ANUSA President Accuses Shake Up of “Politicisation of Sexual Assault”

A grey background with the ANUSA logo

Content Warning: This article contains discussion of sexual assault, sexual assault advocacy and discussion of responses to sexual assault.

Michael Turvey & Eliza Croft

ANUSA President James Connolly denounced the “politicisation” of sexual assault today, in reference to a recent Shake Up campaign video. The President spoke forcefully on the matter in ANUSA’s General Meeting, at which candidates from Shake Up were present, before being stopped by the General Secretary and referred to the Probity Officers. Connolly has since apologised for making the comments at a General Meeting.

The video in question contains many claims that Shake Up candidates are “objectively the most qualified” for their positions, including a claim from NUS candidate Freya Willis saying, “If you think the University is bungling the response to sexual assault, then you should vote for the team that is putting up the objectively most experienced student activists to the NUS.”

Connolly, in his President’s Report at the ANUSA Ordinary General Meeting, forcefully argued that “no one has the right to say they are objectively the best at dealing with this, nobody.” He asked that “in this election we do not politicise the issue of sexual assault”, and went on to argue that there are “committed activists on this issue on all tickets”.

Connolly was then interrupted by General Secretary Kat Reed, who told him to “come speak to Probity right now”. Connolly then spoke briefly to the Probity Officers, who monitor all electoral offenses, and then told the meeting, “That’s all I intend to say.” Observer has no knowledge of the issue Probity raised at this time. Connolly has sinced apologised for using the General Meeting as a platform, saying it was an “inappropriate forum to air those grievances”. However, Connolly said he maintains his position on the video, and reiterated that he was not apologising for voicing his response to the video, which he found upsetting and triggering. Connolly has also said he will remove himself from “all aspects of the elections” for his own mental health.

The video does not explicitly state that Shake Up is more qualified to deal with sexual assault, but it presents the issue of sexual assault as an example of under-addressed problems, and then immediately claims Shake Up have the “objectively most experienced student advocates”.

Probity confirmed the video was not an electoral violation. However, Probity requested that all tickets engage in a “dialogue of good faith” to “stop politicising the AHRC report” in the interests of the well being of survivors who may be affected. As part of this, it was suggested that Shake Up remove the video; this “did not come to pass”. Willis disagreed with the premise of this, saying the “debate” over politicisation is “on-going’.

Willis argued that “students need to be informed about candidates” and their “qualifications as advocates on sexual assault.” Willis argued this “requires that we talk about the issue”. Willis criticised Connolly’s comments, arguing that “it is no one person’s right to arbitrate the way the discourse happens around sexual assault”. Willis noted that she was herself a survivor of sexual assault, and that “every survivor is different and has different opinions”.

Shake Up has also defended the claims made in the video. “Our five candidates have a wealth of experience in activism,” Willis said, citing her own position as Deputy Women’s Officer. “Voters need to be able to discern if the people they vote for are going to be effective”, Willis argued.

Shake Up’s “objectively” theme has also faced criticism for its statements on Social Officer and Treasurer candidates. Lift’s Social Officer candidate said she felt “very hurt” and “attacked” by a comment made by Allan implying she would not be able to run “a successful O-Week”. That comment has been deleted and Allan has apologised for it. The video also claims Shake Up Treasurer candidate Mariah Chang is unique in having “handled large sums of money” and “worked in the industry”, but Lewis Pope, Lift’s Treasurer candidate, argues this is incorrect due to his experience as a director of the ANU Union, and an executive of the Clubs Council.

A senior ACT political operative has also criticised the video: Leah Dwyer, advisor to a Member of the Legislative Assembly, accused Shake Up of trying to “denigrate another woman candidate”. Dwyer went on to call the video “bad behaviour” and sarcastically add “how big of some potential future leaders”. These comments have since been removed by Shake Up. Lift Vice-Presidential candidate Tess Masters works with Dwyer at the Legislative Assembly.

Shake Up’s statements about their candidates being objectively the most qualified are a response to similar statements made about Lift Presidential candidate Eleanor Kay. In the Presidential Debate, Kay said she was “objectively the most qualified” person to be President, having served as acting President at times this year. Since that debate, Lift has incorporated “Objectively the most qualified” into many statements about Kay. Shake Up says the video was intended to “satirise the rhetoric of ‘objectivity’”

Willis is not the first candidate to be criticised for politicising sexual assault advocacy. Last week Activate candidate Camille Inez was criticised by many after Observer reported her claim ANUSA reps showed a “lack of action” on sexual assault.

Voting in the ANUSA election closes 4PM tomorrow.

Full Apology from ANUSA President James Connolly
Whilst my views on sexual assault discourse differ from the ‘Shake Up ANUSA’ ticket, I acknowledge that my comments at the Ordinary General Meeting today were made in an inappropriate forum to air those grievances. For that I apologise. As a sexual assault survivor I found the video posted by ‘Shake Up ANUSA’, originally without a content warning, to be incredibly triggering. This triggered an episode which prompted me to publicly condemn the ticket’s video at the Ordinary General Meeting today.

The Shake-Up Video in Question

If you have been sexually assaulted, or affected by a sexual assault, support is available:
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525 (7am-11pm)
1800 RESPECT (24/7)
ANU Counselling: 02 6125 2442 (9am-5pm, Mon-Fri)