A Breakdown of the LTSA Candidates Forum: 13th September 2021

The second election for the LTSA Bundoora Student Council kicked off this Monday. In a year rife with controversy and uproar over inaction, this LTSA Election is sure to be a contentious one.

An open Student Forum for candidates to outline their election platform and answer questions was held, but it was not the candidates’ capabilities in question. The LTSA’s inability to adequately represent students overwhelmingly dominated the discussion.

It was confirmed by the Returning Officer that Jedd Dryden, a candidate in the election, attended the forum but requested to be removed from the speaking list, and not take questions from the audience. His candidate statement interestingly promised “an open-door policy for all students.”

You can read all of the candidate’s statements here. https://aqe.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Policy-Statements-Bundoora-LTSA-Sept-2021-v2.pdf

The Bundoora Student Council is the only SRC to hold an election, as every other council failed to receive enough nominations to fill their vacancies. So few students outside Bundoora sought to engage with LTSA in these elections that nominees were simply handed positions. The Shepparton Student Council had six positions up for grabs, but received zero nominations; and City Campus, with nine vacancies, only saw two nominations – both were appointed without a single student vote.

Democracy has never been a strength of the LTSA – and so it appears – neither is student engagement. Isn’t this proof enough to reflect the dire perception the wider student body has about LTSA?

It was clear from the outset that the candidates were frustrated with the structural issues and lack of transparency in the LTSA. Eric Seychell began his statement by highlighting the disproportionate voting power in the LTSA: “Bundoora students don’t have a fair say.” He elaborated that under this system, a single Mildura student has 50 times the power and allocated budget that Bundoora students do.

“It is unfair and unjust.”

Candidate Nicholas Ball outlined his vision for student representation in the future: “students [should be] in the driver’s seat” and “advocating for their own issues.” In the current structure of the LTSA, the Governing Board and six-figure-CEO have the final say over all student matters.

Clare Elliot’s position is that a student body should be “respected, empowered and encouraged” by their representatives. This follows a long history of the Bundoora Student Council repeatedly having its decisions undermined and vetoed by an unsupportive Board.

The rhetoric of the LTSA being an ‘apolitical’ organisation has previously been used to justify expelling elected student councillors, rejecting BSC’s motions, and the lack of action on staff and course cuts. The candidates expressed feeling “constrained” within the current model of the LTSA, further stating “[students] should have the power to fight.”  Nicholas commented on the disastrous impact of the LTSA choosing to not stand for students. “There’s no choice to be apolitical – you can choose to not be interested in politics, but you cannot choose to not be affected by it”.

In remaining silent, the LTSA embodies the definition of what it means to be political. Both in their feigned impartiality and dictatorial action of quieting dissent in the Bundoora Student Council earlier this year.

The controversial University restructure proposal, which will see countless staff jobs and students courses cut, was a significant point of discussion during the forum. The staff cuts felt like rubbing salt on an open wound as the LTSA claims to ‘make student lives better’ when their silence has enabled a loss of valuable staff and a reduction in the quality of education. A bit hypocritical if you ask us!

The four candidates at the forum agreed that the LTSA should have taken a stand against the university. Perhaps if students had any control over the LTSA’s initiatives and cause, action would have happened.

The LTSA also came under fire last month for trivialising student poverty by making them compete for welfare payments in a ‘hunger games’ style competition. Lukas Jamieson spoke passionately on the grossly comedic aid coming from a ‘student’ organisation. “Not giving food vouchers to students in need, but making them compete for it … is a perfect example.” As if to add fuel to an already raging fire, the LTSA even attempted to charge students a $5 fee to be eligible for financial relief. 

“Support [from the LTSA] is nowhere to be found.”

Eric commented on the continued mockery of students’ financial situation, and that he was gravely “concerned with the recent actions of the LTSA [as] playing games with students’ lives.” From both our standpoints and those of the candidates, the very nature of this ‘help’ was painfully out of touch with the financial situation of so many students, as well as downright offensive.

Students don’t need Zoom Yoga or Trivia. We need to be listened to appropriately as we are the “shareholders in this company” and the one’s most impacted by the LTSA’s policy.

Clare worded it simply, “the entire purpose of the LTSA is to represent students,” and they have “failed to do this at every opportunity.”

The lack of transparency from the Board has been a point of controversy since the creation of the LTSA, and was again discussed in this forum. From secretive meetings to refusing to release their financial documents, the Board has shown a trend to repeatedly shy away from all accountability – and students are sick of it. Each candidate pledged to hold the Board accountable if elected.

Questions posed to the panel of candidates also concerned dubious spending habits of the LTSA – including $56,000 in marketing and $900 on a limousine company. Lukas emphasises that SSAF ought to be spent on “what students actually want and…need” rather than on advertising for the University’s second PR firm.

This was also followed up by Clare, who reminded panellists and students that “$9,000 more [was] spent on furthering their own agenda rather than on student services” that could’ve been used to improve living conditions and student welfare on residency, across all campuses, particularly during harsh lockdowns.

Overall, the performance of the LTSA during its time as student representation has frankly been underwhelming. Students need and deserve to be respected by their representatives.

The structure of the LTSA means that the campus Student Councils have little to no power and all actionable decisions are controlled by the Governing Board of Directors. No wonder so few people wanted to nominate for a Council position; they’re effectively useless!

If you’re passionate about creating a positive difference at La Trobe, you won’t be able to achieve that in the LTSA.

In the words of Nicholas Ball, the LTSA merely provides students “a tokenistic taste of student representation.” Whilst the staff behind the LTSA continue to run amuck in the disinterest of students.

“I want to be on the side of student activism, not staff lead corruption.”

How to Vote

A ballot link was sent to student emails. Voting closes at 2pm on Friday the 17th of September. The results of the election will be announced Friday evening.

A recording of the Student Forum can be found here. https://aqe.com.au/elections/2021ltsa_sept/

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