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October 1, 2012 | by  | in News |
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When Jackson Met Rory – Extended

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR VUWSA PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

Having had some time to cool from off from the candidate’s forum earlier in the day, Salient went to the Hunter Lounge for a beer and a catch up with presidential hopefuls Jackson Freeman and Rory McCourt, and to discuss their campaigns in greater depth. Jackson urged everyone to listen to Danny Brown; Rory told us that he quite likes Queen.

Hugo: Why do you want to run for President?

Rory: I’m running for President because I think I’ve got the confidence leadership and experience VUWSA needs to take advantage of opportunities and get the best deal for students.

J: I think it’s kind of poor that only a small fraction of students turn out to vote. I think that’s really sad, I’d like to see that change.

H: What do you think is the role VUWSA? Has VUWSA assumed the appropriate role this year?

J: I think it’s primary role is to represent students.

R: [The representative] role may have been appropriate when we had compulsory membership, but now there’s some changes we’ve got to make to be relevant to students, to have high membership, and so the university respects and recognises us as the best voice for students.

H: Jackson, earlier today you confessed you did not know what the Student Forum was, have you since done some research?

J: I had done some research prior, but I was not sure on all the facts to make any claims. I am aware that the University appoints students to the forum, and they essentially represent students on the academic board now. I don’t think that’s fair. I think VUWSA’s role as a students association is to represent students. That the forum is taking over that role just isn’t good enough in my opinion.

R: There is a place for consultation in a post-VSM environment, that has VUWSA and other people around the table. We can’t be in the same mindset that we had when we had compulsory membership, that we were top dog, and no-body else’s voices counted. We should sit down with the University and work out a truly representative model that rewards people who organise and get the support of their fellow students.

H: If the Forum were legitimate would you be willing to cooperate with it?

J: Absolutely, the fundamental thing is that its democratically elected. Essentially they are representing students, that they’re currently appointed by the University doesn’t make sense. To be honest there are still a lot of things I still don’t understand, and I can say the same for most students who get involved and everyone who doesn’t get involved. They don’t know the Student Forum exists. To most of them the fundamental representation they have at uni is VUWSA. We need to look at legitimising VUWSA’s power on the same level.

H: How do you propose doing that?

J: I’m not entirely sure. As Bridie said, you can’t expect someone who’s new to this to know the ins and outs.

R: I think you can reasonably expect someone to have some grasp of knowledge about what these organisations are.

J: Absolutely. I’ve spent a week researching these things. What I do know is the forum is not democratically elected, and it needs to be.

R: Technically they are democratically elected through their faculty boards.

J: But they’re faculty boards, they’re not students, students don’t get a say. No-one even knows it’s happening.

R: But these are details you should be aware of.

J: You’re twisting it, you’re turning a faculty board appointing members to the Student Forum into students having an actual say. And furthermore, this brings into question the legitimacy of this election we’re running in. With such poor turnout, it makes you question whether even this is democratic. Is this just a few people who sort of have faith in it, who just pretend?

As it stands, I don’t think it’s very representative of what students really think, and that’s why I decided to run.

H: Jackson, you’ve said you would you would like to see VUWSA move away from its reliance on University contracts which are its main source of revenue. But you’ve also said you would like it to become more fiscally responsible. How are these views consistent?

J: I don’t think we’re ever going to be in a position, especially post VSM, where we’re not going to have to rely on the University for some sort of funding, that’s completely unrealistic.

My point was, there’s not enough being done about at least attempting to become self-sustainable and doing work as a group to look after our best interests.

R: Do you know how much was cut from the budget this year?

J: No, sorry.

R: $100,000 dollars.

J: And how much of a deficit are we still running?

R: We don’t have a deficit.

J: Because of the VUWSA trust.

H: Without the input of the VUWSA trust, which has pledged to give the association up to$250,000, it would be running a deficit of $200,000.

J: How long can we rely on them to bail us out?

R: We have one million dollars in reserves—

J: This is the problem with VUWSA, you’re relying on what you’ve got saved up and just bailing yourself out. This is not how we have to look at this anymore. You need to look at ways of manipulating the resources we do have to generate our own sources of income.

R: We have an association with the VUWSA Trust because they are the best people to run business…. This Hunter Lounge we’re in; run by the VUWSA Trust, for profit. That’s why we have them, that’s why we’re getting money back from them, because we have invested those surpluses in the past, and these are the rainy days.

H: It seems unrealistic Jackson, to expect VUWSA to replace the revenue from a $180,000 representation contract by hosting events at the Hunter Lounge.

J: As I said before, it is unrealistic to expect to move away from our main source of income in one year. But we’re not doing enough to secure some kind of sustainable future…. The only real income that keeps us afloat is from the University.

R: It’s not from the University, it’s from the Student Services Levy, which students pay into. I propose we take advantage of the review next year, that Bridie and I have secured, and we move the SSL into a place where students can contest what [it is used for].

Asher: You’ve said before Rory that you don’t want to prejudge the outcome of student consultation, but having sat on the [Advisory Committee on the Student Services Levy] yourself, do you see anywhere in the SSL budget where there is fat to trim?

R: Oh absolutely, and this year Bridie and I have been very clear in going through it line by line and saying “This is duplication”. I talked about Career Hub and Student Job Search duplication today.

H: Jackson, do you have any gripes with the SSL?

J: I have gripes that it’s being increased, when really there is not visible improvement to the services. I applaud the work that Rory and Bridie have done, I really do. What I do query though is how the review is going to secure the levy for us to control, without going to pre-VSM days.

R: I think you misunderstand the legislation. VSM says we can’t make membership compulsory, but it doesn’t say the SSL can’t be taxed on everyone. This is one of the great errors in VSM, something that was an attempt to make student associations better, transparent and more efficient has done the opposite. We’ve given all the efficient services over to bureaucrats who are now making inefficient decisions. I’m saying we can reach a balance that has great services on our campus with student oversight.

J: How? How do we have student oversight without it being [VUWSA] in control again? that’s my point.

R: This is compromise, this is a relationship with the University.

J: But why are they going to go for that? Why is the University going to listen?

R: Because we voted, like you’ve criticised us so much for, for the 4% increase, and we did that because we got the review, and that’s a huge win for students.

A: What are the parameters for that review?

R: So we’re in discussion with the University at the moment—

A: But you’ve already voted?

R: We’ve already voted to raise—

A: But you don’t know the parameters of the review.

R: We act on a good faith basis with the University.

J: So when they turn around and say “No, we’re keeping the levy and you have no control over it. We’ve already got a forum in place that takes care of the student voice,” which they are likely to do, what happens then? You’ve already voted for the 4%.

R: I think it’s important not to be too hysterical about this.

J: I think it’s a little bit important to be skeptical of the people who take our money and in many respects have taken our voice away.

R: That’s why it’s really important to run a respectable organisation that takes things seriously and takes itself seriously, and then we can deal with the university in a way they appreciate, so they value our partnership, and we actually negotiate from a place of strength. If we look like idiots, we’ll be treated like idiots.

H: Jackson, you’ve said you’d like to see VUWSA’s $45,000 membership with NZUSA downgraded to associate membership—

J: No no, I suggested that as an option. We’ve seen a lot of organisations withdraw their full membership. I feel like post-VSM when a lot of associations were getting tight for cash, they thought that money was better used elsewhere. I think it’s important to review what NZUSA really has done for us, and whether a cheaper associate membership is a better alternative. I’m not saying that it is,

I’m aware they signed us up to the Keep Our Assets campaign without consulting any Presidents. I don’t think that’s good enough.

R: I was really pissed off when NZUSA did that. But I think NZUSA is incredibly valuable, it fights for students, allowances and loans in a really difficult time with the National government who is cutting loans and allowance entitlements. But NZUSA stuffed up on that one, I was one of the first people to pull them up on that one and say “Hey you haven’t consulted with members or students” and I think this year.

H: Would you consider not being a member?

R: I think it’s such a valuable organisation, we can’t afford not to support it.

H: Is the $45,000 worth it?

R: I think at times its a very difficult thing to fund, especially at the moment with our tight budget. I think at the end of the day I think you’ve got to decide if you’re going to abandon students on allowances, students who are paying their loans off, or if you’re going to back them one hundred per cent. I think at the end of the day, we’ve got to back our students.

A: So we pay this organisation $45,000 that then pretends that all of our students adopted a political stance, which they didn’t. When Salient asked [AUSA President] Arena Williams about it, she said Bridie, the MAWSA President and the [OUSA President] had all been consulted, I don’t want to defame her, but there’s been some serious and suspicious looking confusion there. How do we hold an organisation like that accountable? Are you just going to keep letting them doing this, and assuming our students voice? Are you going to keep paying them $45,000 a year to do it, or are you going to find a way to keep them in check?

R: So, an organisation is going to take positions regardless of whether we’re a member or not, if we pull out they’re still going to say all students stand for x y and z–

A: But if you pull out, they can’t say “VUWSA’s behind us”, because you’re no longer a member.

R: We should be at the table to make sure NZUSA is run as efficiently and as consultatively and as democratically VUWSA is, because we get it right and I think NZUSA can too. If we leave the table, nothing changes.

J: Except for the fact they’ll no longer represent us, so it doesn’t matter. And then maybe we pave the way for a more efficient national voice.

R: I thought you were advocating for associate membership, are you proposing we pull out completely?

J: I’m not ruling it out. The way NZUSA stands now, signing us up for things without asking us, they’re essentially a political lobbying group, that in some cases don’t have a mandate to put our name forward for things that they have.

R: If we take one of their positions, for example, opposing allowance and loan changes, did you support or oppose that? Did you find what they do for students finance valuable?

J: Absolutely I find it valuable, but did they succeed?

R: Do you oppose National’s cuts?

J: Yes, one hundred per cent. I oppose any cuts to the tertiary education budget. I think tertiary education is invaluable. But regardless of their political lobbying in that respect, they didn’t achieve anything. They represented us, but the changes went ahead and we’ve still got to deal with them. We’re paying them $45,000 to do that, but how much have they achieved?

You said it’s the rainy days, but it’s getting to the point now where we need to be fiscally efficient, and I don’t know whether a full NZUSA membership is the most efficient thing for this organisation to be doing.

H: Rory, if we need to be efficient and the association is in deficit, why did you urge the executive to pledge $1,000 towards the already foreseeably won marriage equality campaign, without looking at the budget, and to “figure out where it comes from later”.

R: We are not up shit creek, we have reserves, we have trust money, and we also have these contracts which are legitimate if done in the right way. What I said was: to remain relevant to students, an overwhelming amount of whom support marriage equality, I thought it was important to partake in this and stand up for the human rights of our members. I didn’t say we’d “figure it out later.”

H: That is the exact quote from my recording of that executive meeting.

R: Ok, but that would be in the context of when I said: we do have these pots of money, we have funds, we have resourcing, and to remain relevant, all this engagement we’re talking about, let’s do something!

H: Several members expressed concern over whether it was responsible to exceed the budget.

R: Lets look at this in context, it was Pride Week, which didn’t receive anywhere near the amount of money its usually allocated, usually there are thousands of dollars dedicated to this–

H: But that’s because VSM has been introduced, and VUWSA has budgeted in light of that, but surely they should stick within that budget.

R: If we want to remain effective and have the membership we want, we actually have to do things. Some may think the best approach is to cut back to the bone and do nothing at all, but I don’t think there’s any point in running an ineffective organisation.

H: VUWSA had already backed the campaign at its AGM last year, and then received support for the Bill at the SGM, would it have been hard to consult the budget before committing funds?

R: I have an intimate knowledge of our books and what’s in there, and I know that we have funds available, we have $1,000,000 in reserves. It’s about standing up for our goals and values.

H: Anything to add Jackson?

J: Yeah I do. To say we should run a campaign and worry about the money later, just because we have some money in the bank, I don’t think that’s very responsible.

H: Lets talk about clubs, you both feel VUWSA involvement with clubs is important. What would you both do to secure clubs back from the University?

R: The governance review kept a clubs and activities officer, which is ambitious considering we no longer run clubs, but we believe we can get clubs back. We need to be in a position where the University respects and trusts our organisation on campus and we can’t do that unless we take ourselves seriously, and our relationship with the University seriously. That means acting in good faith….

J: That’s a nice idea. But I think we should find way to invest in clubs ourselves, this is something I’m obviously not going to be able to do in a year. We can talk for hours about gaining the University’s trust, but the University is control of the SSL, what they’ve done is said: clubs is one of your best services, so we’re taking that from you. We need to look at ways of raising our own money and investing that especially into clubs and rep groups. That’s huge for me.

R: The clubs review, if you read it, actually said that many clubs thought VUWSA was the best place to run those things, it wasn’t ranked the best thing we provide by a long shot, the best things we provide are things like Salient and the food bank–

J: I think a few people being questioned in a small poll aren’t representative of how many people use clubs or what those groups really do for the people that are a part of them. Your clubs review, that’s a nice idea, but when you really go out and get in touch with students, they really do take clubs seriously.

The food bank is a nice thing but there a huge amount of students who don’t use that, but a huge amount of students who do use clubs. The fact that the University is in charge of them now is wrong. We need to take charge of that. If VUWSA isn’t the best place for clubs to be governed then why have a Clubs Officer?

R: As I said, so we can get our things sorted and take it on again–

J: But why do we want to take it on again if people don’t think VUWSA are the best people to run it?

R: Because we were running it wrong.

J: How do we run it right?

A: That’s beyond the scope of this interview.

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  1. Young Man says:

    Jackson Freeman has proved himself to be a worthy candidate for President, much more than Rory McCourt.

    It’s a fresh change from the same old partisan politics which have seen VUWSA become an ineffective organisation which provides nothing of real value to students.

    McCourt is only proposing to tinker with the existing regime. Freeman recognises there is a problem and seems to be prepared to make the big decisions to get the students’ association on the right track again.

    A Brady and Hood voter previously, this election I will vote Freeman.

  2. Stuart says:

    Definately voting Rory having read that. Jackson has some nice sentiments, some of which I agree with, but he doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to run the organization effectively as Rory does. It is important to have some differing opinions in this discussion, but in the end I think Rory has shown he just seems to know the ins and outs better than Jackson does. Obviously Jackson hasn’t had as much of a chance, not being on VUWSA prior, but he should have done his research and come up with plans instead of platitudes if he really deserved my vote.

  3. Buzz Killington says:

    Freeman is a fresh fuzzy face to the table. All around good person that people can relate too and trust. Jackson may of slipped up on a few questions but Rory slipped himself and just started going “lets not get hysterical now” to dodge it. Jackson didnt dodge.

    Good day.

  4. yolo says:

    Voting for Freeman is like voting for the Bill and Ben party in 2008. A good laugh at first…. then you find out half of your vote has gone to a child molester

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