Ah, The UWA Guild Presidential Debate Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union. Given the weight of such an occasion, for today’s column your Pelican editors have diarised the entire experience. Read and enjoy.
Auspicious beginnings. After a night of binge watching my favourite country music drama in bed, I woke up naturally at just after 7am. I promptly fell back asleep, and awoke again just after 8. I felt weary, which I really hate.
I went to the kitchen and met Kat and my other housemate. I put one slice of 85c Coles white sandwich bread in the toaster, and began to retell last night’s dream (I was at Bunnings, and making a formal complaint to the manager). To their credit, both housemates pretended to be deeply invested. I packed a wrap for lunch: mountain bread, that Coles brand harissa and pumpkin hommus, mescalin greens, red onion, feta. Yum.
Kat and I just made the train as it pulled up at our station! ‘A great day’, we each remarked. I scrolled through the Guardian app on my phone and endured my daily bout of despair. Of note: the other day I was sitting at my desk, and my dad called me. I answered, ‘hello!’ and he responded ‘ahh, a new prime minister!’, and I laughed, and then I said ‘yep, that’s a fact!’, and he said, ‘ah, no, Lucy. It’s not a fact, it’s a perception.’ So you see where I got my keen interest in The Political.
I noted that we have dropped our first bombs on Syria.
My alarm went off at 6am, and I lay in bed for a while in disbelief. I could not believe that it was really the day. The UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union day. The highlight of my year. Finally.
I crawled into the kitchen and started making coffee, my attention diverted momentarily by a Jack London catalogue that my housemate had left on the kitchen table. He is attending the Blackstone law ball this weekend (I only cohabit with UWA’s best), and recently purchased a very dapper JL suit for the occasion. The male model in the catalogue was arrestingly good looking – that is to say pale, skinny, and wearing brogues. Just how I like ‘em. Let it be known that, if the male candidates in this election looked more emaciated, they’d receive my official endorsement. I’m done with these beefy Tucker types.
Such an amazing morning already! And the day’s true highpoint, the UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union, was yet to come.
Kat and I got on the 950 on Wellington St, and I headed straight to the back of the bus. Kat prefers the back of the bus. Some poor P-plater popped a tyre on Stirling Highway, and the traffic got backed up all the way back to the Old Swan Brewery. We got in very late, but the view is beautiful.
The bus ride to uni was slow and uneventful – a lot more traffic than usual, which was easily explained by the fact that the UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union was slated to occur only five hours later.
As the 950 crawled up Mounts Bay Road, I mused to Lucy that many students were probably staking out the Weatherburn Lecture Theatre already – waiting for hours in order to get the best seats, sitting through countless advanced mathematics lectures for the privilege of seeing the university’s best and brightest engage in the much lauded verbal battle of wits that is the UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union.
As I was walking to my preferred campus lavatory, I saw the most seriously dope dog. I approached the owner, and asked if I could say hello, and he warned me that she does have a tendency to bite, and also remarked that I was ‘very intelligent for asking first’. ‘I know, I’m very clever,’ I responded. The dog’s name was Millie, and she was a poodle, though quite large for a poodle I noticed. She had just recently been groomed. If you’re reading this, Millie, I love you.
I ate my wrap on the Oak Lawn. Yum.
Suddenly, it was time. Our Politics Editor arrived at the office wearing a suit. He claimed it was for a meeting afterwards; I just thanked him for bringing a sense of occasion to the proceedings. We began the journey over to Weatherburn lecture theatre, and we bumped into STAR Education Council President candidate and current Women’s Officer Emma Boogaerdt. She was perfectly nice, but I got the feeling she did not want to be seen with us. Fairo.
Emma was heading to Weatherburn for just 15 minutes, and then leaving to sit on Academic Board, where they would be discussing whether or not to discuss the arts major cuts (Gender Studies, Medieval and Modern Studies, and European Studies) at a future meeting. It occurred to us that this means the Socialist Alternative-organised protest taking place outside Academic Board was scheduled for the same time as the presidential debate. This, of course, means that Left Action presidential candidate and SAlt heavyweight Emma Norton had been pretty badly hamstringed. I’m not one to speculate but, um… that seems like a pretty low blow.
En route to the debate, laptops under one arm and lattes under the other, we passed His Lordship Cam Barnes. He offered us a cool but benevolent smile. I felt blessed. That’s the magic of the UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union day. Celebrity sightings! We also ran into Emma Boogaerdt, which was lucky, because we didn’t know where the lecture theatre was.
We arrived to a room full of sweaty young things all dressed up in their swimming carnival regalia. I got a contact high just walking inside, that was a lot of weird hormonal energy. There was maybe a couple hundred people there? I don’t know. But what I do know is that they were like, 90% people who had already made up their mind about their vote. As in, they are running.
Mary from the Electoral Commission (my new hero) opened the proceedings right on 2 pm with a reminder for candidates to not swear in the lecture bashes (“it’s offensive”), and to respect a lecturer’s right to say no. She also made the kind of weird point that if you’re not a UWA student, you can be asked to leave. I assume these were both points directed squarely at the absent Left Action (protesting), as reports trickle through to us about some SAlty language in their lecture bashing, and ringing in comrades from Curtin to bolster their protest numbers. Well, shit.
We entered the lecture theatre to applause – for once directed not at us, but at Rhys Tucker, who presided over a crowd of young, eager Liberty LAUNCH candidates decked out in red school swimming carnival regalia. Like a group of frat boys gathered around a keg, they hammered on desks and chanted the name of their bearded leader. Presumably the group showers were to follow.
Rather than forming a bloc, STAR supporters were scattered around the room strategically. Some were not even wearing green, and a couple of times I made the momentary but deadly mistake of assuming them to be ordinary students who were simply attending the UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union in order to make an informed choice come voting week. I often state in job interviews that one of my greatest weaknesses is my extreme naiveté.
Emma Norton sauntered in at about 2:03 to make an opening statement before leaving for the protest. She cited several very genuinely important campus issues, the mass sacking of library staff and overcrowded tutorials among others, before running overtime and getting clapped out. What she said was lots of things, but it wasn’t wrong.
It’s a fairly massive oversight on our account that in our election coverage so far, we’ve failed to address the Birthday Party. I see the error of our ways now. Presidential candidate Kallen White’s guttural screams demanding sleeping pods and birthday cake for every student on their birthday, plus a day where there’s cake for students who have their birthdays in the holidays, will stay with me once these elections end. Sorry we underestimated you. Keep fighting the good fight.
Rhys Tucker from Liberty/Launch/LAUNCH was up next, and it was a bit scary cult-y. He opened by saying “when I walk into Guild Village each morning at 7am, and I see a sea of red, nothing makes me prouder than that.” The statement was finished by all the Launch candidates yelling in unison “TAKE OFF WITH LAUNCH.” The notes in my phone just say ‘peeeeeeeee-eewwwwwwwwwww’.
STAR’s candidate Maddie Mulholland began her opening statement with an acknowledgement of country, to which someone in the row behind me responded with an ‘oh, fuck off.’ You don’t get a zinger for that one, that’s just sad fact. She went on to say that the uni executive know and respect her, and that STAR “aren’t about empty promises, we’re about changing students’ lives.”
It was difficult to keep up with the speakers, in part because each possessed such powerful command over the English language, and in part because the issues they touched on were so complex and nuanced. I was moved by stories of Rhys Tucker’s friendship with postgraduate student Peter Derbyshire, and elated at Maddie Mulholland’s promise to turn UWA into the next Harvard or Stanford. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit Ivy League.
The Birthday Party presidential candidate Kallen White waxed eloquent about Emu Export on tap at the Tav, as well as the free cake that forms the basis of his party’s platform. Oddly, given the widely accepted fact that his party is running as “a joke”, White proved himself to be a persuasive and gifted orator.
Emma Norton, on the other hand, barely turned up to the debate – she was busy at some sort of protest happening on the other side of campus. The nerve. When she did appear at the end of the debate, she rambled on about the LAUNCH and STAR candidates only running in the election to “put it on their resumes” or appease the Federal political parties they were affiliated with. I feel confident that there was little weight to her bizarre accusations, but some people in the room did look a little tetchy.
It was at this point that I realised with considerable devastation that the UWA Guild Presidential Debate 2015 Presented By The UWA Debating Union was over, and retreated glumly back to the Pelican office.
And the questions begin. First up, directed at only Launch and the Birthday Party: what are you going to do to engage students who haven’t previously gotten involved with the guild? Tucker was first up and reeled off a couple of Liberty/Launch/LAUNCH’s funnier policies. The kicker was the establishment of a so-called ‘Student Innovation Committee’. I am not quite sure what such a committee will do, other than, as Tucker put it, “shape the future of the guild”. Student Innovation Committee sounds like they meet at the Apple Store. Surely the Student Innovation Committee is, you know, the Guild Council. I’m sure Richard Branson would approve.
At this point White suggested that to engage students, we replace guild elections with a lottery. This innovation was met with rapturous applause.
Then there was a question about having enough experience to run the guild. Honestly I can’t really be arsed recounting it.
There was a question about cuts to postgraduate funding which prompted some quite interesting answers. Mulholland’s response was to “continue to fight” and “empower the Postgraduate Student Association (PSA)”, which seems to basically mean ‘let the postgrads figure it out on their own’. Not terribly impressive. Tucker namedropped possibly the only postgrad BNOC, Peter Derbyshire, who he called ‘a friend’, and flexed that opposition muscle, essentially just promising more money to the PSA. Easy for you to say. On the other hand, White guaranteed that he has absolutely no policy position for postgrads, and that was another promise that he would not break. Crushed it.
So-called ‘declining campus culture’ was the topic of the next question, and I think that struck everyone as bizarre. I mean, the state of the Oak Lawn tells a different story. But anyway. Mulholland brought up the redevelopment of club rooms taking place on the first floor of the Guild building currently, as well as what she believes is a move away from the piss-ups and ‘ladsy club culture’ that existed when she started uni in 2010.
The elephant in the room was fee deregulation, and it stank, y’all. When asked about approaches to advocating for issues affecting education, Tucker said something obvious like ‘that is the major reason the guild exists.’ Duh. White said he feels pain and anger – me too, buddy, me too. Mulholland called Tucker out, claiming he ‘glazed over’ fee deregulaton and would like to know his stance. Tucker then made the quite amazing assertion that his personal views have no bearing on the guild or the policy. I’m guessing that’s a yes to dereg.
Tucker then claimed that one of the education victories STAR has been claiming on the campaign materials (eliminating surprise assessments) was actually the work of ECOMS. At this point Norton came back into the room. She looked exasperated. I do not blame her. Mulholland acknowledged ECOMS but claimed problem was campus wide. I got really bored around this point.
The next question centred on whether Launch’s policies were both financially and logistically feasible. Tucker responded by saying unequivocally yes, they are financially feasible. Logistically, however, he cannot be sure without the resources needed to “rigourously test” them. Props for what seems like honesty.
Final question asks if it was “appropriate” to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the redevelopment of the first floor of the Guild building, when it’s actually not going to create any new club rooms. Mulholland responded by saying it’s just not possible to provide tenancies for all 130 clubs, and that the redevelopment will create a new collaborative space with all the facilities and resources a club could possibly need. She said this facility would be up there with that of Stanford and Harvard! Now if we could just get the quality of education to that standard, we’ll be gravy.
At this point I noted in my phone “Emma Norton literally cannot stop rolling her eyes” and though I regret my use of the word ‘literally’, that seems to sum it up.
Closing statements were fine, I guess. Mulholland went first and pushed STAR’s line – ‘independent, progressive, experienced’. She made a heart with her hands as she walked away, like Justin Bieber or something. She was clapped off as Tucker approached the podium and said ‘No need to clap me up.’ Cheeky. He said something about being ‘fresh and bold’ – like a cheese. White made the call of the day when he yelled “after 45 minutes, the situation is clear. Choose from the two cheeks on the same backside. Revolution now!” Kallen – you have my vote.
Emma Norton’s closing statement was my personal highlight, and possibly the most truth that’s ever been split within Weatherburn’s walls. “The two tickets are a pyramid scheme,” she began, before asking the room if they understood what it meant that STAR and Launch are running almost a hundred candidates each for twelve positions. “All you’re doing is funneling votes up to a bunch of dickheads (the executive candidates) who want to put it on their resumes.” Give me LIFE.
The debate ended, and we headed back to the Pelican Office. Since then we’ve learned that the Academic Board have voted down the decision to discuss the rescission of the three cut arts majors. Any MEMS, Gender Studies or European Studies who’d like to get a beer: we’ll be at the Standard in an hour.