Still Standing After Narrow Election Result

31 October 2012

Afer that brief period when colour-coded candidates wave flyers at students walking into the Baillieu (a.k.a. election week), University of Melbourne Student Union (UMS) office bearers, students’ council and committee members for 2013 have been elected.

Stand Up! won the ballot by a very narrow margin, with about 51 per cent of formal votes for the Presidential position. They will maintain their current position of power against major opposition NOW!, who received 49 per cent.

Polling took place during Week Seven (3 to 7 September), during which candidates spent hours campaigning outside Baillieu Library, Union House and he ICT Building, as well as at the VCA and Burnley campuses. In total, 3,342 students voted in the election–more than last year, when the turnout was 2,916.

Stand Up! Presidential candidate Kara Hadgraft, who won with 1,487 total votes, said she was “really excited and just optimistic” about her upcoming term.

“I’m really excited for next year and already we’ve sort of hit the ground running, talking about a couple of plans.”

Charles Richardson, Returning Officer for the elections, commented that while there were no outstanding issues during the week, the close number of votes between the two major parties meant that “counting took a bit longer than it usually would because we had to distribute preferences everywhere and had to take extra care with things.”

He noted that NOW! had been leading for the majority of the campaign. “The right is stronger earlier in the week, and the left is stronger later in the week,” he said. “On the Monday at Union House, for example, we have [Presidential candidates] Kingshott 91 against Hadgraft 64, whereas on the Friday it’s Hadgraft 178 to Kingshott 162.”

“If you were to take out the Friday, then clearly the right would’ve won,” he said.

Richardson also made several rulings throughout the week, including one against NOW! candidate Patrick Crosswell for allegations of sexual harassment.

“It should be stressed to all campaigners that harassment of other participants in the election will not be tolerated. As a senior candidate on his ticket, the Respondent [Crosswell] has to be presumed to be aware of the gravity of his actions,” Richardson’s ruling stated.

NOW! also requested a recount for its Education (Academic Affairs) Officer ticket, which Crosswell was running for, although the outcome remained the same.

Along with the ruling against Crosswell, Richardson made additional rulings throughout the election period, due to incidents such as a potentially racist Facebook comment, and a violation of an election regulation that prohibits “Defacing, mutilating, destroying or removing any election material without the authority of the publisher of that material.”

Hadgraft’s plans for next year include increasing the Union’s reach, as well as improving its brand image.

“My goal is to leave the Union and feel like I’ve extended it in some way and feel that I’ve improved its reach to students and feel that I’ve helped it build into this stronger union of activity and representation,” she said.

Other goals under her presidency include introducing student radio to Melbourne and the ongoing issue of compulsory lecture recordings.

Hadgraft also talked about the stress of campaigning, admitting that it was sometimes “demoralising.”

“People have described it as ‘a week of getting broken up with over and over again!'”

However, she said there were definitely moments of optimism during the campaign.

“When you have those conversations and you turn someone, that sparks the fire that keeps you going for another couple of hours. So it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but it keeps you going.”

NOW! Presidential candidate Isabelle Kingshott declined to comment on the defeat.

Q&A With the President-Elect

How does it feel to have won the UMSU President-elect position for next year?

Relieving! Election week and days following were a bit surreal because you spend months thinking about it, thinking about the election and preparing yourself and being in this state of limbo–not really knowing what the outcome is going to be. Then it all comes to a climax in one week and one evening and the next day you wake up and… it’s all over. It’s super exciting and I’m really excited for next year.

What changes do you plan on making to the union and/or student life next year?

One of the big changes we want to work through is part of the [Union] restructure that’s been occurring. Part of that will be developing a stronger brand for the Union so that people know when there’s an event on that it’s run by the Union.

One of the things I really want to look at next year is how we can increase the reach of the Union, because at the moment we do focus so much of our energy around the Union building and this end of the campus. [We’re] trying to get things happening both south of Grattan Street and also at the VCA.

How did you get involved in student politics?

I’m motivated by the role of the union in being able to advocate on behalf of students… I [also] love clubs and societies and I love the opportunities that the Union can provide for this sort of sense of community and way to get involved, no matter what your interest is.

Do you have any advice for students that are interested in getting involved but don’t really know how?

I say a good way firstly is to find clubs and societies that interest you. Otherwise, get involved in collectives. The most important thing to do is ask. Send an email, knock on one of our doors, and be persistent, because sometimes we forget and don’t get back to people!

Is there anything particular you want students to know?

If you are having difficulty and you do have a problem or have a question, just ask someone because there’s no point sitting at home going, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know who to go to”. Just ask.

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