What the hell is the Student’s Association?
You’ve seen the posters, the internet pop-ups, the handbooks and the print ads. You do not “need a lawyer” and are not yet dealing with “academic issues”. You have no need to call the phone number listed on the baby blue backdrop, but still, the silent question lingers - who are the Student’s Association?
Those who have half-dipped their toe into the realm of student politics will be familiar with the names of the various political factions at play: NLS, Unity, Socalist Alternative and the independents. They may also be aware of the ties some of these groups have to Australian political parties, such as the left and right branches of the ALP. However, knowing the names of these factions is vastly different to knowing how they come into play in the setting of the UTS Students Association (UTSSA). To understand how the UTSSA functions, it is best to disregard all of these labels, and any others with strings attached to Australian politics. Forget Labor. Labor doesn’t exist, neither do the Liberals, nor the Socialists. All of them. Banished. For now, UTS is the centre of the universe. At the centre of UTS is the UTSSA.
Part 1: What the hell is the Student’s Association?
The basic function of the UTSSA is to provide legal, financial and academic support to UTS students. As a council, they also vote for and against motions that enhance the quality of the student experience. The UTSSA website reads:
“The UTS Students’ Association is here to represent, support and advocate for the UTS student body. Run by students, for students, we run a number of free services to make sure that your time at uni is as enjoyable, rewarding and stress-free as possible.”
On top of providing services and passing legislation, the UTSSA also coordinates a host of collectives, the full list of which can be found at the back of this magazine. Each of these collectives provides a safe space for any students who identify themselves as members of these communities.
In short, the UTSSA is there for students when the shit hits the fan. In the meantime, they try their hardest to ensure that shit doesn't hit the fan in the first place. They want the fan to be completely shit-proof. In the same way that governments aim to improve the quality of life for Australian citizens, the UTSSA wants the UTS student (and staff) experience to be the best it possibly can be.
Of course, in the same way that there is no unanimously-approved method for governing a country, the management of the UTSSA is a topic of contention. Because of this, the UTSSA is composed of students from a host of different political parties…but, we’re not going to talk about them just yet. Before you get to know our student politicians, you need to understand the system in which they exist.
Part 2: F*ck the system! (but take it for dinner first)
The UTSSA is roughly divided into two categories: the Office Bearers (OBs) and the General Councilors (GC). The third wheel of the UTSSA is the National Union of Students (NUS), however, to make things easy, we’re not going to talk about them here. They come in later. The only two categories that you need to pay any mind to are the OBs and the GCs.
Every year, fourteen students are elected as General Councilors. The vast majority of these fourteen students do not have specific roles aside from “General Councilor''. They form the majority of the UTSSA, are all qualified to speak at Council, (the monthly meeting of UTSSA members at which motions are moved) and all hold a single vote that can be used for either passing or blocking motions.
On top of the fourteen GCs, the UTSSA also consists of nine Office Bearers. Each of these OBs hold a specific role on Council, those roles being:
Assistant General Secretary
International Student’s Officer
The OBs sit on Council alongside the fourteen GCs and also each hold a single vote in proceedings whenever Council moves legislation. As their titles denote, they also hold other responsibilities in the functioning of the UTSSA and the provision of certain services (e.g. General Secretary takes charge of organisational matters, Indigenous Officer takes charge of all matters pertaining to the Indigenous students of UTS, etc.) While this gives them a larger role within the UTSSA, it doesn’t make their Council vote any more influential than that of the SRC. Every vote is of equal worth, be it the President’s or a General Councilor’s.
So, that brings the total number of Council members up to twenty-three (fourteen GCs and nine OBs). On top of these twenty-three councilors, two students from the ‘Uni Council’ also sit on the UTSSA Council: an undergraduate representative and a postgraduate representative. These representatives each hold a single vote in Council proceedings (please note: this postgraduate representative is not the same as the aforementioned OB Postgraduate Officer). This brings the total number of Council members up to twenty-five.
Keeping up? Great, because this next bit makes things a little more confusing.
So far, we have nine OBs, fourteen GCs, and two reps from the Uni Council. In Part 1, I told you that the UTSSA runs several collectives for student communities. Well, each of these collectives is coordinated by a specific member of the UTSSA. The Wom*n’s Collective and Indigenous Collective are coordinated by the Wom*n’s Officer and Indigenous Officer (funny that). However, coordinators for the Queer, Ethnocultural, Wom*n’s and Enviro Collective are elected from the incumbent SRC in the first Council meeting of the new year.
That was quite a lot to digest, so to make things a little bit easier, here’s a visual explainer:
2. General Secretary
3. Asst. General Secretary
4. Education Officer
5. Welfare Officer
6. Wom*n’s Officer
7. Indigenous Officer
8. Postgraduate Officer
9. Intl. Student’s Officer
10. SRC Member #1 / Ethnocultural Officer
11. SRC Member #2 / Accessibility Officer
12. SRC Member #3 / Queer Officer
13. SRC Member #4 / Enviro Officer
14. SRC Member #5
15. SRC Member #6
16. SRC Member #7
17. SRC Member #8
18. SRC Member #9
19. SRC Member #10
20. SRC Member #11
21. SRC Member #12
22. SRC Member #13
23. SRC Member #14
Uni Council Representatives
24. Undergraduate Representative
25. Postgraduate Representative
Woah-oah, you’re halfway there:
Congratulations! You may now deem yourself educated on the basic structure of the Student’s Association. Good job, seriously. Most students will complete their degree without knowing how this stuff works, so the fact that you’ve persevered through this desert-dry article should really be seen as a testament to how focused and engaged you are.
Anyway, who’s ready for some student conflict?! Let’s go, Part 3 on the count of three.
Part 3: Crazy political shit
Every year around election season, different tickets (equivalent of parties) form and campaign to be elected into the UTSSA. Within the election, tickets may put forward candidates for an OB role, a spot on the SRC, or an NUS position. Because elections for each of these categories function a little differently, allow me to break them down separately.
Much like ministers in the Australian federal government, OBs hold specific roles within the UTSSA. However, in a government, all ministers are members of the victorious, majority party. In the UTSSA, every OB is elected separately, regardless of whichever ticket holds the majority of positions on Council. In 2021, the two major tickets running for election in the UTSSA were Revive and Fire Up!, each of whom put forward a candidate for every OB role. Five of the directly-elected OB roles were won by Revive candidates (President, Asst. General Secretary, Education Officer, Wom*n’s Officer and Indigenous Officer), and four were won by Fire Up! candidates (General Secretary, Welfare Officer, Postgraduate Officer and International Students Officer). At the first Council meeting of 2022, four SRC members were elected from among the incumbent SRC to assume the remaining OB positions. The full line-up of OBs currently looks like this:
President: Anna Thieben (Revive)
General Secretary: Sabrine Yassine (Fire Up!)
Asst. General Secretary: Melissa Sukkarieh (Revive)
Education Officer: Cat Doherty (Revive)
Welfare Officer: Nour Al Hammouri (Fire Up!)
Women’s Officer: Eshna Gupta (Revive)
Indigenous Officer: Camille Smith (Revive)
Postgraduate Officer: Harry Ryan (Fire Up!)
Intl. Student’s Officer: Antona Bursa (Fire Up!)
Accessibility Officer: Cal McKinley (Revive)
Ethno-cultural Officer: Suzy Monzer (Revive)
Queer Officer: Gracie Abadee (Fire Up!)
Enviro Officer: Bailey Riley (Fire Up!)
Student Representative Council
The SRC are elected under a system of proportional representation. Students do not vote for specific candidates, they vote for a ticket. If votes were split 50/50 between two tickets, then each of those tickets would have seven GCs elected. If 93% of votes went towards one ticket and 7% went to another, then thirteen of the fourteen GC positions would go to the former ticket, and one to the latter. In the elections last year, five tickets ran for election to the SRC: Alliance for Accountability, Students 4 Climate, Divorced Dads 4 SRC and the two larger tickets, Revive and Fire Up!. The SRC subsequently looks as follows:
Elijah Hollero (Revive)
Bailey Riley (Fire Up!) + Enviro Officer
Cal McKinley (Revive) + Accessibility Officer
Gracie Abadee (Fire Up!) + Queer Officer
Suzy Monzer (Revive) + Ethnocultural Officer
Mia Campbell (Fire Up!)
Vanessa Lim (Revive)
Zebediah Cruickshank (Fire Up!)
Chloe Rafferty (Revive)
Saihej Bhangu (Fire Up!)
Sara Chaturvedi (Revive)
Rufus Dadd-Daigle (Fire Up!)
Simashee De Silva (Revive)
Adrian Lozancic (Alliance for Accountability)
Part 4: What the hell is the NUS?
And, at long last, Judgment Day hath dawned - our fated encounter with the inevitable question. The National Union of Students (NUS) is simultaneously the most and least important element of the UTSSA. Most important because it is the very reason that we, along with twenty other public universities across the country, have a student union to begin with; least important because, for the vast majority of the calendar year, it has no impact on UTS in the slightest.
Our NUS representatives are elected every year alongside the OBs and the GCs. There are seven positions on offer and, like the GCs, they are elected by proportional representation. A student who holds a role as a GC or as an OB is also allowed to be elected as an NUS rep. However, NUS representatives do not sit on Council (unless, they also hold a position as an OB or GC). Currently, the NUS line-up at UTS looks as follows:
Damien Nguyen (Revive)
Zebediah Cruickshank (Fire Up!)
Holly Hayne (Revive)
Sabrine Yassine (Fire Up!)
Eshna Gupta (Revive)
Nour Al Hammouri (Fire Up!)
Chloe Rafferty (Revive)
So, if they don’t sit on Council, don’t coordinate a collective, and don’t hold a specific title, what exactly do they do? To understand the NUS within UTS, you need to understand the NUS as a whole.
The NUS is, in a nutshell, the student union of Australia. It is built up of student unions and associations from all over the country, with most of the major universities in Australia being members. According to their constitution (2018):
“The general object of NUS is to represent and advance the interests of post-school students in Australia.”
In the same way that the UTSSA speaks for the 46,000+ students at UTS, the NUS speaks for 1,000,000+ students around the nation. Of course, because this is a much more arduous task, they meet on a far less regular basis than the UTSSA, who meet once a month. Instead, the broader NUS meets annually… in Melbourne. This meeting is known as the National Conference (NatCon) and takes place over a series of days. At NatCon, the whole NUS elects an executive committee, who meet on a far more regular basis to discuss policy. Every university that is a part of the NUS sends a group of representative students to NatCon, the maximum number of reps being seven (as a certified big-boy-uni, this is how many UTS gets to send).
When the NUS representatives travel to NatCon in December, they don’t speak on behalf of UTS. In fact, they don’t even speak on behalf of Fire Up! or Revive. It is necessary to remember that while those two tickets may be the big dogs of UTS student politics, they don’t exist in the outside world - what is Fire Up! to someone who goes to the University of Sydney, or Revive to a student from Deakin? Irrelevant, that’s what.
Instead, these students go to NatCon as members of political factions. Yes, real-world-politics kind of political factions (but the student equivalent).
Factions of the NUS include: Student Unity, (Unity) otherwise known as Labor Right; National Labor Students (NLS), otherwise known as Labor Left; the Grassroots Independents (GI); and Socialist Alternative (SAlt).
With their NUS factions taken into consideration, UTS’ NUS representative line-up looks as follows:
Damien Nguyen (GI)
Zebediah Cruickshank (NLS)
Holly Hayne (SAlt)
Sabrine Yassine (Unity)
Eshna Gupta (GI)
Nour Al Hammouri (Unity)
Chloe Rafferty (SAlt)
This means that UTSSA elections are essentially a game of compromise. Two candidates such as Damien Nguyen (GI) and Holly Hayne (SAlt) might run on the same Revive ticket, but understand that when they go to NUS, they will be barracking for different factions. The same could be said about Zebediah Cruickshank (NLS) and Sabrine Yassine (Unity), who both ran with Fire Up! in the UTSSA elections but stand with different factions of the Labor party when it comes to the NUS. Everyone in the UTSSA is a member of a political faction, but it can be said somewhat uncontroversially that it is the NUS representatives’ which matter the most.
Well, there you go
Congratulations my friend! Together we traversed this arid landscape and emerged all the wiser. This is kind of like that book, The Alchemist, except you don’t need to be devoutly religious or spiritual for this one to make sense.
What you do with this information is up to you and whether or not you decide that student politics is in your field of interest. You may not find it particularly scintillating, however, it’s important to remember that these people are making decisions, and those decisions are made for a constituency, and among that constituency is you.
Keep your head up, your ears open, and stay informed however you can - it may not always be necessary, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.