Claudia Long | National Conference Correspondent (@claudialongsays)
Young politicians are in a league of their own. Ask any pollie, staffer or speech writer and they’ll tell you their years in student politics were some of the wildest, fiercest and rewarding times of their career. One of the biggest dates on the calendar of any Young Labor/Liberal/Socialist/Independent representative is the National Union of Students (N.U.S) National Conference (a.k.a Natcon).
The conference, which has a reputation for being a glorified week long shouting match or productive policy hub depending on who you ask, is taking place this week at Monash University’s Clayton campus. If you haven’t had the conference experience first hand here’s a bit of NATCON 101. It’ll help if you try to imagine Lord of the Flies but set in Clayton rather than a deserted island…
Every day after going through ‘credentialing’ (where delegates are assigned a certain number of votes depending on who may be using them as a proxy) delegates and observers go to the conference floor to debate motions/policy.
If I may channel Janis Ian for a moment, where you sit in the hall with your faction is crucial because you’ve got everybody there. You’ve got:
Student Unity (one of the most powerful factions, aligned with the Labor right. Think young Bill Shorten)
SALT (the other major faction, aligned with the Socialist Alternative a.k.a The Trots)
National Labor Students (the Labor left)
The National Independents (Note the capital ‘I’, they’re a left leaning faction)
The Grassroots Left (Another left leaning faction but not quite as left as SALT)
The Young Liberals (Imagine Christopher Pyne in his youth. Yeah, like that.)
The independents (Delegates who are actually independent of a faction)
Taking centre stage is the President (currently NLS member Rose Steele) and other senior NUS staff. Throughout conference delegates will be vying for these (paid) positions on the 2016 team. And up the back? The coolest people you’ll ever meet, student media (and also the officials that handle the logistics of the conference).
For each day of the conference, delegates will have two minutes each (for up to six speakers per motion or motion block) to argue their case for why a particular motion/set of motions should be passed or opposed by the conference floor. Each faction tends to vote together and it’s often decided which way they’ll vote before conference even begins/resumes.
Of course, amongst all this there’s lots impassioned speeches, random shouting, heckling and lots of constructive team work to get things done. HAHAHAHA just kidding that appears to be very rare. This does not mean it is unheard of though, sometimes there are pretty powerful speeches and genuine points made.
Natcon in the evening is a whole other ballgame and one that involves a hell of a lot of drinking. Unity have their fabled punch, the recipe of which is very very secret and only passed on to the ‘Cellar master’ of that year. #Stupol really is in a world of it’s own and you may well think that some of these people may need to get hobbies outside of it every once in a while…
Essentially, that’s the abridged version of how NATCON runs every year. Sadly, we can’t film it for you but that’s something we’ve discussed over here should you care to know our take on it. We’ll be live-tweeting the proceedings from the conference as they happen and keep an eye out for our daily updates.