The political advocacy, education campaigns, and student activism of ANUSA will now be run by Robyn Lewis, elected Education Officer tonight by the SRC. Lewis, a Greens member with a background in grassroots advocacy, was a relative outsider who called for “more effective marches and protests” and “consultative campaigns”. Lewis believes education should be free, supports the NUS, and is your representative for political issues in 2017.
Lewis replaces Jessy Wu, who resigned recently due to conflict with ANUSA President James Connolly. Wu, elected unopposed at last year’s election, ran online, data-focused campaigns on issues like penalty rates and Centrelink debt, which gained national attention. However, Wu received strong criticism from her own Education Committee, including Lewis, after she refused to publicly criticise ANU’s admission policy changes before all information had been released. Wu argued it would “discredit ANUSA and students if we took to the rafters without hearing the University out”, while Lewis said Wu shouldn’t “disregard the will of the committee and blindly trust them [the ANU].” As the new Education Officer, Lewis promised this would change, stating “Jessy did the best she could in the role, and I’m grateful for all the work she did, but I want to make sure that if the committee and student body wish a campaign to be run, then that campaign be run.”
Competing candidates Howard Maclean, Daniel Wang, and Lewis Pope were lukewarm on the effectiveness of marches and public protests, and promised more of Wu’s brand of advocacy. Lewis alone argued “a need for more effective marches on campus” Lewis also supports NUS, though she acknowledged the organisation has “significant problems”. When asked about how she would increase student engagement in activism, Lewis advocated for NUS, saying “the NUS national days of action … not many people know about those because we’re not affiliated.”
Lewis may also alter ANUSA’s campaign direction in her support of free education. Wu advocated strongly against the NUS’s ‘Make Education Free Again’ campaign, and did not make it part of the ANUSA campaign platform, but Lewis argues “Every day we see people worrying about their future debt … Education shouldn’t just be for profit or getting a job, it’s something everyone should have a right to.” Lewis did, however, highlight that more immediate issues like cost of living would take priority over free education in her campaigns.
While the Education Officer has significant autonomy over campaigns, final decision on ANUSA’s positions is made by the elected representatives on SRC. Questions have been raised already this year regarding campaign decisions made by the Education Officer without SRC approval. Lewis argued that if a campaign was “what the education committee and the student body and I all wanted … there could be a campaign”.
Full text of Observer’s questions to Education Officer Lewis
Do the views and goals of the current Education Committee represent the views and goals of the ANU student body as a whole?
I don’t think the Education Committee is necessary representative of what it could or should be. I feel there are lots of perspectives that aren’t getting heard, i want to make sure they’re being incorporated in any decisions around campaigns, especially people working a stupid amount of jobs to try and support themselves.
How do you get more perspectives?
Start with something like wide ranging surveys, beyond that I guess that’s something i’ll be trying to figure out in the next couple of weeks. Ideally more people would come to the education committee
How will your campaign strategies differ from those of Jessy Wu? What do you plan to change about how ANUSA does education campaigns?
I think I’ll be more consultative. I feel like Jessy did the best she could in the role, and I’m grateful for all the work she did, but I want to make sure that if the committee and student body wish a campaign to be run, then that campaign be run and that issue be advocated on. I see myself in a facilitation role.
ANU students have had relatively low attendance at marches and protests. Do you think ANU students care about education issues, and how will you try and increase engagement?
At the moment engagement is low. I’m not necessarily sure why that is; perhaps a combination of culture around education committee that doesn’t allow for easy participation, and things like the NUS national days of action; not many people know about those because we’re not affiliated. Campaigns should be specific and relatable. People should be able to say “Yeah, I really care about this specific goal, or how this policy has affected me.”
Do you believe factionalism in student advocacy is useful or valuable?
To some degree factions are unavoidable. People have different interests and are going to form into factions of some form. It’s unfortunate when factions can’t see past personality when trying to campaign. In that sense factionalism can get in the way of policy, but it’s unavoidable that people will form groups.
What are your thoughts on NUS?
I think NUS is problematic in a number of ways. I think without a national student body our voices won’t be heard. I really hope ANUSA can have a more positive relationship with SRC and ANUSA.
Why should education be free?
I think education being free is a really multifaceted issue. In terms of equity, when education became free under Whitlam there were massive increases in the number of low-SES and first in family students. Every day we see people worrying about their future debt. There is a bunch of research regarding impacts of long term debt.
I see education as being a good in and of itself. Education shouldn’t just be for profit or getting a job, it’s something everyone should have a right to, and should not have burden for.
What would you do if your view on an education matter strongly differed from that of the SRC?
If what the education committee and the student body and I all wanted, there could be a campaign. I would try my hardest to ensure the SRC took notice of the student groundswell.