Meet Conor Barnes (he/him), the UMSU presidential candidate for the brand new ticket of ‘Rebuild’.
Meet Conor Barnes (he/him), a second year Bachelor of Arts student, and the UMSU presidential candidate for the brand new ticket of ‘Rebuild’. Conor’s major focus as President is to create a “fresh start” for UMSU, and focus on tackling problems that directly impact students.
Farrago sat down with Barnes to find out more about his presidential campaign in the upcoming UMSU Elections and his vision for the Union in 2023.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
FARRAGO: Who/what is Rebuild? What inspired the formation of this ticket?
Our real trigger was the problems with the Clubs and Societies system at the University of Melbourne (as) many of us are on committees or on the executive of clubs. And we’d had a lot of issues this year, especially with long wait times, with getting responses from the C&S office, we found out that new applications for new clubs had been suspended this semester … So that’s what instigated our run for UMSU. Then we developed a whole suite of policies based upon our experiences as a diverse group of students at the University of Melbourne
FARRAGO: How many people are in your ticket, and which positions are they running for?
Six. Running for President, International Students Representative on Council, General Representatives on Council, University Council member and NUS delegate.
FARRAGO: What are three of the main issues you wish to tackle as president?
First of all, we obviously want to extend the free tram zone to Melbourne Uni. We’ve got a great plan for that, speaking to a lot of international students, especially those who live within student accommodation in the city, this is a big issue. And we’ve got a whole raft of public transport policies as well, including expanding concession cards to international and grad students. And allowing for student cards to be used as valid proof of student status on public transport. Another one of our key policies is to extend the Unimelb gym’s opening hours to be from 6am till midnight, seven days a week … because going into COVID there was a restriction on the opening hours, especially on the weekend, and now that we are leaving the COVID lockdown era, those opening hours haven’t been restored.
I’d say maybe a third key flagship issue for us is to make Melbourne Uni a climate positive campus by 2025, going beyond net zero to actually remove Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere.
FARRAGO: If you could summarise your one overall goal for UMSU, what would that be?
To make the Student Union work for the students
FARRAGO: What is the first thing that you intend to do when you get into office?
The first thing we will do is contact Lord Mayor Sally Capp, and the RMIT Student Union and write out a joint campaign to extend the free tram zone to Melbourne Uni. Both those key stakeholders are already on board with a plan to extend the free tram zones to cover the Parkville campus. If we managed to win the election we would love for that to be the first thing for us to do
FARRAGO: Rebuild is a completely new ticket for 2022. Why do you think students will vote for you, compared to the well-known, established tickets, such as Stand Up! And Community?
I think we’ve got really great practical policies for students, like, when you look at any of the other major tickets, mainly Community and Stand Up!, they offer just meaningless platitudes. You can tell by the fact that there is such low voter turnout, traditionally in UMSU elections, that people aren’t motivated by the policies that traditional tickets are putting out. If you look at, for instance, Community’s environmental policy, it’s just to amplify the voices of students to University management, and to divest from fossil fuels. They’ve run on the same campaign for the last ten years to divest from fossil fuels. Nothing’s been done about it. In fact, the University promised to completely divest by 2021. And clearly the established tickets have not yet held the University accountable on that. We feel that we’ve actually got a practical, tangible plan, investment in rooftop solar and batteries, which would decarbonise our electricity supply (etc.). I think that that’s sort of the key thing. We've got really attention grabbing policies that students can see how they can work.
FARRAGO: How has the student response to Rebuild been, so far?
I think it's been really strong. Like, just as an example, we've been standing outside the Beaurepaires Centre handing out how to vote cards, and we get so many people who are like, “I'm voting for Rebuild purely for that gym policy.” There are so many high-intentioned voters who feel that they have just been left out, who don’t traditionally even vote in student elections, who see our policies around (in this case) gym opening hours, and see that we're actually offering a real substantive improvement in student experience for them.
FARRAGO: UniMelb is notorious for, at times, having a hotly divided Student Union. How do you intend to negotiate the conflicting desires of the uni factions if you are to get into office?
I'd say our ticket more than any other is not as factional as a Stand Up! or Community. We don’t have any “factional overlords” or any sort of political obligations to any particular party. So we're completely open to working with any student interest group, or political faction on Students’ Council. It is also key to point out that clearly they (UMSU) actually aren’t that divided, especially this year, it seems that (other parties) had some sort of factional deal and divvied up the office bearer positions that they’re running for. So I would say definitely, based on that, it clearly is achievable to work together. I'd say that's the approach that we would take.
The key thing is we will listen to all the factions [however] it all depends on who is elected to Students’ Council. We’re open to talking to any group, I know for instance, there are groups like Socialist Alternative (SAlt) [that] might be less keen to negotiate, with, say for instance, the Labor Right faction. But we're completely open to negotiating with anyone. That’s the way that we’d go about it.
FARRAGO: To end, what do you believe is the single biggest issue facing UMSU at this point in time?
I would say the single biggest issue is that the major tickets, the establishment have taken students for granted. We actually want to have policies that really change students' lives for the better. We don’t want to just pass policy motions that are purely symbolic on the Students’ Council. We want to get real practical change happening. We’re not about doing things that just sound good and feel good, [but instead] tangibly affect the student experience. Our key focus is to ensure that the Student Union gets back to working for students.
To find Farrago’s other interview with Community for UMSU candidate Hibatallah (Hiba) Adam, click here.
Independents for Student Democracy’s candidate, Elizabeth Riley, was not available for an interview.