Three Fight for Gen Sec: Who Will Prevail?
By Tom Kersten
Voting has just begun for this years ANUSA’s Elections, so we take a look into the three candidates running for the General Secretary position: Josh Polak (Back on Track), Ben Yates (Grassroots ANUSA) and Blake Iafeta (Do Better! With Blake Iafeta).
The General Secretary is responsible for the internal governance within ANUSA. They organise and run meetings such as SRC, CRC and OGM. Further, they are in charge of interpreting the constitution and other ANUSA documents.
A self confessed “true Governance nerd”, Polak is a fourth year Law & Political Science Student, and is a former Senior Resident at Fenner Hall.
Previously, Polak has been Secretary of the Clubs Council, which he believes has given him a “crash course in how ANUSA operates.”
Polak is running on the Back on Track ticket, which is Labor affiliated.
Yates was a General Representative for ANUSA in 2020 and was also the Education Vice-President of the Law Student’s Society in the same year. He is currently a Senior Resident at Wright Hall.
Currently, Yates also holds the role of General Secretary in the ANU Environment Collective. Yates was a key player in designing and moving a motion calling for a referendum on fossil fuel divestment at ANU.
Part of the ‘Grassroots ANUSA’ ticket, Yates currently has no affiliation with any political parties.
Yates is also running for NUS Delegate.
Iafeta, who is running for a total of 11 positions during the elections, is on an independent ticket and does not hold any affiliations with political parties.
He is “deeply passionate” on ensuring that ANUSA solely focuses “on nothing but the students of ANU.”
What will they bring to ANUSA?
All three candidates have big plans for the General Secretary portfolio if elected. The key issues range from increased engagement with the student body, through to greater accountability of elected representatives.
Both Polak and Iafeta make explicit mention in their policy manifesto’s to make the livestream of meetings a reality during Covid-affected times.
Polak argues that livestreaming directly hits the goals of engagement and accountability.
“Live streaming has two major benefits: first, they assist in engaging a wider audience and second, they provide a critical record of proceedings”, he said.
Iafeta says that along with live streaming meetings, he will also run training sessions to “ensure that there are no issues using programs such as Zoom”.
Further, Polak commits to uploading recordings of meetings to ANUSA’s website. “Uploading to the ANUSA website is important because not everyone uses Facebook”, he concludes.
Iafeta says improving “the effectiveness of the Associations communication with the students of ANU” is one of the things he’ll prioritse if elected.
He plans to do this by “declutter[ing] and reorganis[ing] ANUSA’s record-keeping system” as he believes it is currently “unreasonably complicated to try and find information relating to ANUSA”.
To combat a lack of student engagement with the Association, Iafeta plans to hold training sessions for students to better understand how ANUSA meetings work. Such training will act like “an explanatory session that details the terminology and processes that all ANUSA meetings follow”, Iatefa says.
Additionally, Iafeta will encourage all members for input and consultation. This will “work towards a fairer process of decision making” he says.
Polak highlights “challenges effectively communicating” with the student body surrounding ANUSA meetings. Conseqeuntly Polak states that he will have a deep focus on clearly communication about the Association meetings.
Polak proposes to send out clear and concise meeting notices through mass e-mail so that students are aware of meetings. Making these notices visually engaging is also something Polak would like to achieve to drive engagement.
With hybrid meetings a big possibility, Polak says he will work with “IT to find a room where we can integrate the room audio and visual software with Zoom”.
“Doing this will allow Zoom participants to have a video feed of what’s occurring. If this fails, I will attempt to invest in a camera to permit a video stream”.
Yates says that “ANUSA suffers from low engagement” with his policies looking to break this cycle.
He credits part of this low engagement to failures in ensuring adequate accessibility in meetings. Yates says he will work with the incoming disability officer to cater to specific accessibility needs of the incoming SRC.
This would include multimodal meetings and potentially “implementing integrated close captioning software on the online meeting platform”.
Yates says he will also consider the “sensory environment of whatever space we choose to hold in person SRCs in” and also “ensuring that any space we use has a functional hearing loop and that the whole space, not just parts of it, are wheelchair accessible”.
Making documentation more accessible such as making them “less overwhelming than 100 page PDFs” is something Yates says is worth thinking about.
Polak plans to introduce a ‘Gen Rep question time’. He says that Gen Rep reports have been an important step to ensuring accountability, however thinks more can be done.
“I will move to introduce Gen Rep Question Time. This will be a new agenda item where anyone can ask any Gen Rep about their role or projects that they are currently working on”.
Polak will also look to introduce a mechanism to track meeting attendance at SRC.
“This measure will ultimately improve accountability because it will
encourage attendance and engagement”, he concludes.
Polak says he will “interpret the Constitution according to the rules and without a predetermined outcome”.
Reforming the disputes committee is something Yates would do if elected, stating that it is currently “shrouded in secrecy” as there are no established rules regarding reporting and publishing decisions.
If elected Yates says he will “develop a Disputes Policy governing the publication of decisions of the Disputes Committee”.
“This policy will go hand in hand with a new Disputes Register to publicly record the decisions of the committee where it is deemed appropriate” Yates says.
Additionally, Yates will increase the role of departments in ANUSA governance and policy making. He thinks it is “possible for governance tools to hold members to account for bypassing the representatives of marginalised groups”.
“It is time to switch the conversation around and start holding members of ANUSA accountable to the autonomous departments.”
“The driving intention is to embolden and empower department voices to be able to speak loudest on issues that affect them” Yates says.
Iafeta says he plans to remain accountable to students by “being impartial and transparent”.
“I will do this by being open and encouraging questions from all ANU Students.”
Iafeta stresses that “It is essential to be as objective as possible when interpreting the Constitution, ensuring that every decision made is unbiased. Accordingly, I will keep all student representatives truly accountable for their actions”.
Voting closes 12pm 2 September.
Graphics by Joseph Oh
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