BY STACEY BRENNAN & EWAN SAUNDERS
BRISBANE — The National Union of Students (NUS) National Education Conference, held July 5-7, was attended by 400 students. An endorsement of the campus refugee sanctuary campaign as "an idea worthy of further discussion and consideration on campuses for semester two" was one of the main decisions of the conference.
Students throughout Australia are already organising the sanctuary campaign — calling mass student meetings and referendums in order to declare campuses refugee safe havens.
The conference also voted to secure NUS funding for a national refugees' rights poster urging student participation in the campaign.
"This will be a national campaign of mass civil disobedience", Resistance activist Sam King told Green Left Weekly. " Students will finally get the chance to express their disgust at the ALP and Coalition for their refugee policies."
The campaign caused some debate at the conference. NSW Labor for Refugees co-convenor Amanda Tattersall, a speaker at the conference, condemned the campaign, labelling it "ultraleft". Students from the ALP-right faction Student Unity argued that support for refugees' rights was a "diversion" from the "real" issues facing students.
In the face of this opposition, King applauds the conference decision."University campuses have helped spur social change before. Now we need a focused pro-refugee campaign on campus."
Deregulation of higher education was condemned at the conference. The conference decided to prioritise campaigns condemning the review into higher education funding headed by Brendan Nelson.
Options put forth in the review include:
- The abolition, in effect, of HECS and its replacement with a loans scheme;
- Hikes in the HECS rates;
- Restricting subsidised student places to initial degrees and/or a specified time limit;
- Getting rid of many courses with small enrolments;
- Diverting more public funding to private educationalists;
- Targeting research activity at elite universities; and
- The introduction of a voucher system to allocate funding.
A lunchtime debate on the topic "Israel vs Palestine — What is the cause of the violence?" became one of the highlights of the conference. Alex Kouttab from the Arabic Council of Australia presented a convincing pro-Palestine perspective in response to a young Liberal who presented the Zionist case.
The other notable contribution of the Young Liberals to the conference was inflating condoms to disrupt speakers.
From Green Left Weekly, July 17, 2002.
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