National Union of Students meet to plan fight back, amid controversy

Issue 
Debating policy on the floor of NUS conference 2014. Photo: RMIT Catalyst (rmitcatalyst.com)

The National Union of Students (NUS) Conference 2014 kicked off at the Mannix College in Monash University, Melbourne last week to decide policy and administrative reform for the next year. They also voted to for the reintroduction of a new series of Office Bearing positions for 2015.

The conference was dominated by Young Labor Right, Student Unity, The Labor Left, National Labor Students, Socialist Alternative and Grassroots Collective. A scattering of independents also attended.

The topics the body voted on included campaigning for national education reform, the participation of students at rallies, disabled students, queer students, and female students.

However, the policy topic that was most controversial following the conference was the significant lack of substantial discussion about indigenous students and the later removal of the Indigenous Representative Officer's pay.

University of Sydney Student Representative Council President and member of the Grassroots Collective Kyol Blakeney condemned the lack of discussion around Indigenous policy, saying it “was rushed through”. He also condemned NUS's decision to end the pay of the Indigenous Officer, the International Officer and the National Disability Officer, saying it was “absolutely ridiculous” that paid officer positions “for the most disadvantaged people” were to be voted out.

The decision came from a call for a structural financial review after the NUS General Secretary admitted they had lied about being in a “budget surplus” and “were told that if NUS kept running the way it was, it wouldn't exist in five years”.

Some factions of the NUS put forward a motion for an apology for all discussion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy at the conference. UTS Vertigo reported that all the factions signed except for Unity who tore the motion to pieces. RMIT Catalyst reported that a Unity member physically swallowed the paper with the motion on it. A second motion of the same nature was put forward and later passed.

The decisions surrounding Indigenous rights at the conference has sparked a student movement by Blacademy, a national collective of Indigenous students. Blacademy outlined their reasons for sparking a movement against the NUS's conduct on their blog. They call for the disaffiliation, and condemnation of the NUS, as well as discontinuation of Indigenous students’ cooperation with the NUS office bearer positions.

There were several other decisions that sparked heated debate within and outside the NUS conference floor, including the election of a white South African student Michael Bezuidenhout as the Student Union's Ethno-Cultural Officer. Students on the floor who opposed the decision turned their backs on him during his speech.

Socialist Alternative delegate Omar Hassan stated that “South Africans are not oppressed. White South Africans have been a problem on Earth for hundreds of years.”

In other debates, a preference deal between Student Unity and the National Labor Students (NLS) resulted in Liberal student Mathew Lesh being elected as Victorian General Secretary of the branch. He later told Crikey that he planned to “abolish student services and amenities fees, support the government's reforms on higher education and try to reform if not abolish the NUS itself”.

Policy changes made at the conference included a decision to campaign for compulsory recording of lectures, to lobby for New Zealand students to have access to Australian HECS-HELP, a long-debated policy to create more accessibility for disabled students at national days of action, to provide more funding to services for homeless queer students and to combat sexual assault on campus.

The student services and amenities fee was also voted up by the floor. Socialist Alternative voted for the fee, despite having just described the motion as “craven apologism”. Vertigo reported that this was due to a deal that had been struck between the Socialist Alternative and NLS.

Much of the long-debated policy on the floor was voted down, including a proposal for the union to divest from fossil fuels. This which was predominantly voted against by Student Unity but also by Socialist Alternative, despite having earlier spoken in defence of the motion.

The National Union of Students is yet to set a date for a National Day of Action around the government's proposed reintroduction of fee deregulation.

There were several expressions of a lack of confidence following the NUS conference, including from the Blacademy. Grassroots Collective’s Evan Van Zijil said that the NUS needs to work harder to represent the interests of student movements.

The current makeup of the National Union of Students is as follows:

• VIC President: Cameron Petrie (Student Unity)
• VIC General Secretary: Matthew Lesh (Liberals)
• VIC Welfare Officer: Nathan Croft (Student Unity)
• 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
• VIC Women’s Officer: Jessica Leneham
• VIC Disabilities Officer: Tessa-May Zirnsak (National Labor Students)
• VIC Education Officer: Declan Murphy (Socialist Alternative)
• VIC Environment Officer: Robert Naray
In Tasmania:
• TAS President: Ariel Wells (National Labor Students)
• TAS General Secretary: Liam Salter (National Labor Students)
• TAS Women’s Officer: Heidi LaPaglia (National Labor Students)
In South Australia:
• SA President: Sam Davis (National Labor Students)
• SA General Secretary: Angus Oehme (National Labor Students)
• SA Welfare Officer: Nathan Croft (Student Unity)
• SA Queer Officer: Dylan Mackay (National Labor Students)
• SA Women’s Officer: Genevieve Danenberg (National Labor Students)
• SA Disabilities Officer: Amy Hueppauff (National Labor Students)
• SA Education Officer: Thomas Gilchrist (Socialist Alternative)
• SA Environment Officer: Mark Pace (National Labor Students)
In New South Wales:
• NSW President: Chloe Smith (National Labor Students)
• NSW General Secretary: Sean Nugent (Student Unity)
• NSW Welfare Officer: Michael Elliot (Student Unity)
• NSW International Students Officer: Zhitong Liu
• NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer: Clarke Donovan (Student Unity)
• NSW Ethno-Cultural Officer: Divina Blacca (Student Unity)
• NSW Queer Officer: Dylan Lloyd (Grassroots Left)
• NSW Small and Regional Officer: Roseanna Smith (Student Unity)
• NSW Women’s Officer: Anna Amelia (Grassroots Left)
• NSW Disabilities Officer: Sean Tingcombe (Student Unity)
• NSW Education Officer: Ridah Hassan (Socialist Alternative)
• NSW Environment Officer: Liam O’Callaghan (Student Unity)
In Western Australia:
• WA President: Jake Wittey (National Independents)
• WA General Secretary: Lewis Whittaker (Indies.)
• WA Welfare Officer: Alexsandra Miller (Indies.)
• WA International Students Officer: Carlo Guaia (Indies.)
• WA Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander Officer: Sharlech Ramirez (Indies.)
• WA Ethno-Cultural Officer: Rafeif Ismail (Grassroots Left)
• WA Queer Officer: Sam Frankz (Indies.)
• WA Women’s Officer: Ngaire Powell (Indies.)
• WA Disabilities Officer: Natalie Moodrin (Grassroots Left)
• WA Education Officer: Gavin Scolard (Indies.)
• WA Environment Officer: Guy McDonald (Indies.)
In the Australian Capital Territory:
• ACT President: Joshua Orchard (Student Unity)
• ACT General Secretary: Bronte Cleary (Student Unity)
• ACT Welfare Officer: Josh Bolitho (Student Unity)
• ACT Women’s Officer: Megan Lane (Student Unity)
• ACT Disabilities Officer: Hayden Shaw (Student Unity)
• ACT Education Officer: Vishnupriya De (Socialist Alternative)
• ACT Environment Officer: Joseph Dodd (Student Unity)

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