With Guild Elections coming to an end, outgoing President Liam O’Neill admits his party relies on people voting for their friends to maintain power.
Speaking to Grok, the current Illuminate leader said personal connections bring most of the party’s votes.
“Basically, the way we do it is that we rely on the fact that we have friends on this campus, and a lot of people who are coming to vote are coming to vote for their friend, which will predominantly include one of the Councillor candidates” he said.
“They will probably then vote for that person and maybe distribute some preferences … amongst the other Illuminate candidates.”
Being able to pull more friends to the ballot box can make a big difference in Guild elections, with only 937 students voting last year—around 0.01 per cent of the total student population.
Left Action candidate Erin Russell said taking this approach reduces the election to a “friendship competition”.
“Ordinary students across the campus should have the chance to make an informed decision about who they want in their Guild based on the political differences between the two main parties,” she said.
“It shouldn’t just be an internal friendship clique who know the elections are happening.”
The mateship hive-mind
O’Neill said Illuminate’s approach isn’t as bad as it sounds though, since he believes most people are friends with like-minded people.
“If you’re coming to vote for your friend, your friend probably has very similar policies to what you would,” he said.
“I would find it quite unusual to have a friend who has some policy ideas that you’re completely opposed to.
Russell said she’s seen first-hand that this isn’t the case.
“I don’t agree that students automatically agree with the platform of their friend’s party,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Illuminate councillors’ friends this week who didn’t know what Left Action stands for at all and liked what we stood for, saying they’d vote for our councillors and NUS delegates alongside voting for their friend.”
That’s a criticism O’Neill strongly denied, instead suggesting Left Action’s candidates are jealous and could be members of “a cult”.
“It is not my problem that Left Action’s candidates do not have friends at this University,” he said.
“Illuminate’s candidates come from all walks of life and many are from leading clubs and societies and other groups on campus.
“Unfortunately, almost all of Left Action’s candidates are part of Socialist Alternative, which is alleged in a number of publications to be a cult.”
That’s a claim Russell strongly denied.
“I think that’s just petty slander that is incredibly disrespectful to our candidates as it implies they have somehow been duped into joining something they disagree with,” she said.
“It’s disappointing that our opponents would rather sling mud and make personal insults than debate out a strategy for Guild.
“We chose our candidates on their political principles and history of standing up for students and social justice, and we get our votes by convincing ordinary students that we need activists like us in the Guild.”
Russell also said her party’s socialist roots haven’t been kept under wraps.
“Yes—our candidates are socialists. We haven’t tried [to] hide that at all in this election,” she said.
“We think having socialists around is essential right now … Successive Liberal and Labor governments have attempted major cuts to higher education, wages aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living, and welfare payments are woefully inadequate.
“Socialist ideas cut against this, encouraging people to fight for a better world and not be complacent with the status quo.
“Having socialists in the Guild will mean there are activists independent from major political parties who will actually fight to defend education regardless of which party is in government.”
This year’s election sees 32 Illuminate candidates standing for 10 Guild Councillor positions, leaving only four other contenders—Dylan Botica from Feudalist Alternative; and Russell, Caitlin Egloff-Barr, and Scott Sandon from Left Action.
Illuminate’s tactic of flooding the ballot has attracted stern criticism from Left Action, who labelled the approach a “pyramid scheme”.
“It’s where tickets attempt to run as many people as possible for Guild Council; as in, running more people than there are spots, so people in your own party are competing with each other,” Russell said.
“It’s a way to ensure that the votes for those councillors flow up to the top OB [office bearer] positions.
“It has extra benefits as well, such as having a higher spending limit for your ticket’s material and generally having more campaigners out during polling week.
“It’s a dirty tactic and clearly makes it harder for minor parties to win positions.”
O’Neill rejected that proposition, and said Left Action was trying to justify their low numbers.
“The claim of a pyramid scheme is an excuse by Left Action for the fact that nobody wants to run with them because their ideas and values do not match those of the Curtin student community, being from the 1930’s when Trotsky and Stalin battled it out for control of the USSR,” he said.
But Russell said Left Action is in line with students’ beliefs.
“Our ticket is running on the basis of stopping trimesters, stopping continuous cuts to education on campus and opposing government attacks on student rights and higher education funding,” she said.
“We think that lines up pretty well with the interests of Curtin students.”
Russell also said the number of candidates could confuse students already disinterested in student politics.
“Many students aren’t aware of the fundamental difference between Illuminate and Left Action, that we’re a minor party, or that there are two different parties who run in the election at all,” she said.
“To suggest that students can choose one Illuminate councillor over another in order to choose how their Guild will be run next year ignores the fact that they’re a party with a shared project and orientation to the Guild.”
O’Neill said the decision to run so many candidates wasn’t motivated by power, but instead by giving students more choice.
“I think having a diverse ticket with people from different backgrounds and different ideas of what the Guild should be helps Illuminate be a diverse and representative ticket,” he said.
“It is very difficult, [as] you could imagine to choose between 32 people as to which 10 are going to be Illuminate Councillor candidates, and what we do instead is … put that out open slather to the Curtin community and have them decide who they want to represent them from amongst our team.”
Voting concludes today, at 4pm, with the result to be advised within two weeks of polls closing.