Undergrad Reflections: Student Politics 2002

This is my personal account of a few experiences I had with the Melb Uni Student Union in 2002. For a more general overview of what was going on at the time, you might be interested in the blogs of Brent Houghton or the early days of Andrew Landeryou. My encounter with the mysterious SimplySensational654 has left me wanting to find out more. The details on this one sit toward the bottom of the post.

Student political battles are usually of little consequence. Not so those battles which occurred in 2002 at Unimelb. The events of 2002 would have existential consequences for the student union, which was driven into liquidation, and would confirm the worst suspicions that cynical students have toward their self-interested representatives.

At the time only those on the inner-clique of the student union knew what was going on - most of us watching from the outside knew little. It's remarkable to think that as we were looking on, the Union entered into the deal that would ultimately lead to its liquidation, and engaged in the sort of corrupt practices that would make third-world tinpot generals whince.

In 2002, I tried to change things - and failed spectacularly. Aware of the disenchantment most students had with the ruling Labor Right faction, and the ongoing chasm between the politics of the Loony Left with students generally, Brent Houghton and I decided to seize the moment. With the elections approaching in September, we decided that we would form a ticket which would take the moderate ground between the two major factions and capitalise on student dissatisfaction. In short, we would run the Australia Democrats 2001 "Change Politics" campaign in our very own backyard.

Brent was a friend of a year or two, also a member of the Democrats (incidentally, Brent's excellent account of these events was published a couple of years back). The previous year, he had been persuaded by Labor Right to stand for them as the House and Services Officer. He was instinctively suspicious of Labor Party politics, and had been convinced to run by Darren Ray, a former school friend of his and the Labor Right candidate for President. With the farcical elections of 2001, with most non-Labor Right candidates failing to nominate, Labor Right swept the board, and so Darren and Brent both assumed their positions as office bearers. During the year, though, Brent felt that he was being treated badly by the Labor Right machine. Part way through the year he quit the faction, and continued as an office bearer as an independent. For this he would be further bullied.

Brent and I got on well personally, and so we set about building a group of students who could run a serious campaign. We approached some Democrats members on campus, some of whom joined us. We also approached other students who we'd had personal contact with, and we knew would be sympathetic to our cause. As word spread of our existance we were even approached by a few students who wanted to be a part of it. Whilst we were flattered at the time, the correct response ought to have been suspicion rather than flattery. Our openness may have ultimately lead to our downfall. Anyhow, within a couple of weeks we'd found a group of twenty or so students, a critical mass threshold that meant we ought to be taken seriously.

Union rules at the time meant that unless we had a registered student union club, our ticket name would need to simply be the name of one of the candidates, followed by the word Ticket. We soon became The Sharp Ticket. We also needed a them for our campaign. The motif of Bob the Builder appealled to us. Though he was perhaps a little juvenile, the image of a non-nonsense character who took a can-do attitude was just the image that we were seeking to project. We planned to have our candidate photos taken with builders caps, and to base our slogan on Bob's "Can we fix it? Yes we can!" The ideas kept flowing.

Late one Tuesday night (August 20 for those who love detail) Brent and I were working late in his student office-bearer office. We'd put out a call on our email list to supporters to join us, but for this eye-glazing task, none did. We were editting candidate statements on Brent's computer, and using the whiteboard to draw up a list of names of candidates who we wished to slot into particular positions. Strictly speaking, we were in breach of electoral regulations, since the use of an OB's resources for campaign activity is forbidden. Despite this, most tickets did just that, although they did so clandestinely. Late into the night, Brent went home, and I left just a few minutes later, closing his office-bearer door behind me.

The next morning I received a call from Brent (paraphrased, but pretty close to the mark):
"Ari, what the hell have you done?"
"What do you mean?"
"I've been hauled before the Returning Officer. They're going to exclude us from the election. This morning Darren (Labor Right president) wandered by the office and the door was open. He saw all our campaign stuff on the whiteboard and reported us. Did you lock the door after you left?"

It was something I had to think about closely. I was very certain that I had closed the door behind me. I wasn't so sure that I'd locked it. Still, the idea that I had left the door open seemed absurd. If I had just closed it without locking it, then in order to see what was on the whiteboard, the door needed to be opened, in breach of privacy rules and office protocol. We'd been stitched up. Regardless, our campaign was over before it even began.

It only emerged two years later, but the Returning Officer who made the decision to exclude us from the election was from Global Tertiary Solutions, a firm appointed by, and with strong links to, the Labor Right faction who were the beneficiaries of our exclusion from the race. This was far from a level playing field.

Despite all this, what we said at the time is still correct: in a technical way, we did breach the regulations, and our exclusion was a just punishment. However the method by which this was discovered was questionable, and the likelihood of others breaching the same regulation was high.

As to just how we were exposed, things seemed all too strange. To this day, I've never been able to confirm it for sure, but the theory that those of us involved have is that we were done in by a mole. The twenty or so supporters on our email list were aware that we were doing campaign work in the office. This information was innocuous amongst supporters, but fatal in the hands of an opponent. It seems likely that this information was leaked from our list to Darren, who then either entered Brent's office on his own, or with the assistance of the Union House security guard, with whom he was on good terms and who possessed a master key for all offices.

Once we had been expelled from the elections, I started recieving some mysterious emails. The exchange started when I sent out an email to our list of campaign supporters:

Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

Thanks to everyone that worked their guts out these past few weeks to try and achieve real change in the Melbourne Uni Student Union. Your passion and determination has shown that there can be a better way to do things in this place, and that eventually these values will prevail.

By order of the Returning Officer, I am unable to campaign in any way for the student elections. I understand the reasons for the decision, and I will not be attempting to breach this order.

Soon after I recieved this response:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Friday, August 23, 2002 12:32 AM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : [sharpticket] A final Sharpticket farewell

The Sharp Ticket has finally finished.

Politics is a tough game. Those who are right always win.

And to your friends that 'jumped left' well, 'good luck' they too should have understood the difficulties that lay ahead.

Well done, you did at one stage pose a threat to the power allocation of Union House.

My response:

From: "Ari Sharp" absharp@hotmail.com
To: simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Subject: Re: [sharpticket] A final Sharpticket farewell
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 01:32:25 +1000

Hmmmm, just who is our mole??

Regardless of which anonymous hack I'm dealing with, I can't let the statement that those who are right always win. Those with strength, resources, contacts, genetics and a bit of sheer bloody-mindedness usually win. Are these people always right? I doubt it.


Their response:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Friday, 23 August 2002 1:44:02 AM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : Re: [sharpticket] A final Sharpticket farewell

These 'hacks' outsmatered you.
These 'hacks' have not had their group shut down.
These 'hacks' are not hacks at all.

It is the collective opinion here that you have no idea what you're talking about.

All I can say to you is, that your ticket was the first to fall from grace. Those who inadvertantly escaped from the returning officer and ran to your lefty buddies will soon also be the subject of a sudden fall from grace.

The right always does win. We beat you, and your 'candidates' who ran from disaster are next.

And to you - thank you. What a clever idea building an email list. The emails proved quite interesting.

My reponse:

From: "Ari Sharp" absharp@hotmail.com
To: simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Subject: Re: [sharpticket] A final Sharpticket farewell
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 01:51:32 +1000

> These 'hacks' outsmatered you.

I think this sentence says more than I ever could.


Their reponse:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Friday, 23 August 2002 1:57:26 AM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : Re: [sharpticket] A final Sharpticket farewell

Hilarious. A typo.

We're not the ones who are not allowed to run.
We're not the ones who knowlingly breached the regulations.
We're not the ones who deceived the students of the uni.

The Sharp Ticket acted disgracefully. And those who have run away from the Sharp Ticket can never run away from the fact that they are corrupt and disloyal. They will be found out. Their names will become remembered as the 'sharp ticket' disgrace. We will do what is morally right. We will inform the students of WHO this Sharp Ticket was and the fact it rortered the system - knowingly. The ticket is gone and ALL of its initial candidates soon will be.

They ran away from a ticket that stole from students. A ticke whose leaders, admitted to being guilty of breaching regulations.

Shame, Shame, Shame.

See you in Student Council 2003.... Actually no we wont will we??

And again from them:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Friday, 23 August 2002 1:59:19 AM
To : absharp@hotmail.com

We were all very moved by the final farewell.

> Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

But you didn't win 'any' did you....

And again:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Friday, 23 August 2002 7:04:42 PM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : speeches

Your welfare candidate managed to make a good deal. A jump from the ship that had been hit and was sinking.

But did he jump to a stable and safe ship? Or will he fall from grace just like the rest of YOU hacks?

Hmmmm.... Let us think.... Oh yes... I remember - he WILL fall... How you ask?

Well, the "sharp" ticket fell - it fell on it's own 'sword' and it cut itself up... This falling requires skill, courage and determination. The three things required to achieve anything...

It fell because people like you are in this game only for 'representative' purposes. You have no idea how the union runs. No idea about the reality of it all. You live in a little world where everything is ok...


The Welfare Officer candidate in question is Nick Demiris, a candidate who approached us out of the blue a few weeks earlier and expressed his interest in getting involved. Once our ticket dissolved he joined the Labor Right ticket, and not long after that, the Liberals. Given what we now know about Nick, this seems to be where he belonged all along. Just how genuine his commitment was to us - or Labor Right - seems highly highly questionable:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Friday, 23 August 2002 7:28:40 PM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : Re:

Let us talk pragmatically Mr. Sharp.

Your little friend who is still a candidate for welfare ob is likely to succeed. But of course, I am sure we can come to an arrangement that is mutually beneficial in terms of future elections at the union.

If you were to provide us with an 'insight' into your former candidate, who did, by the way DEFECT, we would ensure you secured a place on Student Council at the next possible opportunity.

All we require is some background material, some contact details and some insight into him.

Simply reply with this information and you shall be on Student Council at the next election.

Remember - do we want this guy to be welfare OB? Have you seen hi spolicy speech?

> I will work for the students - the position is about the rights of
>students and the protection of these rights. The position is about
>assisting those who are disabled and culturally diverse. I will work
>'above' the disgusting plague that is student politics to bring you
>accountability, and a broader range of improved services.

I mean - come on - above student politics? Does he think he is above democratically elected peers?

We need to stop him. He has too much support and he will adversely affect the powe in MUSU. He is one who would not cooperate with poltiical interests and deals, but rather 'work' for the office.

He must be stopped.

Your friends (who can provide you with support and a spot on a sure thing next time)...

Without any intention of taking up the offer, I thought I'd push things a little to find out what I could about my mysterious correspondant:

From: "Ari Sharp" absharp@hotmail.com
To: simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Subject: Re:
Date: Sat, 24 Aug 2002 21:57:24 +1000

Before I talk to anyone, I want to know the following:
1. Who are you?
2. Who do you represent?
3. Do you have the power from within your organisation to offer such a deal?
4. Who was the mole?

And SS654's response:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Sunday, 25 August 2002 2:05:13 AM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : Deal

Thanks for the response.

I am in a position to offer such a deal - this I can assure you. In terms of your other questions, I can't answer those just yet.

Your former candidate jumped/defected from the sinking ship and ran to a different ticket - is this loyalty or what? All we need is an insight - some background info and some contact details.

If you can provide us with this information YOU will be the person to gain. You will be the winner out of the 'deal.' A position on Student Council is what is on the table for offer.

We are not stuffing you around - be assured. Provide the requested information by Sunday 25/8 via an email to this address and we will reply by 6pm with a contact name and phone number as well as information pertaining to the agreement.

This is the only way the deal can work - otherwise, we can not be sure if you will expose us, and as such we require the information first. Again, once received, we shall email you contact details so as to set up a meeting to discuss how the agreement of you getting a Student Council place will be implemented at next years elections.

Hear from you soon.

Sadly, I can't find my response to this email. The gist of it was that I had no interest in doing a deal with a shady anonymous figure and that I found the whole thing rather tawdry.

This was the SS654 response:

From : -- -- simplysensational654@hotmail.com
Sent : Thursday, 29 August 2002 2:59:15 AM
To : absharp@hotmail.com
Subject : Re: Deal

The thing is 'mate' you wont see me round and I wont see you round. You still have no idea do you? The only clue you are now going to get is that we have had a mutual acquaintance.

And now, Mr. Sharp you fell for our little trap. You ticket was crushed.

We must thank your friend Andrew, for his fantastic posters. Their designs will do doubt prove a great addition to our material. Notably, it was interesting to read your Environment Candidates speeches, Michael and Lauren.

"A greener university - fight the issues on campus before fighting abroad" - again would these people have any idea as to how to be student politicians? NO NO NO. They would have no idea.

In response to a seperate question - the mole was not a male...

And with that, my contact with SimplySenational654 ceased. I tried emailing them a while later, but Hotmail informed me that the address was no longer active.

Over four years on, I have no great personal stake in the politics of Union House. I do, however, want to get to the bottom of just who was SS654. This has become my own personal Deep Throat (think Mark Felt, not Linda Lovelace). I have my suspicions, but I've never been able to confirm them. I was hoping the blogosphere might be able to shed some light on it. Those who were involved in the 2002 campaign know who they are, and would no doubt know something about the identity of this person. Others might have also been receiving emails from them. Of the people on the email list - of whom one was the mole - I am sure of the bona fides of most of them. There are a few, though, who I'm doubtful about.

SS654, if you're out there, drop me a line. Anyone else, a comment or email would be appreciated.


Anonymous said…
"Anyhow, within a couple of weeks we'd found a group of twenty or so students, a critical mass threshold that meant we ought to be taken seriously."

-That and Bob the builder... Next thing you know you'll be using Nat's two dogs barking campaign. Ari you can't be all things to all people... Maybe looking to Israeli politics is far fetched but their system is based on a qualifying threshold of 1.5%. Sure it might be more "democratic". Does leave the question: is the arab party voting without a voice? Having read your other posts I know you don't really think the world of Uni student politics, and that generally it isn't a good platform for everyone to think about their future political careers. Thresholds don't mean nothing though when you're trying to form a formidable democratic party amongst expedient parties, and moreover people who put themselves before the principles they're supposed to advocate for.

People who win are always right? Ha... They're right by virtue of a short lived political inoculation while getting a heavy dose of inebriation. Then again in this country both parties get drunk after elections no matter what, just like foot ball teams... Oh well if mitigating political circumstances no matter what is one of the precepts of contemporary politics maybe theres room for the Democrats after all...

(Sorry, thats supposed to be a joke)
Anonymous said…
From previous:

As for finding the little witty sneak its water under the bridge Ari. He's "above democratically elected peers" like Bolt is above the effects of Green House. Not a tenable position. And a regrettable one too...
slanderyou said…
Fascinating discussion and commentary

There is more on Andrew Landeryou here: http://slanderyou2.blogspot.com/
Anonymous said…
Your post makes student politics sound quite sinister. Who really expected untried student politicians to get so vicious and manipulative?
Anonymous said…
Ahh... the good old days.

Experience indicates that all that would have happened, had you produced any alleged dirt on Mr D-Nemesis, would have been some statutory declarations and a letter from his "representatives" threatening court action for defamation.

All rather hilarious really. Paranoia can be fun.

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