Catch a Falling STAR

Dylan Caporn summarises the 2011 Guild Election campaign.

‘University Politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.’ – Henry Kissinger

The battle for the 2012 UWA Guild has finished, and the students of UWA have undeniably voted for change on campus. The election, which was called the ‘most controversial campaign in a decade’ overturned nearly 15 years of STAR rule, and installed the new administration in a landslide for the major opposition group, Liberty.

Liberty has only been on campus for two campaigns before this year’s election. Stemming from groups such as the Blue group and the ‘Save the Tav’ group, Liberty has a strong, consistent message of opposition to the Guild held monopoly over catering on campus.

However, it was clear from the declaration of ballots that this would not be a regular campaign. Liberty had a new, fresh look. Most office bearer candidates had not run before, rather they had experience outside the Guild, in the positions they were running in. For instance, Julian Rapattoni, Societies Council Presidential candidate, was active in Uni Camp for Kids, ECOMS; Lewis Richard, Public Affairs Council Presidential candidate, was President of UNYA, and Vice President of the Politics Club; and Naomi Elford, Liberty’s Education Council Presidential candidate, has been a member of the Education Council for four years.

STAR on the other hand ran candidates who had known experience within the structures of the Guild. Both STAR’s Societies Council and Public Affairs Council Presidential candidates, Bodie D’Orazio and Chantelle Mitchell, were both Vice Presidents of the Societies and Public Affairs Councils respectively. Their Educational Council President, Rachel Lee, was a Guild Councillor and Chair of Guild Council in 2011. The campaign battlelines had been drawn, and then George showed up.

George Smiley. One name that has caused the Election Committee more trouble than Alan Jones has caused the Gillard Government. Smiley established a Tumblr site where he continuously posted about the election campaign, defying the election regulations. The content of the posts however were hardly insightful political commentary. Rather Smiley unashamedly attacked the current STAR administration, and whinged that he was not allowed to put his name to it. While the regulations are antiquated, the Guild Election Gossip blog has several questions to answer, including the origins of illegally obtained screenshots from the secret STAR page, as well as emails relating to bias in the Pelican and a Guild Election debate.

The Election Committee, who threatened to invalidate some of Liberty’s votes given the inherent bias of the posts, did not impose sanctions on any group over the issue, but investigations are continuing. However, the supposed advantages of the blog to Liberty, frankly, are overrated. The blog itself was only really read by those who are either politically active on campus, and most of whom had already decided who they were supporting.

The campaign week did not bode well for Liberty, with many thinking STAR was out in front just days before polls opened. With incidents such as ‘Spitgate’ (a Liberty candidate reportedly ‘spat’ Guild coffee to show his distaste for it, and it hit a STAR candidate), as well as what seemed like a disorganised campaign, by the end of the first week.

However, it is clear from the results that this was not an attitude held by the voters. While STAR may have won the first half of the polling week, it was the Wednesday that helped Liberty bridge the gap, despite the weather taking a turn for the worst. Candidates were forced to use umbrellas to guide prospective voters into the booths.

The final day brought with it a feeling of optimism by the end of polling. Two very significant events most likely changed the course of the campaign. Firstly, just after lunch on the Thursday, a group of 25 students descended on the Reid voting booth, all clutching blue how to votes. It is rumoured that Liberty Guild council candidate, Selina Metternick-Jones, was behind the large voting bloc, adding to her chances.

Secondly, many felt that the mobile booth designated for the Business School would be advantageous to Liberty, however, the mood from both camps was that it was equally beneficially to both groups. What was not taken in to consideration was the benefit of the Thursday booth at Dentistry. The booth was manned by Liberty’s Welfare candidate, Siamak Saberi who just so happened to be the current President of the University Dental Students’ Society. The result was a predicted 80% of the votes went to Liberty.

As the tally room began counting, it was clear from the primaries that Matt McKenzie had a decent lead over Hannah Gifford in the race for Presidency. While there was a gap of 227 votes to Liberty (An 8.9% swing to Liberty in primaries, and a 17% swing against STAR), as the preferences were counted, the chances of the gap being bridged became slimmer and slimmer, and eventually the office fell. The final two party preferred was 53.2% to 46.8%.

After the Presidency fell, STAR’s legacy began to collapse around them. STAR scrutineers could only look helplessly on as every other position fell. Some, including Societies Council President did not even get to primary votes. The closest STAR got was in the Women’s Office, where the fight between Liberty’s Caitlin Fisher and STAR’s Kelsie White came as close as 24 votes. The overall two party preferred for office bearer’s was 53.97% to 46.03%.

The slaughter did not stop at the office bearers either. At the declaration of Guild Councillors it was clear that the anti-STAR crusade from students was continuing. STAR went from nine councillors this year, to four in 2012. The only STAR councillor that was re-elected was Yannis Vrodos, and he only just managed to do that coming an equal ninth with Liberty candidate, Charles Pym.

One of the biggest surprises for the Guild Council was Left Actions win of a council seat with their candidate, Anita Creasey. The usual negotiations between STAR and Left Action fell through early in the campaign, when after they had agreed on the Environment Officer, there was a disagreement over whether STAR would run a Women’s Officer candidate. When the deal broke through, Left Action went on their own, running candidates for President, Public Affairs Council President, Education Council President, Guild Treasurer, Welfare and Women’s Affairs Officers. This increased number of candidates meant more volunteers handing out how to votes, and with only one Guild Council candidate, meant it was inevitable that Ms Creasey would be elected.

So what happened? How did this supernova happen to STAR? The landslide was not expected by anyone, from either group.

Firstly, both parties choices for President played a big part. Liberty finally chose a winning candidate when they selected Matt McKenzie. I wrote in May, when rumours were circling that he was that candidate that it was an excellent choice saying, ‘McKenzie is not a typical Liberty candidate. Down to earth, and easily relates to students, McKenzie is a charismatic and engaging candidate who, after a year of leadership experience with ECOMS, could head a team of candidates that could cause some damage to the STAR dominated Guild Council and Executive’, it seems that he did cause some damage.

Hannah Gifford on the other hand was easily STAR’s best choice to compete against McKenzie. Gifford has a reputation of being a very tough campaigner, and an incredibly hard worker, and her work on the 2011 Societies Council shows this including increasing club funding and succeeding in getting free venue hire for clubs on campus.

Secondly, and quite frankly, the most important point, incumbency. For fourteen years, STAR held a majority on campus, they continued to be re-elected, and they were confident of doing so year after year. However, from the campaign trail this year, one Liberty candidate said that the point that would most likely get candidates into the booths was that STAR had been in power for fourteen years. Once the need for change became planted in the voters head, they went straight for the booth and voted for it.

Thirdly, STAR’s attempt at a slam party, Capitalist State of Crawley (CSC), turned out to be a massive mistake. Instead of all of CSC’s preferences flowing through to STAR, on average only 25% of their preferences reached STAR candidates.

The appeal to many of former STAR candidates meant that many of them didn’t following through on current STAR candidates.

It was not just the CSC either. Only 35% of Left Action votes came to a STAR candidate, and only 40 votes from the Independents to Hannah Gifford (23 from Tyler Morris, 17 from the other 6).

Finally, it was this year’s campaign. Those in the upper echelons in Liberty started the 2011 election campaign in May. In May, both the Paul Abbott blog Facebook page (Which now has 644 fans) and the Booth at Business School campaign, and clearly in Liberty’s favour, began,. Both of these campaigns were crucial in getting apathetic voters engaged. The level of support for McKenzie is evident in the increase in voter participation. This year saw a 21% increase in the number of student voters, and this is primarily to do with the two campaigns. Students began to get fed up of the quality of coffee on campus, and business school students suddenly realised that the closest voting booth was on Oak Lawn.

This generation of STAR is dead, but the rebuilding begins now. It starts with simple cultural changes, for instance, instead of candidates simply moving up from Guild Councillor, to an office-bearer and then if they are lucky, President, choose candidates who have been more involved outside of the Guild. Who have been involved with clubs, and facsocs.

STAR must cut the hacks. These include candidates from this year’s election who ran for high ranking office bearer positions, including people like Hannah Gifford, Nick Parkinson and Chantelle Mitchell. As brutal as it may seem, Liberty followed through this year with a fresh team, and a strong leader, and they have won in a massive landslide.

Secondly, (and this advice can be extended to Liberty) establish an extra-Parliamentary wing of the group. An extra-parliamentary wing will be able to help organise volunteers and fundraising, keep the elected members of the council together and most importantly, keep the brand together.

Of this group of STAR candidates, none of them has experienced what it is like to be in opposition. To not have the power of incumbency, to not have the resources like a central set of offices to run their campaign from.

Finally, should a Liberty government succeed in providing private enterprises the opportunity to open up on campus, STAR will need to find a compromise position on the issue of catering should they be re-elected, because to take it back to entirely Guild run would see them face another term in opposition.

Nevertheless, while STAR faces their current predicament, for Liberty it is a new dawn. The focus is now on them to show the students that making the change to a group who has not run a Guild before was the right choice to make.

McKenzie and his team will need to be ready to govern as soon as December 1 hits. They will need to hit the ground running on issues like catering, and work towards convincing the UWA Senate that it’s the right way to go.

However, it will not just be catering they need to prove themselves on. The student body has taken a gamble by switching teams in the middle of one of the largest structural changes to the university, New Courses. Once again, McKenzie and his Education Council President, Naomi Elford will need to be ready for the beginning of their term, and the challenges the new system will bring.

Finally, a side issue, and one that Liberty will no doubt rectify is the positioning of booths on campus. After the relatively successful campaign this year, and a large voter turnout on the Tuesday at the Business School, it is obvious that they’ll argue for a permanent booth down the south end of the campus.

Both Liberty and STAR are finding themselves in completely different territories than what they are used to. STAR has the burden of experiencing opposition after a disastrous result, and will need to change some of its internal structures to suit their new situation. Liberty on the other hand, find themselves facing a term in government, and much dire circumstances should they fail to achieve what they have promised in the 2011 campaign.

Dylan Caporn is the Creative Editor for State Magazine, and the current Secretary of the UWA Politics Club


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