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September 29, 2008 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Salient interviews presidential candidates

Two of the four presidential candidates in the VUWSA general elections gathered in the Salient office last Wednesday afternoon, and despite my initial concerns about what may ensue (hence my insistence that Salient’s Political Editor Jackson Wood also attend), the subsequent interview was, by large, a cordial and civil affair. I was impressed.

Salient: What do you think qualifies you to be president?

Jasmine: I have been involved with the Student Association for a number of years here at Victoria since 2001. I was briefly involved in the early 1990s, in student politics then so I was involved in the early big anti-student loan and anti-student allowance protests in 1991 to 1993. I was on the VUWSA Executive in 2002, been a class rep a ridiculous amount of times and a delegate a couple times. I was involved in setting up Campus Angels and the VUWSA advocacy service. I’ve been an academic here at the University since 2004, as a tutor and a research assistant and as an assistant lecturer since 2007. In part, because of my involvement with VUWSA, but also in result of my involvement in other areas in the wider community, I think that I’ve developed a wide range of skills that are really. I’ve taken on a lot of leadership roles, I’ve also taken on a lot of roles that involve teamwork.

Sonny: I’ve developed teamwork skills, being on the board of Family Planning and seeing that organisation grow, particularly pushing the issue of HPV vaccination. I’ve developed skills around governance. I was chair of the District Health Board Youth Advisory Committee for five years, so I’ve worked with quite a wide range of people. Also I worked for the National Network of Stopping Violence Services, which let me meet with a few people and discuss some of the broader issues around violence and working on the It’s Not OK campaign quite fun as well. I’ve also built up the skills to have quite an effective presence and be a leader in a sense, around the Destiny Church campaign – [to Freemantle] I believe you came to one of our protests?

Jasmine: I was quite involved in it, yes.

Sonny: And that’s really, really good. That was quite great to get 130 students walking out of their classes and marching down to Parliament to who very rainbow-esque opposition to the very black thumping fists that, you know, were actually quite horrific. I think that was quite a positive thing that I was able to work on.

Salient: Why do you want to be president?

Sonny: Because I think I’ve got the skills to do the work effectively. I also think it’s important that the student body have someone who has been around for awhile – and Jasmine has been around, I’ve been around for two years now. And also someone who has the drive and the passion to see something through to the end, I’ve done that in other organisations. I’ve written submissions to Parliament. I’ve also pushed the issue around HPV vaccinations and saw that through to the very end, which is good and the Destiny Church stuff, so I’ve got a good track record. So I think that puts me in good stead to see this through to the end, and I think VUWSA needs change. I’ve said this a million times during this campaign but I do wholeheartedly believe that we are not a sustainable association in the current framework and we’re not going to be around in four years’ time if we don’t deal with the issues now.

Jasmine: I think that VUWSA needs positive rather than negative change as outlined in the recent Change Proposal. I think that I should be President because I think I have the leadership and teamwork skills. I’ve also seen a number of projects through. I completed a First Class Honours degree, I’m about to complete my PhD thesis – I think that’s a pretty significant achievement. I’m also the mother of a four-year-old, which I think is the biggest thing that you can do as far as demonstrating responsibility goes. I have also been involved in a wide variety of projects – I was the person who read about 6,000 submissions for and against the Civil Unions Bill. I was also a policy analyst at Family Planning so I have been involved in a wide variety of organisations outside the University including Rape Crisis and the Porirua Sexual Abuse and Healing Centre. I think teamwork skills are very important, and that’s something I have been able to develop as an academic, not only in student politics and in the wider community, but also as a teacher.

Salient: What do you hope to achieve during your presidency?

Jasmine: One of the key things I’d like to achieve is strengthening the links between the Students’ Association and the student body and between those two groups and staff. I think one important way to achieve this is via the class rep system and other bodies such as VET. Another way is via strengthening clubs and activities. Also making the Students’ Association more accountable and more transparent, and the monetary transactions that are going on. Another thing is strengthening the JSUB agreement. At the moment, although there is supposed to be a joint arrangement, the University continues to act as though they have more power and control, so trying to get more student control as with clubs and activities. Another thing is strengthening the relationship between the Association and other groups within the University, so for instance PGSA, and Ngai Tauira. The relationship with Ngai Tauira is significantly better than it was the last time I was on the executive in 2002. I‘m of the stance that VUWSA and Ngai Tauira should be getting together a lot more. I think communication overall is something I would be looking at.

Sonny: One of the things I think is important as well is the growing in the relationship between VUWSA and Ngai Tauira. I totally agree that they should be meeting more regularly. One of the other things I want to achieve is a change to Orientation. I do not think that $100,000 for 800 students is a sustainable way of spending student money. So subsidising events in town – not one person has voiced an opposition to that. The discussion that I had with clubs over the last year is that they think the affiliation process is too burdensome in many ways, and that they want to be able to work with their members in a way that’s conducive to the way they want to run things. That’s why I want to move the affiliation process because I don’t think it’s very effective. I want to make it a lot easier for clubs to get clubs grants. }

Salient: What do you think are the most important issues facing students on campus, and how do you plan to resolve these issues?

Sonny: I think one of the really important things is accessibility to food and a good supply of it as well, and high quality food. Food prices have increased and families and students are really beginning to feel that pinch and what we have to do is respond to that effectively by having a strong food bank service in place to give students high quality, healthy food. So one of the things we have to change is what food is in the parcels and I think that giving them vouchers – although I disagree with the idea of giving vouchers – seems the most effective way of ensuring students get down to the supermarket to get fresh fruit and vegetables. Students are now spending more time working and stressing out about studies than about having fun at university. University is largely about learning how the world works and about social interactions and that has to be key in university life and we can’t spend our entire lives focusing on minute details that we’re going to forget. So I think that’s important and shifting the way the University thinks about student interaction. The other important things is safety on campus and something I’m really grateful for is the Campus Angels programme. One of the things I plan on doing is leasing a van to be able to drive students to the safest public transport space or the way home.

Jasmine: I think probably the biggest issue for students on campus here at Victoria just like every other campus in the country is student debt – it’s the rising cost of living, it’s being forced into spending increasing amounts of time in paid work and sometimes sourcing paid work instead of focusing on your studies. Number two would be the way that the University is actually treating a lot of students and a lot staff, in restructuring and cutting back the smaller programmes. There is word out that areas like Linguistics, Social Policy and English are all probably going to be seeing similar things [as the Film school and Gender and Women’s Studies] in the not too distant future. These sorts of changes affect a lot of students and there has been little student consultation. So that’s top two priorities. Other things such as food and safety on campus are things I have worked towards for a number years, so things like increasing the amount of free bread. Increasing the kind of food that is in the food parcels would also be fantastic, as well as cheaper and better food in campus on all four campuses.

Salient: Where do you see VUWSA in ten years’ time?

Sonny: Without change, bankrupt. And I think that’s quite clear. If we are electing a National government at the end of the year that is reliant on the ACT party for support, we’ll see VSM legislation come through and I think that’ll be a very dangerous situation. Students will lose all their support services. I also think if we don’t shift now, we’re going to see probably a lot more bitter in-fighting at VUWSA and that’s not going to a very effective way of moving forward. I’d like to see a stronger Welfare office that supports students. We should have a core bureaucracy within VUWSA – an Education office that has quite clear . That requires a strong class rep system and faculty delegates. I think we need a Students’ Association that students can be proud of, one where they go for help and gives actually tangible assistance and can fight for their rights. We need to have a strong Association.

Jasmine: I want to see a VUWSA that isn’t just about VUWSA, but about the student body and the University. I want stronger representation. I’m totally in favour of having a post-grad representative on Council and post-grad representation – we’re getting increasing numbers of postgrad students. We need stronger Maori representation and in areas such as queer and disabled students because there is a lack of communication within organisations in the University. Working with staff, and this is becoming increasingly important under this Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) scheme, for all students because under PBRF, academics are being forced to make the choice between teaching and research… that should be a huge concern for students, because staff are being forced to make that call and staff are very aware that if they choose not to prioritise their research they are going to lose their jobs.

Salient: What, if any, political party are you affiliated with? On a number of occasions this year, current President Joel Cosgrove has used his position to promote the Workers Party (of which he is a member). Will you be able to separate your personal political affiliation with your role as the VUWSA President?

Jasmine: I’m a member of the Workers Party and have been since 2002. That’s very widely publicised, I stood as the candidate for the Party in the 2005 general election. Totally yes, I can separate that from the [presidency]. I don’t go into my classes and say, ‘Hey, vote Workers’ Party!’ and hand out my propaganda. Obviously being a member of the Party shapes the way I view things. I would of course endorse VUWSA policy. Anything that goes contrary to that, it doesn’t matter.

It’s about VUWSA. I’m not at VUWSA as President representing the Workers Party. I’m at VUWSA as President, representing VUWSA and representing students.

Sonny: Yeah, I’m a member of the Labour Party and I have been since I was 15. I’m a Social Democrat. I believe in as much market as necessary, and in as much socialism as possible, and that’s my core fundamental belief, and that informs the way I look at the world. Will it affect my role as VUWSA President? It’ll affect it so much as the way I look at issues. I have fought against policies of the Labour government but I’m also very proud of being a member of the Party. But I think what we do need to fight for, and students have made it quite clear, is a move towards universal student allowances. Whether it’s a Labour government or a National government next time around, I will fight for those causes.

Salient: How do you feel about the campaigns that have been run during these elections? There have been several allegations made of personal attacks and dirty tactics between the two blocs that seem to have formed, Young Labour and the Workers Party.

Sonny: Well, I think there has been a lot of cross-party support. The campaign started off from a dirty position, with the allegation of selling off clubs and I was forced to respond to that. And I don’t know where it came from, but claims that I was going to run a smear campaign against Jasmine came out and that was touted over the blogs and on Facebook. I’ve never once claimed that. I also heard ludicrous claims that I said Jasmine and [current President Joel Cosgrove] were going out. I didn’t actually say that. But I do acknowledge that I said Jasmine lost to no confidence. I think it’s important for students to know that. And then yesterday, a leaflet went around with an email between my employer and [current Women’s Rights Office] Georgina Dickson which actually said nothing at all, but for some reason they felt it was important to distribute that, which I thought was quite pathetic at smearing me. I just don’t think it was very good and turned off most students.

Jasmine: As far as the leaflet that Nick Kelly put around, I didn’t know about it and it wasn’t a part of my campaign. [But] I don’t think it’s that different to Sonny and the no confidence thing. Georgina Dickson wanted the email out there, so that was nothing to do with me. I don’t think I’ve run a smear campaign. What I have done is associate Sonny with the Change Proposal, because [to Sonny] it is your document.

Sonny: A document that Joel helped write. A document that Nick Kelly helped form.

Jasmine: Nick Kelly – Sonny, you have claimed numerous times in public forums that Nick has been associated with this Change Proposal. He has not been associated with it.

Sonny: He helped write the first draft.

Jasmine: No, he didn’t. Sonny: Nick, Joel and I sat in his office, we went through the 2007 Howarth review and the SPAM survey together and he helped form the first draft of the Change Proposal. I’m sorry, but he did. I know that, I was there.

Jasmine: Where is your evidence of that?

Sonny: I took minutes, I’ve got notes. I’m happy to supply those notes, I just didn’t think it was worth going that deep.

Jasmine: I think if you’ve got those notes and you know, evidence that he actually wrote it or formed it in any way –

Sonny: He did help form it –

Jasmine: Well, you have said in public forums that he wrote it, that he helped write it. You are the principle author of this document. Joel has contributed in a lesser way but he has repented on that.

Sonny: He’s the President, he has the responsibility to come forward. He pushed it at the exec meeting, he pushed it the whole way through.

Jasmine: He realised he made a mistake, and he backed out, because he doesn’t support it.

Sonny: I know that Joel helped write it, we went to the lawyers together, he’s been a part of this process the whole way through. Jasmine: But he has gone back and made it really clear that he doesn’t support it.

Sonny: After Nick sent out an email about the motions of the Workers’ Party disagreeing with the Proposal, I saw Joel and he was really distraught that the conversation in the Party had been made public without him being informed. It then seems that screws were tightened somewhere and Joel changed his tune immediately for party allegiance – I understand that he was threatened with being kicked out of the party, that’s what he told me, and if the same thing happened to me with the Labour Party I’d feel quite pressured too.

Jasmine: There was no threat of kicking Joel out of the Party at all. The key point here is that regardless of his role, Joel is repentant about his role in it and he’s making that public. As far as Nick’s involvement, Nick does not have any involvement in the document. He’s outraged that his name is being thrown around in that way. As far as Nick Kelly being my boyfriend, the student body is so confused. I’ve had random students coming up to me and saying, ‘Sonny told us Nick is your boyfriend,’ and the other day, that Sonny told them that Joel was my boyfriend, and now I’m getting reports that Joel is my brother.

Sonny: I never said that.

Jasmine: Well, that was something you threatened to do.

Sonny: It wasn’t.

Jasmine: It was.

Sonny: Okay, prove it. When you have proof, come back.

Jasmine: When you found out I was standing, you lost the plot in Joel’s office.

Sonny: Joel fucked up, he’s fucked up the whole Change Proposal because he doesn’t understand process. And I lent him my support and tried to help him through it, then he had me removed from the Change Proposal Committee. Then I just told Joel I had had a year of putting up with his shit and I wasn’t going to do it anymore. We exchange words.

Jasmine: That wasn’t the only time you’ve responded that way concerning me.

Sonny: Yes, it is.

Jasmine: No, it’s not. You have gone off at Joel on a number of occasions. VUWSA, as you know, doesn’t have the best acoustics. There are exec members, staff, candidates who have overheard things.

Sonny: After a year of working with Joel, anyone would be frustrated.

Jasmine: One important thing to remember here is that Joel and I might be members of the same party, but I’m not going near Geoff Hayward, Jeremy Greenbrook [both former VUWSA Presidents and members of the Labour Party].

Salient: Obviously this has divulged somewhat… Current VUWSA International Officer William Wu, the third candidate for the position, was unable to attend the debate due to other commitments, but told Salient that while he “didn’t want to mention people’s names,” he was “disappointed” at the “dirty campaigns” that were being run.

“We have to respect other candidates. Each candidate should respect other candidate, not attack,” he said. “We’re not running for Prime Minister or any high-level position, we’re just running for student label and student issues… it’s too critical and dirty for that.” The fourth candidate, Sean Connors, responded by email:

Salient: What do you think qualifies you to be president?

Sean: Well, I think all this talk of “qualifications” and “credentials” and “sound policies” is somewhat overwrought. The real question is, why shouldn’t I be president (multiple fraud convictions, paranoid schizophrenia and furry fetish aside)?

Salient: Why do you want to be president? Sean: I have an incredibly big ego, a desire to boss other people around and mismanage student money, and a belief that the presidency can be my own personal soap box. In short, I have the same motivations as any other student politician.

Salient: What do you hope to achieve during your presidency? Sean: When elected, I will work tirelessly to develop a network of inter-campus flying foxes between Karori, Kelburn, Te Aro and Pipitea. No longer will students suffer the tyranny of communist bus drivers, or safe travel without a high probability of serious injury or death. I also believe that VUWSA is lacking one of the most important aspects of a successful organisation – a standing army. When I am President, all clubs must undergo 12 months of compulsory military service in my VUWSA militia. This will allow us to expand the VUWSA brand across the country and, dare I say it, the world. Oh, and I will install myself as King by the Grace of God in a VUWSA monarchy, avoiding costly and inefficient democratic elections.

Salient: What do you think are the most important issues facing students on campus, and how do you plan to resolve these issues?

Sean: I believe that the issue of sub-par and expensive food at university is a serious concern for lazy students who can’t make their own lunches. Thus, I propose that VUWSA provide free, delicious Soylent Green to all students – working closely with failing students and DebSoc to ensure that we have a constant supply. Student debt is also a concern for many students. However, due to my large personal wealth and stock portfolios, I see no need to address this problem.

Salient: Where do you see VUWSA in ten years’ time?

Sean: As a mighty Empire, having conquered all other student associations and started a nationwide course in Connors Studies (not to be confused with Connors Science, a more practical discussion of Connors-related issues). An unholy Connors-Manglethwaite alliance will ensure my divine legacy, and we will have beautiful (albeit slightly deformed) stegosaurus children to ensure the survival of the Connorthwaite bloodline.However, expensive wars against abstract nouns like “terror” and “integrity” will have depleted our treasury, to the extent where all students must also moonlight as prostitutes to ensure that I have the money necessary to keep Manglethwaite’s cryogenically frozen head in stasis.

Salient: What, if any, political party are you affiliated with? On a number of occasions this year, current President Joel Cosgrove has used his position to promote the Workers’ Party (of which he is a member). Will you be able to separate your personal political affiliation with your role as the VUWSA President?

Sean: I assure you that I enter this campaign only in my own selfinterest, and when in charge, I promise that the only person benefiting from my decisions and allocation of resources will be me, me, me – no matter what the cost to the student body. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Salient: How do you feel about the campaigns that have been run during these elections? There have been several allegations made of personal attacks and dirty tricks between the two blocs that seem to have formed, Young Labour and the Workers’ Party.

Sean: Well, I personally believe that the student body has been greatly benefited by the mudslinging, propagandistic claims, and misrepresentation of policies that the two main presidential candidates have brought to the table. After all, what is the point of VUWSA elections if not to air each other’s dirty laundry, make promises that won’t be followed through and ignore how to best help students and the association? I mean, I have been described as running the most mature campaign and I wore a FUCKING PANDA SUIT. It just boggles the mind, I mean really, it’s just so – oh fuck it, just fuck it.

The voting period for the 2008 VUWSA general elections closes this Wednesday.


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