QT speaks to Guild President-elect, Matthew McKenzie
How do you feel about this landslide electoral success you have had?
It is amazing, I still pinch myself on the odd occasion. I don’t even know if it has fully sunk in yet. I remember the following day Anthony [Spagnolo] and I got some Vietnamese food and we were driving back to UWA and I just about started crying. That night there was champagne everywhere and people were screaming for about a half an hour straight. When I actually sit down and think about it, it is an amazing thing we’ve done. STAR has been in power for 15 years and we’ve come through and we’ve won in a fashion no one expected of us. 15 out of 20 spots on Council. It’s a landslide, you are right. I am amazed and so happy with what the team has achieved.
What do you attribute to such success?
I think there are a few reasons why we did so well this year. We took the election seriously. I wanted to recruit a team of candidates that were experienced and credible, people like Naomi Elford who’ve been on education council for four years. That was the first thing. Second thing, the amount of effort we’ve put into it. Anthony Spagnolo deserves particular mention, as does Ben Watson. Months and months of our lives were spent designing the campaign and the fact that we had such good people running it, and good people running in it, enabled us to win. And I must also say there is a lot of anger out there at STAR, people are just sick of them.
You only have 365 days this year, what are some of the big issues you want to tackle?
You’ve scared me there. The first thing we have to deal with is independent food. We are going to have to get economic modelling, speak to the UWA senate, open tenders, pay law firms to write contracts – a huge process! Obviously, New Courses. With something like safety, I can ring up the council now and say please put more lights on the street and they might be inclined to listen, but with something like New Courses its going to be this huge amorphous to deal with and how you make sure every student doesn’t get stuffed over is huge task.
What about National Union of Students (NUS), Liberty’s campaign policy said that UWA should contribute a ‘fair’ amount to NUS, what does that mean?
That’s a good question. UWA contributes more per student than any other university in this country. I’m pretty sure we contribute 14% of NUS’s total revenue. I’ve just been reading into this a little bit lately post-election, and all I hear from NUS is about people going to this conference and it is just about these kids who are there to build their resumes and all the rest of it. They don’t achieve anything for students, and I think that is really sad. I want students to be represented and I want them to feel like they have someone projecting their voice to important people, but unfortunately NUS doesn’t seem to do that.
Onto the campaign, a lot was said about online election material, and the topic of electoral reform. Do you see that as something you’d like to deal with in your first term?
Yes. Electoral reform will be a priority in our first term. I’ve already contacted some people about creating a special electoral reform committee. We’ll try and make it bi-partisan. This idea about people can’t campaign online is a little bit silly, with the internet as it is, people can remain anonymous. For example, someone from STATE can go onto a proxy server create a website and say whatever they want and there is nothing to stop them. These regulations are unenforceable. We need to have a system which actually works. And doesn’t prevent people from making their opinions heard. We were in a situation this year where, if gossip girl or whoever else had to have gone a little harder, and really attacked STAR or LIBERTY, you would’ve been in a situation where I couldn’t have gone online and said this is all incorrect.
Is there any truth behind rumours liberty was behind these pages?
As far as I am aware we weren’t behind these pages, I certainly wasn’t.
What about your political views outside of Guild politics?
I think it is a well known that I am a Liberal; supporter of the market place. I come from a sort of an interesting position where I personally take the view that in the long term the best thing that we can do for society is to try and assist those people on middle income and in the working class who cant get jobs, and do everything we can to ensure those people can get jobs and raise their wages. In the long term the only way to do that is to use the market.
As a Liberal Party member, do you feel bound by any party ideology in your role as Guild President?
That’s a good question. Well obviously Liberty is an independent ticket. As someone who has ideological views that, to a reasonable extent, lie within those of the Liberal Party you can expect some of my policies might feel a little bit similar. The obvious thing is as President of a large organisation, the things I do will come under a lot of scrutiny from lots of people. I need to make sure I do the things that are the best for students.
What is the relation between Liberty and the Young Liberals?
I am a Young Liberal. There are quite a number of Young Liberals that ran with Liberty. I think Liberty is a ticket about students, there are many many conservative students and liberally minded students on the ticket, but more than anything it is a ticket for students. Not a ticket about politics. A ticket about making change on campus, and that was what made me so proud this year. That we were able to get in people that are not necessarily senior Young Liberals, but do have experience on campus and do have ideas for change.
What about claims that Liberty was primarily funded by the Liberal Party? Where did your campaign funding come from?
We sourced money from candidates. I paid a significant amount, including deposits for each candidate. Anthony Spagnolo and Myles Parish funded a lot of the material, we did an auction at our Liberty launch that was very successful. Some lucky lady paid one hundred and something dollars to have dinner with me. We also had some of our people going around at some events raising money for us.
When was the first time the team met to discuss the campaign?
We first met around April. There were a few things we decided might need to be change, we selected a couple of them. We decided to leave the name and the colour, because that was our brand and it in some way represented what we were trying to do. The biggest thing I thought needed to be changed, was in terms of office bearing candidates and just ensuring that we recruited people that were really, really good. We wanted to recruit an all-star Executive. The other thing was the policy, we wanted to make sure we had policy that students cared about, was good and affected students. I was fortunate to be on Guild Council this year and President of ECOMS so I think I’ve got a good idea of what students want.
Liberty’s main policy this year is about independent food. What does independent food actually mean and what are we going to see in the first few months?
It means opening tenders to operators to come onto campus and sell food. I’d like to see a couple of small independent caterers. The way you do it is charge them rent. You could even include a clause in there to profit share, like a super profits tax. The benefit is that these companies are professional outfits. Someone like a Rocket Fuel knows how to make coffee and has lower costs than someone like the Guild in making coffee. The Guild as a body isn’t designed to be a food producing catering body, it is designed to provide services to students. And that by necessity means it doesn’t do the catering very well. A funny story, when my grandmother came over to UWA during the campaign to have lunch she thought the food was disgusting. I thought that was a bit heavy, but you get the idea.
What about New Courses? There has been a bit of criticism about STAR being too close to the University in this regard. What is Liberty going to do with respect to New Courses?
I think the first thing that needs to be provided is information. There are a lot of students out there who don’t really know what’s going on. Really I have two months to fix this without stepping on STAR’s toes in their last two months of office. So that is going to be interesting as to how we exactly do it. The first thing with New Courses is to reassure students that everything is going to be ok. And to explain to them the effect, in particular in those courses that are becoming post-graduate. The second thing, to ensure that the University keeps their promise to provide small group classes for discontinuing units to ensure people can finish their degrees. Thirdly, in circumstances where post-grad and undergrad students are doing the same classes, for instance in the law faculty, you have to make sure they are assessed and scaled separately. Otherwise you are going to have this situation in which a LLB student is in the same class as a JD student, when those degrees have different levels of AQF certificate qualification.
What did you think of the election as a whole?
F*cking tiring. It was funny, we got into campaign week, and it felt for Anthony and I that we were coming to the end of the campaign. The campaign was fantastic, there was so much thought put into the policies – we tried to make sure all our candidates were well trained. Sometimes in the heat of the action, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got time to chill out to talk to your people and have some pizza.
Right wing Guilds around the country have battled with the role of the Queer and Womens’ offices. What would a Liberty Guild provide to those offices?
I’ll answer this with particular reference to the Womens’ office. In ECOMS we started the Women in Business Mentoring scheme. I am really proud it is one of my happiest achievements. I’d like to see the Women’s office doing start supporting events like that. Supporting organisations like Young UN Women. Having debates, this was one of Caitlin Fisher’s (Women’s Affairs Officer-Elect) ideas, having discussions on campus and we’ll do this with PAC this year. Like between Carmen Lawrence and Julie Bishop. It is a great way to get people engaged. I’d like to see more women engaged.
What sort of legacy do you hope to leave as Guild President this year?
We are in an amazing spot. Someone said to me a few days ago that they didn’t think that any STAR Guild President ever had the agenda that we have right now. I feel a little bit like Obama. I remember hearing someone say when Obama took over that most Presidents have one or two issues that they, huge things, wanted to tackle. I feel a bit like that. There are so many things on this campus that need to be tackled, if I can tackle those all effectively. If we can get good food on campus for students, if we can get this New Courses thing sorted out – the biggest change to campus in a century. If we can keep campus culture strong and support clubs. If we can really get results for students in faculties that seem to be forgotten. Dentistry is the classic example; I am going to work very hard with Siamak Saberi (Welfare Officer-elect) this year to ensure that dentistry students get the best out of this University. This is the year that the Guild can really change what the University is doing, really change the course of this campus and I am so privileged to be in this situation where I can make some positive changes for new students.