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PULP INTERVIEWS: Tom Manousaridis

PULP INTERVIEWS: Tom Manousaridis

By Pulp Editors

We interviewed 8 of the 9 candidates in the running for USU board, asking them the same 7 questions about their thoughts on the USU and their reasons for running. We also asked a number of spicy political questions, as well as some relating to their policies. The full, un-edited transcript of each interview will be published over the next week in order of the ballot, so you’ll never be without juicy election content. Here’s Tom.

PM: Please state your name, degree, political faction (if any) and the year you’re in.

TM: Cool! So I am Tom Manousaridis, I am studying a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws, I am a member of Student Unity and I am in my third year.

PM: Why do you want to run for Board?

TM: The age old question! I found it a bit hard to quantify this when I was thinking I was going to be asked it, but I guess for me, since the first day I started at Uni the Union has kind of given me all of the amazing things that come from Uni that are outside of the classroom. Essentially all of the friends that I made, all of the social networks I’ve built up have been through the Union in some way. Whether that be through clubs and societies, whether that be through meeting friends at Courtyard or other USU outlets and just hanging out there, and to me that’s the best part about uni life. I wanted to give back to an organisation which has given me so much, and I guess I have done that through my experience working on club and society execs and through working for the USU as well and I think through that experience and through my attachment to it I think I have seen what I think is really really great about the Union, but I’ve also seen what things could be better. So I think that’s probably why I wanted to run in the first place.

PM: Why do you think you’ll be a good Board Director?

TM: Sure. I think experience and dedication, if I’m going to summarise it in that way. I think that I definitely have substantial experience on Club and Society execs, I’ve been the treasurer of a few societies, like SHADES for example, as well as the Mental Health Awareness Society, and other societies like that. I was the campus activity coordinator this year- unfortunately I did have to resign once I nominated, but doing things like helping plan behind the scenes at Pride Week was incredible, and such a good experience. Helping out with the welcome activities that the International Department’s program runs, which was amazing as well- so I guess having that sort of hands on and behind the scenes knowledge of how the USU works in that regard. I also think that I am quite dedicated to the role, because obviously it is a two year term, and that’s not something that someone putting their hand up to run for such a large and important organisation should take lightly and I think that I would be completely dedicated to the organisation, if I do get the chance to serve on Board.

PM: What are your three most important policies?

TM: Always a tough one, so I’ve sort of broken down my policy statement into three major parts, so putting clubs on top, putting student welfare on top and putting campus life on top. For me, student welfare is sort of at the forefront of everything I’ve done both working, or my experience with the USU and also when I was on the SRC from 2017 to 2018 as well. So I guess for me, my three most important ones would probably be: I really want to establish an affordable food outlet on campus, with capped meal pricing to ensure that everyone can actually get a meal at uni without having to pay like $10, $12 for a pizza, or something which isn’t completely healthy either. Something I also really want to be able to is to establish more study spaces through USU dedicated rooms, by temporarily transferring them and transforming them into desk and chair spaces where students can go because Fisher and the lawbry and all the other libraries are completely packed during exam times. The third one is probably a little bit deviated from student welfare but focusing more on the performing arts societies which give so much life to the USU and students such as the revue societies, SUDS, MUSE, those different types of societies, working with them a little bit closer and rearranging funding a bit for them because obviously their situation is a lot different to other societies on campus. So prioritising them in terms of funding and venues and making sure that they get the best chance to thrive as societies.

PM: What would you say the most important function of the USU is, in student and campus life?

TM: I guess giving students an opportunity to foster networks and to feel like they’re a part of something. I mean obviously we have two student unions at USyd, the SRC and the USU and I think that they both serve two very important but two different functions. I view the SRC as a fantastic activist and also student welfare body, primarily an activist body, whereas I see the USU as a, yes student welfare, and in a sense activist, but also an organisation which gives students the opportunity to thrive in ways outside of the classroom.

PM: If you had to cut $1 million from the USU budget, where would you cut it from?

TM: That is so tough! I think if I were to have to, I mean obviously there are a few things that I would not compromise on, for example making sure that the staff at the USU are not- like that million dollars doesn’t cut any employees or their pay, super, entitlements, anything like that. Student programs I think should not be touched, the funding, because as I said I think that’s probably the most important function and role that the USU serves. I guess if we’re looking at it from departmental breakdown I’d probably say from like sales, marketing and infrastructure, if we could take a million out of the budget from there I think that would probably- look, this is never going to be a good situation and I would hope that this decision would never ever have to be made and that the USU would be financially stable enough to do this, but I think if there were ever to be a place where you could take it from, without it affecting students and the staff of the USU, in such a dramatic manner, I think that would probably be the best place to take it from.

PM: What are the worst failings of the current Board, and the things you’ve most admired?

TM: Sure! I mean we’ll start with the negative, get that part out of the way. I mean obviously this year a major contentious issue which I’ve dealt with as treasurer of SHADES has been the changes to funding of events, I think that was probably the biggest failure of the Board. I don’t want to put the blame entirely on the Board, I think that there were a lot of different processes, or a lot of different people, that this funding change went through. However ultimately the Board are responsible for the organisation, and all of the decisions that the organisation makes, so I think that this is the biggest failing. I think it’s the biggest failing because there was very little consultation with the people this would be affecting, both club and society execs and students. It has completely changed the way that clubs and societies have to operate financially, there was quite little transparency in the process, and the information session, which outlined the new funding requirements and arrangements for how events would be funded, was only done on the Monday of Welcome Week, which in fairness its summer, and people are away with their families, so I understand the tight schedule they were working under, and having to liaise with the University and different bodies, but I think that it could have been done a lot sooner, and it should have been done a lot sooner, because whilst it was great that we had that information on that Monday, in order to cope financially with that change, changes needed to be made for membership fees and obviously that requires a general meeting which obviously requires two weeks notice within semester so we didn’t really get that opportunity. So I think that’s probably what I would say is the failing of the Board. To their credit, the Board have introduced free Access! Which I would say is an amazing thing in terms of getting as many people involved with the Union as possible, I think that is a fantastic first step to making the USU as accessible to everyone as possible, however that again ties in with the failing, which I think over the next two years the board that’s elected this year will have to really work hard, and work collaboratively with students and staff of the USU to make sure that, whilst we now have free access, how are we going to make sure that the costings of things aren’t going to be put down on to students.

PM: In 2017 the Board voted against shutting down the USU’s commercial operations in solidarity with the NTEU staff strikes. Where the NTEU to call a similar strike during your term as board director, would you vote to close down operations for the period of the strike in solidarity, or keep them open? Why?

TM: I think I would probably vote to close them down in solidarity, as I am a strong supporter of student unionism and a big part of student unionism is solidarity and broader unionism in general, of course that would have to be a collaborative decision with the board, which I hope everyone would take seriously and also consider the impact that it would have on finances, but I do think that ultimately if it is in support of workers rights that is so important and the USU should be supporting that.

PM: In 2019 the University of Sydney contributed $1 million to the USU in order for it to provide free Union membership for all students in 2019. To what extent do you think the University should or should not be involved in the operations of the USU? Would you encourage more or less involvement, were you to be elected?

TM: Look I think that obviously student unions should remain independent, however we do rely on the University to provide us with that contestable pool of SSAF funding, and it’s a very tough balance to strike and this is always a big balancing act that you have to play, ultimately I think a good working relationship with the University is extremely important, however there are certain things where we have to be acting in the interests of students, that’s what it says in the USU constitution, and we need to be beholden to USU members and the University of Sydney student body more broadly, so I suppose obviously it would depend on what the issue is, but a close working relationship without compromising on detriment the interests of students in general.

PM: Do you think senate appointed directors should have a role in a student board?

TM: That’s a tough one! And I think yes, and the reason I do say yes is because of that close working relationship with the University. Now I think that those senate appointed directors do form, I guess a bridge between the student union, the USU in this case, and the University, and I think without having two University appointed members of the University on Board, it sort of closes off a channel of communication which is very very close to the decision making of the Board. A caveat to that answer that I would add is that I don’t necessarily think that they should have voting rights on the Board.

PM: Do you think the USU and the Board is doing enough to support the International student community? Please indicate what programs and initiatives you find to be particularly successful if yes, and how the USU could better support International Students if not.

TM: Sure. I do think both is probably the correct answer, as campus activity coordinator at the beginning of the year I worked really closely with the USU staff that work down at the International Student Lounge, running the international student programs and they really, truly are phenomenal people that are so dedicated, whether it be international student festival in terms of educating and bringing different cultures to the forefront of the student community, and also organising sort of social events that cater to a wide array of international student interests, whether it be Welcome to Sydney tours, campus activities, and even just having a space for international students to congregate and meet. However I don’t think that the USU is doing everything that it could be doing, in my policy statement one of the things that I’ve said that I will commit to do is to continue to support the fight to support concession opal cards for international students, because I just think that that’s unfair, but in terms of the programs that the USU is providing I just think that even by the virtue of them having dedicated staff solely focused on international student activities I think that is a fantastic step and a lot of progress has been made in that area.

PM: One of the most politically controversial decisions that the Board has made in the last decade was voting to allow the Pro-Life student organisation Life-Choice to register as a society in 2012, overturning a previous ruling of rejection by the C&S committee. Faced with a similar dilemma during your potential term as board director, how would you vote and why?

TM: Always a tough one, I would just like to preface this by saying that I am extremely pro-choice, I support the woman, or a non-binary person with a uterus’ decision to have an abortion if that’s what they choose to do. However, in terms of banning a club: I vehemently disagree with everything that Lifechoices perpetuates, it is vile and dangerous, however I do think that silencing one club sets a dangerous precedent for silencing other, left wing voices for example which I would never want to see silenced, I think that having the right to express your opinion, even if I vehemently disagree with it, which in this case I do, is very important, and it is a very tough balancing act to achieve properly. Obviously it would depend on the circumstances of what comes up, but I think in that situation I would probably say no, I would keep Lifechoices open as a club, however personally everything that they perpetuate I vehemently disagree with and think it’s garbage.

PM: Candidates promise to revive Hermanns and Manning yearly, with little to no success. How will liasing with external artists revive these bars, when Manning is already booked by century touring?

TM: I think that as the two sort of major, prominent USU bars, which historically- I was reading in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day about the USU’s theatresports program and how it used to be this massive program, it ran at Manning lunch time every day and would just be this amazing, packed place full of this vibrant student community which was there all the time. We have the past Board and past few Boards have made massive headway in terms of particularly reviving Manning, with the opening of Manning Social this year which I think even just going through Manning at lunchtime now- popping, its popping off, it’s fantastic. In terms of differing from that current mechanism, I think it will ultimately probably remain the same in terms of liasing with external providers and things like that, but I think the reason why I included it is because I didn’t want it to be one focus of a Board one year and then get forgotten because as we saw happen, Manning and Hermanns did decline, and that’s because I think it was left and taken for granted so I think it’s always important to be keeping that in the forefront of the Board’s decision making when it comes to those two venues, in terms of making sure that it doesn’t affect Hermanns, I think that Hermanns does actually need to be given a bit more priority. It’s a fantastic space, even for Pride Week SHADES hosted this fantastic Queer trivia there and it's really great for intimate events like that, especially like stand up comedy. I went to the comedy night that was happening during Welcome Week and it was packed! In terms of making sure that Hermann’s doesn’t get left behind in that aspect of my policy statement, I think Hermanns would be more of a space focused on giving student performers more particularly, as well as up and coming performers, artists, whatever it may be the chance to perform in a smaller venue but also in a more intimate space, and also just liven it up with giving students the option to attend events.

PM: With the initiative of healthy $12 lunches being rolled out this year, how will your plan to create a new outlet substantially differ from the existing one, and where will you put it?

TM: I don’t think it’s fair to say that you’re limited to the spaces that the USU currently has dominion over, in the past for example, Fisher Coffee Cart, that was negotiated with the University to establish, and it grew from this little tiny tent to this established food outlet. My vision for this is a full food outlet with a range of different choices, obviously it's a bit like- that’s cheap food, is it going to make any money for the USU- but a lot of USU’s revenue does come through purchases through food outlets and I think by providing a substantial enough affordable food outlet at capped pricing, potentially at $5 or under $10, depending on. Heaps of people would be going to that, not just necessarily people who can’t afford it. I mean I’m a casual worker as well and i would much prefer to have a cheaper, more substantial meal on campus for cheap than going to courtyard everyday, as much as I love courtyard. So in terms of where it would be, that would obviously be a matter of negotiation with the University, or potentially even taking some space out of the larger USU venues, for example a space in the courtyard area of Courtyard, or even in a spot in one of the food courts that we currently have. Again, it would just be a matter of negotiation I think and ultimately I think it would be better if we could have a new space for something like this.

Pulp Editor Madeline Ward is a current member of Grassroots and former SRC Women’s Officer.