Head to Head: 2021 NUS Delegates
By Vienna Daniels
The National Union of Students, or NUS, is the peak representative body for higher education students in Australia. Through advocacy, activist campaigns, and lobbying at the highest levels of Australia’s government, the NUS works to further the interests of undergraduate students across the country.
Each year, ANU elects five delegates to represent the University at the annual NUS National Conference (NatCon), where policies are moved, debated, and put to a vote, and office bearers are elected for the following year. It’s possible to attend either as an observer or a delegate: observers don’t have voting rights, and delegates can only vote if their student union has paid the accreditation fee of $5,000.
Importantly, the NUS is highly factional, and the votes of delegates are typically ‘bound’ to the faction to which they belong. This means that they have to vote in accordance with their faction, not according to their own conscience, or the preferences of the students who elected them. Most factions are associated with particular political parties or ideologies, such as the left or right factions of the Labor Party, or the Socialist Alternative. There is also the Grassroots Independents (‘Grindies’), a faction that does not vote bind. Observers may also choose to sit independently. Read Observer’s NatCon Explainer for more details about how NatCon works.
Zoe Ranganathan is a third year Political Science and Arts student and the current ANUSA Disabilities Officer. She is also running for ANUSA Vice President.
Vincent Lee is a second year Arts student majoring in Linguistics, and is currently a General Representative and the Deputy Queer* Officer for ANUSA.
Ranganathan and Lee have joined forces on the new ‘Spice up!’ ticket. The ticket is focused solely on the NUS, with a commitment to “diversify your NUS”.
Spice Up! has highlighted the importance of drawing more attention to the NUS and the race for delegate positions during the election season. They state that students should be “taking a good hard look at what the NUS has achieved for us, and where we can assist it to grow”. They hope to influence the NUS to pass policies that support POC and international students, as they believe the NUS has failed to adequately do so in the past.
In a press release, Lee highlighted a lack of international student representation in “student unionism at ANU and across the country”, and also expressed disappointment with the current NUS International Officer. Similarly, Ranganathan noted that she has been “disappointed by the lack of willingness from the NUS’s Ethnocultural Officer to act on implementing” policies intended to aid POC and those from diverse backgrounds.
Both candidates have attended past NUS National Conferences and have touted the advocacy and activism they have conducted in their respective ANUSA roles.
If elected, Spice Up! intends to sit and vote with National Labor Students, the Labor Left-aligned faction. NLS is a Labor Left-aligned faction, and is currently the second largest faction within the NUS. They carry out a process of internal voting that determines the policies all members are bound to vote for.
Go the Distance with ANUSA
Skanda Panditharatne is a fifth year Arts and Law student and the current ANUSA Education Officer. He is also running for President.
Jacob Ellis is a third year International Relations and Arts student. He is currently both a Gen Rep and the Deputy Education Officer for ANUSA. He is also running for Education Officer.
Jordyn Gibson is a fourth year International Relations and Law student and the current ANUSA Clubs Council Secretary. She is also running for General Secretary.
Mekala Navaratne is a second year Arts and Law student. She is also running for General Representative.
Go the Distance describes themselves as “an independent, experienced, and policy-focussed ticket.” Each of their NUS Delegate candidates are concurrently running for positions on ANUSA’s executive, or as Gen Reps.
Go the Distance want the NUS “to be the best it can be”, highlighting the need for “independent voices focussed on ensuring it is accountable and governed well.”
Transparency and accountability are presented as two key aims of the ticket on their website.
Regarding ANUSA’s yearly accreditation to the NUS, the ticket has stated that they “believe that governance and accountability is important, and that the NUS should be responsible in terms of its finances and transparency”. Their position is that reaccreditation should be assessed based on KPIs, and an evaluation of those factors.
Lastly, Go the Distance have expressed their disappointment at past attempts by the NUS to prevent student media from having access to NatCon. “If the NUS wants students to care about their national union, they need to constructively engage with student media”, a ticket spokesperson told Observer. The ticket has promised to assist student media in reporting on the NUS, and to provide them with policy documents and information.
If elected, all Go the Distance candidates will sit with the Grassroots Independents faction.
Refocus Your ANUSA
James Eveille is also running for President and Undergraduate Member on ANU Council. He is the current CASS Representative.
Sophie Macdonald is a second year Commerce and Arts student. She is also running for Education Officer.
Marlow Meares is a first year Economics and Arts student. He is also running for General Representative.
Alex Matters is a first year student. He is also running for General Representative.
Dorothee Steinbach is a first year International Business student. She is also running for General Representative.
‘Refocus’ have stated in their policy document that “the students of the ANU deserve pragmatic, experienced and principled delegates to the NUS”. They promise to deliver this through five outlined policies.
This includes ensuring the NUS’s efficacy by “prioritising campaigns and decisions that have the most immediate impact on students”. The ticket also commits to pushing the NUS’s advocacy in a “direction that has the most benefit for both students of the ANU and wider Australia”.
‘Refocus’ has emphasised its candidates’ relationships with the University of South Adelaide Student Association (USASA) and the Deakin University Student Association (DUSA), stating that these connections “can be effectively used to implement… activism activities at the ANU”, and to attain better outcomes from the NUS.
Lastly, ‘Refocus’ has stated their intention to increase engagement with the NUS from students at ANU, stating that “Refocus your ANUSA believes increasing education around the role of the NUS and NUS Events, such as Education Conference and National Conference, will increase student engagement with the NUS.” Additionally, they have criticised the “unrealistic” expectations set by the external KPIs proposed by other tickets. The ticket claims that these “hinder the effectiveness of the NUS, through setting expectations that are challenging to meet, reducing the probability for affiliation in the long term”.
The ticket intends to sit with the Student Unity faction. Student Unity is currently the largest, and thus the most influential, faction within the NUS. The faction is affiliated with Labor Right, and practices vote binding.
John Dove is a fifth year Languages and Arts student. He is also running for Education Officer.
Aaron Bronitt is a third year International Security Studies and Law student. He is also running for General Representative.
Madhumitha Janagaraja is a fourth year Psychology student. She is also running for President and is the current Vice President.
Siang Jin Law is a fourth year PPE and Law student. She is also running for Treasurer and is the current Women’s Officer.
Christian Flynn is a third year Law and Arts student. He is also running for Vice President and the current President of Wamburun Hall as well as the Chair of Interhall Council of Presidents.
Collectively, Brighter Together’s candidates “share a desire to represent and serve the interests of ANU students at a national level, and a will to use the NUS to make ANU students measurably better off.” While they acknowledge the “flawed” nature of the NUS, they believe it is better to remain a member of the union than to not participate at all. The candidates hope to contribute their “fierce commitment to activism and advocacy to the NUS” but promise to “never be uncritical when the NUS gets things wrong.”
In a statement to Observer, each candidate also spoke to their independent goals for the NUS.
Dove described “bringing a progressive, activist presence to the NUS, and ensuring that it remains focused on improving the lives of students through effective national campaigns…”. He specifically noted the importance of ANU’s NUS delegates remaining accountable to the University’s students.
Bronitt expressed a passion for guaranteeing an efficient relationship between ANUSA and the NUS, and making sure students “are getting their money’s worth for their accreditation fees.”
Janagaraja intends to ensure the interests of ANU students are being advocated for by the University’s delegates, as well as by the NUS more broadly. She acknowledges that while the NUS should combat issues at the national level, this should not lead to sidelining of ANU student interests. She notes that it is ANU students that “elect the delegates and pay for accreditation.”
Flynn, meanwhile, highlights the importance of greater welfare advocacy and speaking on behalf of students regarding “issues of national concern… such as access to government support and their safety on campuses.” If elected, he hopes to influence the NUS to “take a more outspoken and active position.”
Lastly, Law takes an interest in the financial responsibilities of the NUS, as she believes that “it is incredibly important that the NUS is spending it’s [sic] money wisely, especially when that money comes from ANUSA and other student unions around the country.” Law will focus on greater transparency regarding NUS’s finances, in addition to representing ANU students.
Brighter Together has no expectation that their candidates will sit independently, if elected, all five of Brighter Together’s candidates can choose whether to sit with the Grassroots Independents or not.
Fight the Liberals!
Wren Somerville is a third year student. He is also running for Education Officer.
Nicholas Carlton is a current ANUSA General Representative. He is also running to be a General Representative in 2021.
Grace Hill is the current ANUSA Environment Officer.
Fight the Liberals! prioritises activism as the key responsibility of the NUS. Referencing recent protests against fee hikes and climate change, Fight the Liberals! stated that “In the face of the greatest attacks on students potentially since the abolishment of free education, this redirection [to activism] is required now more than ever.”
The Fight the Liberals! delegate candidates have expressed disappointment at what they perceive as an NUS education campaign insufficiently focused on activism, stating that “the Grassroots-Independents have continued to walk the well-worn path to irrelevance with their position of NUS Education Officer”. They further spoke to their dissatisfaction with “the passivity” of the NUS in response to Liberal policy regarding higher education.
Lastly, the ticket emphasised the “need to fight for an NUS that is unafraid and wholly committed to fighting the Liberals, because neither Labor nor the Grassroots-Independents will”. They intend to employ activism in the hopes of “changing the political terrain of this issue, and forcing it into the media.”
Fight the Liberals! will sit with the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) faction.
Ben Yates is a second year Law and Arts student. He is the current General Representative for ANUSA as well as the Vice President of the Law Student Society. He is also running for General Secretary on the Proud! of our ANUSA ticket, which is not officially running any NUS delegate candidates.
In a statement to Observer, Yates expressed his concern about the lack of engagement between the NUS and students as a key reason for running, stating that he would like to “see the NUS more frequently reach out to specific on campus groups… [including] discipline societies and advocacy bodies”. Additionally, Yates wishes to see greater support from NUS office bearers for students wanting to engage in activism.
Regarding engagement between the NUS and ANUSA, Yates stated that “campus and state positions must not be treated as CV fodder but as positions with clear responsibilities attached”. He cites accountability and reporting measures for state and campus office bearers as highly important. Yates highlights the importance of setting standards for activism by the NUS in order to distinguish between what he calls “inclusive, intersectional and consultative activist campaigns” and “divisive, inaccessible campaigns run to advance one group’s political interests”.
Lastly, Yates references a lack of funding and insufficiently widespread accreditation as the main reasons “the NUS falls short of its true potential.” He claims that “The NUS needs to matter to all students in Australia, not just those at our largest, wealthiest institutions”.
Luca Corby is a first year Sustainability Studies student. He is also running for Environment Officer.
In a statement to Observer, Corby described his intention to advocate for the restoration of the NUS Environment Officer position, which was abolished in 2016. He stated that “the NUS is a representative of students and must be a national voice against the crimes of climate denialism against students”.
Corby also noted that if elected he would push for NUS office bearers to “build connections” in youth environment movements, including AYCC, SEED and ASEN.
While not a member of any political party, Corby intends to sit with the National Labour Students (NLS) faction.
Skanda Panditharatne was an Observer News Editor in 2017 and 2018. He ceased all involvement with Observer in March 2019.
This article was edited on 25 August to clarify that Brighter Together holds no expectation that it’s candidates will sit with independents.
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