PULP INTERVIEWS: Nick Forbutt
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 Nick.
PM: Please state your name, degree, political faction (if any) and the year you’re in.
NF: My name is Nick Forbutt, I study a Bachelor of International and Global Studies, I’m in my 3rd year, and I’m a member of NLS.
PM: Why do you want to run for Board?
NF: I want to run for board because I’ve been a part of the USU community since 2017. I joined in the first week, I’ve immersed myself in clubs and societies, I’ve hung out at USU outlets, done revues and I’ve had such a good experience doing those things. I think all students should have a similar experience and should have access to the services that the USU provides. So yeah, I want to make sure that the USU is as inclusive and accessible as possible for the students, and that’s translated into some of my policies for my Board run.
PM: Why do you think you’ll be a good Board Director?
NF: Sure. I guess that kind of feeds into last question, I think I’d be a good Board Director because I have extensive C&S experience. I think that’s really important for a Board Director, to know the functioning of Clubs and Societies, to know how the USU operates in terms of its internal structure and staff. I have spent a lot of time thinking about my policies, researching the USU, I think I would be a really, really good Board Director, and I’m excited to take up that role if elected.
PM: What are your three most important policies?
NF: Sure, my three most important: firstly, my most important would be my funding policy. I do think that funding will be one of the key issues of this election. There is a lot of anger in clubs and societies executives and members with how the funding model was introduced. It was introduced with a lack of consultation. The USU should be student run and student led and I think that there should be a lot more consultation with how funding models are put through, so I think that will be a big issue. In terms of how my policy tries to mitigate the new policy, my policy is particularly catered towards small societies and small events. I think the USU should introduce a differentiated funding scheme that subsidises small events, so the free events, like free breakfast schemes or regular meetups at courtyard where clubs and societies want to get pizza- they should be funded. So for events less than $250, these clubs and societies should be reimbursed, so they don’t run a deficit- because I think these events are really important for the USU community. Secondly, I would say that my policy on having free condoms in toilets, and cheaper sanitary items is really, really important. We’ve seen good work done by Lilliana Tai and Adam Torres, making sure that sanitary items are in all bathrooms, but currently sanitary items are only found at three USU outlets on campus, and they are quite exorbitant in their price. I also just think that free condoms is really important for the USU, to make sure all sexual encounters are stress free and that’s what students want. Thirdly, I would say my policy on pill testing is important. I think that in this current climate, harm minimisation principles are really, really important and the USU should introduce a program that is similar to what other unions have introduced, by partnering with harm reduction organisations and creating a program whereby people can attend workshops, be given a coupon, take that coupon to an external harm reduction organisation and then receive a pill testing kit. I think it’s really important for the USU and the University to collaborate on this and send a message that it’s important that we don’t just say that we don’t condone drug use, we should work towards harm minimisation and making sure that students are as safe as possible.
PM: What would you say the most important function of the USU is, in student and campus life?
NF: Sure. I would say that, in terms of programs, I would say that the Clubs and Societies program is the most important. I think when you’re talking about SSAF allocation and SSAF money we should think about where that money goes in terms of how it can be used to the largest portion of the community. Clubs and Societies is a program that has over 200 clubs, it has clubs ranging from the Arts society to very niche societies like Quidditch society. I think that it is by nature a very inclusive program, it is where most university students find most of their friends and really get settled into uni and really experience campus culture.
PM: If you had to cut $1 million from the USU budget, where would you cut it from?
NF: Sure. So I wouldn’t cut it from programs, I think programs is really important for the campus experience. I think that the USU, in their attempts to create specific projects, so if the USU wants to implement a specific strategy or specific things, I think it is possible for the USU to dip into revenue funding. There is about $5 million there at the moment, with the surplus last year. But if I was to cut from the current funding, I would say that Incubate received quite a bit of money, and as I was saying with the SSAF allocation, I think it should go to the most students as possible. Incubate in its very structure, is very catered towards entrepreneurial, innovation and a select few of students. I think there’s also money to be cut from debating, I think it receives a lot, and in general over the past couple of years, we’ve seen USU staff do really well at cut efficiency, making sure that USU venues and outlets are not overstaffed by casual workers. I think just in general, cutting those efficiencies will be really important.
PM: What are the worst failings of the current Board, and the things you’ve most admired?
NF: Sure. To start with failings: I would say that consultation has not been as good as what it should be. I think that the Board should, along with C&S staff, have regular, open and transparent forums, where they can reach out to USU members. I think that has really fallen flat in relation to alcohol policy and in relation to the new funding model for C&S. I would also just like to see the Board just have more breakfast bars, where they can be out on Eastern Avenue, talking to USU members, so they can consult and then get feedback. So that would be failing-in terms of positive, I would say that the work that Adam Torres and Liliana Tai have done in terms of sanitary items in all bathrooms- I think that’s really, really important. I think Liliana has been an incredible and competent president and really done a great job at reaching out to all the different communities within the USU.
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?
NF: I think the C&S program has to constantly navigate being an accessible program, while also not isolating people in the community, I think we’ve seen this with Lifechoice, as well as with some of the interfaith groups as well, where there’s been issues. I think the USU firstly should just make sure that it doesn’t make any rash decisions. It should consult with the community, it should make sure that they hold panels with all groups to make sure that things don’t get inflamed. In terms of how I would vote: I think it would be a very contextual thing, I personally am pro-choice and I would take that to that discussion. In those kinds of conversations I would want to be on board and know the context because I think there’s a lot of intricacies, there’s a lot of staff advice, that’s people that have worked in those positions for a really long time, that could have really good advisory roles that could influence my decision.
PM: Do you support the introduction of the Ramsay Centre’s Bachelor of Western Civilization at the University of Sydney? What position do you believe the Board should take, if any, on this issue?
NF: Obviously I don’t support it, I think it is just the worst, the Board should 100% introduce a motion to cancel, not throw its support behind the Ramsay Centre. I think it was really disappointing last year that the Board was particularly dis-informed about the Ramsay Centre, you had Board Directors saying that they didn’t know enough information about the Ramsay Centre. I think it is the duty of all Board Directors to make themselves knowledgeable about the Ramsay Centre and its harmful impacts, to make themselves knowledgeable that it is run by people like John Howard and Tony Abbott, and then use that information to make a decision about whether it fits with student unionism and whether it fits with the culture we should be fostering at the University of Sydney.
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?
NF: I would vote to stand in solidarity with staff. I think it’s really really important that the USU takes a really strong stance and stands with staff. We’ve seen a lot of attacks on university staff in the past couple of years. We’ve seen with the unlearn managerialism protests and movement in the past few years that staff are under really horrible working conditions and the USU should always stand in solidarity and take a strong stance.
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.
NF: I think the USU has come a long way, before 2016 I think nearly every board candidate was white, and that was a massive issue. Koko has done an incredible job to start the wave of bringing attention to international issues, the fact that we have a Wechat now with USU is really, really good. I think that is really important that at the last board meeting, the board supported concession Opal cards for international students, but I think there is still more work to do. One of my policies, in my big policy document, refers to supporting international students by pressuring the University to lobby the New South Wales government more with Opal card concessions and I think the University can actually do a lot more in supporting international students as well. Western Sydney University loads $50 onto the international student cards that are given out at Welcome Week and I think Sydney Uni could do something similar and this can be combined with USU events. So pre-loaded Opal cards could be given out at Welcome to Sydney parties and orientation programs, and I think that would be a really good collaboration to support international students.
PM: To what extent do you think the USU should engage with politics and student activism?
NF: I think the USU as a representative body, and as a student run body should engage in activism. It should take stances when there is broad consensus in the community and in the USU membership. We’ve seen this in marriage equality: the USU took a stance because there was a broad coalition of people that supported a yes vote. I think that even though that might have marginalised some people who would have voted no, it would have also marginalised and been extremely dangerous to LGBTIQ people on campus if the USU didn’t come out and support that. I think also the USU should take stances for things like Ramsay, things like-you know in the past there’s been racist graffiti on campus that the USU has taken a strong stance. I think the USU should always take stances on things and be an activist body, because it is a student body, it is, at the end of the day, a union. At the end of the day with the wave of voluntary student unionism from 2006 it is harder for the USU to be an activist body. I think it could do a lot more to mitigate that.
PM: You mentioned working to guarantee all revues access to the Seymour Centre in your policy statement. The university has gone from having 4 to 13 revues, and the price of booking the Seymour Centre theatres has gone up. Do you think it is viable for the USU to fund this expense? If yes, then can you explain why it is worth doing so?
NF: Currently in this semester with the Identity Revue season it is very much fractured, it is not a cohesive season and I think that is to the detriment of USU Revue attendance, and also their effect. I would like to see the USU actually book a season for revues, so they are back to back, so that things like audio-visual can actually flow on from each revue, which will actually minimise overall cost and the fee hikes that come from the Seymour Centre. I also think the USU can book Seymour Centre stuff, but I also think it’s important to look at other options as well. I think that the SUDS,MUSE,Theatresports and Revue community deserves a lot more. I’d really like to see a new performance space implemented in the next couple of years, particularly with the redevelopment of Wentworth. I think the Cellar currently is woefully inadequate for rehearsal space as well as performance, and USyd’s talented Performing Arts community deserves a lot more.
PM: You mentioned the harm reductions programs and pill testing at Melbourne University, which specific parts of that program would you like to implement at Sydney?
NF: So with Melbourne Uni, they partnered with Harm Reduction Victoria, with their safer partying initiative and I really think this is something that could happen with the USU. What they did was they had an hour long workshop, they have these three or four times throughout the year, 60 people were in attendance. Those 60 people were taught about harm minimisation and about taking pills in a safer way. At the end they received a dated coupon to be used within two weeks, and that was taken to a harm reduction centre. There is a harm reduction centre in NSW, it’s located in Surry Hills, there are also harm reduction organisations that the USU could look at working with. I think it’s really possible to implement a program like this. I think it’s important, I think the USU should communicate harm reduction principles during Welcome Week, during Pride Week, during Health and Wellbeing Week and this should actually be a cohesive and holistic plan to support harm reduction.
PM: What would your rural integration program entail, and how would it make introduction to university life easier for rural students?
NF: I’m from a regional area, and I found it extremely difficult moving to Sydney and not knowing any people at all. I think it’s really important that the USU reaches out to rural students, as well as Indigenous people from remote communities, that find it really tough moving to urban areas. I think that Welcome to Sydney parties as well as orientation programs where USU has taken students to iconic Sydney places like the Opera House and Bondi Beach are really important to make sure that rural students feel welcomed at Usyd, and helps them find their place, their friends, and really become a part of the USU community because I think rural students often feel a bit excluded by the Union.
Pulp Editor Madeline Ward is a current member of Grassroots and former SRC Women’s Officer.