Sydney University students vote for left-wing president

Progressive student ticket ‘Switch’ victory came on the back of another defeat of the federal coalition government’s attempt to further impoverish students with its changes to higher education.

Progressive students have staged a remarkable come-from-behind victory in Sydney University’s Student Representative Council (SRC) elections, with Imogen Grant elected SRC president.

Grant headed Switch, a ticket of Greens, socialists and independents. She edged out Liberal candidate Brendan Ma, following a string of controversial decisions made during the course of the campaign.

Grant’s victory came on the back of another defeat of the federal coalition government’s attempt to further impoverish students with its changes to higher education.

Early counting appeared to show that Sydney University was about to elect the first openly Liberal SRC President in the modern era. The primary vote count put Ma ahead by 312 votes; however the strong flow of preferences from the eliminated Labor candidate saw Grant elected by 83 votes.

Grant told Green Left Weekly her win was a battle against the odds — and the system — because of problems affecting their campaign before it even began.

“I was the Grassroots presidential candidate and intended to run on that branding. However, there was a disaster with the Grassroots nominations and the tickets were excluded from running in the race, including the 70 rad lefties on those tickets.”

Returning Officer (RO) Paulene Graham dismissed 17 Grassroots-affiliated tickets from the election following their ticket’s failure to hand their nomination forms in on time, having handed them in less than one minute after the close of nominations.

Grassroots appealed the decision to disallow the tickets to run, citing previous decisions by the RO that allowed tickets to enter the election despite being handed in late. However this argument was struck down by the Electoral Legal Arbitrator (ELA) who concurred with the initial decision taken by Graham.

These circumstances did not deter Grant, who said: “As a result of the ruling from the RO and the ELA, I was forced to run under Switch.”

Switch’s campaign focused on issues that affect not just university students, but the whole community, with policies in favour of marriage equality, support for university staff and National Tertiary Education Union in their pay dispute with university management, for Indigenous recognition, environmental sustainability and against rape culture on campus.

Grant was this year’s Women’s Officer. She used the office to campaign against sexual assault on campus, including a response to the introduction of the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual assault in education communities, against rape culture at Sydney University colleges and against the inequality of women, queers and Indigenous people.

In a further victory for the left, Heat for Honi, an independent ticket that was largely supported by members of Switch and Grassroots, will be the new editors of Honi Soit. The opposing team Mint, an independent group that was backed by Labor and Liberal students, received 37% of the final vote despite announcing their withdrawal from the election during the campaigning, after one of their candidates endorsed commentary that said queer people were mentally ill.

Vanguard campaigner Sukith Fernando, who had endorsed Liberal Brendan Ma for the presidency, told students he did not know if the Holocaust actually happened and, according to student publication Pulp, said: “I am a holocaust denier”.

In the Sydney University National Union of Students (NUS) elections, five of the seven positions were won by conservatives. Labor Right (Unity) is on track nationally to dominate December’s NUS National Conference and election of office bearers, with just over 50% of all voting delegates belonging to Unity.

Traditionally Unity are the biggest faction at the NUS National Conference, but this year they won in elections they had never won before, while further consolidating their wins from previous years.

Former Socialist Alternative and now Labor Right member Peter Zacharatos said while the win is impressive, Unity will not seek to dominate the union.

“If we don’t give anything away (to the other factions), nobody will turn up, and NUS will dissolve. We will give NLS (Labor Left) president, and Salt (Socialist Alternative) education officer for the good of the union.”

Despite the progressive presidential victory, talk has now turned to the Representative Select meeting on November 2, where office bearer positions such as education, women’s, secretary and vice-president will be elected by the incoming SRC. Some quarters suggest Grant’s victory could be a pyrrhic one with the Liberals poised for minority control of the SRC.  

Switch activists have been organising feminist, LGBTI rights and environment actions on and off campus. Campaigners are hoping for a resounding victory at the Representative Select meeting, in order to have a better chance of fighting off anti-student and anti-worker attacks.  

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