Treasurers, Head to Head: How to Prepare for the SSAFocalypse

Mariah Chang and Lewis Pope are running for Treasurer of the ANU Students Association. Candidates have presented policies on how to better spend ANUSA’s funds, support student clubs, and have clashed on how best to financially secure ANUSA against the possibility of losing SSAF funds.

The Job

Almost two million dollars in SSAF goes to ANUSA each year. The Treasurer is in charge of whether that money sits dormant in a bank account, or is invested responsibly and rewardingly to support ANUSA’s activities. They produce the annual budget, and provide updates on the financial state of the Association.

A great and terrible threat hangs over every Treasurer. ANUSA operates in a golden age of millions in SSAF dollars – but the Government-mandated fee we all pay has seemed under threat several times in previous years. Every treasurer faces that danger, and every treasurer makes attempts to build a life raft against that terrifying prospect.

The Candidates

Lift ANUSA’s candidate for Treasurer is Lewis Pope, a current Gen Rep, member of the ANU Union Board, and Clubs Council Community Officer. After a successful candidacy on the joke ticket ‘Make ANU Great Again’, Pope has been an active member of the SRC this year, writing a report scrutinising Residential Hall policy and decision-making. Pope is a fourth year Law/Science student.

Shake Up ANUSA’s candidate is Mariah Chang, current Firm Relations VP of the Actuarial Finance Economics Commerce Students’​ Society (AFEC). She has also worked as a trainee accountant in a Canberra accounting firm for the past year. Chang has previously held other positions in AFEC and the ANU Swimming Club. She is a third year Law/Economics student.

The SSAFocalypse

What will ANUSA do if the government, or the ANU, abolishes the compulsory Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), as it did from 2006 to 2011?

Lift has put that question at the forefront of their financial policy, arguing that ANUSA should take all steps to diversify its revenue. Lift is concerned about ANUSA’s reliance on SSAF, which accounts for over 85% of revenue, and wants to prepare for the day when it might once again be abolished. If that happens, “we can say goodbye to vital student services, like legal advice, meal assistance, and a social calendar full of big weeks and club events,” says Pope. To expand revenue streams, the ticket proposes hiring an external consultant to explore an expanded bike share programme; ANUSA-run coffee outlets; an ANUSA shopfront; and pursuing further investment options. These investment options would involve shifting procedural work to the Financial Controller that ANUSA currently employs, and developing a working group with students to head up these programs.

Shake Up, meanwhile, is focused on improving spending efficiency, to prove to ANU that they deserve SSAF fees., Shake Up argues that “coffee carts won’t plug a $2 million funding shortfall”. “ It has been a trend for the past few years that not all SSAF money allocated to ANUSA has been spent, in which case the unspent amount is returned and not retained by ANUSA. Shake Up’s priority is to ensure whatever SSAF funding ANUSA does receive is fully spent in a responsible and efficient manner to maximize utility for ANU students,” says Chang. Pope protests that “this kind of convincing does nothing to protect from a cut by the Federal Government”.

Shake Up wants to centralise procurement of custom merchandise for clubs, departments, student media and residences, giving ANUSA more buying power and lowering prices. The ticket also proposes incentivising clubs and departments to invest in more permanent fixtures, which would save money over the long term. Shake Up says that this would provide “a better way of future-proofing for the SSAFpocalyse,”  Shake Up thinks that a central storage facility for equipment would allow clubs to commit to buying better equipment. In response, Pope notes that “Nothing in the world can turn $2m in savings to $2m in additional annual revenue in a year … coffee carts are a better option than adding fervency to the hope of SSAF not going away.”

Both tickets are seriously concerned about the potential loss of SSAF. “If ANUSA loses SSAF funding, we are essentially screwed,” say Shake Up, while Lift calls it a “political football” which could be on the chopping block for future governments. Compulsory student unionism was abolished by the Howard government in 2006, before it was brought back by the Gillard government in 2011. During that time, ANUSA operated on a reduced budget – while they received $544 000 from the General Services Fee (GSF) in 2006 when it was compulsory, in 2010 they only received $436 000 from students voluntarily paying the GSF. In comparison, ANUSA now receives about $1.7 million a year in compulsory SSAF – which would be a much bigger hole to fill. If the Federal Government were to cancel SSAF, student unions would likely have to subsist on voluntary membership fees in return for access to services.

The Projects

The aforementioned plans by both tickets to raise revenues and reduce spending would offer new opportunities for students.

Lift

The bike share program would take over from planning already done by ANUSA Treasurer Harry Feng this year. It would run alongside the Timely Treadly program that ANU already runs for visiting lecturers and postgraduate students. Shake Up questions the profitability of such a program, noting the costs of bikes, hiring someone to manage the scheme, the maintenance costs, the insurance costs, the storage costs, and replacing stolen bikes. Lift plans to use the external consultant to explore the feasibility of the scheme.

ANUSA-run coffee outlets would allow students to order coffee ahead of time via an app. Shake Up questions the profitability of such an outlet, suggesting that thousands of coffees would need to be sold to merely break even. Lift again plans to use the external consultant to explore feasibility.

An ANUSA shopfront. This is still to be planned out by a Working Group and the external consultant, but Pope says “everything is on the table”. This would be potentially separate from a dedicated merchandise outlet, which may be distinct from the shopfront, and even include a partnership with a commercial entity, considering the boundaries of the Association’s Incorporation Act.

Shake Up

Centralised merchandise procurement would allow easier access to custom merchandise for clubs, departments, student media and residences – Shake Up have even raised the idea of having meme artists create t-shirts and other merchandise through this process.

Investment in commercial grade appliances would improve the quality of barbeques for Universal Lunch Hour and other similar events, as well as allowing clubs to invest in higher-quality equipment. “Clubs investing in long-term property is a decent theoretical idea, but so much of the time things are lost or broken and not just worn out due to regular wear-and-tear,” responded Pope. “Industrial-grade things cater to volume as much as they do longevity, and volume is not an issue, so a large portion of this investment [for instance, in commercial toasters] will just mean we can toast a lot of toast very quickly, but it will only get used at the same rate.”

A centralised storage system would allow clubs to keep this equipment safe, as well as providing easy access to equipment for club executives. Pope agrees with this policy, noting that the BKSS and current Treasurer Harry Feng have been looking into this already. “It’s certainly worth exploring and we would work with the clubs council to lobby the ANU for such a space in the new Union Court.”

Growing ANUSA’s long term sponsorship base beyond Murrays and Qpay, and building continuous relationships with O Week and Bush Week sponsors would provide more diversification of revenue streams.