The year 2014 promises to be a momentous one for Student Representative Council (SRC) elections on campus. Dominated though they are by small campus political and activist groupings, at least a few thousand students vote every year in an election which grants its victors control of almost $300,000 in student funds for the purpose of running the SRC.
Every UNSW student contributes to the salaries and expenses of SRC Office Bearers and National Union of Students (NUS) delegates through the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), often by slogging through multiple retail or hospitality jobs while studying full time. Every UNSW student is affected by the quality of the SRC that is elected, with each Council possessing the ability to make a tangible difference to student advocacy, education quality, welfare, safety, environmental practices, university life outside of the classroom, and inclusivity of women, people of colour, queer students, and students with disabilities.
In short, these elections matter. UNSW students have a right to set a high standard for anyone seeking to take a neat pay packet of student money without proving their credentials first. For those who choose to vote in this year’s election, we have one piece of advice: engage in the democratic process. Grill the candidates on the campaign trail, compare the differences in policies and achievements, and perhaps most importantly, assess the commitment of candidates to getting the job done.
This year’s SRC nominations have seen a seismic shift in traditional alliances, guaranteeing one outcome: this will be a tightly contested and hard fought election. Within this broader battle, each vote will carry great power. If there’s one thing students can easily do to make their university experience just that little bit more rich and engaging, it’s using that very power to shape their SRC.
So when Week 12 rolls around and a flurry of coloured shirts appear on Main Walkway, get out there and vote.
What’s in a Voice: the end of an era?
If this year will be remembered for anything pertaining to the ephemeral transactions of student politics at UNSW, it is surely the end of an era of broad left cooperation that was the Voice ticket.
As the incumbent ticket on the SRC for the past 10 years, Voice has for the greater part of this period been comprised of a broad left grouping of independent, Greens and Labor Left candidates fronting up against Labor Right tickets under varying names, including Fresh and more recently Stand Up. Voice has consistently succeeded in these yearly tussles, though not without a scare or two, as in the 2012 SRC election which saw Stand Up run away with 45% of the vote and a dehydrated first year in a panda costume.
Following a tumultuous period of negotiations for the 2014 election, however, the political landscape of UNSW looks markedly different. The Voice ticket, still decked out in red, is now comprised of a loose coalition of progressive Independents, Grassroots (Greens), and Socialist Alternative candidates, the last of whom are present solely on the NUS ticket without seeking to contest any SRC positions.
Notable among this coalition, a number of seasoned activists on the SRC and its collectives have banded to form the organised UNSW Independents, who described themselves to Tharunka as “a group of non-politically aligned progressive students who care about fighting for students’ rights both on and off campus. Without a political party to answer to, we’re able to make students’ rights our number one priority. We are here to ensure that issues that affect students are on the agenda, and to push for change that ensures that everybody has access to the highest quality of education and the best university experience possible.”
After walking away from a deal with the Independents in favour of Labor Right/Student Unity, Labor Left have taken out the majority of positions on a newly formed Labor Activate ticket. Tharunka understands that the possibility of gaining a greater number of positions in the deal proposed by Unity was the determining factor in the Left’s decision to split from the traditional broad left Voice arrangement.
Activate Presidential candidate and UNSW Labor Left Students convenor, Billy Bruffey, told Tharunka that Labor Left had signed with Labor Right because “our group realised that our candidates were better suited running on a different ticket, in which our members could make the best contribution that suited our ideology and vision for UNSW. We were unable to reach agreement with other groups about the best candidates and the best agreement to suit all parties.”
A statement from the UNSW Independents, conveyed by Voice Presidential candidate, Maja Sieczko, said, “the UNSW Independents came to the conclusion that our ideologies were no longer compatible with those of the Labor groups present on campus. We were unable to reach agreement over candidates. At the end of the day, the Independents will always prioritise fighting for the wellbeing of students and ensuring a diversity of people are representing the voices of students on campus.”
The fouling of relations within the UNSW broad left draws to a close a period of unprecedented successful cooperation between left groups in campus elections, with the effects of this split and renewed Labor coalition likely to be far-reaching. The outcome of the SRC election will undeniably shift the balance of power on Arc Board, though whether this shift is towards Labor or non-politically aligned candidates remains to be seen.
By way of coda, the last words of Voice heavyweights following victory in the 2013 SRC election pertained to the almost mythical, omnipotent status the Voice ticket had gained in its supporters’ eyes.
Said one Voice veteran, to agreement from leaders of both Labor Left and the Greens, “For about a decade now, our team has managed to unite the different strands of progressive student tendencies into a formidable force that is excellent at campaigning, activism and advocacy. It’s no mean feat to achieve what we have, time and time again. And that’s despite the fact that many members of our ticket are in different political parties and in different factions of those parties.
“The culture of student politics at Sydney Uni, for example, is very different, largely due to some of the personalities involved. Most of the factions have treated the SRC as nothing but a vehicle for their own political ambition – including left factions.
“There have been attempts to convert UNSW to something more like that. We’ve resisted it, and stayed united. That’s helped us be one of the strongest student groups around.
“At UTS this year , there was a lot of solidarity on the Grassroots ticket. Pretty much all the progressive students (minus NLS) in Sydney fought against Unity and NLS and won. At Sydney, the opposite happened; the left fragmented and the Right won.”
And there ends the saga of broad left unity in Voice. In a year which has seen the Federal Government launch this generation’s most vicious attacks on university students with its fee deregulation agenda, the various self-identified progressive groups on campus will instead spend the better part of October going head to head over campus politics.
No doubt the right will drink to that.
Disclaimer: The 2014 editors of Tharunka were elected on the Voice ticket, which was at the time a Labor Left, independents, and Greens grouping. All current editors of Tharunka are not members of any political party. No SRC candidates are involved in Tharunka’s election coverage.