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Who Will it be, Victoria University?

Nicola Kean



SALIENT News Editor Nicola Kean invites you to get to know the four candidates who want to be your next President.
It started with five. Five men who thought they had the greatness, the intellectual abilities and the rhetorical skills to be the VUWSA president. Then William Wu pulled out, and it was four. Four men who think they have the charisma and the political nous to lead Victoria University students into the future. And the greatness, don’t forget the greatness.
The successful candidate for president can make or break VUWSA. He will have his fingers in many different pies: the president is the focal point of the executive, sits on a number of committees, including the University Council and the Union Board, and acts as the Chief Executive in regards to hiring and managing VUWSA staff. And for the 2007 President elect, there will be the added challenge of keeping the association afloat and carefully managing the finances. Last Wednesday’s levy increase is only part of the solution.
So, 2007 is going to be an interesting year, and in that light we thought it prudent to spare a couple of pages to look at what the candidates for the presidency have to offer you, the student. We even got all investigative on their asses. Thanks Google. Unfortunately, however, we couldn’t find any scandalous pictures of any of the candidates hugging mystery men.
First up, by virtue of alphabetical order, is Geoff Hayward. Hayward, known affectionately by his associates as ‘Geoff the Maori’, will be familiar to readers of Salient as the author of the weekly politics column. He will also be well known to his fellow students as being, well, vocal in class. Having already completed a Masters degree in Science, he’s now working towards a BA in Political Science and Social Policy. If he isn’t elected, he says he’ll continue to study at a graduate level.
Hayward says that if he’s elected, one of his aims will be to show “that we are prioritising the spending, but I will make it clear that we will not be wiping without consideration the support we give to sporting and cultural clubs already.” It’s work that he says he hopes will begin before next year, so both current and incoming exec members can work in tandem to set the course for the year.
But he has been critical of how VUWSA has conducted it’s financial process so far: “this ‘spend now, care far later’ attitude is only going to commit us to another financial crisis.” If elected, he wants to begin another financial review, and he’s optimistic about VUWSA’s future. “I believe that so long as VUWSA is helmed by those who are dedicated to helping others who cannot alone help themselves, VUWSA shall always exist.”
Hayward is currently the chairperson of VicLabour, the University branch of the Labour Party, and he is quite heavily involved with Labour, judging from the number of hits with his name on the Labour Party and Young Labour websites. But he says he’ll be giving up VicLabour next year whether he gets elected or not. “As President I will have to give up some things, but that also means that I can help VUWSA help others. I am intending to step down from the VicLabour committee at the end of the year, to allow the next group of students to lead the branch.”
Next up is incumbent president Nick Kelly. Proudly heralding from the “Peoples’ Republic of Upper Hutt”, Kelly has completed a BA and served on the VUWSA executive since 2003. He spent two years as Campaigns Officer, following that with a year as Welfare Vice-President. As such, he is keen to stress that “I’m one of the longest serving members of the VUWSA team and as such have some of the best institutional knowledge about the place. My drive is to work towards making sure students have a better deal.”
Continuing what has already begun is Kelly’s main campaign promise. “I don’t believe VUWSA is a sinking ship at all. Under my leadership we [are] currently establishing sound, robust and accountable structures”, he says. He lists further changes to the financial structure of VUWSA as having the 2007 budget out in November, reassessing the roles of the in-house accountant and staff, and above all, keeping a watchful eye on the VUWSA till. “I’d like to be remembered as the President who inherited a difficult financial situation at the start of 2006, and by the end of 2007 had led VUWSA to financial health – and I believe we are on task for this.”
Kelly’s political affiliations lie firmly to the left of the spectrum, with both his feet planted in the Workers’ Party camp. His stoush with the Labour Party is infamous, as is the story of him being virtually dragged by his hair from a Labour Party conference. So it’s hardly surprising that he’s more than a little bit angry at the government. “A serious president will not be in this government’s pocket, will be working with staff and if possible the institution, to increase levels of funding which are currently a disgrace,” he says, making a less than veiled reference to another presidential contender.
Gareth Robinson’s candidacy was hardly a surprise, given his previous attempts to be elected to VUWSA positions. However, this year he’s betting all his chips on one hand. But has he got the cards to match? Robinson’s been involved in VUWSA longer than even Kelly, since 2002, although not in an executive position. He’s been chairperson of the cultural and sports clubs councils since 2004, and he’s been on the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty board this year. “I’ve been representing the constituents that have voted for me for the last three years essentially without pay”, he says. “I feel that I have shown through my actions from the past three years that I have the enthusiasm and willpower to serve students as VUWSA President.”
Re-connecting with students is the aim of the 25-year-old from Wainui. He says that “previous executives (and the current one as well) have operated as a closed shop, with few opportunities for students not appointed/elected to participate.” He cites the levy debate as an example of how students had to go to VUWSA individually to get relevant information. It was information that “should be there in the first place,” and information that he wants to find out before making a judgement call on what he would do for VUWSA’s financial situation as president.
“If the situation is as it is currently believed,” he says somewhat cynically, “then the next step will be to re-prioritise spending, so that the total level of expenditure is either down or no change.” While he would aim to produce a small surplus, he then adds that his answer was speculative because “no-one really has any idea how much revenue VUWSA will have next year.”
Despite the best efforts of Google, the only hint of Robinson’s political affiliations we could find was his blog, where he has previously announced that he is “sitting on the fence of life”.
The dark horse of the presidential race is Fa’afetai Ta’ase. Aside from letters sent to Salient in the last two weeks, he is previously unknown to VUWSA insiders and no record of his political beliefs could be found. However, from his performance at the candidate’s forum, he seems the firebrand type. “The university student is one of the best people, but one of the most undervalued,” he says. “The future they face after graduation is harder, and darker, than any student before … who am I, ‘Morpheus’, Neo. ‘Morpheus’, Trinity. 20,000 Neo and Trinity?” Uh, yeah.
Ta’ase has been around for a while. He served on the VUWSA executive in 1985 and 1986, and is now back on campus studying part-time for his Masters on Disability Theology. As such, he’s seen it all before. “The difficulties are actually ‘tradition’,” he says. “Every past exec faced them [and] so will all future execs. We are here to keep your head above water, we will never sink.” He offers no solution for the financial problems VUWSA is facing, but says that he wants to increase services now the levy has gone up. “The fee just went up and so did the campaigns budget, Suicide FreeZone, First Year Women Cervical Smear, Mobile Mammogram on Campus, Mass Training on Breast Self Examination ‘line up and learn’ in the Union Hall behind closed doors’, Safe Sex, Safe Drinking, Anti Drug, Better Course Representation.”
He also advocates for a better use of student positions on the University Council. “I gave VUWSA what they wanted, not what I think they wanted. And we drew or won at University Council as many times as possible, with better research, better oratory, better skill.”
So, there we have it: four candidates, one position. You decide. With the exception of Gareth Robinson, who could be described as centre-right, all the candidates are to the left of the political spectrum. But there’s more to the position of president than political ideology. All the candidates have a passion and dedication for helping students, albeit they want to do so in different ways. Hayward says he’ll do this by not ignoring the little details, Kelly by giving it his all, Robinson by keeping students informed, and Ta’ase by pulling out Neo style martial arts on the Vice-Chancellor.