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Liam O’Neill left Curtin University just six months ago to become the Governance Officer (Compliance) at Town of Victoria Park. During the five years he spent studying at Curtin, Liam became highly involved with the Student Guild, hopping from one role to another and eventually becoming Guild President.
We spoke to Liam about his achievements as Guild President, the highs and lows that came with the role, and how the Guild helped him snatch a job straight out of uni.
What did you study?*
I studied a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, Monitoring and Industrial Relations.
How would you describe your time at Curtin?
Uh, interesting, I think would be the correct term. I was there for a lot longer than I had anticipated, having gotten so involved in uni life. It was certainly an interesting time. I've only been out for what, six months, so I can't really reflect back having just tuned to life outside of uni. But it was definitely a big shift change to go on to the professional workforce and all that.
What made you want to get involved with the Guild and eventually run for President?
I was on the Guild Council for about five years. So, what made me get involved was—well, originally, I did an internship with an organisation called Student Edge when I was in high school. One of their founders, mentioned that when you go to uni you should look at getting involved with the Guild. So, I did a semester at ECU, and then when I came to Curtin, it was Orientation Day semester two. We got introduced to some people who were in the Guild at that time, so I just asked how I could get involved. It was a time—in 2013—they called “a divided Guild”, where two parties in the Guild had different positions. So, the President and the Education Rep were from one group, and the General Secretary and the Faculty Reps were from another, and the Council was pretty much divided down the middle. I kind of came in in the middle of all that and I was recruited to run for the Humanities Rep and that was really cool. And then the Presidential Candidate from that year pulled out and with him, his whole kind of group collapsed. But myself and a few others, who had been involved in that group, thought “oh well, we should run anyway"”and I think I got nominated for, like, five positions or something ridiculous at the time. So, in the end I got elected as a Councillor and a NUS delegate, and it all went from there!
What were some of the highlights and challenges that you recollect from being Guild's President?
Probably the biggest and most interesting experience was the trimester campaign last year—or the “tri-monster” I should say—so that was something that I'm immensely proud of, it's success and the work that was done. I think the most challenging thing was the Guild's finances. Yeah. When I came into office it was essentially a bit of a crisis in terms of the Guild's money—it was running out of money, that would be the best way to put it. There'd been a series of mistakes made in regard to the student services amenities fee and how it was spent. So yeah, that was a challenging and interesting time. There was obviously a wave of staff redundancies within the Guild during that period and a significant restructure of the way we did governance. We recruited a new managing director—it was, it was a time and a half!
Having recently come into the professional workforce, as you said, how do you think your time with the Guild has affected and prepared you for work?
Well, I would not have gotten my job without my experience in the Guild—that's what my boss, the CEO said—I probably would not have been considered as a graduate. My degree isn't even remotely relevant to what I do, but my significant experience was very relevant. So, all my experience in governance spaces, having been Guild President, Guild Secretary, being on the University Council and the NUS National Executive and having done the full regulations overhaul that we did in those three stages. They wanted an outside perspective, but someone that represents the perspective of what Vic Park's about, which is innovation and being a bit out there, a bit quirky—obviously reflecting the district that it's in. I was really delighted to get the job, and it was a very interesting shift change going into the very non-political job and enjoying the—in some ways—lack of politics within it.
Are you missing the politics and competitive challenging aspect of your former role as Guild President?
Well I think by the second term of Guild I was slightly over the baby politics, because that's what student politics is in a way. Everyone can get so hot under the collar about such as little stakes. Um, whereas if you looked at the big-boy politics going on now with the federal election, it seems the stakes are higher, but the people are less, you know, aggressive and prosecuting in their views.
And what about your personal life, how do you think the Guild changed you as a person?
I think I changed enormously in those five years—from the person who came in his first year of uni to the person that left. I think if you talked to anyone who knew me through that whole period, they'll just reflect on how different I am as a person having had the experience I did.
What kind of qualities do you think you gained?
Well I essentially went from being a pretty severe introvert, to a quite capable extroverted person. Being kind of an awkward, shy kid out of high school, I went on to be someone who could be Guild president and do all the things involved in that role.
How important do you think the Student Guild is for Curtin?
The Guild is one of the last true student unions in the country and every single thing that we did was to try and keep it that way. Everything I did was to try to keep it there. It is a truly remarkable position still being a student union, running cafes and having that huge commercial arm, while still being a really active and really progressive organisation that fights for something. It’s immensely important!