It’s that time of year again — the branded T-shirts, the how-to-vote cards, rumours of campaign posters being torn, and all the pomposity that political ambition brings. The Tasmania University Union (TUU) elections are coming soon, running from the the 18th to the 20th of September at every UTas campus. The TUU is the peak representative body for students at the university, and despite this, every year less than half of eligible voters turn out for the election of their representatives.
As well as hosting events, providing advocacy and financial support services, and managing student clubs and societies, the TUU represents student interests on a range of university committees, from the University Council, to the Course and Unit Proposals Committee, to the Student Complaints and Discipline Panels. Overall, representatives from the TUU sit on 26 of the university’s vast array of committees.
Heading the TUU currently is State President Clark Cooley. Cooley, the former Tasmanian President of the National Union of Students (NUS), has disaffiliated the TUU with NUS, claiming that bullying and harassment of student representatives at the NUS National Conference is unacceptable, and that NUS is unrepresentative and extreme in its politics. Cooley has also initiated the #NeverOK Campaign, which aims to fight for better protection of students and education around sexual assault and harassment, and has further amped up and widened its scope in response to the Human Rights Commission’s report on rates of assault on university campuses.
This year, only three out of nine State Council positions are contested: one SRC South position, and two SRC North positions are contested.
Going head to head for the top job this year are Saffire Grant and Jess Robinson. Robinson is this year’s Education President, and prior to that served as Education Officer. She is campaigning for more collaboration between students and the university, increased mental health services, better student spaces like libraries and computer labs, and continued support of clubs and societies. She is also backing the current TUU’s #NeverOK campaign, and says that she will ensure the TUU plays a role in educating the community about sexual assault and consent, as well as providing support to survivors. The #JessWeCan campaign supports Dan Probert as General Secretary, Arno Dubois as Postgraduate President and Dillon Ong for Education President. Robinson’s campaign has also been endorsed by current Campus President South Maria Daglas.
Grant was previously Disabilities Officer on the TUU’s SRC South in 2016 and is the current President of the Women’s Collective. According to her Facebook page, she “supports a progressive union that celebrates student activism and unicorns”’. She is also campaigning for better quality teaching and services for students, affordable parking, more events, and to “hold the University accountable”. Grant has made policy statements in regards to mental health, stating that wellbeing is a large issue for law and medical students in particular, that the university needs more counselling services, and that there should be more acknowledgment of suicide as a gendered problem. She has also referred to the #NeverOK campaign as “ad hoc”, and has said she believes she can build real social change on the issue with the End Rape on Campus campaign.
Overall, issues such as tackling the alarming rates of sexual assault and harassment on campus, an increase in counselling and mental health services provided by the university, and a more environmentally conscious campus seem to be the key issues on the agenda this year. With a seemingly less hectic campaigning process than in 2016 with no clear political lines, it will be interesting to see if the voter turnout increases or decreases. Despite all this, those elected to the TUU are the key representatives for students to the university, and any systemic change comes through them. So have your say on who represents you, and vote next week on your campus!