Who Is Reformed Eshay Blake Iafeta?
By Nathan Bow & Darlene Rowlands
A week before the 2021 ANUSA elections, a new and puzzling face entered the student politics scene. The 18-year-old, with two short months in Canberra under his belt, captured the attention of ANU students when he announced his candidacy for 11 positions in ANUSA. He is now an incoming General Representative and NUS delegate. Observer sat down with the freshest face on a student politics scene felt by many to be fairly mundane – Blake Iafeta.
Lacking the traditional student politics resumé of opposing candidates, Iafeta instead based his platform on his life experience. In his ticket launch, he chose to focus on what stood him apart from the rest of the field. Iafeta showed no shame in declaring himself a high school dropout and “reformed eshay”, who through hard work, eventually made it to ANU.
Talking with us, Iafeta summed up his high school experience as one which revolved around short-term thrills. He began to drink and smoke around age 15, achieved little in school due to associating with rebellious crowds, and consistently failed to attend classes. This culminated in Iafeta dropping out of school in Year 11, deciding that “high school wasn’t really for [him]”.
Around this time, Iafeta said he began associating with people who were “affiliated with bikies” and experienced inner turmoil due to his lack of direction. His turning point came when his friends noted his wasted potential in engaging in a lifestyle that was “not really a way to live”.
“People would always ask me, ‘What are you doing? You’re actually pretty smart and you could do something [different]’,” Iafeta recalled.
Until that point, he hadn’t considered attending university. Despite dropping out the year before, Iafeta made the decision to apply to the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Tertiary Preparation Program. This six month program would eventually provide him with an alternative pathway to ANU.
According to Iafeta, his experience in the program was hindered by the one and a half hour travel time between UQ and his home, as well as his poor study habits.
“I’m terrible at studying,” he told us. “I just can’t bring myself to study most of the time.”
Initially finding it difficult to escape the poor influence of some of his friends, Iafeta credited his persistence in forging a new path to the “multiple role models” in his life; his parents and older brother. His decision to move to Canberra to attend ANU can be largely attributed to removing himself from the influence of his rebellious friends.
Whilst wearing his beginnings on his sleeve during his campaign, controversy quickly arose. The general skepticism toward Iafeta spanned from the sheer number of positions he contested and his political presence online, to a simple inability at times to discern whether he was being sincere or satirical.
When discussing the number of positions he contested, Iafeta cited multiple motivations.
He admitted that he initially ran as a joke, and was never particularly convinced he would be elected to an executive position. “At the start I thought [becoming a candidate] would be something funny to do, but as I got further into it, [I thought] that maybe I’ll actually be a bit more serious,” he said.
When asked at what point he began to take his candidacy seriously, Iafeta said that “thinking about [his] financial situation” and the possibility of “earning an executive salary” helped to change his attitude towards the campaign.
However, he critiqued the lack of “proper competition” seen in the 2021 election prior to his candidacy announcement, contrasting it with the supposedly more robust competition at UQ elections. He particularly pointed to the President and Vice-President positions, which were set to be uncontested before he ran for them.
The “general domination by one big ticket” at ANUSA elections was something he genuinely wished to challenge. “I would trust an independent [candidate] more than a ticket with thirty people,” he said.
Pointing to the Grassroots ticket this year, Iafeta thought most of the votes for such large tickets would come from “their friends and a lot of left-wing activists”. As such, he began focusing on ways to acquire support from the “right-leaning, centre-right, and centre-left” students. He said he also appeals to these groups as he feels they are currently underrepresented, and plans to act upon critiques he has heard from students on ANUSA’s policy objectives.
Iafeta’s candidacy has provided somewhat conflicting messaging on his political views. He has frequently claimed that the Do Better! with Blake Iafeta ticket is apolitical in nature, further insisting that he will approach issues by “stepping back and being a mouthpiece for [issues] people have [expressed to] me”. Iafeta’s online presence reveals a friendship with student activist Drew Pavlou.
Drew Pavlou is a well-known anti-Chinese Communist Party figure from the University of Queensland. Iafeta joined and assisted Pavlou’s campaign towards the end of his six months at UQ, prior to Pavlou’s expulsion.
Pavlou has previously posted his support of Iafeta’s candidacy on Facebook on two instances known to Observer, although one has been deleted. One post by Pavlou was a share of an Observer article on Iafeta’s candidacy. Another saw Pavlou referring to Iafeta as one of his “proteges”. Iafeta said he asked Pavlou to delete the Observer share as he “wasn’t sure if it breached election rules”. He insisted to Observer that he doesn’t know why Pavlou made posts referring to his candidacy, and “definitely wouldn’t call [himself]” one of Pavlou’s proteges. “We have very different political views,” Iafeta said.
Further, Iafeta’s LinkedIn profile shows his current occupations to be a top staffer at Drew Pavlou’s Democratic Alliance Party, and an editor of the anti-CCP organisation ‘Defend Democracy’.
When asked explicitly what his political views are, Iafeta told Observer that he identifies as “center-right”, but further said he isn’t in the habit of labelling his views.
Throughout the election, Iafeta made multiple satirical Facebook posts. In general, he said he knows “a lot of people take student politics as a joke”, and used these posts to “make [student politics] less boring”. Considering his new entry into the student politics scene at ANU, he said he “could only see a meme ticket” increasing his chances of being elected.
“Making the ticket funny was part of the whole thing”.
Iafeta also spent much of his campaign criticising ANUSA motions associated with international political issues. He believes ANUSA should not be passing such motions that “aren’t representative of the beliefs of ANU students”. Iafeta cited motions of solidarity toward the Myanmar military coup and the Israel/Palestine conflict as examples of this point. When asked about any proposition he has to solve this, he mentioned that “put[ting] a restriction on the motions” allowed to be proposed at ANUSA meetings could be implemented.
When asked if he plans to keep up the aspects of his campaign that brought him attention and controversy, Iafeta insisted he “won’t mess around” in his new positions but will still “try to keep the more fun aspect[s]” that made him popular.
Graphics by Joseph Oh
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