Head to Head: 2021 President
By Lottie Twyford
Content warning: this article contains discussions of institutional betrayal, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
This year, the role of ANUSA President will be contested by five candidates: Madhumitha Janagaraja, Brad Saines, Skanda Panditharatne, Ben Wicks and James Eveille
The President holds the most senior, and perhaps the most prestigious, position within ANUSA. Furthermore, they are ANUSA’s official spokesperson – tasked with communicating ANUSA’s activity to students and the media. They are also responsible for ensuring student voices are heard, and representing and advocating on behalf of undergraduate students alongside the Vice President. Furthermore, the President is tasked with ensuring that ANUSA complies with its legal obligations as an organisation.
Current Vice President Madhumitha Janagaraja is running on Brighter Together – the largest ticket contesting the elections this year. On the Brighter Together website, she states that she believes her track record “[speaks] for itself”, listing achievements in the advocacy space during the past semester, and her time as Disabilities Officer in 2019. This includes her advocacy for the CRS/CRN grading system, ANUSA emergency grants, early cancellation of accommodation contracts, and the postponement of census date to Week 8 – all in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Janagaraja said that she is running for President because of her “deep … love” for the “community” and “because [she] wants to keep fighting for it”. She will also be running for the position of NUS delegate.
Brad Saines, who currently holds the position of Careers Officer for the ANU International Relations Society, is running on ‘A New Way Forward’, a ticket focused on five key areas: community, rights, health, environment and transport. He cites this year as having “eroded … trust between students and the ANU”, and hopes to “rebuild” the relationship between students and the University through his policies. Saines’ ticket describes itself as “campus-focused”, with an emphasis on issues such as bike theft on campus, public transport, and the creation and maintenance of safe smoking areas.
Skanda Panditharatne is running with Go the Distance, and also cites his extensive experience within the student advocacy and clubs space. As Ed Officer, he helped “spearhead the Kill the Bill …. and the No Proctorio” campaigns run by the Education Committee. Panditharatne has also notes his experience working with “outside groups such as the Young Workers Centre, the ACT Tenants Union, and the National Union of Students” on campaigns that “affect students’ rights on a territory and national level”. He has previously been involved with the ANUSA Clubs Council and the ANU Greens, and serves as the ACT Coordinator for the Grassroots Independents. Overall, he describes his ticket as “experienced”, with a platform committed to “progressive causes” and ensuring that students are “politically informed”.
Current Gen Rep Ben Wicks is running on Proud! of Our ANUSA. Wicks is running on a platform which he states will put students and student voices at the heart of the ANU community. Wicks also wants the “ANU war chest [divested] from Fossil Fuels” and wants to see ANUSA fight cuts to SSAF funding more strongly. Speaking about the experience he would bring to the role, he cites his three year experience of events management and logistics, as well as an understanding of the inner workings of ANUSA.
CASS Representative James Eveille is running with the Refocus your ANUSA ticket. In a statement on Facebook, Eveille said that “ANUSA needs strong leadership that is ready to pivot the conversation back to the issues that really matter”. He cites his experience as an ANUSA representative in the face of challenges including the bushfires earlier this year, COVID-19, and cuts to Higher Education – events that Eveille asserts “ANUSA hasn’t always been as ready to handle… as they could have been.” Eveille has previously been involved with the NUS ACT Branch, and is a former President of the ANU Labor Students’ Club.
SSAF Budget Cuts/ ANUSA Funding Diversification
One of the biggest issues looming over this election are the significant cuts to SSAF budgets which are anticipated for next year.
Janagaraja acknowledges that “ANUSA is facing the bleakest financial position and SSAF Bid its seen since 2016”. She claims that “strong and capable” leadership is required to mitigate against this. Furthermore, she states that her five year strategic plan for ANUSA will investigate how the financial future of the organisation can be both secured and stable. In a comment to Observer, Janagaraja noted that the size of the SSAF pool being reduced is not the whole problem, but rather that “candidates are not equipped with the training, support or knowledge to understand how to write an efficient and competitive SSAF bid”. She said that her ticket is equipped with the institutional knowledge necessary to effectively manage the budget. Like many of the candidates this year, Janagaraja has stated that she will aim to diversify ANUSA’s budget by securing a permanent non-SSAF revenue stream; to this end, Brighter Together proposes the development of an ANUSA-run post office.
If elected, Saines plans to develop a business model which would see ANUSA diversify its portfolio by opening an apparel store, as well as a post office. He states that this would provide “job opportunities for students”, while also “providing a service that can support students in their personal and academic lives”. The proposed business would allow clubs to sell their merchandise. Furthermore, Saines said that he intends to push for a “freeze” to further cuts to clubs and society funding.
To ensure that ANUSA remains financially viable, Panditharatne said that he wants to focus on “managing the ongoing impact of COVID-19 to students and services”. He intends to achieve this through “fighting for SSAF and investigating alumni donations”. Panditharatne notes that he will continue to build on the work implemented by current Treasurer Maddy Wang on building ethical sponsorship guidelines and an ethical sponsor list.
Wicks’ policies largely focus on the need for a ‘pivot’ within ANUSA to allow the organisation to “fight any cuts to the association”. He believes that there is “an opportunity to fly”, through which he and his ticket will “bring the ferocity needed to achieve our goals, and fulfill the association’s mandate to better the student experience”. Wicks also has plans for ANUSA to diversify its revenue, specifically by creating a food-based business so that the revenue which currently goes to private eateries can be reinvested into ANUSA instead.
Refocus your ANUSA’s Eveille is running with a campaign that he has stated aims to transition ANUSA into the post-COVID world. Like the other candidates, this includes plans for diversifying ANUSA’s revenue streams, such as sponsorships or an ANUSA-run business. He also intends to push for greater transparency in relation to ANUSA’s finances. Additionally, Refocus’ policy platform states that the ANUSA budget will need to be reworked in order to “pick up the slack and provide more support to students” as JobKeeper programs come to an end.
Janagaraja is focused on continuing advocacy within the SASH space. This includes a commitment to reforms on institutional responses to disclosures, adequate support services, such as the continued presence of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on campus, and finalising the staff Code of Conduct. Janagaraja also intends to continue collaborating with other bodies like the IHC and the STOP campaign.
Forward’s Saines plans to “launch a campaign informing students of their rights as students, medical patients, tenants, travelers and citizens”. He states that he will also commit to opposing any attempts by the ANU to “weaponise the student Code of Conduct”, and establish an independent monitoring committee for student rights. Additionally, his platform includes a proposal for a Charter of Student Rights and Responsibilities in order to “enshrine the ANU’s obligation to protect students from sexual harassment and sexual assault and to support survivors”. At the candidate debates on Friday, Saines claimed that the Student Code of Conduct, which was passed by the ANU Council this year, “doesn’t go far enough.”
Panditharatne, who currently holds the position of Education Officer, stated in a post on Facebook that he has been “heavily involved” in activism, including campaigns to “[fight] against government fee increases and Proctorio”. He wishes to continue this advocacy by “throwing ANUSA’s support where it’s most needed to make change, without tying ourselves to political factions”. Like Janagaraja, he believes in the importance of building on existing advocacy work. In terms of SASH, he sees the President’s role as primarily focused on supporting and amplifying student voices. As to more detailed points of policy on student advocacy, Panditharatne expressed to Observer that he wishes to defer to his VP candidate Samuel Lee’s policies on this topic. Finally, he plans to run a campaign in order to better educate students around SSAF.
Wicks promises to fight for student voices to be better heard. He also highlights that “2020 has seen our community trapped overseas, interstate and apart” and that it needs putting “back together” in a post-COVID world. Wicks claims that education advocacy is especially important in the wake of the “attack by the Federal Government” on tertiary education funding, and believes that a “multifaceted” approach is necessary to include all students as they challenge the Government’s policy. He wants to use the Student Partnership Agreement in order to empower student voices from representative clubs, allowing them to be in the rooms advocating for their own rights. Furthermore, in the SASH advocacy space, Wicks says that he would continue the fight to ensure that survivors’ voices are heard.
Eveille, meanwhile, has unveiled policies which aim to lead a campaign focused on the experiences of working students and student carers’ at ANU. He has also touted plans to run a “Union Week” dedicated to “to informing students about the power of unionism”. Refocus intends to make such a campaign one of ANUSA’s standing items before the Teacher and Learning Development Committee. Eveille is also committed to advocating for an expansion of student services and assistance, including the possibility for after-hours support services. On the issue of cuts to higher education funding, Eveille’s ticket has stated that it stands with the NUS in opposing the Morrison government’s proposed fee hikes.
Accessibility, Support and Outreach
Janagaraja hopes to prioritise the mental wellbeing and training of Department Officers if elected. This issue came to the forefront this year following the resignation of International Officer LC Yip. In addition to her mission to implement training for Officers in areas like advocacy, conflict resolution and governance, Janagaraja expresses that she is “personally committed to building a relationship of trust and support” between Department Officers and the Executive. If elected, she also he intends to oversee the completion of the ANU Counselling & the Suicide Prevention Strategy. Furthermore, Janagaraja wants to ensure that students with different learning requirements are better supported by “standardising priority tutorial enrolment slots” which will give students with disabilities, caring responsibilities, and work commitments first priority. Janagaraja also plans to push for the availability of remote participation for all courses, and for further resourcing for Access & Inclusion.
Saines states that he will seek to re-establish the Off-Campus Collective, and will push for funding to clubs and societies to remain at their current levels. He wishes to reinstate smoking areas within ANU, acknowledging both the “needs of students with respiratory issues and the safety of smokers”. Saines also has an environmental advocacy plan, including the trialling of a carbon offsetting programme, and the creation and implementation of a cyclist/pedestrian “efficiency framework”, intended to “safeguard both pedestrian and cyclist safety” on campus. As part of his platform, Saines also plans to develop a comprehensive mental health strategy, as well as a “mental health ambassadorship program” with both online and in-person components, to assist “struggling students”. Furthermore, he wants to “simplify” the process of applying for medical grants by “expanding ANUSA’s partnership” with the National Health Co-op.
Panditharatne highlights the importance of collaboration for ANUSA and for the ANU community as a whole, seeking to join forces with all student allies, regardless of political affiliation. Panditharatne is committed to collaborating with groups outside of ANUSA. He also intends to continue pushing for the prioritisation of student voices and needs, particularly during periods of University redevelopment, stating that he does not “want to see a university where students are viewed as profit rather than as people”.
Wicks’ platform promises to create O-Weeks which are inclusive, particularly for the Year Twelve cohort who will need a community to join after a year spent almost entirely online. ANUSA should, according to Wicks, “be working with discipline societies, our theatre communities and our clubs to make them as strong as they can be”. He is particularly passionate about “empowering” theatre and performing arts groups/clubs on campus.
Refocus’ platform is committed to ensuring that students continue to receive essential services through ANUSA, and to investigate “the uptake of grants and services” so that they are “effectively targeted to those that need them most”. Eveille will also undertake student-wide surveys on education issues, which will enquire about “accessibility, quality and outcome”, and has committed to establishing a task force underneath the College Representative Council (CRC) to investigate courses with consistently low SELT scores. They have also stated that they will work with the DSA to ensure that no students are penalised because of accessibility issues. In addition, they also continue to oppose the use of Proctorio to invigilate exams at ANU. If elected, Eveille will also seek to implement the recommendations of the Gender Equality Working Group.
ANUSA Structural Reform
Janagaraja plans to implement a five-year strategic plan for ANUSA, which will include increasing the institutional knowledge that is retained within the Association, standardising training protocols for representatives, and establishing long-term KPIs for individual portfolios. The overarching objective of this strategic plan, according to Janagaraja, is to ensure that “the welfare, academic and social needs of undergraduate students at ANU are met”. Such a plan has the fundamental goal of “identifying and addressing gaps”.
Saines wishes to create an ANUSA-led Taskforce to “crackdown” on rights infringements on campus, including “failures to arrange accessibility accommodations to students of all abilities”. He also intends to create a ‘National Council of Student Leaders’ with other Group of Eight Student presidents. Such a council would aim to create a “national consensus on student issues to advocate for on the national stage”. Saines also plans to host regular ‘town hall style’ meetings in addition to SRCs and OGMs, which he hopes will allow them to consult with undergraduate students regarding proposed motions or amendments. Through a proposal of a Dedicated Proportionate Representation model for the Gen Rep position, they also seek to mandate gender parity, and balance representation of domestic and international students.
Panditharatne will commit to the “decentralisation of ANUSA”, particularly looking to establish closer relationships between the ANUSA President and individual Department Officers. Panditheratne stated at the candidates debate that he would “consult actively with clubs departments and University halls”. He also has plans for improving ANUSA’s transparency, through measures to increase student access to SRCs and engaging with student media. To this end, he proposes the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding between ANUSA and student media organisations. Panditharatne said that “Such an MOU would set out standard comment periods for ANUSA Executive members, ensuring that they are given a right of reply, while also allowing student media certainty as to their deadlines.” Like Janagaraja, he seeks to continue current President Lachy Day’s proposed five year plan for ANUSA, acknowledging that it was “curtailed by the pandemic”; he plans to “pick up where Lachy will leave off” and draft a further three year plan. He also has plans to consult with students through town-hall sessions. In terms of the ANUSA Governance Review, he says that he will work towards implementing its recommendations. In particular, Panditharatne expressed his support for the addition of a Welfare officer and Clubs officer as paid roles, pursuant to the review’s recommendations.
Like Panditharatne, Wicks wishes to continue the project of decentralising ANUSA, citing his first-hand experiences of the power ANUSA possesses in “backroom negotiations” with the University. He is also concerned about how to better represent and empower voices from outside ANUSA, particularly those of club and society representatives.
Eveille states that he is committed to quickly implementing the recommendations of the Governance Review Working Group “before the reason for its establishment gets lost”. Eveille served as the College Representative on the 2020 ANUSA Governance Working Group. He has also committed to future reviews of the election regulations in order to ensure that all students understand their obligations under them. Eveille asserts that ANUSA must also continue to become more transparent, and he hopes to implement a policy that will “[compel] all representatives to provide regular updates to SRC about issues discussed at University meetings”.
Skanda Panditharatne was an Observer News Editor in 2017 and 2018. He ceased all involvement with Observer in March 2019.
Rebecca Zhong and Anthony Lotric contributed to reporting.
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