Australia

Uninformed Democracy at UNSW student Elections

Image courtesy: fjmtstudio.com

Once again it’s the annual election to the Student Representative Council at UNSW. The prominent tickets running for office this year round are Activate, Ignite & Left Action.

The SRC is the central student elected entity which directly interacts with the student body. However, the scary fact is a significant portion of the student body have no clue as to the functionality of the SRC. That is horrifying. Every constituent society has far wider penetration than the SRC. The reason being students have been provided an incentive to engage in these activities. At the moment the SRC has not provided students with an incentive to get involved with their activities. However, the SRC has massive influence in determining university policy. If the students are uninformed about the key to the power they hold with their vote, they can be exploited. How? Let’s find out.

Last semester, during the elections to a different student elect body, I was having my lunch at the quad and two gentlemen approached me and asked if I’d like to vote for their candidate. At that moment it seemed easier to just vote and go back to my food over have a conversation about policy. I had no clue who I was even voting for or what policies the candidate proposed were. What didn’t occur to me at that point was I was contributing to a severe form of uninformed democracy within the university. This was what prompted me to pen this article.

Whilst the election where my vote was in essence ‘robbed’ was not as significant as the upcoming SRC election uninformed democracy at student elections has timelessly existed within the UNSW culture. We did some research and it revealed that this scenario of campaign volunteers running around with ballots trying to get the vote from the students who are uninformed about the elections, candidates, policies and (in most cases) the body candidates are being elected to! (In this case the SRC) Therefore, with reasonable accuracy that we can claim that the victors of the election aren’t necessarily those who’ve proposed constructive policies, rather it’s the candidate who can have a higher number of volunteers running around bagging uninformed votes.

The Root Cause

UNSW has two wonderful newspapers covering a wide array of university activities, however, neither one of these play the role media should be playing alongside elections. The media is often the entity that holds candidates, and elected officials accountable to the public. The absence of the media is what I believe has resulted in this culture of uninformed democracy within the campus.

This election, the intca@unsw team will play the role of the media. We will analyse, constructively criticize and allow the tickets to rebut our criticisms to the proposed policies. Once elected we will follow up on the promises made at the election and ensure that the relevant parties are held accountable. We will keep you informed by filling the void created by the lack of a proper media organisation covering student elections.

The lack of a media organisation holding tickets accountable would lead to tickets having proposals which aren’t sufficiently comprehensive. Proposals which seem ambitious but possibly impractical have been proposed this time round. Detailed constructive analysis of the proposed policies will be presented as we’ve promised, however an important policy proposal independent from any particular office which every ticket has missed: How can we increase student engagement with the SRC?  What incentive can we provide?  Unless the tickets can answer these questions directly and get the student community involved within the SRC, even the best policies any of the specific topics would yield no result.

The most short term change which I believe needs to be done can be outlined as follows. Every officer once elected will plan the activities for the elected year. (E.g. Welfare officer elected at this election will publish a timetable of the activities of the welfare collective). Following this, a report should be released atleast on a monthly basis  on the achievements of the collective. To pull a single example (amongst quite a few), if you decide to search up the women’s collective as of 15th October 2016, you’d find the link to an event held on the 8th of March 2016. This outdated nature of the collective websites seem to show the voter that the SRC might not necessarily be interested in working for the benefit of the student community. Is SRC is filled with a vibrant bunch of people that are genuinely working towards the best interest of the students? Possibly. Yet the student body will never know, since there seems to be negligible student interaction once elected. Going forward into 2017 this MUST change. The SRC should be transparent about the activities they conduct and candidates should be held accountable for the proposed policies.

Election for 2017

Here’s a quick overview of the different tickets running for the SRC election. The international cauldron has no affiliation with either of the three major tickets and hence will bring you the unbiased information you need to make your decision as a voter.

  1. Activate
    The ticket which has been in the election game for the longest yet this year Activate will be battling quite closely to remain the powerhouse within the SRC.  The most significant allegation against Activate has been it’s inability to penetrate the student body to engaging with the SRC despite holding office for consecutive years. Led by presidential candidate Aislinn Stein-Magee with a relatively comprehensive bunch of policies, can Activate’s experience land it a victory for 2017?
  2. Ignite
    The ignite ticket was formed by the running presidential candidate breaking away from the Activate ticket of 2016 to challenge the monopoly held by Activate over the SRC. Definitely a step in the positive direction in terms of strengthening democracy within the university. Coincidentally a number of ignite’s policies seem to revolve around the presidential candidate and his position in the university council. Council member and president of SRC….will the student body concentrate this much power upon one individual? Ignite has run a strong campaign with an extremely popular bunch of candidates with vast networks across the university. However one must always remember, popularity and good policy are completely independent of one another.
  3. Left Action
    The underdogs of the 2017 election formed as a part of the socialist alternative on campus, left action has gained significant momentum amongst the student body over 2016 with multiple protests on key controversial issues surrounding the Australian political arena. Left action’s policies go far beyond just student politics and incorporate the bigger issues within the Australian political atmosphere. This group has often been accused of being far left extremists. Can Gene Brownlie change this mindset and get Left Action elected for 2017?

Over the next week, we will publish a wide array of articles which will cover the proposals of the different tickets and a special release article on understanding the UNSW trimester system, which will be a key topic in determining the 2016 election. Stay tuned to be informed.

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  1. Pingback: Welfare Policies - UNSW SRC Election 2016 - The International Cauldron

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