The Guild Election is still open for on-campus voting up until 4 pm today. Get to know who will be representing you in the Guild next year as the Vice President, Education.
Madison Ainsworth on the left and Robert Vusak on the right.
- What has been your most memorable experience during your time at Curtin?
Madison Ainsworth – One of my favourites and most memorable experiences at Curtin is when I was a psych first-year mentor. It was as simple as seeing those first years altogether, on campus, in a lecture hall with every seat filled. It was a fantastic experience being prepared to help some of those students and was my first experience in both a leadership capacity and as a part of Curtin University beyond being a student.
Robert – In 2020, Left Action organised some lively and passionate demonstrations against the university administration’s plans to cut $41 million from the staff budget. In one of these, we led a crowd of at least 200 students and staff into the Chancellery Building, to loudly chant and demand that they drop the plans. That would probably have to be it. It was a great demonstration of the power the student body holds.
Unfortunately, however, we were unable to grow the campaign enough to change the admin’s minds. Perhaps if the full force of the Guild had been mobilised to aid the campaign we could have.
- Who is your role model in terms of leadership?
Madison Ainsworth – Greta Thunburg. Despite being so young, Greta has done some amazing things. I look up to her and her ability to get such a large audience to care about an issue that truly needs to be addressed. She has no fear to call out wrongdoings where she has the ability and has rallied so many people to challenge some of the most powerful people in the world.
Robert – I look to people who stand in defiance against the anti-human policies of our government. Kokilapathmapriya Nadesalingam – who goes by Priya, is a prime example. She and her Tamil refugee family were forced from their home in Biloela, Queensland, in 2018 and forced into Australia’s torturous detention regime. She has been a brave fighter for freedom since her life in Sri Lanka, where the military murdered so many of her family and friends. She eventually managed to flee to Australia where she met Nades Murugappan, another Tamil refugee from a similar background, and started a family with him. Priya and her family have put up heroic resistance to our government’s many attempts at deporting them and have refused to give up.
- How would you define the role of VP for Education?
Madison Ainsworth – I define the position of VPE as a position that has heavy interaction with university staff, one that requires an ability to stand up for what students need and take issues beyond boardrooms when sit-downs don’t work. Beyond that, the VPE is responsible for the well-being and management of the Guilds faculty and equity representatives.
Robert – The Vice President for education should be an activist position; it should organise protest campaigns involving students in fighting the vice-chancellor when they cut staff and courses. In the context of today’s situation at Curtin, the Ed VP should be doing everything they can to organise a protest campaign to push against online learning, fight future cuts to staff and courses, and stand against trimesters if the university tries to bring them in. However, of course, this is contested. Some would see the role as being primarily preoccupied with lobbying the university bureaucracy. I see this as a dead-end strategy that will only waste students’ time.
- What differences can you make to the position you are campaigning for this year?
Madison Ainsworth – I plan to get more students interacting with student politics and to have meetings with students periodically to ensure that I am fully up to date on a wider range of experiences on campus. Additionally, if successful in the role of Vice President of Education I will endeavour to make students learning experiences more accessible and equitable.
Robert – I feel that I have the politics needed to use the position as an activist force that can take the education campaign forward. Left Action members have played important roles in activist campaigns in the past. Last year we led the protest campaign in opposition to the university’s $41 million staff cuts. In 2014 we were central to the Perth wing of the national education campaign that defeated the Liberals when they tried to triple the cost of degrees. A few years back we stopped literary and cultural studies from getting cut. And we’ve also organised against climate change and racism. Last year Left Action used its positions within the National Union of Students to call Black Lives Matter protests, for example. This is the political approach that I will seek to bring to Curtin.
- What are the most pressing issues in education for the student community? And what are your plans to improve that?
Madison Ainsworth – Here at Curtin one of our largest education-based struggles is moving away from online learning. It’s not something students want – we have been extremely clear on that – but many lectures and tutorials do not have an in-person option.
To make sure that students health is safe in this COVID-impacted world I propose tutorials and workshops having more class time options with a smaller class limit and having opt-in in-person lectures for students that engage and learn better in person, and for staff who miss seeing our smiling faces!
Robert – I think it’s the anti-education policies that are being pursued by the university administration. Last year they cut $41 million from the staff budget, they have also increased class sizes, put staff members under more stress, and are trying to push more unit content online. I think it’s very likely they’ll be looking to cut units and staff shortly, especially from the humanities. Student activists have to fight this as stridently as possible. We can’t achieve that by meeting with the admin behind closed doors and politely asking them to change their minds. They stand to make millions of dollars from these decisions. They will only ever back down in the face of a big, angry public pressure campaign involving hundreds of students and staff members.
- Have you ever been involved in the Guild? If yes, how long, and what roles have you played? If not, what do you think of the current Guild?
Madison Ainsworth – 2021 has been my first year involved with student politics and the Curtin Student Guild. This year I have had the honour of being the Humanities Faculty Representative which allowed me to attend protests, communicate the stresses and issues of students to staff, handle serious issues, and meet my fantastic peers in the Humanities Faculty and be amazed in so many ways by their endurance, their dedication, and their talent.
Robert – I’ve been a member of the Guild since my first year at Curtin in 2019. In that time, I’ve become a member of the Guild Council. In the Council, I’ve had to fight an uphill battle against right-wing forces from the other ticket. Just recently, a push was made from them to lay the groundwork for disaffiliating the Curtin Guild from the National Union of Students (NUS), this utterly despicable move would set back progressive campaigns across the country and would leave Curtin students isolated from other campuses, unable to organise coordinated political campaigns with them. Left Action representatives were the only ones to seriously challenge this.
- What are your 2022 goals?
Madison Ainsworth – My 2022 goals are to increase my interaction with the Curtin student body, improve the quality and accessibility of our education, make it clear the dissatisfaction and irritation of the student body to Curtin management (whether that be peaceful or not is up to them), and ensure that Curtin students have a good place to study and interact now that the library renovations will be ongoing for longer than first anticipated.
Robert – One thing that I would like to do in 2022 is organising a movement to challenge the influence of fossil fuel companies on campus. The engineering and science departments are dominated by investments from fossil fuel companies, especially Chevron and Woodside. They influence what is taught, what is researched, and what internships and industry connections are offered to students. Companies that are responsible for the destruction of the environment, and for the oncoming climate disaster have bought and paid their way into Curtin and deserve nothing more than to be driven out.
- If you could be the vice-chancellor for a day, what would you do?
Madison Ainsworth –I would increase the money going to Curtin Counselling and ensure that wait times are no longer such an unreasonable length. I would also begin the process to make Curtin more accessible to its students. We are simply not accessible enough! Entryways are too small, getting around campus without encountering an incline with the only option being stairs is rarer than seeing a unicorn, and our classroom layouts are extremely distracting and overly stimulating for people-such as myself-that have issues with excess stimulus. This leads to poorer attendance and poorer grades, and are all things that can, and need, to be fixed!
Robert – Well, if I was offered the position of Vice-Chancellor, I would have to decline. I have no desire to be in a position that would force me to put the profit-seeking agenda of the administration above the interests of staff and students.
- What do you know about Grok and how would you help promote the affairs of Grok in promoting the voices of students?
Madison Ainsworth – My understanding of Grok is that they are a student-run magazine that is produced by the Curtin Student Guild. They report on things from environmental issues and activism to the many issues with CellOPark, and even the Guild elections. As a Humanities student studying Professional Writing and Publishing, I appreciate the important role GROK has in informing the students of Curtin on issues, as well as providing them with a voice. If successfully elected I look forward to working with GROK editors and contributors to ensure that the magazine is given the support it needs to continue its vital role in our university. I will also work to ensure that GROK is fully funded and promoted and continues to be able to provide students with relevant and interesting student-made articles.
Robert – I think it’s great that Grok exists. Students need their publication to politically cohere campaigns and to put forward a student perspective on wider political issues. In the 60s and 70s, Grok enabled students to write articles denouncing the imperialist war in Vietnam and the conscription of young men to fight in it. Articles in Grok also regularly championed gay rights in a time when homosexuality was still criminalised and highly controversial in wider society. I would like to see Grok stick to these roots as a voice for radicalism and student power.
- What are your thoughts on the current Australian politics and government?
Madison Ainsworth – We are in shambles. It’s just horrifying! The Australian government’s response to COVID is a perfect example. Our vaccines were not as promised, the rest of Australia is suffering terribly, and while relatively safe in WA our prime minister mocks us, comparing us to cavemen that need to learn to live with a deadly pandemic!
In education, politics students are under constant attack with fees hiking higher and higher as the government subsidies shrink lower and lower, with Education Minister Dan Tehan openly admitting that the government is actively trying to turn students away from studying the same degrees that gave most political figures their degrees.
It’s horrifying and something that I aspire to make a positive change in.
Robert – To me, the key defining factor of Australian politics is the total consensus across the major parties on virtually every issue of any real importance. What is Labor’s climate policy? More jobs in coal mines, ask big businesses to invest in renewables. Virtually indistinguishable from the Liberals. Do you think the Liberals are bad when it comes to refugee policy? It was Labor who built the offshore detention facilities in the first place, and Labor has upheld the detention regime every step of the way. But of course, let’s not forget about the Liberal Party’s horrific track record. They were the party that invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, massively expanded offshore detention, denied climate change, underfunded firefighting services, and failed to control COVID. Neither of these parties should represent any hope for genuine progressives.
- What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?
Madison Ainsworth – Quite simply- Trump shouldn’t have been elected. He is a racist, sexist, misogynistic brute without the ability to see outside of his narrow scope of a man with enough money and influence to never need to truly work or talk to anyone outside of his tax bracket.
Trump influenced so many people so negatively to ignore scientific advice about COVID, which led to so many deaths and hardships.
I believe that Trump should be held accountable for all of his actions and see the repercussions in full.
Robert – Trump? That’s old news. We hate Biden now.
This article is part of a Grok article series for the Guild Election this year.
Learn more about the elections
For more Guild Election information, visit the Guild website and follow @curtinguild on social media. Also, stay tuned for more election coverage on Grok!