Inside the Go! political juggernaut: Can they win again?

 

Shreeya Luthra is Go!’s candidate for president at the student elections.

By SIMON KUPERMAN

Go! is a political force to reckon with. After 12 years in power, this year they’re gearing up to take on new party Together.

Go! says it has scored some big successes this year, including free legal service, some parking and transport improvements, and student involvement in important university committees. Other plans to improve student services if teaching hours are extended are still being negotiated.

Presidential candidate Shreeya Luthra, who was MSA women’s officer this year, says her main focus this year has been working on the SHIFT campaign – the issue of sexual violence on campus – and she wanted to carry that work on.  

“Should we go into the union next year, should we win, I really want to see that continued, because I think there is plenty of space to be improving on that,” she says.

The party has faced some criticism this year as being too Left-wing and too political, but current MSA president Matilda Grey says unions are inherently both of those things.

“We’re not ashamed of the fact that we’re made up of a broad group of progressive students,” Ms Grey says.

“I know there is a bit of rhetoric that goes around saying that the student union is too political, but if we weren’t political in nature, what kind of advocacy body or representative body would we be for students?”

Go!’s 2017 campaign logo.

Ms Grey says Together, the new party contesting most positions this semester, might claim to be an apolitical group that believes there’s too much politics in the MSA, but their ticket is actually being driven by the Labour Right.

“Those members of young Labour as well have been organising this ticket – it was their initiative.”

She says Go! is not, and never has, used the MSA as a launchpad for “our political opportunities”.

Go! lists their accomplishments this year as establishing a free legal advice service in partnership with Monash Oakleigh Legal Service, free Workers Rights Advice Service in partnership with Trades Hall’s Young Workers Centre, free parking in OC1 during exams, and due to high demand was able to have an extra bus service added to the 601 Huntingdale route.

While Go! didn’t achieve their goal of getting rid of the $75 carpooling fee and reducing the cost of permits, they did successfully get 322 blue permit spaces added to the South East Area in Semester 2, freed up by the addition of the new red permit only underground carpark in the the Learning and Teaching Building.

While the MSA have not been able to get a 24-hour library space, they are  in discussions with the university about how to improve student services if a plan to extend teaching hours at Clayton campus till 9pm – in line with Caulfield – goes ahead.

Go! also notes they have successfully lobbied to increase student influence over the Academic Progress Committee, the Exclusion Advisory Group and overall academic policy.

Records show the MSA has lost money over the last few years and last year lost more than half a million dollars. Ms Grey, who was treasurer last year, says it’s just the nature of not-for-profit organisations, and lot of blame lies in changes in funding structures and their relationship with the university.

“Naturally, like a lot of NGOs do, year to year we might run a surplus or a deficit,” she says.

Matilda Grey has been outspoken on issues of concern to students this year, including trigger warnings.

Sir John’s Bar was one that created a loss for us last year, as well as the short courses, which is now Monash Training and Development. A lot of the reasons as to why these things happen is because of changes in the structure of funding or the way the university works with us.”

Ms Luthra says the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report into sexual assault and harassment at Australian universities has been the big issue this year, which was worked on in close collaboration with the university. 

She lists the notable achievements as: the creation of a resource booklet for anyone who might be facing sexual or intimate partner violence; working with the university to improve lighting on campus (a continuing project); creation of the online consent module on Moodle which more than 7000 students have engaged with; and the running of panels and forums for students to engage with university officials, National Union of Students representatives, councillors and service providers.

One of those panel discussions last month dissolved into chaos after a heated exchange between NUS women’s officer Abby Stapleton (last year’s MSA president) and Monash’s Deputy Vice Chancellor Susan Elliott, who subsequently walked out.

“I want to make a very clear and distinct separation that [Ms Stapleton] was not there representing the MSA, she was there representing the National Union of Students. It went pear-shaped and we recognise that,” Ms Luthra says.