Get More Than Just A Degree!”

Great advice really. The Guild is responsible for a lot of events and good processes around uni that go into making it what it is. So, suppose you did want to get involved with this illustrious group of cool, fun young people. Suppose that you really wanted to rise to the top of this very small pyramid.

What would it take?

Today we’re going to deal with the first major step in that process, and the one that seems to be the most opaque – preselection.

Preselection is the process by which the major parties that participate in Guild elections pick their presidential candidate and office bearers (OBs) for the upcoming elections. If you’ve ever wondered where the hell all these people with their green and red profile pictures come from, this article is going to (hopefully) explain how they got there. Let’s focus on the processes of the two major parties – STAR and Launch.

First, it’s important to understand that these parties exist outside of the Guild. For all intents and purposes, they are just a group of students who have decided to run together. As a result, they receive no funding and are not really governed by any sort of rules that dictate how they must run their processes. As a result, they are often informal, change year to year and subject to the whims of whichever group of students is in charge of that years preselection. Second, this process happens EARLY. When I say early, I mean that the presidential candidates and their office bearer team have already been decided. If you are unaware of that terribly kept secret, those candidates are Conrad Hogg for STAR and Kate Fletcher for Launch. I’m unsure if that’s breaking news or not…

So with that said, let’s crack into it and start with STAR.

The Green Lantern – STAR

You’ve just come off the back of yet another successful presidential campaign. You ran for some OB position and have been successful and are now part of the core group of STAR politics. You’ve got your eye on running for president next year and have some supporters telling you that you’d make a great candidate.

Your lord and saviour, the incoming Guild President, makes a Facebook group at some point in March/April. The preselection process starts here. The members of this group consist of current STAR Councillors, OBs and their subcommittees. If you’re in the group, you can nominate yourself for president! You can technically nominate from outside this group, but you need someone in this group to talk to the chair of the group and get you nominated. That chair is, conveniently, also picked by the Guild President, but has tended to just be an old hack that has been around far too long.

Once everyone has nominated and the candidates have been announced, you would then have to head around and talk to every single member of the Facebook group about your merits as a candidate. This is all in anticipation of a much longer meeting about to take place. These meetings take place all over the place, but STAR favourites tend to be Bayside Kitchen or Hackett Café. You then need to outline your vision, your strengths and what kind of issues you want to run on. Inevitably, everyone you meet with will have the same generic questions to ask, but may have their own specific policy priorities they want to question you about. Some of them will outright oppose your candidacy and may be firmly in another candidate’s ideological camp. STAR has, by internal accounts, got some pretty strict rules about not allowing any sort of deal making in these meetings. That is, it’s absolutely not OK to get votes from someone by promising them a position of some kind. However, there is in reality very little that can be done to prevent such quid pro quo deals from being made on the down low.

You’ll have to articulate and rearticulate your campaign vision again and again to a range of people who often have no intention of voting for you or simply have no idea what they’re doing. Some of them may be in their first year of Guild involvement; potentially even their first month if this is March we’re talking about. These meetings can be pretty short, but on average it’s an hour each time. Better hope you don’t have any assignments due in those early weeks or any pressing Guild commitments you were just elected to fulfil!

The process is gruelling.

Now this may all look very objective from the outside, but as a candidate, you will quickly realise that factions have formed before any hands were put up in the Facebook group. Many of your meetings with have been with unflinching supporters of another candidate and there is nothing you can do to change their minds. As you go through these motions, you will slowly put together a crucial list – crunching the numbers and figuring out your chances of success.

Then there’s the big day – the final meeting.

Everyone gets together in a big room and all the candidates are expected to make speeches and answer questions. This room coincidentally, is the Guild Council room, the same room these eager faces hope to occupy by next year.  Again, on the surface, it seems you are just giving a speech to put your case forward to everyone in the room. In reality, this is simply a hurdle you need to get over to still be considered in the ensuing 6-8 hours of discussion. As long as you don’t mess up your speech and give coherent answers to questions, you’ll be fine. Oh, but remember those people who met with you earlier to ask you questions? Turns out they didn’t ask all of them, tactically saving their worst for now. Simultaneously, your own cabal of people are saving some Dorothy Dixers up for you while formulating their own awful questions for your opposition. It’s all very disgusting, but such is life. But let’s say you cross that hurdle and you’re still in contention!

You now leave the room and everyone spends a few hours debating your merits versus those of the other candidates. This is when the real debate kicks off.

Emma Boogaerdt, former Women’s Officer, Education President, all round top gal and a veteran of STAR politics, spoke to Pelican about what it takes to make it through this long and gruelling meeting.

I won’t beat around the bush – the meeting can be hard going and tensions can flare up. It’s not surprising given how invested everyone is in the success of the Guild, and STAR, and how difficult it can be to discuss the relative merits of your friends and colleagues.”

Criteria are set for what everyone wants out of a candidate and a quick straw poll is taken to see how everyone is leaning. This is meant to be civil, but can very quickly descend into petty personal politics. While this isn’t the space to discuss the importance of who the chair of this debate is, it’s pretty clear that unless they run a tight ship that grudges and factionalism can quickly consume the meeting.

After a thorough (and I mean multiple hours of thorough) dissection of your achievements, flaws, personality, chance of success, your haircut and the strength of your gram, everyone moves to a vote. The hope is to get to a unanimous vote, but it can be pretty hard to get that.

We asked Guild President Megan Lee what it takes to come out on top of this meeting.

There isn’t a silver bullet character trait so to speak, but there is arguably a fundamental trifecta. First and foremost, it’s someone who is passionate and dedicated to students. Being Guild President is a tough, but rewarding job, so you’ve got to have your heart in it. Next, does the person embody STAR values, and want to progress STAR to keep improving? Each person brings something new to the table, but our core values remain unchanging. Finally, it’s having good ideas and knowing where to take the Guild. Policy is a team effort, but having a solid sense of direction from the Presidential candidate is really important.”

You’ll come out of this vote not if you are necessarily the most qualified, but if you have managed to not make too many enemies, have some nice beige policies that everyone can get around and you have managed to in some way speak to what a majority of the voting members want to hear.

And now you’re the STAR candidate! The Chair and President will inform you of this and give you a nice long list of all the things that came up in the debate that need to be ironed out before the campaign kicks off. Congratulations! You’ve signed yourself up to a solid 18 months of mostly thankless work and a campaign that will leave you multiple thousands of dollars poorer than you were beforehand. Your gram will be bloody fantastic though.

I talked to quite a few people about their experience in STAR preselection and I think the process is best summed up by former Guild hack Jack Looby:

This process attempts to make each candidate develop a persuasive vision and pitch, which can be supported by a good cross-section of STAR. They need to be able to show they can win an election and lead the Guild, as well as own up to their weaknesses and address them. If preselectors are honest and interact with the process without too much politics then I think this is a good process. Where it fails is when those who lead the process try to put their thumb on the scale, either by pushing candidates out early, deliberately changing the membership of the panel to their interests, placing a chair who is not impartial or permitting candidates to offer positions.

STAR preselection is a process that tries to be fair and tries to ensure we have a candidate that isn’t just the most popular. It necessarily has to be done in somewhat secrecy because to do otherwise would only encourage division and potentially split STAR when a popular candidate was not selected.”

Stay tuned – Launch is up next.

A big thanks to everyone who spoke to Pelican for this piece, both on and off the record.

Cormac Power