Live Blog – National Union of Students Nat Conf. 2014
by Finbar O’Mallon
12:07pm – Friday, December 12th
The National Union of Students National Conference 2014 is over as the NUS now looks to fix a crippling deficit problem exacerbated by archaic backroom deals with states and restructure its office bearer positions.
To help return the coffers to surplus, NUS had looked to vote out state office bearer positions – with the exception of state presidents – but it failed and this years state positions have been filed.
In RMIT’s home state, the NUS State Office Bearers are:
VIC President: Cameron Petrie (Student Unity)
VIC General Secretary: Matthew Lesh (Liberals)
VIC Welfare Officer: Nathan Croft (SU)
VIC International Students Officer: Damian Su
VIC Ethno-Cultural Officer: Ahmed Yussuf (Grassroots Left)
VIC Queer Officer: Thomas Quinlivan (National Labor Students)
VIC Small and Regional Officer: Suluiman Enayatzada
And that’s it for the coverage. We will be back with a wrap up on the entire conference soon.
Catalyst would like to thank UTS’ Vertigo Magazine, the other only non-biased media present in the press gallery, for their company and help reporting.
Also thanks goes out to the Secretariat, especially Padriagh, who allowed Catalyst access to information and the voting room floor. The concept of a non-partisan student media presence at NatCon was obviously something that threw a lot of people and Padriagh was especially accommodating.
If you have any tips or anything you’d like to report on NatCon, contact Catalyst via [email protected]
National Queer Officers: Issac Foster (NLS) and Danica Cheesley (SAlt)
National Environment Officer: Carl Jackson (SAlt)
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer: Bridget Cama (SU)
National Women’s Officer: Jess McLeod (SAlt)
National Ethno-Cultural Officer: Michael Bezuidenhout (SU)
National Small and Regional Officer: Rose Gosper (Indies.)
National International Students Officer: Yang Liu (SU)
National Disabilities Officer: Allison Taylor (NLS)
National Welfare Officer: Dean D’Angelo (SU)
The National Executives are in and they are (in order of being voted in) Ezgi Bridger (SU, 1), Brendan Spackman-Williams (Indies, 2), Jasmine Ingram (NLS, 3), Maja Annabella Sieczko (Indies, 4), Laura Waye (Indies, 5), Billy Bruffy (NLS, 6), Gemma Peach (SU, 7), Shagufta Suhaila Ali (Su, 8), Joushua Boughey (SU, 9), Michael Murdocca (SU, 10), Alisha Aitken-Radbburn (SU, 11) and Siobhan Armson-Graham (SU, 12)
The Secretariat has put an embargo on the remainder of the results which are the contested state officer bearer positions.
Katie Kendall and James Wilson from UTS’ Vertigo Magazine joined me in being the only objective media at Nat Con and I would like to express a big thanks to them for keeping me such good company.
4:46pm – Thursday, December 11th
National Labor Students and Student Unity are in a song-sledging match in the courtyards, but secretly they love each other.
Security has told Catalyst that Socialist Alternative has left the building, with the exception of perhaps one or two people.
A few of the Office Bearer positions will probably have a final count by around 7:00pm. Other positions, like chairs on the National Executives, may take a while longer, with a result not expected till 10:00pm.
4:16pm – Thursday, December 11th
So there have been several wins unopposed, in Victoria:
VIC International Students Officer: Damian Su (faction unknown)
TAS President: Ariel Wells (NLS)
TAS Women’s Officer: Heidi LaPaglia (NLS)
TAS General Secretary: Liam Salter (NLS)
In New South Wales:
NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer: Clarke Donovan (SU)
NSW Small and Regional Branch Officer: Roseanna Smith (SU)
NSW General Secretary: Sean Nugent (SU)
NSW Welfare Officer: Michael Elliot (SU)
NSW Environment Officer: Liam O’Callaghan (SU)
NSW Disabilities Officer: Sean Tingcombe (SU)
NSW Ethno-Cultural Officer: Divina Blanca (SU)
In Western Australia:
WA Welfare Officer: Alexsandra Miller (Independents)
WA Disabilities Officer: Natalie Moodrin (Grassroots Left)
WA Environments Officer: Guy McDonald (Independents)
WA Queer Officer: Sam Franz (Independents)
WA Ethno-Cultural Officer: Rafeif Ismail (Grassroots Left)
WA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer: Sharlech Ramirez (Independents)
WA International Student Officer: Carlo Guaia (Independents)
WA General Secretary: Lewis Whittaker (Independents)
In the Australian Capital Territory:
ACT President: Joshua Orchard (SU)
ACT General Secretary: Bronte Cleary (SU)
ACT Environment Officer: Joseph Dodds (SU)
ACT Women’s Officer Megan Lane (SU)
In South Australia:
SA Education Officer: Thomas Gilchrist (SAlt)
SA Welfare Officer: Jack Harrison (NLS)
SA Disabilities Officer: Amy Hueppauff (NLS)
SA Queer Office: Dylan Mackay (NLS)
SA Women’s Officer: Genevieve Danenberg (NLS)
The vote filing must be done because you can hear the various factions beginning to break out in song across Mannix College. Vote will start to begin with announcements likely set to after dinner approx 7:30pm / 8:30pm.
11:37am – Thursday, December 11th
For the fourth and final day of the National Union of Students, National Conference, the conference room has been cleared to allow the votes for Office Bearer candidates to be counted.
Delegates line the halls and enter to collect their voting papers, before handing them over to factional leaders, heavyweights and whips. They compile all the votes of their individual delegates and move them according to any deals struck or plans hatched.
After this is done they place the votes in ballot box so counting can begin.
10:52am – Thursday, December 11th
After the end of last night’s debate on policy, the floor still had to hear from Officer Bearers for their reports and to hear candidacy speeches from the nominees for next year’s office bearers.
There was a lot of thanking and clapping and a lot of reflection.
Isabelle Kingshoot, Gen Sec (SU), said the NUS shouldn’t “let campuses hold guns over our heads over affiliation fees” in reference to elements inside Grassroots. Sarah Garnham, Education Officer (SAlt), was critical of lobbying tactics and hoped to move the NUS towards a stronger method of flash mobilisation.
Jack Gracie, Welfare Officer (SU), felt the changes to the constitution voted in this week were a “vindication” of his work which has been heavily criticised by SAlt. Gerogia Kennelly, Women’s Officer, said Victoria should continue fighting to remain “a pro-choice state” (Victoria has the most progressive abortion laws in the country) and “feminism is only as good as how inclusive we make it”.
The two Queer Officers (SAlt and National Independents) thanked their respective factions and the students who welcome them into their collectives. The International Students Officer (SU) thanked the Labor party for their support for international students.
Josh Rebolledo (NLS) thanked the NUS “for giving me this opportunity” and congratulated fellow-NLS member, Allison Taylor, who was elected unopposed for Disability Officer in 2015.
The Indigenous Officer (SU) said “student politics can be an ugly environment” which may discourage involvement by Indigenous students. The Enviornment Officer (SAlt), with environment being his purview, pointed to his massive involvement in the education campaign against the government’s proposed changes to HECS-HELP.
Jack Boyd, Small + Regional Officer (SU) said the system of funding campaigns “needs to change” to better help regional students. The Ethno-Cultural Officer (SU) said “multicultural Australia” is under attack by the current government.
Then finally it was candidacy speeches. This is a shoe-in, mainly the only people that give speeches are those who are pretty much sledged to win via votes or through factional deals.
Socialist Alternative had obviously been waiting for this moment. When Student Unity’s Michael Bezuidenhout rose to give his candidacy speech for Ethno-Cultural officer, SAlt and Grassroots Left delegates stood and turned their backs to Bezuidenhout and started to call him a “fucking racist”, and chanting “”Say it loud, say it clear, racists are not welcome here”.
Bezuidenhout’s only crime here, it appears, is simply being a white South African of Afrikaner descent. Socialist Alternative and Grassroots’ believe because of Bezuidenhout’s race he should be excluded from Ethno-Cultural Officer, as one SAlt delegate declared his race “a problem on Earth for a hundred years” the night before.
Student Unity didn’t let Bezuidenhout stand alone, forming a barrier around him as he continued to deliver his speech, closing with “I am not a monster.” SAlt laughed when they heard this.
NLS delegates remained seated until after Bezuidenhout made his speech, whereby their candidate for Ethno-Cultural Officer made a speech, critical that a “person of colour” had not held the position this year.
Whilst a good point, NLS are likely to have made a trade-off for the position of Ethno-Cultural Officer so they could take another position. But perhaps it’s a point they still needed to make.
For the most part the candidacy speeches were about maintaining the fight against the Abbott government and candidates doing their best for their fellow student. Floor finally closed at 3:37am.
9:22am – Thursday, December 11th
After debating all policy for the first time in at least two years, the floor the heard reports from its Officer Bearers and the candidacy speeches for next year’s before the floor finally closed at 3:37am. As the delegates scuttle their way across Mannix College with four hours sleep, it’s worth going over last night.
The National Union of Students have passed historical reforms to prevent the organisation sliding into further deficit. Isabelle Kingshott, General Secretary (SU) admitted the organisation was in a deficit of $65,000 and that urgent structural changes were needed, including rooting out “scab” behaviour.
But most controversially, and something that has not gone down on the floor or inside Student Unity’s own ranks, the NUS is ceasing to pay its Indigenous Officer, International Students Officer and National Disability Officer.
Kyol Blakeney (Grassroots Left), who received a standing ovation earlier in the day as criticised candidates for being so quick to pass Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander the night before, was called a “scab” after bemoaning the loss of pay for National Indigenous Officer. Blakeney said it was “absolutely ridiculous” that officer positions “for the most disadvantaged people people” were to be voted out.
Just as controversial, but failing to pass, was the proposal to abolish state branches with the exception of State Presidents. It’s obvious though, that Student Unity and Socialist Alternative had reached a deal to ensure the NUS could pass a lot of the reforms.
The floor moved to Women’s policy, which passed with a relative whimper. There was debate over the spelling of Women’s, with Student Unity both arguing that ‘Womyn’s’ or ‘Wom*n’s’ only alienated people and was only met with derision.
A motion was written up on floor at the last minute for the NUS to take a stance on destigmatising student workers. The floor heard from an SU delegate, also a former sex worker, who told a story of how she fell asleep at “an overnighter” before the client stole her money and ran. The motion passed unanimously.
Also important on the Woman’s policy was the need to maximise safety for women on university campuses, including safety from “militant action” according to Student Unity. This was a criticism, it seemed, to Socialist Alternative members who had attacked fellow students on campuses during protests.
Most of the Women’s policy debate would be the most unified the floor would get for the night as the conference moved to the last bit of policy, Administration.
Again this was about fixing the NUS’ structural woes and giving it a budget surplus by careful use of its capital investments and fixed deposits. Socialist Alternative, whilst voting for most of the reform on the Constitution Regulation and By-Laws, wasn’t liking the proposals for Admin.
Their main argument was that the best way to improve NUS finances was by increasing membership and you’d do that by taking more militant action which would encourage more involvement from apolitical students.
Student Unity replied, “you guys seem to think you can spend to save!” SAlt laughed at this, and it’s understandable, as some of their street campaigns have criticised the austerity measures being imposed in Europe, particularly Greece.
The debate on austerity measures vs. Keynesianism is perhaps only one that works on government level and not a level such as the NUS. But for the majority, Administration policy was passed.
That was it, policy was over. At this point it was nearly 1:30 in the morning and so the ‘press gallery’ was getting silly:
It’s probably worth mentioning this is going to be a long night with bets going this continues to 3:00am. If you’re still reading this, you should get some sleep, if at least for me. There will be wrap here for you in the morning.
It’s still day three technically, but we’ve clocked into December 11th. Women’s policy has been passed, including the last-minute addition of a motion titled ”Solidarity and destigmatisation of students who are sex workers‘. The policy would have the National Union of Students stand in solidarity with sex workers and work with sex worker unions to help students working in the industry.
Finally there was WOMEN 6.25 aka ‘Putting the E back in Women’s’, a bill to cease the alternative use of ‘Womyn’s’ and ‘Wom*n’s’. RMIT’s own Women’s Officer, Abena Dove (Student Unity) argued it was only ever met with derision and only fed “the campaign against feminism”.
Socialist Alternative also argued in favor, saying the women’s rights movement had always used the traditional spelling lest if alienate working class women. National Labor Students and Grassroots Left spoke against it. NLS argued that it would harm the autonomy of women’s departments.
A speaker from Student Unity rose to say she wanted “to make a comment but the word comment has ‘men’ in it” and then proceeded to read off words containing ‘men’: “abolishment, achievement, environment” etc. A lot of the floor was laughing but the men were told to “shut up” by the chair as this wasn’t their time to speak.
Grassroots Left’s Anna Amelia told the floor, “There’s a reason the [*] is in there and that’s because of trans people.” Abena Dove, Student Unity, stressed that wasn’t meant to be the case and it was about building a more inclusive women’s department.
However NLS and Grassroots Left still voted against the motion, whilst the votes from Student Unity and SAlt allowed it to pass.
A tweet by me via @rmitcatalyst was considered derisive of the need to continue debating Women’s policy as there had been some confusion whether to move to Administration policy. Extremely sorry for this, it wasn’t meant to be insulting! Now the floor moves to Administration policy.
11:19pm – Wednesday, December 10th
There are a series of blocs on Women’s policy being discussed. Some of the policy, particularly WOMEN 6.22, is taking heed of a recently announced initiative by US President, Barack Obama, to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
It’s a huge problem in the states and perhaps really came to prominence with college student, Emma Sulkowicz (aka ‘mattress girl’), who will carry her mattress around Columbia University until her rapist is dealt with by the college. Socialist Alternative doesn’t like that NUS is taking inspiration from Obama who shouldn’t be listened to because he’s “a warlord”.
National Labor Students also don’t like some of the presented policies saying, “this does not empower women” it “brings men into a space that’s for women only”. Studenty Unity hits back saying the “patriarchy affects men too” and more needs to be done to help our “male brothers”.
Also it includes WOMEN 6.8 aka ‘National Our Bodies Our Choice Campaign’ which is looking at the controversial ‘Zoe’s Law’. Zoe’s Law, which has passed the NSW lower house, hopes to grant legal personhood to fetuses after a woman lost her unborn baby in a car accident. It’s considered an attack on abortion rights.
So far WOMEN 6.10, 6.11, 6.12, 6.14, 6.15, 6.16, 6.17, 6.18 and 6.28 have passed en bloc.
10:51pm – Wednesday, December 10th
The most controversial changes to the National Union of Students has passed and with a relative whimper to the chaos of the campus count and Disability policy last night. Delegates from Student Unity admitted to the floor that previous General Secretaries had lied about the NUS being in a “budget surplus” and were told if NUS kept running the way it was it wouldn’t exist in five years.
So NUS had to vote in for a structural and financial review and would also cease paying Indigenous, International Student and Disability Officer positions. Members from both Student Unity and Socialist Alternative attacked delegates from the Western Australian branch for being the only ones at a state level to receive funding. This is because WA threatened to cut funding from the NUS if they didn’t receive funding.
The floor was in an uproar, Grassroots and Independent delegates screamed at speakers proposing voting up, before the floor turned on them, with Student Unity breaking into a chant of “scab”. But that was as truly heated as it got. The motions were passed and NUS is going through a historical structural change in order for it to survive.
An Independent delegate was furious and approached The Chair at the front, calling the passing of the motion a “disgrace”. The Chair finally called for Security to remove the delegate from the floor, who turned before Security reached her and stormed out. At 11:00pm at night, the floor moved to Women’s policy.
A motion was brought to all factions to apologise for initial discussion of ATSI policy, all signed until Unity tore it to pieces #nusnatcon — UTS Vertigo (@VertigoMagazine) December 10, 2014
Apparently the torn up paper was then literally eaten by the Business Committee. They were presented with a motion to sign off on a second time (in case the digestion of paper had been a mistake). And now for some, as we say, ‘lols’:
The second apology motion got through. The first will get through in 6 to 8 hours #nusnatcon — UTS Vertigo (@VertigoMagazine) December 10, 2014
9:25pm – Wednesday, December 10th
Delegates are now returning to the floor at 9:30pm at night, up for debate is Constitution, Regulations and By-Laws policy (page 1); Administration policy (page 10) and Women’s policy (page 195). Then, it’s believed, we will have to hear candidate’s speeches for tomorrow’s voting on positions.
7:56pm – Wednesday, December 10th
At the end of the debate on Queer policy, the Grievance Officer spoke to say that it was “an excellent example” on how to conduct civil debate. A lot of people agreed:
With the exception of factional queer officer mentions, queer policy discussion is dignified and non-sectarian :’) #proud#nusnatcon — Axeris Sondyre (@AxerisSondyre) December 10, 2014
A lot of policy was en bloc but there was no real contention on how the National Union of Students should help queer students, students living with HIV and students who identify as asexual.
Socialist Alternative’s April Holcombe felt that the best thing for queer people would be aggressive protesting and that some policy – particularly QUEER 7.2 aka ‘We all need to pee’ – didn’t go far enough. Robby Magyar from Student Unity agreed that the policy didn’t go far enough, but stopped short of supporting radical action, rather pushing for people to keep lobbying and campaigning.
QUEER 7.2 aka ‘We all need to pee’ is all about establishing gender neutral bathrooms for trans students. Anna Amelia from Grassroots Left laughed as she told the floor she had been stickering every bathroom at UNSW. Without a fuss, QUEER 7.2 passed.
QUEER 7.4 aka ‘Queer homelessness’ also passed, which looked at providing better support services for queer students. A Student Unity delegate spoke on how their friend’s life was threatened due to the lack of support services. Again, it passed, meaning the NUS would do more to organise services for queer students facing homelessness. This tends to happen when some students identify as queer or trans or asexual, etc., they are kicked out of home by their families.
Lastly was QUEER 7.11, which passed, allowing NUS to use their resources to provide better information for queer students. A National Labor Students delegate spoke of how little queer students knew what was available to help them. “Did you know,” he asked, “the hormones for trans people are actually covered by [the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme]? I think that’s fantastic.”
But the floor wasn’t allowed to leave for dinner after that, the Grievance Officer said, “obviously last night was less than acceptable.” Then she stepped aside to allow Anna Amelia and Kyol Blakeney to speak on how angry – “furious” – they were that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy had been “rammed through” last night. The floor fell dead silent.
“We [Indigenous Australians] have been made silent for too long,” said Blakeney, as he returned to each policy saying that the NUS didn’t need to give these campaign policies any resources, “I did this campaign on my own”. After he finished speaking the floor rose in a standing ovation.
Amelia, who spoke next, pointed out she wasn’t wearing shoes, “a symbol of my people’s poverty across this country”. Again she expressed her anger at the gloss over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island policies received last night and again the floor rose to applause.
And after Amelia sat down the floor sat silent before standing, without a signal, to file out for dinner. Was quite a site.
6:05pm – Wednesday, December 10th
The current Chair has pointed out last year’s debate on Queer policy got pretty heated and pointed out the Grievance officer for delegates.
Enivornment policy (page 286) has been debated and the floor is moving onto Queer policy (page 233).
To be debated and vote en bloc is ENVIRO 12.1, 12.2, 12.4, 12.5, 12.6, 12.7, 12.8, 12.10 and 12.11 #nusnatcon — Catalyst Magazine (@rmitcatalyst) December 10, 2014
The floor first passed a bloc motion that looked at making NUS having a bigger environmental campaign including condemning the Victoria’s controversial East-West Link and the Hazelwood fire (also in Victoria). Socialist Alternative didn’t like a Student Unity delegate who rose to speak with a t-shirt that promoted mining uranium and didn’t like him suggesting Australia embraces nuclear energy.”That was an absolute crock of bollocks,” replied the next SAlt speaker.
Student Unity argued that the policy on East West Link was irrelevant as it had nothing to do with students, but the current Chair – also a member of Student Unity – said the speaker shouldn’t speak as he wasn’t from Victoria. After that, the motions were passed en bloc. Next was ENVIRO 12.3 or ‘Fossil Free Universities (and Student Organisations)’, which would have NUS working with universities to divest their shares away fossil fuel companies but also have NUS shares divested away from fossil fuel companies.
Student Unity argued that because NUS’ finances were too sensitive at the moment, it would be fiscally irresponsible to move shares away from fossil fuel companies. The Independents disagreed, believing it was “a simple, achievable thing NUS can do”. SAlt said university Vice-Chancellors “like all capitalists” wanted to destroy the environment. Yet after speaking so loudly against it, Socialist Alternative voted with Student Unity to remove ENVIRO 12.3. NUS won’t be working with unis, or their own finances, to divest away from fossil fuels.
It’s likely that SU and SAlt had made a factional agreement before the floor opened.
Finally ENVIRO 12.9, which was to lobby the Abbot government to reintroduce the carbon tax. SAlt’s position that reintroducing a Carbon Tax would just put money back in the hands of fossil fuel companies. Student Unity pushed that it was a Labor policy and they were proud to stand by it. It passed.
4:55pm – Wednesday, December 10th
Peter Garrett, activist and former-Labor minister, regales the crowd with ‘The Power and the Passion’ as they file in for day three. But ‘The Power and the Passion’ has nothing on ‘Beds Are Burning’:
4:28pm – Wednesday, December 10th
Another delay to conference start time, a push back to 4:30pm. This cuts it pretty close to dinner at 6:30pm (delegates gotta eat), which raises questions about how much could really get done before then; cutting down debate on any policy to about an hour.
Conference was expected to resume at 2:30pm, then 3:00pm; now it’s been pushed back to 4:00pm. All policy has to be debated by the end of the night which means this may be a long slog till 12:00am or even 3:00am.
Policy has to be voted on tonight because tomorrow is the day the floor votes on the nominees in positions for the NUS.
1:33pm – Wednesday, December 10th
Slowly creeping towards start time. Onto nominations, which will be voted on Thursday, there are a few delegates who will be voted in uncontested. They are Alison Taylor (Flinders, National Labor Students) for National Disability Officer and RMIT’s own Yang Liu (Student Unity) for International Students Officer.
11:32am – Wednesday, December 10th
It’s going to be a late start to today. A spokesperson from the Secretariat has said factions aren’t probably going to make quorum until after lunch, with conference floor looking to open up at 2:30pm. It’s possible people are still grappling with last night.
10:19am – Wednesday, December 10th
So far this morning delegates are raising their heads from under pillows for day three. The floor didn’t close until 11:00pm last night and the partying went well into the morning’s early hours.
The cleaners aren’t impressed with the state of the conference floor and it’s doubtful they’ll be impressed with the rest of the building. Meanwhile over at Monash University people have taken the liberty to redecorate Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s ads for his failed higher education reform package.
Monash Security asked Catalyst what they were doing taking photos of the signs, thinking Catalyst was perhaps photographing their own handiwork. After quelling that notion we learn Monash Security suspects whose handiwork it may have been, but we won’t name names.
9:25am – Wednesday, December 10th
Where were we? The campus count on the move to remove Action 4 in UNION 3.10, which would have NUS officially supporting any students arrested in anti-staff cut protests at Melbourne University. Socialist Alternative was obviously against removing Action 4, Student Unity and delegates from other factions were for removing it.
Debate opened with April Holcombe, Socialist Alternative, attacking the Labor-aligned factions in the room, saying “”Once again factions in this room have shown their dedication to being scabs”.
“Once again factions in this room have shown their dedication to being scabs” April Holcombe, SAlt #nusnatcon — UTS Vertigo (@VertigoMagazine) December 9, 2014
The count was 761 against, 848 for removing the amendment, meaning the NUS doesn’t stand by students arrested. But as it was being counted the floor was in disarray.
Holcombe kept yelling at a member of the Independents, Cameron Caccamo for being a “scab”. Following him around the room and yelling across the room to denouce him.
As the various campuses were counted, SAlt members followed the Secretariat (the counters) to see who was voting for removing the amendment. They would call any campus leaders whose campus had delivered a majority to remove Action 4 “scabs” or cry “shame”. Those who abstained were just as bad in SAlt’s eyes.
But the vote was finally counted: 761 against, 848 for removing Action 4. NUS would not stand by arrested students. The main reasoning from Student Unity’s side is that when SAlt protests turn ugly and attack other students, NUS would have to stand by them.
After that you’d think it had reached its peak. The floor moved to debating Disability Policy and heard some moving speeches during the debate by various delegates. It was a big deal to some, seeing as Disability Policy didn’t even get to be discussed at last year’s NatCon.
But what proved most contentious was DISA 9.8, ‘Accessibility in NUS Campaigns’ which called for better access for disabled people at NUS-organised National Days of Action. The preamble reads,
The Student movement is a social and political movement that encompasses many issues for a number of minorities and as such should be accessible to people from all walks as life in order to best represent the interests of the groups the movement fights for.
Basically, even disabled people should be able to come to NDAs to protest against attacks on higher education. SAlt didn’t like it. One SAlt speaker said it was “condescending” to disabled people and would hamper the “momentum” of protests. Every faction – Student Unity, NL, Grassroots, Independents – roared against this.
A Grassroots Left speak said they disagreed with SAlt. NLS said, “one in five people in Australia have a disability, that’s one in five who don’t have the potential to participate in National Days of Action.”
SAlt’s Chloe Rafferty responded, “It’s pretty inaccurate to think those one in five people haven’t already been involved in protests”. Again, a massive uproar from across the floor towards SAlt.
A Grassroots candidate stood to say that by voting up DISA 9.8, it would “allow students with a disability to have their voices heard more”. Josh Rebolledo, NLS, went further by telling SAlt they “had no idea what the hell [DISA 9.8] is about”.
But then the NUS Disability Officer rose to spoke, relaying an anecdote on how a disabled student had approached her in tears about how she couldn’t attend a National Day of Action despite feeling “so strongly about deregulation”.
“They [SAlt] don’t care about disabled students, because if they’ve got their point across, then who the fuck cares?” said the NUS Disability Officer. The entire floor, with the exception of SAlt, stood to give her a standing ovation. Then they vote came, which saw for the first time a united floor (again, with the exception of SAlt) and DISA 9.8 was passed. The NUS would not be ableist, they would work to have access for disabled students at National Days of Action.
But it wasn’t over. As the floor moved to discuss Environment Policy for the first time in at least three years, SAlt’s Chloe Rafferty walked over to where Grassroots candidates were sitting to talk to them. Grassroots must not have liked what they heard because she was told to “fuck off”. People were filing out of the room (some in tears in the lobby) and as the floor discussed Environment policies, delegates were moving around probably to file grievances. Some Grassroots candidates had gotten extremely anxious from the attack on them by Socialist Alternative during Disabled policy.
Environment policy was deferred so the floor could move to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy. The floor voted to remove the acronym ATSI in all forms across the policy book to be replaced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy in full. Then the floor carried a motion to close for the night; it was 11:00pm.
It’s been two busy hours since I last filed. It’s been heated. The debate fired up around UNION 3.10 and 3.11, motions to condemn staff cuts at Melbourne Uni and LaTrobe respectively. It wasn’t the condemnation of the cuts that divided the room but Action 4 in UNION 3.10, which read,
NUS will defend students expelled or otherwise disciplined for participating in protests against cuts
A motion was passed to debate on removing Action 4. Student Unity was for removing, so were delegates inside other factions; Socialist Alternative was against removing it. When they voted it was unclear who had won, some people on the floor raised pink lanyards (as opposed to blue ones), which have no voting rights. The Chair called for a ‘campus count’.It’s chaos. It means lining up all the delegates in attendance – at least those with votes – under the names of their respective universities and votes are counted.
In the end it was 848 for removing the amendment and 761 against. That means the NUS will not stand by students arrested at anti-staff cut protests at Melbourne University. 9:18pm – Tuesday, December 9th The condolence motion for Gough Whitlam passes with Labor members in the room observing two minutes silence.
Socialist Alternative start yelling as National Labor Student and Student Unity members observe the silence, including “Where’s the two minutes silence for free education?”, “[or] black deaths in custody?”. SU and NLS members aren’t impressed.
9:03pm – Tuesday, December 9th
Things are still going. So far we have vote on and passed UNION 3.12, 3.13, 3.14, 3.16, 3.17 and 3.18 en bloc. Before moving on to UNION 3.3, 3.8, 3.19, policies which mainly focused on Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF). Socialist Alternative spoke against these policies, the reasoning being that supporting policies pushing for better control of SSAF is too much of an acceptance of the system and move away from Universal Student Unionism.
Yet despite speaking against these policies, even calling the National Labor Students views on SSAF as “craven apologism”, they have voted up UNION 3.3, 3.8 and 3.19. Now UNION 3.1 or ‘Condolence Motion for E.G. Whitlam’, basically two minutes of silence for the late former-Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. It’s controversial, why? Because Whitlam was Labor and this room doesn’t have a complete share of Labor fans. Or it may be because everyone in the room is trying to claim Whitlam as their own.
6:38pm – Tuesday, December 9th
The floor has broken for dinner and will resume at 8:30pm. Up next is Unionism policy (page 58) but in the excitement of the last few hours I forgot to put up some vision of the broken mike incident.
So moves on Welfare passed in bloc. The freshly elected NUS Business Committee move to have Platform .2 of WELF 5.15 aka ‘Fuck Abbott and his class war budget’ removed. The section stated:
The National Union of Students supports the mass action of affected sections of the public dissatisfied and angry with the budget, and believes it is in the interest of students to participate in and encourage this social resistance in all its forms.
Whilst members of Student Unity tried to vote it down, it passed because of Socialist Alternative. Basically, NUS now officially states that it’s in students best interests to attend protests. We moved to Ethno-Cultural Students policy where it got ugly. A SAlt delegate found it offensive “as a black student” that Student Unity was fielding “a white South African” as their NUS Ethno-Cultural Officer nominee. Fabian Vergara, SU, didn’t like that.
As the Chair called for another speaker on the policy, Omar Hassan took the mic and said that he was “not going to allow another white person talk about Ethno-Cultural policy.” He then said “White South Africans are not oppressed! White South Africans have been a problem on this Earth for a hundred years!”
“White South Africans are not oppressed. White South Africans have been a problem on this Earth for a hundred years!” Omar Hassan #nusnatcon — UTS Vertigo (@VertigoMagazine) December 9, 2014
Hassan was twice named and is not allowed to be heard on the floor any longer. Then there was a look at ETHNO 11.4 ‘Ensuring representation’, meaning NUS would look to establish Ethno-Cultural officers in Australian universities that didn’t already have one. Whilst it passed, SAlt spoke out against it believing that this sort of approach only perpetuated victim-hood and didn’t deal with the fundamental issues of racism.
After things calmed down, Abdi Yusuf, Grassroots, from LaTrobe added the new wording to policy ETHNO 11.8 ‘Building Collectives. Amendments are in bold and underlined.
With the damaging effects that racism and discrimination has on students who do not fit into the mainstream cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic identity of their surrounds in a predominantly “white” Australia, it is imperative that NUS support autonomous Ethnocultural and identifyingPeople of Color collectives and departments.
Things are still pretty mellow.
4:48pm – Tuesday, December 9th
For the record, up next:
Next up we’re discussing WELF 5.15 aka the colorfully named, ‘Fuck Abbott and his class war budget’ (Wonder what it’s about!). #nusnatcon
Student Unity wanted to open the debate by moving to officially celebrate the government’s scrapping of the $7 GP co-payment and thank their member, Jack Gracie (RMIT), NUS Welfare Officer for his work in doing so.
Socialist Alternative did not like this. Then a National Labor Student delegate spoke to thank Gracie too; SAlt members screamed “bullshit”, but the delegate then thanked SAlt members for organising the National Days of Action. Of course, Student Unity can’t help themselves and keep rising to thank Jack Gracie to stir SAlt.
Steph Lang, SAlt, rose to spoke. She spoke too loudly and they cut her microphone. Members from SAlt were furious, with Kat Henderson to condemn the chair.
The Chair called for silence as Student Unity tried to rise into another chant. Lang was allowed to return to speak but it appears the microphone broke. Delegates are now forced to ‘project’, so those of us in the cheap seats are really struggling.
It seems everyone is back into their game; this morning people were well behaved (and hungover) but that facade is slowly going.
3:52pm – Tuesday, December 9th
We’re back from lunch and everyone’s gearing to go; must have been all that sugar. And the air con is finally working in the conference hall! We’re on to debating Welfare policy (page 153).
But before that, Iggy Azaela was playing on the big screen before the floor opened and Student Unity instantly broke out into song that rhymed to ‘Fancy’ that sledged the Socialist Alternative. It seems a lot of Student Unity’s time is spent making songs paying out SAlt, and then they enter voting on policy saying they’re looking forward to a good debate.
The Welfare policy includes looking at the way the NUS can fight student homelessness and mental health issues. Tom Nock, Student Unity, says “student welfare is our bread and butter”.
1:03pm – Tuesday, December 9th
The final debate before lunch focused on the lifting of parallel import restrictions. Ariel Zohar, RUSU’s General Secretary and a member of Student Unity, believes the debate for maintaining Australian industry is for another forum.
Before that though, a speaker for the Independents rose and admitted his faction was split on whether to vote for lifting the restrictions. Everyone in the room very confused until Student Unity started chanting “one of us!” In the end the motion was defeated, there will be no lifting of the ban.
Student Unity may look to exploit that rift in the Independents for next year as no doubt they’ll keep pushing for this lift. But in the era of a government that has seen so much Australian industry close, reduce or go overseas, it may not wash with the other factions.
The floor closed for lunch at 12:55pm and no one seems to know when to return. Stay tuned.
12:26pm – Tuesday, December 9th
The floor has debated International Students policy and carried INTL 10.1 and 10.2.
10.1 is a proposal to lobby for New Zealand students to have access to the Australian HECS-HELP. SAlt thinks it could go further by opening up HECS-HELP to all international students.
10.2 was basically about defending international students workers rights. Jack Todaro, SAlt and a General Representative on RUSU said that he works hard in hospitality as an Australian citizen, but knows it’s even worse for international students.
Now we look at the lifting of parallel import restrictions. This was a hot topic last year too. Parallel import restrictions keeps textbooks printed overseas from outside of Australia, meaning more work for Australian publishers but more expensive textbooks for students.
Student Unity is making the old capitalistic argument (or “neo-liberal” say SAlt), that more publishers on the market with lower prices means more competition and therefore lower prices. It’s a classic argument and never really holds weight. In fact, wasn’t that Pyne’s argument on deregulating the higher education sector?
12:07pm – Tuesday, December 9th
Just so you know what we’re currently talking about here,
Debating Small and Regional policies 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, 13.4 + 13.6. We’ve uploaded the NUS 2014 policy book for you! https://t.co/PTtqyAbYon
So far, Student Unity and the National Independents support the policy proposals. So does the Socialist Alternative (SAlt), but they have “some criticisms” and believe one thing the NUS could do is bus in students from regional universities to join National Days of Action.
Student Unity disagrees. Students “don’t want to spend four hours on a bus”, says Josh Orchid as it’s “not [his] idea of spending [his] time correctly”.
11:46am – Tuesday, December 9th
The conference room has filled up with the big screen looking at the SAR policy or Small and Regional for those playing at home (page 298).
Again, considering the changes to higher education will perhaps affect regional students the worst, it’s interesting to see what will play out here. Party of the policy proposals includes organising for the NUS to better communicate with union office bearers on small and regional campuses, including getting protests organised for regional students who may be excluded from marches in the capitals.
As the conference floor opens, grievances are being raised. The Grievance Office reminds delegates that “generally being an arsehole is not okay” and reminded people of consent; some grievances regarding sexual harassment have been raised apparently. What the hell did these people do here last night?
10:35am – Tuesday, December 9th
It begins: day two of the NUS National Conference. Yesterday mainly focused on education policy, in particular how the NUS will protest against the government’s higher education changes. It’s not normal for education policy to be discussed this early, normally administrative business is reviewed but it’s rumoured that elements inside the NUS are trying to delay admin policy discussion because it contains a proposal to audit the NUS.
But how about them ads? On ABC’s RN Breakfast this morning, Fran Kelly discussed the new ads with Paul Bongiorno. Bongiorno, a political commentator for Ten and one who normally cuts a centrist path, called the ads “political propaganda without a doubt”. In his eyes, their leftovers from Education Minister Christopher Pyne believing his ads would have passed the senate by now (remember that Spectator cover?).
Having said that Bongiorno discussed Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s trip to a Peruvian climate conference and how Australians in general want more action on climate change. The NUS has environmental policy to discuss (page 286) but for the last two years of NUS they’ve never found the time and it’s doubtful they will this year.
But delegates are preparing to return for conference start at 11:00am. There will be no video, it was banned in the middle of proceedings last night.
Voice recording, and film recording has been banned by #nusnatcon. Sorry student media.
So eventually the hall was packed and proceedings got underway, proceeding with looking at the NUS’ battle plan to protest the government’s proposed ‘reforms’ for higher education.
It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in the room. For a group that is supposedly working together to improve the lives of students across the country and were recently united by Pyne’s failure to pass his education reforms, the factions are at each other’s throats.
Delegates are quick to shoutt each other down or laugh at the most minor of verbal stumbles or announce the name of the faction they represent to an enormous applause from their own side.
But all the factions recognised Pyne’s failure as their success to be credited to the NUS. The Socialist Alternative was more particular, believing they were the ones that had organised the protest action and therefore deserving of all the credit.
No one is really keen to share success with anyone, even when Grassroots delegates thanked particular protest organisers for their help. Likewise, a candidates from the Independent faction (there are no small-i independents at NUS) who called for better partisanship was scoffed at.
Filming on the floor was banned soon after a particularly verbal fight where delegates were ‘named’ (named ‘thrice’ and you’re out, think of it like 94A) and walked over to factional sections to yell at each other.
Delegates soon turned to voting on policy EDU 4.33, in particular they voted to remove a policy platform:
NUS believes that keeping student union facilities open during [National Days of Action] undermines these events and as such support them being closed during these events.
Simply that the student union run cafes on campus should be closed during protests.
A Student Unity delegate stood up, saying that only a small portion of students attended the protests and besides he thought the national days of action were a “trot love-in”. A member of the Socialist Alternative yelled “Were you there?”, the Student Unity member lent into the mike and said “I have better things to do with my time.” The section of the floor Socialist Alternative erupted, screaming at the delegate as he smiled and walked from the podium.
The amendment was voted down and so student union services will remain open during national days of action.
Soon after this there was a vote on EDU 4.6, ‘Equitable access to university classes’, which would move for NUS to lobby compulsory recording of lectures at universities. The room was divided.
Those for believed it was the best way to help students who struggled to come to uni everyday, particularly disabled students. Those against, mainly speaking on behalf of the National Tertiary Education Union, argued it was “justification to sack teachers”.
This was an important one for the members of RMIT’s Connect inside Student Unity whose major campaign point in this year’s election for RUSU was to introduce such a policy. Lucky for them, it passed.
That part of the day closed at 6.27pm and was set to resume at 8.35pm. Unfortunately, Catalyst can’t be there, but we’ll be back tomorrow for day two. Stay tuned.
3:19pm – Monday, December 8th
There’s a buzz in the air. Delegates have started to pack the halls as the floor looks to open at 3:30pm.
Early birds are held back by Tiny, one of the security guards who was at last year’s conference.
1:56pm – Monday, December 8th
So far things are still getting warmed up here. Delegates have registered, those who are staying have found their rooms and now they’re settling down for lunch.
The 2014 policy book sets the agenda for the conference, but it’s unclear really when delegates will start going over it. Some of the highlights include a move to end parallel import restrictions on textbooks, which essentially means being allowed to import cheaper versions of textbooks from overseas instead of printing them in Australia.
Cheekily, another policy includes a move to run a campaign of “Our University’s are not bagel factories!” A play on the “massive hole” in the American education system – where bagels are huge and operate in an ‘unregulated’ market.
At the same time, the policy book includes move to push for the NUS to “publicly oppose” the neo-liberalisation of the higher education system (those changes that Education Minister Christopher Pyne couldn’t pass through the senate last week).
Some delegates feel the NUS could do more to publicly oppose the cuts to education under the Abbott government and considering the outcome of Victoria’s state election this year, it will be interesting to see what sort of campaign they will plan to run.
12:02pm – Monday, December 8th
The week of the National Union of Students, National Conference 2014 has begun at Monash University’s Mannix College. What is it? Basically, all the student unions from across Australia come together to debate student matters. Amongst the students, various factions play out, including Student Unity (Labor Right), National Labor Students (Labor Left), Socialist Alternative (guess) and Grassroots (Greens).
RMIT University Student Union this year remained in the hands of Connect, whose members are mainly part of Student Unity but with some non-aligned people campaigning on the ticket (including the team at Catalyst).
Catalyst will be running a live blog throughout the next few weeks, possibly some live tweets too. Unfortunately Catalyst wasn’t at last year’s conference, which got colorful, but our friend Martin Ditman from Farrago’s (Melbourne Uni’s magazine) article is a great breakdown of last year’s conference.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!