General Secretaries, Head to Head: Elections, Constitutions, and Why People Don’t Care About ANUSA

Portraits of Maclean, Lim and Fu, with "Head to Head General Secretary" underneath

Three candidates have put themselves forward to be General Secretary of the ANU Students Association. Shake Up’s Bolwen Fu has promised to make ANUSA meetings “fun”, Lift’s Eden Lim has promised reviews of ANUSA’s governance and shorter meetings, and independent candidate Howard Maclean has scoured every area of ANUSA’s operations and offered 30 pages of recommendations. Here’s the breakdown.

The Job

ANUSA is a big, bureaucratic machine, and the Gen Sec keeps the gears oiled. They run meetings, organise elections, and interpret the constitution – basically, they’re in charge of the rules that keep the politics in place. A good Gen Sec likely won’t stand out, because they’re unbiased and run things smoothly. A General Secretary who is incompetent, malicious, or wants to push their own agenda is a dangerous thing for ANUSA: when you control what the rules mean, and how the rules are made, you can easily abuse that power.

The Candidates

Lift’s Eden Lim described herself as a “newbie” to ANUSA. She has experience as Education Vice-President of the Law Students’ Society (LSS) this year, a role which involves sitting on the College Education Committee and the LLB(Hons) Program Committee. She is also Secretary of the Burgmann Residents’ Association.

Howard Maclean, independent candidate, served as President of the UniLodge Residents’ Committee in 2016 and was elected as an independent ANUSA General Representative for 2017. In this capacity, he has pursued various projects, including a report into future residences which is currently underway.

Shake Up’s candidate is Bolwen Fu. Fu is Deputy Chair of the Mental Health Committee for 2017. He also directed this year’s Bush Week, and is an SR at Fenner Hall.

All three candidates have experience and talents relevant to the role, and all are law students, a commonly cited strength for ANUSA’s most policy-focused position. Maclean has more direct ANUSA experience – he is the only candidate to have sat on SRC. Lim has never held an ANUSA position. Fu has held several ANUSA roles, but only began attending SRCs after the election period began. It should be noted that candidates do have four months after election to learn the details of the role.

The Policies

How to make students care about ANUSA

ANUSA’s General Meetings (and, to a lesser extent, SRCs) are chronically under-attended, and the organisation that represents students often has very little student participation. Candidates have released an array of policies on how they’ll fix that.

Fu’s solution to meeting disengagement is “rebranding” ANUSA’s meetings to be “more accessible and fun” or “even silly”, such as by creating infographics describing motions passed in each meeting. This idea has already been used, albeit inconsistently, by current General Secretary Kat Reed.

Fu has also promised wider advertising of SRCs and General Meetings, including the use of a variety of social media. Shake Up have said they will “centralise and disseminate” information about ANUSA through a dedicated ANUSA app, and more extensive use of Chinese-language social media site WeChat.

Lim has not gone as far as promising fun SRCs, but has said under her they would be significantly reduced in length. SRCs frequently run for over three hours, a situation Lim has promised to fix by enforcing stricter speaking times, and moving Executive reports to the end of meetings, so students can attend to discuss important motions without sitting through reports. Lim has also promised to hold SRCs on different night throughout the week, so all students can come to some meetings.

Maclean said he wants to bring meetings “into the 21st century” including software that allows editing motions in real time and displaying them on a projector; making motions and amendment history publically available; and improving the quality of SRC livestreaming. Observer Live has handled the majority of SRC livestreams this year, but has not been approached regarding this policy.

ANUSA Elections

The General Secretary traditionally oversees much of ANUSA’s work on electoral regulations and policy, including the ever-topical question of how much campaigners are allowed to bother students on the ground. This year, ANUSA passed regulations prohibiting all campaigning within the Pop-Up Village.

All three candidates support the Pop-Up campaigning ban. “People get very fed up seeing shirt after shirt and people shoving papers into their hand,” said Lim. Fu and Maclean agreed, and argued the bans have created a positive movement towards online campaigning. According to Fu, this allows “a more genuine way of engaging” with policies, rather than the “superficial” nature of in-person campaigning.

Changing the Constitution of ANUSA

Candidates agree that ANUSA’s Constitution – the document providing all rules for the Association’s operation – is somewhat poorly assembled. So how would they change it?

Lift proposes a full governance review, conducted by an independent professional, to address issues like whether the Executive or SRC is empowered to act as directors of the Association – a question which has been raised many times this year. Lim says this change is to “clarify the roles of different committees” and ensure proper governance. Lift justifies the expenditure on an external consultant, rather than relying on student work, by arguing an external voice avoids “the risk of group-think”.

Not content with simple recommendations, Maclean has proposed a total overhaul of ANUSA’s governance operations. He says the SRC is currently “primarily [a] reporting body” when it “should be actually passing policy”. To address this Maclean proposes dividing SRCs into multiple committees which address specific areas like higher education, ANUSA’s budget, and welfare. These committees, Maclean argues, should be entirely made up of ANUSA representatives, including the perennially underused General Representatives. Notably, this would greatly change operations of the existing Education Committee, which currently decides which campaigns to run based on the votes of any students who attend Education Committee meetings, rather than the SRC. Maclean has stressed that he does not intend to “force” these changes on any committee, but has been consulting with them.

Maclean has also pushed for what he calls “separation of powers” – which essentially boils down to curtailing the power of the ANUSA Executive (of which, if elected, he would be a member). He criticises ANUSA’s “tacit delegation of decision making powers to the Executive”. Maclean has promised that if elected, he would not vote at ANUSA meetings, as he argues the “referee” of meetings should not vote in them. Finally, Maclean has argued for the development of a mechanism to allow SRCs to pass motions outside of meetings, in order to respond quicker to changing circumstances.

Shake Up’s Fu has said he will “refine gaps in the ANUSA constitution with regards to ANUSA’s subcommittees”.

Voting in the 2017 ANUSA election begins online on Monday 21st.