By Tang Li
Last week Kyol Blakeney won the 2015 presidency of the Sydney University Students’ Representative Council (SRC), ending a long period of Labor leadership at the university and becoming the first Indigenous president in a decade.
In a massive triumph, Blakeney won every single voting booth, claiming 61 per cent of the vote, where 3851 votes were counted in this year’s election.
A member of the Grassroots faction, Blakeney beat National Labor Students (NLS) candidate Amy Knox for the top job. He currently serves as the SRC’s Indigenous Officer and will be the first non-Labor president in 14 years.
When Mr Blakeney first arrived at Sydney University, there was little representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in any student positions.
This instigated his desire to provide a voice towards management, particularly through the SRC. After consulting the Indigenous Collective in the Koori Centre, he successfully ran for the position of Indigenous Office Bearer.
“I wanted to be somebody who could hold a vote on council so that we had more of a sway and influence with the way our university went about its cultural business.”
Blakeney’s agenda for the 87th SRC will focus on three main issues.
These include opposing fee deregulation and continuing to fight against discriminatory reforms to higher education; working with the university to ensure that its new student housing project will be affordable and high quality; and lobbying the government to increase Youth Allowance, AusStudy or AbStudy above the poverty line.
“I want the SRC to be an activist space which serves the students of this university. I want an SRC that will continue to challenge the government and the university management for the benefit of students,” he said.
Currently, Indigenous students constitute approximately 0.8 per cent of the Sydney University student body. Mr Blakeney is determined to push for more affordable housing for students but in particular, Indigenous and those from low SES backgrounds.
“One of the main deterrents students face about coming to university is that they have nowhere to live.” “
Many Indigenous students leave their communities in rural and remote areas to attend tertiary study but either cannot find suitable accommodation to start/continue their degree or do not have the financial support to pay for accommodation and textbooks which can reach up to $350,” he said.
When asked about the significance of the end of a long Labor leadership, Blakeney ‘s main concern has always been the question of whom they are loyal to, regardless of who is in office at the time.
“I honestly question anybody who is part of or affiliated with a political party as their agenda can seem to reflect that of the party.”
Bridget Harilaou, a Sydney University student told City Hub she voted for Mr Blakeney because of this distance from any of the major parties.
“It’s really refreshing to see a ‘student politician’ with no ambitions for climbing a party-ladder,” she said.
Liam Carrigan, University of Sydney Union Board Director and Queer Portfolio holder, said he looked forward to an increase in activism in coming years as a result of Mr Blakeney’s leadership.
“I really would like to see the SRC properly promote its amazing welfare services and empower more young activists during Kyol’s term.”