UMSU Elections Rundown: the who and the what of student election season explained

2 September 2019

Well, well, well. It’s that time of year again: student election season. Unfortunately, it’s a time many of us dread. The university grounds become overrun with student politics hopefuls donning an array of coloured shirts and handing out flyers. They’ll be asking for your vote and trying to promote their policies on improving the student experience, and they may even chase you down on your way to class to chew your ear off.

Whether you’re a jaffy, a student on exchange or just on campus for minimum tutorial attendance, the election season can be incredibly confusing. It also doesn’t help when you’re being bombarded with material from countless student factions trying to secure your vote. But don’t fret, Farrago is here to help break down some of the important questions: what even is UMSU? What does it do? And why should you care about student elections?

What the heck is an UMSU?

UMSU stands for the University of Melbourne Student Union, which represents all students who attend the University. The union is designed to maximize the student experience by providing quality facilities, such as clubs, student services, and activism.

The who’s who of UMSU

UMSU is comprised of a bunch of different roles.

The president sits at the top of the UMSU food chain. Their role includes attending lots of meetings with the University and acting as the spokesperson for the union.

The general secretary runs students’ council and handles all things governance.

There are also a number of office bearers, also known as OBs. There are generally two OBs per department, with the exception of Media (that’s us!), which has four.

The Education Department is broken into two offices: Education Public (Ed Pub) and Education Academic (Ed Ac). Ed Pub campaigns around education issues such as Cadmus and cuts to higher education, while Ed Ac advocates for students in matters relating to their studies, such as misconduct hearings.

Activities run all the groovy events you might have been to, like Union House parties, trivia nights and the ever popular ‘Bands, Bevs and BBQ’ on Tuesdays.

The Environment Department are more than just your typical greenies. While they do run campaigns against fossil fuel investment and military groups on campus, they also do a heap of free brekkies (yay for free food!), and just opened a bike collective in Union House.

Welfare is like your uni mum. They run breakfasts in North Court or The Ida every morning, as well as a food bank for students who need items in an emergency. They also advocate for things like better funding for Counselling and Psychological Services.

The Media Department creates this magazine and also runs Radio Fodder. We host launch parties where you can nab a funky magazine as well as some free refreshments and rad tunes.

Clubs and Societies oversees, well, clubs and societies. We have over 200 on campus, so they make sure that clubs are being active and hosting events for students, as well as choosing which new clubs to start up to satisfy student demand.

Creative Arts cultivate and assist student theatre, performance, and art. They put on a variety of arts-related activities and are most known for their production of Mudfest, the largest student-run creative arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere.

UMSU also has 5 autonomous departments that are run by and advocate for students who identify with these groups. They are Disabilities, Indigenous, People of Colour, Queer and Women’s. The VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) and Burnley campuses provide services and advocacy for their students as well.

There are also several positions on the Students’ Council and in numerous committees up for grabs this election. You can find a comprehensive list here.

Key Players in UMSU elections

Stand Up! is the largest and most dominant faction in the realm of student politics on campus, and is contesting the most positions of any ticket this year.

Pride in (Y)our Collectives is the new faction on the block, and was formed by members of the now-dissolved faction More! They’re contesting all the autonomous departments and the Environment Department.

There are also smaller factions, which include the Left Action (Socialist Alternative), Independent Media and Just Clubs Just Activities, who are all eyeing off various positions. From year to year, you’ll notice a number of independents and other small tickets contesting positions too.

How to vote

This year, the election will take place from the 2nd to the 6th of September. During that time, you can visit a polling booth at any of the following locations:

  • Bailieu Library
  • Union House
  • FBE Building
  • Stop 1
  • Murrup Barak (open Tuesday, Wednesday)
  • Southbank (open Tuesday–Thursday)
  • Burnley (open Wednesday, Thursday)

Most polling stations open around 10–11am and close around 5–6pm.

When you’re at the booth, you’ll receive a bunch of pages relating to each of the different positions. You do not need to fill in the ballot on every page for your vote to count, but you’re encouraged to. Towards the end, you’ll find several pages for the autonomous departments we discussed earlier. You are only able to vote for these positions if you identify as part of those groups.

A somewhat confusing part of the UMSU elections is that they use optional preferential voting. If you’ve never voted in your local, state or federal election, you might not have come across this type of voting system before—it essentially means there are a few different ways you can vote in the election. You can preference one or some of the candidates, or you can preference them all. Both methods are equally valid.

But… will my vote actually mean something?

It will, and if you don’t believe me, then you should read Megan Hanrahan’s article about the history of UMSU. The ‘Melbourne University Union’ was created in the 1880s to “[promote] the common interests of students, provide resources for pursuing public life and assist social interactions between its members”. At the time, women staff and students could not participate in any activities, nor contribute significantly to the management of the union, so in 1888, they created their own group called the Princess Ida Club.

In the early 2000s, the union (called the Melbourne University Student Union Incorporated or MUSUi, due to mergers and takeovers) became embroiled in corruption and undemocratic elections. In 2004, MUSUi was liquidated by the Supreme Court.

The union we have today is the result of over 130 years of change—development, and downfall—which has happened off the back of students. While it was segregated in the past, students of myriad backgrounds now have a part to play in the upcoming (and thoroughly democratic) election process. The inclusivity that the Union has gained over many decades makes your role all the more significant, because every single vote enables more voices to be heard, more issues to be tackled, and more feedback to be received.

Aside from knowing a bit more about UMSU, the most important takeaway from this article should be that there’s no student union without students. Hence, it is your role to enable an even more wholesome student union by voting. Every student’s role in the election is significant. Also, the free student BBQs, carnivals and parties that magically pop up throughout the year? They are all there because UMSU provides them for you. So, unless you wrote this letter, make sure to give UMSU some love by voting come September!

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