2022 SRC Interview transcripts: Lia Perkins

Honi sat down with provisionally elected SRC President Lia Perkins. Read the interview transcript below.

Ellie Stephenson: What’s your name, your degree and your faction.

Lia Perkins: So I’m Lia, my degree is Arts/Advanced Studies, majoring in history and political economy, and I’m in Grassroots.

Ellie Stephenson: Are you a member of a political party?

Lia Perkins: No, I’m not.

Ellie Stephenson: And briefly, how would you describe your political beliefs.

Lia Perkins: I describe my political beliefs as left wing. I’ve been really involved in activist organizing on campus, particularly around education issues, climate, feminism. I have sort of a left wing activist focus, I suppose.

Ellie Stephenson: What would you say is the most important issue facing young people in australia right now?

Lia Perkins: Um, I’m probably gonna say the cost of living. I think everything is really expensive and that cost of living crisis that we’re in at the moment goes into a lot of other areas for us. So it’s really expensive to afford to move out of home, pay rent, buy groceries, and then compounded with that lots of young people have debt from higher education, and I think all of this has made it bad. But I would also add the climate crisis maybe on the end of that.

Ellie Stephenson: In three sentences, why did you nominate for SRC president?

Lia Perkins: I really care about the SRC. I think that it’s really important that it is run with an activist focus and also one that is focused, that wants to provide good services for students. And I think that I’m the right person for that because of my experience over the last few years in the SRC.

Ellie Stephenson: And what are your three most important policy commitments?

Lia Perkins: I think one important policy commitment is around funding the collectives and funding activist projects generally. And then I have quite a few policies of how we can make that more accessible, how we can make the SRC more of a, like something students know about on campus. One other thing I think is important is looking into what we can do with the housing case worker, how we can support students with housing issues in, on campus and in the broader world.

Ellie Stephenson: So we might just go into some questions about your approach to being President. Firstly, you are the 2022 SRC Education Officer. What have you learned in this role and how will that inform your approach to President

Lia Perkins: Yeah, it’s been a great role. Other than learning little basics, like how you can have a meeting in a lecture theater and, how the technology works, I guess, I’ve also learned a lot about managing relationships with other people, running a collective where you’ve got, it’s almost like a mini SRC meeting. Oftentimes you have members from different factions as well as other students coming along to organize. So I think I’ve learned a lot about managing meetings, managing people, and also developed my politics as well. I think it’s been really great to see what sort of, how you can build a big student movement, how you can get students.

Ellie Stephenson: As a follow up question, in terms of how you’ve developed your politics, what do you think is like the key political lesson there for you?

Lia Perkins: Ooh. I think just seeing the ability of students to make change and like organize on a really big basis. Like it’s been campuswide attacks, not just in my time as Ed officer, but also with the Job-ready Graduates Package. The, yeah, the political lesson of how students can fight together is, has been big.

Ellie Stephenson: Next question is, describe your relationship with the NTEU and how you plan to work with them next year.

Lia Perkins: Yeah. I have a great relationship with the NTEU, particularly like the President, and other people who are really involved in the NTEU. We’ve always communicated around strikes because they also see the importance of students coming out and on the picket lines and supporting them. I’ve had some chats with Nick Riemer about how staff can also support student campaigns next year. Cuz I think he and others see that as really important. So I think that if there’s a really big student campaign next year, which I hope there would be maybe around the Accords or around whatever other thing is thrown at us, I think that I’d have the capacity to get the NTEU involved and supportive.

Ellie Stephenson: One role that SRC Presidents typically perform is engaging in lobbying of uni management via sitting on university committees. Do you think this lobbying is effective and how do you plan to engage in it?

Lia Perkins: So I think that the lobbying role comes of the virtue of the SRC President sitting on a lot of university boards and committees. I think there can be varying times when this is effective. I think when there are things like stopping 12 week semesters, and uniting all of the students on the Board around something with the backing of people on the streets. I think we can’t. Get very far pushing university management if we don’t have support from the student body and support from groups like the Education Action Group. So I’d really look towards bringing some of the policies I wanted to bring to the boards or telling students about what changes the university’s thinking of, whether it be, simple extensions or changes to CAPS, I’d want to bring that to students and us be able to push them together.

Ellie Stephenson: Do you believe that the SRC has a role as a service provider?

Lia Perkins: Yeah, I do. I think service provision is an important role and I think it’s something that the past few Grassroots Presidents have done really well in particular around FoodHub.

I think that the casework service I’ve used it personally, and it is really important that there is an independent voice for students. I would wanna continue the service provision. Even though, I guess I’m coming from a very activist focus.

Ellie Stephenson: You’ve been elected unopposed. Do you feel like you have a mandate and what are you gonna do to ensure that you’re representing students democratically?

Lia Perkins: I knew this question would come up. So, uh, yeah, I think there is mandate in the sense that there’s, that Grassroots and Switch have had really large votes from the student body to run the SRC for the past few years. I think this shows a clear mandate. We have the most number of counselors at the moment and we’re running lots of tickets as well in the election, which I think voting for all the tickets, Grassroots for feminism, for decolonization, that and pushing for those tickets to get elected will give us an additional mandate.

 I want to, yeah, campaign with those tickets on the policies that we’re putting forward as the presidential candidate, so that yeah students can see that sort of democratic action.

Ellie Stephenson: I guess just, in theory, if this year Switch and Grassroots see a diminished share of the council vote, how would you navigate that and potentially work with other factions that might take those votes?

Lia Perkins: Yeah, I mean, I would definitely wanna work with other factions either way. I think it’s impossible to run the, it’s like literally impossible to run the SRC without there being an agreement between leftwing factions, because there’s no other way to get office bearers and the office bearers are the ones that do the work. So it would probably look more like, talking to the factions that become the Vice Presidents and the General Secretaries and other parts of the executive about what policies they want to put forward. And I’d see how I can do that. I also just think that we have over a third of the tickets on the ballot and a lot of the people are probably pretty likely to get elected. So I’m feeling hopeful.

Ellie Stephenson: You are the fourth consecutive Grassroots SRC President. Do you think the faction’s time in power has been a success and what’s left to be done?

Lia Perkins: I think it’s been a success, but it’s also been marked by the COVID crisis, which has prevented a lot of plans that previous presidents wanted to put in place. But even still we’ve been able to introduce the FoodHub, manage the case work and legal service really well and run enormous activist campaigns.

USyd was the leading campaign against the Job-ready Graduates Package. A lot of work for that can be credited to other people, but also to the SRC, which was run by Grassroots I think there is still a lot left to be done. I’m really excited that this year, or like Lauren started the movement of reopening the SRC fully, and I’m quite excited to get it to a place where we’re open all the time. We have more students back in the office doing work from the OB room, organizing, I think like a lot of that work has been built up over time .

Ellie Stephenson: Grassroots has copped some critique from the SLA as to making deals with Labor right and just generally, the practice of making deals with other factions in order to get positions. What’s your thought on that critique?

Lia Perkins: I think the, maybe most important thing to say is what I said before that you can’t get a majority of, you need a majority of counselors to be able to secure any paid positions or any positions in the SRC, really. And those are the ones that do a lot of work. So I think it’s important that we are Working with other people who share some sort of vision around like what the SRC should be and we only work with people we do. We definitely don’t work with Liberals. Another important thing to say is, In signing a deal and in making an agreement, there’s no level at which we have to endorse their politics. I fully, disagree with the politics of Labor left and Labor right and Socialist Alternative. I think that an independent group is the best group to run the SRC, and a left wing one, which is what Grassroots is. So I guess it’s twofold: one, we want a left wing SRC so we need to secure that, and two, we don’t, it’s not an endorsement of politics at all.

Ellie Stephenson: Your policies highlight that you want to run an activist SRC. What do you think are the key challenges facing activists at USyd and what can you do to fix them?

Lia Perkins: So I think one thing is getting the word out about the activist work we’re doing. We do so much work flyering and stalling say for the EAG this year, I’ve been involved in a lot of that. But it would be, I think I wanna think of more ways that we can reach other parts of the student body. Some of that is through running Rad Ed sessions that engage people in different faculties. So we’re engaging like the education society in Rad Ed sessions. Other things are having a regular newsletter that’s going out to students, having a really, really big presence at welcome week and the following weeks when campus is really busy. I am interested in seeing if we can move the SRC’s location as well to be just something more visible. I was in a meeting with Lauren and one of the uni admin, infrastructure people. I think the uni feels very like tight at the moment, but I think the basement of the Wentworth building, isn’t sort of the best place for us to be able to promote activist work and promote the services.

Ellie Stephenson: As a follow up to that, quite a few different factions and different candidates have talked about the importance of increasing the profile of the SRC. I guess that that’s contingent on having students who are willing to buy into activism. What are your thoughts on the activist potential of students at USyd, is it high?

Lia Perkins: Yeah, I think so. I think it does vary throughout times. I mean, we saw so many students come out to the picket lines, come out and support the strikes and it’s really engaging those students and making the case to them about why the SRC is really important and why like the student union, which is the SRC, is the one that has the resources and has the ability to fight for change. So I think there is an activist potential out there. But there are also like other barriers that I’m not gonna be afraid to admit. Like it’s pretty expensive for most students to be engaged in activism, there’s very little pay that comes from the SRC. And a lot of people have to work, can’t go to protest. But I think, there is still sort of a student body and people out there who are interested and other ways we can support them getting involved.

Ellie Stephenson: In your policy statement, you signpost that you’d be willing to work with the NUS and other campuses regarding the Universities Accord. What would this collaboration look like and what would you ultimately be hoping to achieve?

Lia Perkins: I think working with the NUS is very, is important. They’re like the peak student body. But I think we should be critical of the policy direction of the NUS. I think it was really good that this year’s education officer Luc made a statement about the Accords, condemning sort of the process at which you are bringing in lots of different people who have, very different, I guess like class interests, in the Accords and we should be critical of this like sort of consensus that the Labor government believe that university students and staff can make with management and the government who’ve been the ones cutting our education being the ones charging us really high fees.

So I think it would look like a very critical approach and also one that brings in students. If this is possible, it would be great if we get really across the campuses and the NUS can run a campaign about what we are demanding from education, we want free education. I think you could have a really awesome policy around that and really awesome campaign.

Ellie Stephenson: Just to return to the thing about getting students involved in activism. Uh, I guess sometimes, you know, many students are politically disengaged and are not super involved in activism in the status quo. Do you think sometimes trying to receive or reach a broader audience risks undermining the SRC’s politics, or has a trade off with the level of radicalism that might be present in the SRC? ,

Lia Perkins: Sometimes, but I feel like it’s, that doesn’t really come up as an issue. Like I think that the SRC with like, you know, the University of Sydney is a very elite institution and there are gonna be students that disagree with a left wing vision. There are students who are members of the Liberal Party, for example.

So I think that what is really important is that we are standing by our values and making the case to the people at the university that they’re affecting the most. To low SES students, to students who are suffering the brunt of this disadvantage, I think we wanna be bringing all students along and those are the key students who have stakes in this and will, will be engaged.

Ellie Stephenson: Honi received a significant pay rise this year. Do you hope to entrench that or work to maintain it?

Lia Perkins: Yeah, definitely. I think we should entrench that. I mean, yeah. Doubling a $3 an hour salary is like, is good. But yeah, it that’s definitely something I wanna do. I also think we, I think Lauren’s done a really good job this year at submitting SSAF applications to the University and being really successful in them.

Um, the Honi one is one example. And I think that I, yeah, I’m going to hope that we can, I can continue what she’s done and also look into other stipends. I think Honi recently talked about how it’s really difficult for the disabilities collective, not having a stipend, and having to do a lot of unpaid work when there’s all these other structural disadvantages. So Honi’s stipend is definitely one and looking into others is on my list.

Ellie Stephenson: So something which I guess is quite a common argument made by Grassroots and, by the left generally, is that many of the problems that are facing students and higher ed, they require radical society wide solutions, not kind of reformist ones or not ones that are particular tinkering around the edges. But at the same time frequently, radical student activists are fundamentally calling for reforms, obviously substantial ones like free education or de casualization, but reforms from the government or union management nonetheless. Is there a risk in calling for these kind of things, of things like incrementalism or reformism? If so, how would you draw the line between this kind of campaign and lobbying.

Lia Perkins: Yeah, I think maybe that’s like a strategic… well, what I see the reason as, us calling for, say, free education is that, it’s something that a lot of students care about. It really affects us and it will make a big change, but, and it’s also how we can like reach a pretty big layer of students who, already like already, that is a somewhat radical idea to some people, I guess. But bringing in that layer of students and further having like education, radical campaigns about what the biggest systemic problems are.

 I think that you can start, like personally, I started at a, you know, a stage of, we need to divest the university from fossil fuels and that sort of becomes a bigger idea, around like complete, we’re in a complete climate catastrophe. We need really big change. So I think that there’s not a contradiction between the two or a tension because, like we can, we can push for one and ultimately be fighting for system change.

Ellie Stephenson: I guess another question about how we approach students is it seems like different left-wing factions have slightly different attitudes towards the kind of political arguments you might make to students. Socialist Alternative has been quite critical of trying to make political arguments to conservative students in the hope of winning them over. Do you think that it is worth making those political arguments and trying to win students over who might not have otherwise been persuaded?

Lia Perkins: I think there is use in yeah, making those political arguments to all students, making it really big and clear. I just think that’s what we should be doing. There could be some use in like conversations with people, but ultimately we’re not going to convince like, the members of the conservative club on something. And I think that if we focus on that, it can just be a waste of time.

Like we really should be focusing on the people who didn’t go to really expensive private schools and have these conservative views, but we should be focusing on the students who, who have a bit of a soft spot or care about these issues. But that doesn’t mean just like ignoring every person.

Ellie Stephenson: Grassroots and Switch have been quite tumultuous in the last year or so, and also politically quite pluralist factions for a very long time. How do you see that kind of continuing or what is the kind of current functioning of the faction?

Lia Perkins: Yeah, there was, there definitely was tumultuous times within Grassroots I’m sure you know. I guess at the moment, like we, all of the members of Grassroots are just keen to continue doing a lot of the work we’ve already been doing in the SRC.

Like we’ve been doing that work either way. I guess I could say, I would say, and also improving the way we function. Like it’s never gonna be perfect in a, in a student situation where you always get social group tensions and things come in in the way. But I think, we’ve been really intentional about, listening to people, calling people in about certain issues, but also about putting forward a, a left-wing vision, which we think is really important.

 I just hate to see the idea that there wouldn’t be a, a left-wing group on campus that, is pluralist, that has space for people with different issues, political opinions, and wants to, to improve campus and improve the SRC. Like, I just think it’s really important that Grassroots continues.

And we’re definitely putting a lot of effort into making sure, that yeah, we’re running a good campaign and that we’re the best people for the jobs.

Ellie Stephenson: Do you have any kind of final words for students? Anything you wanna add?

Lia Perkins: Yeah. Definitely very keen to have an in-person election this year. It’s a big difference to what we’ve done in the past few years. And it’ll be great to, to come out and campaign to people. I think it’s a good opportunity for everyone to find out about what the SRC is. And you should vote for Grassroots tickets, , to support the SRC.