as well as a number of clubs and societies, Wilkins-Wheat’s campaign was strong and marked with fervent support, as it came off the back of the historically polarised 2019 SRC election. Now, Switchroots (as they are affectionately known) are a force to be reckoned with on campus, drawing support from activist collectives on campus and a broad network of the activist left. The level of support that was shown for Wilkins-Wheat bodes well for Telita Goile (Switch) and Isla Mowbray (Switch).

L for Labor

In a shocking twist, neither Unity (Labor Right) and the National Labor Students (NLS/Labor Left) were able to scrounge up a candidate for Board this year! In the world of student politics, Unity have controlled almost every other university campus in the country (as can be seen by their performance every year in the National Union of Students). One cannot help but wonder what kind of power vacuum has been created by Labor’s departure from the race, and what this means for Belinda Thomas (Unity) and Ruby Lotz (NLS) on Board for the remaining year of their terms… RIP Student Labor.

Success gone sour?

In a (recent) past age of in-person voting, international students and their factions have typically raked in colossal numbers of voters. Domestic student factions have spent the last couple of elections playing catch-up, believing that favourable preference deals with international student factions would be the key to securing success in the ballots. However, last year’s online USU elections saw Vikki Qin (Independent) come in distant second after Prudence Wilkins-Wheat (Switch). Honi understands that Ruiqi (Rachel) Jia is affiliated with Penta, being managed by current SRC Vice President Maria Ge.

Little fish, shark pond

It’s a tough task to be a newcomer in the political maelstrom that is student elections. This year, it seems that the ballot has been shaken up, with a number of independent candidates throwing their hats in the ring: Joe Fidler, Yining Du, Sarea Bhar, Shan Shan Chen, Yiman Jiang and Cole Scott-Curwood. 

A few things of note…

Candidates with ties to the Liberal Party tend to run as Independents, not that this does them much good. Maybe just don’t have shit politics. Pablo Avaria-Jimenez, Nicholas Comino and Ziyan (David) Zhu are visibly affiliated with the Liberal Party on campus, having been involved in past Liberal-aligned SRC campaigns or on the executive of the Liberal Club. 

Additionally, a number of independent candidates in this year’s USU elections have ties or experience within the world of student politics. Cole Scott-Curwood ran on the fledgling Engineers for SRC last year to secure a councillor position. Scott-Curwood seems to draw from a pool of support that tends to skirt around involvement in student politics, and it is plausible that his success in the SRC Elections last year may carry over to his run for USU Board. 

Honi hears that Ziyan (David) Zhu is a good buddy of Ben Hines (Libdependent). If Hines were to weasel his way into the presidency, he sure would find a friendly face in Zhu.

As for the rest of you new kids… you’re lucky. You’ve yet to make an impression on these humble Honi editors. 

More to come.

Disclaimer: Marlow Hurst is a previous member of Student Unity. Vivienne Guo is a previous member of Grassroots.

This article was updated on Tuesday to reflect that Ziyan (David) Zhu is involved in the Liberal Club.