A changing of the guard: Ben Gill on life as ANUSA President ahead of his graduation

25 November 2016

It's a really great opportunity to meet some local people, have local experiences, but at some point you've got to take your lunch.

For the past two years, ANUSA President Ben Gill has been a formidable force on the ANU campus. We sat down with Ben, who graduates in December with a Bachelor of Engineering (honours) and a Bachelor of Science. Ben leaves the role on 30 November and talked to us about what he is most proud of and any advice he has for students looking to enter the world of university politics.

Q: Ben, what has been your proudest achievement during your time as ANUSA President?

A: Improving the governance arrangements of the Association so looking at how we operate and how we survive long-term and identifying that. Professionalising the association has probably been my biggest consistent achievement over the past two years. The other personal ones are probably looking at the establishment of ANUOK, the safe and well-being app. So how we planted the seed, got funding, developed it all within 12 months which is very fast for ANU.

Another highlight is also creating the health and well-being position that will sit in Access and Inclusion next year. It will be funded for three years by the Association. It will have a huge impact in terms of how we strategically approach our well-being initiatives at the University.

We're currently discussing an initiative with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre from the Womens Department and ANUSA, which will ideally remove the burden on disclosure of sexual assault, from students, to a body which is a bit more professional in that line of work. So it's not to say that students would not disclose to other students, but they will have a support network. That will be a huge shift and hopefully will mean that we are not putting this burden onto student leaders. I think that will be interesting in how that plays out.

Q: What's next for you in 'civilian' life?

A: Chilling! Probably doing some work over the summer and probably a bit of travelling. I think I'll do further studies in my future, but the role [of ANUSA President] is very intense and so a bit of a break [would be great]. I've been doing work with the Association for four years now and the president's role is very tiresome so I think reflection, it's helped me develop a lot of skills - management, strategic direction and a few other aspects. It's really about figuring out where do I want to utilise those best next, but I'll probably be back at ANU somewhere in the near future.

Q: Do you have any advice for incoming president James Connolly?

A: He and I have had some chats. The key thing is that as much as we want to be proactive, we'll never be as proactive as we ever want to be. The Association will never be perfect. Part of the trade-off of having a student organisation is you do have people on one level who require no skills whatsoever to be in positions. On the flip side they aren't weighed down by bureaucracy and how things work. So you do get put into a realm of creativity which doesn't necessarily exist in other organisations. It means that part of the challenge of a president and in I guess professional life is to channel that energy as productively as best as possible in the limited time frame that you do have. I think the thing is accept that the Association won't be perfect - cohorts will come at you left, right and centre, and so being willing to adapt quickly on your feet is a useful skill but also looking after yourself.

The challenge of the role is you're poured in all different directions and your ability to look after yourself will influence your ability to manage the team to achieve what you want to do throughout the year.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring student leaders who want to get involved in ANUSA?

A: Get involved. The overall theme of my last two years has been, well, I'm not terribly interested in people coming to complain to me. I mention about people coming to me with solutions and developing solutions.

The approach I've taken is cool that's great, no I appreciate that, what do you want to do about it? The Association's role to some extent is to advocate on a student's behalf but most of the time issues around library fines or a lack of computers or explanations of any issue, most of the time it will require people to come together to develop solutions with the University. So if there is a problem they want to see [fixed], they need do something about it. It doesn't have to be in ANUSA but you can still work within the structures without it being in a position. But get involved.

It's easier to make assumptions around the type of people who do get involved and there always will be political hacks who want to do it for other reasons and that's fine but the majority of people are doing it for really good reasons and the job isn't easy so while you only see a certain aspect of it, you do get a lot of personal skills out of it as well and you'll never be recognised to the extent that you want to be but it's a bit of a trade-off.

It's a really great opportunity to meet some local people, have local experiences, but at some point you've got to take your lunch. Campaigning is gross and scary and I hate it - as I'm extremely introverted it's just disgusting - but it took me three months the first time, to work through all that, (go around, introduce myself to random people) so don't take those barriers as barriers yourself.

Q: And lastly and possibly the most important question, where was your favourite coffee spot on campus and why?

A: It varies between the food co-op and Coffee Grounds. The food co-op because it has a chip lunch, a cool atmosphere - it's kind of happyish. It doesn't have wifi though, so Coffee Grounds is the go-to one. But I think Coffee Grounds is more like an allegiance because they have really nice staff and they were the only ones who were really open in summer last year so they kind of built loyalty over that period because everyone else was shut down.