Design by Stephanie Ung

President at the 2021 SRC Elections: meet your candidates

by Guy Suttner 

The President is the most important position in the SRC. Their responsibilities include providing general leadership to the SRC, managing SRC meetings, and representing the student body externally. The SRC President also sits on the Board of Directors of Arc as well as on the Academic Board.  

Four candidates are contesting the President position.  

  • Nayonika Bhattacharya is running with the ticket ‘Together’. She also served as the General Secretary on the 2021 SRC.  
  • Oliver Doherty is running with the ticket ‘Spice Up’. 
  • Macy Reen is running with the ticket ‘Left Action’. She has been an SRC Councillor twice.  
  • Ahona Dutta did not respond to our requests to be interviewed.  

Nayonika 

What is your name and degree? 

My name is Nayonika Bhattacharya and I am in my 5th year of Arts (Pol/IR) and Law.  

Are you a member of, or affiliated with, any political party? 

No.

Why are you running to be the SRC President? 

There’s a lot of things students are going through at the important. It’s really important to be involved in a process where genuinely do care about student well-being but also making sure that student well-being but also that the quality of resources is held up to a standard.  

What do you see the role of the SRC as? 

The role of the SRC is quite broad. It has an advocacy role, discussing things that are impactful to student’s everyday experience. There are also external experiences that are important for student’s wellbeing and participation as well, so it is important you are involved in those campaigns. It’s also an internal role – services, different academic policies, you have to be involved in those. It’s a hands-on role, you listen to student’s concerns and get involved in meetings.  

What policies do you want to achieve as President? 

There are quite a few areas I want to work across. The first and most important would be to improve the academic experience. As president I don’t want anyone to be disadvantaged. I want them to be able to access resources to make sure we can help them improve their academic experience and if things like personal experiences or the pandemic show-up, your academic performance doesn’t go out the door. I want to improve welfare support and the visibility of these services. I don’t want students to go hungry, to miss meals so that they can buy a textbook. I don’t want anyone to worry about where they can sleep. We have pushed for affordable subsidised accommodation, for free meals from the SRC, we have been giving tickets out there for parking spaces. I want to put it out there that your welfare is not at risk and that you can get support.  

I want to create a sense of community, both in-person and virtually. This lockdown has been very confronting, I want the SRC and every part of UNSW to be prepared and proactive, especially in supporting first and second year students who haven’t been able to experience UNSW. I don’t want them to be left behind. I also want students to understand their legal rights. I want students to get involved in decisions that genuinely affect them, such as faculty board decisions. Young people are quite unaware of what legal rights apply them. We want people to be able to come forward and ask for help. The Student Safety Survey has shown that many students don’t feel safe on campus, and to me it’s important that students feel safe. That also applies to staff as well.  

So for example in regards to your goal of improving the academic learning experience, what specifically will you do to achieve that.  

It would look like creating an academic safety net. We have pushed for a pass/fail system and things such as pushing back Census a week in Term 2 2020 after lockdown started. It’s also about if you notice that students are consistently are doing poorly – it might be because of external circumstances. Another issue is the availability of courses, especially for situations where the faculty has not provided enough spots in classes for students to graduate on time.  

A huge part of the UNSW double degrees are the work-integrated learning opportunities, ensuring that students are safe and can provide feedback to ensure that UNSW does not partner with these organisations that are putting them in vulnerable positions. Apart from that, ensuring that students can more easily track their progression, for example trying to access progression through the Nucleus can only do so from Week 5. Improving consistency on courses, such as better utilisation of Moodle. It is making sure everyone has a singular policy on these issues, so students know exactly how to do things like lodge grievances or reform the appeals process.  

You served as General Secretary in the 2020 SRC, and the current President is a member of your ticket (Together). If these policies that you are advocating for weren’t already implemented what is going to change next year?  

The academic board terms last for a year and that they have a set number of meetings, so there is only a number of policies you can bring forward in a 2-hour meeting. A lot of these policies can only came up after meeting because circumstances changed. The lockdown happened quite unexpectedly and that also changed things. One thing I have to keep in mind is that as the SRC President you have to be proactive but also react quickly to changing circumstances. So for a lot of these policies, you just need more meetings, it is more about just continuing the work you have already done. It’s not that they aren’t working, it is that they are in the works.  

Would you support vaccination as a requirement to returning to campus? 

Yes, unless you can get a medical exemption.  

Would you support reducing the SSAF fees? 

This is interesting because SSAF is what supports Arc and a lot of other services that UNSW offer. So while students are not on campus, those funds are used to fund virtual services – things like Mental Health Connect or security to look after students at colleges. Students who are interstate and overseas pay SSAF fees. I would support a re-allocation of SSAF fees to services that support student well-being. You’ve got Mental Health Connect, you’ve got the Careers Service, you can access different clubs and leadership programs, they’ve got a lot of training, so SSAF fees go into a lot of services students are accessing remotely. It’s hard to say SSAF should be reduced, if you remove SSAF fees you are calling for all the services that students use to stop.  

Oliver  

What is your name and degree? 

My name is Oliver Doherty, I am studying Construction Management and Property, and this is my first year.  

Are you a member of, or affiliated with, any political party?  

No 

Why are you running to be the SRC President? 

Well as I decided recently to run for the SRC with the campaign team Spice, I’ve taken a lot of interest into university life, and I’ve fallen in love with UNSW, I seek a dynamic where students interact with other students. I ‘ve noticed that there’s not much face-to-face interaction, especially with COVID and I kind of want it to bounce back. 

What policies would you try implement as SRC President? 

I call it an A, B, C plan. A – SSAF reduction, because it’s charged to all students and I find that this fee is overly expensive and it should be reducted [sic] and a lot of these students are studying at home, so it doesn’t even affect them if they don’t come to campus. B – better club funding, clubs and societies are an integral part of campus life, especially in my time at being at university. I find that every society should be given a one-off $500 payment for clubs and an extra attendance payment where they receive $1 for every person who attends an event. C – campus rejuvenation. I believe that through better initiatives [sic] – because the campus is dying at university. Through Spice Up I want to implement a bunch of policies, discount at the Roundhouse, maybe free lunches. I feel like the campus needs to bounce back dramatically.  

Would you still support a reduction in the SSAF fees in 2022 if students have returned to campus? 

Then yes, I would support a reduction, to a certain extent. I do think it should be ended entirely for remote students. If people return to university life it should be reducted [sic], if they don’t return it should be removed.  

You were advocating for some payments to clubs, would that apply to all clubs regardless of size.  

The $500 payment is an initiative for the clubs to boost their programs and then with the more people that join the club, to help promote the cultural life at UNSW.  

Considering that you were advocating for the reduction in the SSAF fees and that is how clubs are in part funded, do you have a plan for where this money is going to come from – or is that an issue for someone else? 
 
I feel like that’s an issue for someone at a higher level than I am, it should be discussed at a board, so there is more opinion on the matter. Then we can all join together and come to an opinion on how the money should be spent.  

How would you try improve the academic experience at UNSW? 

I feel like the academic experience is mainly improved by face-to-face interaction and things like better club funding. Social life improves academic life as well, it is found in an array of studies. Everybody being involved ins social aspects that encourages people to get better grades and improve academically cause that’s the main thing, improving campus life and getting people back into the classroom.  

Would you support vaccination as a requirement to returning to campus? 

I feel like double-vaccinated people should be allowed to return to campus, but I don’t think anyone should be left behind. I think everyone should have a choice.  

Considering you are running on an apolitical ticket, would you support the SRC continuing to engage in activism outside of campus? 

I feel like I would say yes to that because if there is a majority and a lot of people want to improve that area it should be promoted and if there is a majority it should be promoted, but it needs to come to a board and people need to discuss it, and we need to think about the pros and negatives of it, and if it will affect UNSW as a whole.  

Is the fact that you are in first year an issue? 
 
I feel like it shouldn’t be an issue at all, especially because I have been heavily involved in with SRC board members and officer roles. I have connected heavily with SRC students on the board at this very moment, I have been involved with different parties and different campaign teams which has given me all this knowledge which allows me to run for this position.    

Macy 

What is your name and degree? 

My name is Macy Reen, I am in my 4th year of studying a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) part-time.  

Are you a member of, or affiliated with, any political parties?  

No.  

Why are you running for the SRC? 

Because I am an activist on campus and want to help promote campaigns that push back against both the federal government and the university management team, as well as promoting broader social justice issues, such as supporting BLM, a free Palestine. I also believe that people with left-wing ideas should be represented in the student union because students care about these issues. 

What do you see the role of the SRC as? 

I see the SRC as a space for activists to debate and discuss strategies to fight for students and other oppressed groups on and off campus, and a space that can be used to help organise activism on and off campus to fight for the rights of students. 

What policies would you fight for if elected SRC President? 

So I would continue to engage in the campaigns that Left Action has already begun, such as campaigns to oppose the ties between UNSW and the Australian military. For example, UNSW has recently announced a deal with the Australian military with the nuclear submarines, which will only be used to entrench Australia’s imperialist interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Other campaigns that we run include fighting against an anti-trans bill proposed in the NSW Parliament by Mark Latham and supporting the Students for Palestine movement to fight for a free Palestine. In terms of the university, we would fight to improve the quality of our education, against management which has increased class sizes and cut courses. I am also part of the free universities campaign, which believes that universities should be free like they were in the 1970s. 

It seems like many of these policies relate to campaigns Left Action has already engaged in, why would winning the SRC Presidency help these causes? 

The SRC has some weight in society, which means that lending its support to these campaigns would make them stronger and more effective. Student unions have traditionally been associated with left-wing causes and I think it is important that this continues. The SRC also has access to funding and resources which are incredibly important to activism.  

Would you support mandatory vaccination requirements for students to return to campus? 

By 2022, I think all students should have had a chance to get vaccinated so by then I think I would support that.   

Would you support a reduction in SSAF fees? 

I think that has been proposed by Spice Up, it is a right-wing argument that they are making, an argument against student unionism. Honestly, the SSAF isn’t enough, we need universal student unionism like we had before it was dismantled by the Liberals. However, SSAF goes towards funding university services and the SRC so I don’t think it should be reduced.  

Do you think some of your activist goals are unrealistic? 

I don’t think us alone are going to achieve things like a free Palestine, but we should be on the right side of history and help these campaigns regardless. But if you look at how apartheid in South Africa was defeated, there was a global movement of boycotting that country and it helped put an end to apartheid along with the struggle of the oppressed within South Africa. It is vital that we show solidarity and fight for a more just world, rather than stand aside.  


Elections will be held online in Week 4, from October 5th to October 8th. From Weeks 1-4, Tharunka will be covering the lead-up to the elections, including hosting debates with individual candidates in Week 3. If you are interested in watching the Presidential debate, check out our event here. To keep up with the action, follow us on Facebook or check our  website

Check Also

UNSW cancels in-person graduations for the remainder of 2021

Despite the alleviation of public health orders and commencement of the university's Return to Campus plan, UNSW has announced that in-person graduations will be cancelled for the rest of 2021.