OUSA Exec Are Confused About Their Own Referendum

What do words mean, really?

The OUSA Executive asked students some confusing questions about what they should do and now they are confused about what they should do. The annual OUSA Referendum was held online from 25-28 May. When the results came in, the OUSA Exec realised they had fucked up a few of the questions or were otherwise just confused about what they were meant to do with the result of the student votes.  

The referendum received 1923 votes (voter turnout of about 9% of the students at the University of Otago), which was an increase of 31 votes on last year. The OUSA Exec then discussed these votes in a tired Zoom meeting on 22 June. Most of the meeting was spent in silence, and Jack was the only one speaking. A couple of people were pulled over in cars or otherwise Zooming while travelling. Some couldn’t make it, others cut out part way through.

74.7% of students voted in favour of OUSA lobbying for a law change so that they could “own a spectrophotometer (a machine that tests substances) and have substance testing available for students”. Josh Meikle pointed out that the question was confusing because it’s about a law change instead of actually getting a spectrophotometer. “So it’s lobbying first, spectrometer (sic) second?” No one knew the answer. The Exec decided to talk about this another time, “to establish more questions to ask students,” said Georgia.

The question about withdrawing from the national student union, NZUSA, proved controversial. “OUSA have conveniently excluded the impacts on national Māori student representation, not to mention NZUSA’s efforts towards national representation & cooperation for LGBTQ & disabled students, calling into question exactly who you bothered to consult in forming this referendum,” wrote one anonymous student in their comment on the question.

Only 11.4% of students voted in favour of OUSA leaving NZUSA. In the meeting, the Exec debated whether to re-ask the question in order to consider Māori student representation. “The decision won’t change. I think we should just apologize for missing them out, never do it again in the future… it won’t drive the number down, but up,” said Josh Meikle.

Michaele Waite-Harvey, Welfare and Equity Representative, disagreed with Josh. “If we ignore this and pretend it'll be fine because we think it’d be the same result… I don’t think that’s good faith.” She thought that OUSA needed to “re-ask in order to mend those relationships”. Emily Coyle agreed, saying that re-asking the question was about “righting wrongs”. 

“I think it would mean a lot to the Pacific community too, in terms of practicing what we preach,” said Joshuaa Alefosio-Pei, the President of the Otago Pacific Islands Students' Association. “It displays that it’s a movement towards the message we’re trying to emulate.”

The OUSA Executive ultimately resolved to re-ask the question about withdrawing from NZUSA. But then they got confused about whether that meant they had to re-ask the other questions about NZUSA as well.

In a separate question about NZUSA, 73% of students said that OUSA should investigate and support a restructure of NZUSA. The Exec decided that there was no point in re-asking this question. Josh Meikle noted that Jack Manning is already on a committee to restructure NZUSA, so it was something that would happen regardless of OUSA’s actions. “By the time it gets to the next referendum, the relevant question might be different, like should OUSA endorse the restructure?” noted Jack Manning. 

Students voted narrowly in favour of OUSA co-hosting Agnew Street with the residents of the street. 48.7% voted that OUSA should co-host and 43.2% voted that OUSA should not co-host. The OUSA meeting moved into confidential committee to discuss Agnew Street, which means Critic cannot report on what they said. When they stopped being secretive, Jack Manning said “we will look to do an education-based campaign around harm reduction to coincide with the Agnew St party, whenever that may be”.

Other questions were easier for the Exec to deal with. About 63% of students told OUSA not to take a stance in favour of a particular party in the general election. “I’m going to suggest we do something radical and follow student opinion,” said OUSA President Jack Manning. And that is what they did.

46.1% of students thought OUSA should take a stance on the euthanasia referendum, while 44.9% thought they should not. If they did take a stance, 41% thought it should be a ‘yes’ stance, but 41.6% abstained from the vote, so there was no clear majority. Josh Meikle, OUSA’s Finance and Strategy Officer, said euthanasia was “a very different issue to cannabis. It doesn’t impact students as a group more than it does any other group… it’s not a student enough issue.” 

People agreed, and OUSA decided not to take a position. “I’m going to take the silence as a ‘hell yeah’,” said Jack Manning, in a good summary of the whole meeting. 

The questions about reforming the way the Clubs Representative is elected were all clearly in favour of the current system. Josh Smith (a.k.a Smythe) said he would pass that on to the Affiliated Clubs Council, who proposed the question.

57.8% of students thought OUSA should investigate a better funding and accountability model for Critic. It then became pretty clear that the Exec didn’t know what the current funding and accountability model was or how it could be changed. Jack was keen to go into confidential committee, but the CEO said OUSA didn’t need to. “It’s not confidential that the main cost of Critic is printing and staff. It’s actually pretty lean in terms of anything else… I’m a little confused as to the logic as to think if we didn’t like something we’d cut funding.”

The last two questions, about establishing a branch of the Student Volunteer Army in Dunedin and getting a new Rate My Flat website up-and-running both received conclusive yes votes from students. Jack Manning said that “Jack Saunders isn’t here but I’m sure he’d be going “YEAH!” right now [about Rate My Flat].”

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2020.
Posted 2:55pm Sunday 5th July 2020 by Erin Gourley.