By Zanny Begg and Amanda Lawrence
From December 7 to 11, the national conference of the National Union of Students met at the University of Ballarat.
Labor students were in a particularly strong position. They won more than 47% of all delegates during elections last year and had already won the majority of office-bearer positions in NUS state branches.
Resistance proposed to Left Alliance and the Non-Aligned Left (NAL) the formation of one Broad Left Caucus to unite the non-Labor left forces in a common struggle to transform the union, but this proposal was rejected.
During the conference a clear divergence was revealed between the left groups, in both policy and how to challenge Labor control of the union.
Contrary to previous years, NUS spent time debating policy proposals at this year's conference. Following are some of the major issues discussed.
Fighting voluntary student unionism (VSU)
One of the most fiery debates at the conference was around strategy in the fight against VSU. Students from the Labor factions put forward a "something for everyone" strategy.
They proposed a campaign aimed at selling student organisations better (a student discount card thrown in for good measure), preparing survival plans for when VSU has been implemented, a campaign of lobbying, a legal challenge and a few rallies (but not too many).
The key opposition proposal was put forward by Resistance and supported by Left Alliance. Resistance argued for a mass-based campaign which would focus on mobilising students in defence of the democratic right to organise against political attacks. Resistance's proposal was defeated.
The conference was attended by a delegation of TAFE students who presented motions aimed at developing links between TAFE and university students.
One amendment considered unacceptable by TAFE students was the stipulation that TAFE students become part of NUS. During the debate students from National Organisation of Labor Students (NOLS) called the TAFE students "scabs" for wanting to retain their own independent union.
Resistance moved for a campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine, which was adopted by the conference.
The International Socialist Organisation and Socialist Alternative put forward a motion which called on NUS to set a date for the next national rally against the Jabiluka mine. This motion was rejected by the left in favour of the Resistance motion, which called for NUS to support a national mobilisation against the Jabiluka mine on a date set by the Mirrar people and the Jabiluka Action Groups.
The debate around the Resistance motion supporting the inclusion of transgendered women in women-only space was one of the most controversial. The Queer network took a vote not to discuss this policy on the basis that it was a "women's issue". The women's network failed to meet throughout the conference.
The NOLS women's policy network, however, had a lengthy debate on the issue, eventually taking a position against Resistance's motion. The NOLS men's caucus on women's policy (non-binding on NOLS) voted in favour of Resistance's motion.
Despite claiming all year that the vote to exclude transgendered women from NOWSA was not a Left Alliance policy, Left Alliance did not take a position on Resistance's motion and voted to de-prioritise it reaching the floor. NAL took a position in favour of the motion.
Unfortunately, quorum was lost before a vote could be taken on the policy.
Other policy motions were passed on women's rights, the education campaign, queer rights, indigenous issues and environmental issues.
The divided left meant that the right dominated the office-bearer elections. NAL pursued an abortive attempt to win the presidency of NUS, losing to Jacob Varghese from NOLS.
Other positions were elected as follows: women's officer, Genieve Derwent (Left Alliance); welfare officer, Tom Cargill (UNITY); education officer, Evelyn Loh (Indies); general secretary, Gilbert Astorga (UNITY); international students officer, Chanton Chang (National Liaison Committee); and environment officer, Scott Alderson (NAL).
[Amanda Lawrence and Zanny Begg were NUS delegates from Canberra University and Griffith University.]