Critic Breaks Down the OUSA Presidential Debate

Critic Breaks Down the OUSA Presidential Debate

Once Upon A Time, Three White Men Ran For OUSA President

Are Jack, Will and Sam the characters from a boring nursery rhyme? No, they’re the OUSA presidential candidates for 2020. It was repeatedly brought up that Jack Manning, Will Moffett, and Sam Purchas were “stale, pale, and male” during the daytime presidential forum - mostly by the candidates themselves.

“I’ve had bugger-all experience with OUSA,” Will acknowledged right off the bat. But he thinks that “fresh blood” is needed on the Executive so that students get to see some of the $3.5 million they put into the organisation. His big goals were “supporting the supporters”, improving accommodation standards to “not let Matt Cutler fuck over students,” and getting free buses for students. When asked why he wanted to head a union, Will got very revolutionary/sinister and said that “[a] silent majority is waking up and is ready to listen”.

He also wants to open up Union Grill to serve drinks and have more local gigs in the Main Common Room. His Arana alumni supporters seemed very enthusiastic about both of those things - and, actually kind of whatever he said. Will was confident and well spoken but tended to veer into ‘kiwi bloke’ colloquialisms - he said he “dived right in to scarfie life”, he had an “ear to the ground” and “a finger on the pulse”. He had endorsements from Mark Henaghan and Steven from Dunedin (apparently a rugby person).

Sam Purchas, somewhat paradoxically, said that he wanted to run the union “because I care about individuals”.  He said he would “bring science students, who don’t know what the fuck is going on, on board with OUSA”. Sam’s policy agenda revolves around “the Uni not treating students like children,” by lobbying the DCC on alcohol laws, allowing vaping on campus and removing the ban on alcohol sponsorship on campus to “future-proof” OUSA. He had endorsements from the Ski Club, 420 Club, and David Seymour (unsolicited). Like Will, he was focused on broadening OUSA’s appeal which, surprisingly, he said he could do through the connections he’d built as ACT’s candidate for Dunedin North in the last election. He distanced himself politically from ACT, saying that he was more anti-corporate than they are, particularly when it comes to regulating industry in the face of climate change.

Jack is the current Colleges Officer for OUSA. As expected, he knew what he was talking about and was sincere about “giving back to the university”. But Jack undersold this experience with a lack of a confidence and certainty and tended to get lost between two strong speakers. He also made some seriously awkward calls, like shouting out “I like fresh blood” randomly  (ew) and responding to nearly everything that Will Moffett said with “that’s fucking sick dude”. Jack wants to continue substance testing, make mental health care accessible by raising awareness and lobbying the Southern District Health Board, and run a voter drive in next year’s election. Pretty much all things OUSA was going to do regardless. Despite this he said he “wouldn’t wish [the President role] on anyone without experience.”

Overall, Jack didn’t exude charisma, particularly when he started answers by talking about reshaping internal OUSA bureaucracy. He also faced the challenge of being the only candidate with no endorsements, which is awkward considering he asked a bunch of clubs but no one agreed. Obviously his experience makes him a safe choice and he said he’s “more than ready” to take the position but, unlike the others, he wasn’t about to shake anything up.

Will and Sam said they would vote for each other if they couldn’t vote for themselves, which made Jack a bit of a third wheel. Jack said he was “very impressed” with the others but didn’t give an answer.


Lobbying the University

Sam backed his ability to stand up for student interests against the University Council by saying that his time as an ACT candidate had made him “pretty fucking good at standing up for unpopular opinions”. Jack relied on his established connections through his position on OUSA this year. And Will reckoned that his position on the Horse of the Year Board of Directors means that he’s only two exams away from being the youngest Chartered Director in the country (a thing which, apparently, exists), and has experience at talking to boomers on boards.


Mental Health

Jack and Will both mentioned mental health as part of their policy platforms. Jack wanted to “raise awareness” and get the Southern District Health Board to recommit to 80% of referrals being seen within three weeks (i.e. enforcing the policy pledge currently being circulated to SDHB candidates). He said this issue was “close to his heart” without saying more.

Will’s policy focus on “supporting the supporters” of mental health was popular with the crowd. After a convincing spiel about how our flats are our families and we need a full support network, he slightly undermined himself by saying this policy would “get your family back on the road”. It was a strange pivot into an ‘AA ad’ vibe rather than the serious mental health policy, but essentially he’s proposing more advertising and (maybe?) funding for Student Support.



The debate kept coming back to the lack of diversity among the candidates, politically and experience-wise. Jack and Will both voted for National, and Sam both voted and ran for for ACT, which he admitted “made the National voters look better”. Audience questions challenged the candidates about whether they could represent diverse groups on campus, or as one question asker put it: “How are you going to rep a young brown hustler like me? Why should I give a shit about your campaign?”.

None of the candidates answered convincingly. Will relied on his personal experiences, while Jack relied on the established OUSA frameworks. Will said, “I was the only white boy on my rugby team,” was “raised by Tongan babysitters,” and “went to a decile-two school”. Jack said he would “prioritise the voices” of minority groups and give a “seat at the table”. Sam probably gave the best answer here, because he didn’t try to avoid the issue of his own privilege. He would use his “inherent privilege to empower other groups who don’t have a platform” and make sure they were involved at the development stages of policy. But as an audience member pointed out, all of the candidates were prepared to place the burden on marginalised groups to explain and highlight issues to them, rather than taking a proactive approach.


Climate Change

No one put forward any specific policies on climate change, but all agreed it was important. Will said mental health and climate change are issues that should “traverse every decision we make”. Jack relied on the OUSA pledges from this year and said he would hold the DCC to account in following through with their commitments. Sam acknowledged that OUSA’s influence on climate change was likely to be limited. “New Zealand is to global emissions what OUSA is to central government.” While this was a small blip, he still favoured political lobbying to make the student voice heard on climate change.



Night-time Debate

A Tight Race Between Will Moffett and Sam Purchas, Leaving Jack Manning in the Dust


The lights were slightly too bright in Starters Bar as a moderate crowd gathered to see Will Moffett, Jack Manning and Sam Purchas go head to head for the second time in one day, to fight for the right to be OUSA President.

The turnout was smaller than last year’s evening forum, with around sixty people, and most of them were sporting ‘Moff 2020’ stickers. Best dressed goes to the girl in the gold mini-dress and orange crocs.

The first order of business was a beer pouring contest, which was won by Jack Manning according to a Starters Bar bartender. The subsequent skulling contest was a tie between Sam and Will in the first round, admittedly with some spillage by Will. In the tiebreaker Sam absolutely killed it. The boys all a bit redder in the face, the debate began.

The three went at each other straight away, with Will roasting Sam. Referring to a comment Sam had made earlier in the day, Will said “you don’t want to show up [to University Council] and crack the table in half with language about Orwellian policies”.

“If you’d engaged with student politics beyond getting pissed on Castle Street, you’d know it’s about student interests, not business interests,” Sam clapped back. Jack managed to get a weak retort in, highlighting that he’d been engaging with the community all year and hadn’t seen Will at the School Strike 4 Climate. Shots fired.

[Sam won this for having a good comeback]

Next up was a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody by the three candidates. While we waited for it to be set up, Will started a rendition of Fred Dagg’s “We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are”.

If you like white guys looking awkward as fuck as they pretend to enjoy performing, then the singing was great. Sam was extremely into it. Jack and Will were enthusiastic but forced. Everyone knew the words, so I guess that should inspire some faith in our candidates?

[Bromance and the power of music won this section]

Candidates were asked whether not instituting an Equity position on the Exec in the recent SGM was a mistake. All of them said the role was incorporated across the Exec, particularly in the Welfare role, which was a bit of a cop-out. Also, neither Sam or Will could name the Te Roopū Māori or Otago University Pacific Island Student’s Association Presidents, which was a pretty bad look considering they’re both on first name basis with the rest of the exec by now.

[They all lost this one]

Student Support was a key issue for most of the candidates, but a lot of them didn’t recognise how their policies intersected with what actually already exists in OUSA. Sam and Will both want to “raise awareness” of Student Support through campaigns. Will said he wanted to “get more oxygen to those great services”. Sam said that it needed to get to a point where demand would exceed supply, so that the funding model was sustainable. Jack had a weird start, saying “Bloody Will, you stole my answer” and then moving on to give that same answer. The crowd booed this copout. The answers were vague from all candidates.

[Will won this, but only slightly, and Jack lost]

Leading the OUSA Executive requires, shockingly, some leadership skills, and experience leading a team. Jack pointed to his past role as the President of the Computer Science Society. Sam pointed to his obvious role as the leader of his own campaign for the Dunedin North seat, which attracted 150 votes. “And every single one turned me on,” he said. Once again, Will came back to his role on the board of Horse of the Year, which involved interacting with people “on the ground from Hastings through to the depths of Remuera.”

[Sam and Will tied]

Things took a turn for the weird when the candidates were asked where they would take Harlene on a date. Jack said he’d been on the Critic Blind Date twice - which is really not a flex (“it’s more of an inverted flex” according to Critic Culture Editor Henessey Griffiths), so said he’d take Harlene to Mamacita. Will said he’d take her to the Marsh Study Centre with a bag of goon in her purse to “show her how it’s done,” and Sam raised the level of vomit in our throats by saying that he’d take her for a walk on the beach, hold her hand, and then let go to build up sexual tension and get her to make the first move. Look out Harlene.

[Sam won this section, but we hate admitting it]

A new Dunedin Mayor and City Council will be elected in place at the end of this year. Sam said it was important to make a logical rather than emotive case to the councilors, then proceeded to say the DCC is “waging a war on fun”. He brought it back by saying that drinking in licensed premises is far safer for students and the city.

In comparison, Will flexed his experience as a board director again and he said that he wants to lobby council to love students as much as they “love bloody cyclists”.

Rather than saying what he would do, Jack scratched the back of current OUSA Pres/Jack’s idol James Heath by saying that all the councilors know his name.

[Unconvincing debate all round but Will’s experience put him in the lead here]

The gloves were off when the candidates were asked to comment on their oppositions’ worst policies. Will called out Jack’s push on drug testing, which is going ahead anyway and was “not a priority” in the face of mental health, housing and transport. He said he’s “not sure about vaping” since he’s seen his seventeen year old brother do it. Sam clapped back by saying “my brother is cooler than me too”.

Sam said that Will’s gig improvement policy was not the role of the OUSA President and could be handled by Events who are “doing a good job”. He also pointed out that the Main Common Room, which Will wants to “gut” is 50% owned by the University so it's a bureaucratic nightmare making changes. Then saying he was a “slut for chemistry instruments” he yarned about mass spectrometers.

Jack also criticised Sam’s push for vaping on campus, saying you need to “pick your battles”. Then, rabbiting Sam, he criticised gutting the MCR when “we have a perfectly good venue in Starters Bar,” that has sick gigs “like three white men singing Bohemian Rhapsody”. Jack loses points for copying his opponents’ answers again.

[Will got roasted, Sam wins]

Sam said he could deal with conflicting ideas on the exec because he’s not set in his ways or “confining myself to a ridiculous little box”.

Jack said he was “fiercely non-partisan” so differing political opinions wouldn’t be an issue, but said he could deal with Exec conflicts because he’d already done it this year by offering to help other Exec members rather than firing up at them when they didn’t do their work.

Will said he was “the perfect candidate to deal with conflict as the freshest set of eyes”. He called Sam an “OUSA insider” and said as an outsider he could prevent there being a clique or “Inner Cabinet” on the Exec.

[Will won this one]

All of the candidates were flustered when asked how they would empower more women to run for Exec, given the consistent 40% representation rate on previous Executives. All of them said that it comes down to general engagement of students rather than specific policies to encourage diversity. Jack actually took the edge here by saying that he would look at other student unions, like VUWSA, to see how they had encouraged female representation.

[Jack won, but everyone sucked]

All the candidates got progressively more pissed as friends in the audience passed them drinks, to the point where their answers got progressively less intelligible. At one point Sam used the phrase “fleshy imprisonment,” but to be fair he’d say that sober.

A poll Critic made of 10 undecided voters came out in favour of “not Jack” but was split between Sam and Will. Three voters said they were not swayed by any of the candidates as they just “recycled the same bullshit throughout”. One said “it’s all bullshit; it’s not like we’re choosing the Parliament or anything”.

Another two voters said Will had weakened their resolve to vote for Sam. “We came in wanting to vote for Sam but were pretty convinced by Will.” One of them said they’d probably still vote for Sam but wouldn’t mind if Will won. Another student said they were voting for Sam as he has the same star sign as them - Aries. One student said she was voting Will because “he has a good last name” and another said “Will was the most confident, but also seemed the most underprepared.” Another said they weren’t sure yet, but “definitely not Jack”.

James Heath, current OUSA President, told Critic that “At the end of the day the most important thing is the voice of students and we need a strong candidate who’ll uphold that. We’ve got three strong candidates; we’ll see what the students want.”

This article first appeared in Issue 23, 2019.
Posted 12:58am Friday 13th September 2019 by Erin Gourley and Esme Hall.