NUS's role in WA student protest


[The material printed here was sent to us by the Education Action Network (EAN) in WA.]

The following is two letters which have been produced in response to the flak that activists in WA received after the militant occupation of the Perth DEET Austudy office on May 3.

The Education Action Network stands confident that the action that occurred is a necessary and important part of the No Fees For Degrees campaign. We are building a campaign that is accessible and controlled by students, not bureaucrats.

The first letter was written in response to Melissa Robinson Curtin Guild President's letter that was printed in the West Australian which condemned the occupation. The second letter to John Graham is requesting a response from NUS. John Graham has in the past suggested that issues of NUS support for students should be "internal private" matters for NUS office bearers. We challenge this ideology and have made our letter to him public as we believe all political issues in the Union should be. We invite your publication to print these letters so that the debate can be a public one, not occurring behind closed doors between nominated "negotiators" (which is the nature of organised student politics.)

We in Education Action Network believe in building an active, accessible student movement that transcends the petty politics of the factional fighting which dominates NUS.

Letter to 'West Australian'

On Wednesday May 3 a large group of students decided to occupy the Department of Education, Employment and Training office on Adelaide Terrace to protest against the continued slide in the quality and access of tertiary education in Australia. There has been much slander from the student representatives who are part of the ALP machine, for example Melissa Robinson, Curtin Guild President, condemned the occupation as "violent rabble".

Collective democratic action like the May 3 occupation is effective in challenging the Government and empowering students as has been shown in the student actions of the 1980s in defeating up-front fees. At the May 3 occupation it was students taking control of the situation and deciding to turn their anger into something concrete. We are proud to have assisted in the marshalling, first aid and liaison during the occupation, and in light of the up-front fees introduced in the Federal Budget we are preparing to support students taking action to build the campaign further.
The Education Action Network
Left Alliance
International Socialist Organisation
Murdoch Student Guild
National Union of Students (WA) Women's Department
Greens (WA) members involved in EAN

Letter to John Graham

I write on behalf of the Education Action Network (EAN) regarding NUS' reaction to the demonstration on May 3rd.

At the rally in Forrest Chase, Tony Walker (NUS West President) allegedly gave instructions to turn off the public address system as a student was speaking about occupying the DEET office. When the microphone was turned off and she took the megaphone instead, music was turned up at Tony's request so that she could not be heard.

Despite this NUS Office Bearer's best attempt at stifling opinion other than his own, approximately 400 of the 1000 students present joined the march on DEET. More would undoubtedly have joined if they could have heard what was going on.

We are also appalled that NUS Office Bearers misrepresented the day's events, representing the students who occupied the DEET building as violent and unrepresentative. In particular, Tony Walker and John Carey (NUS West Education Officer) were quoted as condemning the students' actions as violent and "bloody abhorrent".

Neither of them attended the occupation. Lest there be any confusion, we wish to clarify that the students participating in the occupation did so on their own volition, and in the belief (which EAN endorses) that such militant action is justified in the fight against up-front fees. Further, for NUS' mollification, it should be noted that it was in fact a police officer who broke the glass door when he attempted to lever it shut with his baton. The "violence" of the day consisted mainly of police beating students with batons and wrestling students to the ground. At least one student required hospitalisation and surgery after she was struck on the head by a police baton and internal bleeding occurred.

To side with the police and the right-wing media here is revolting. We would expect NUS' support, not its condemnation. Interestingly, NOLS [National Organisation of Labor Students] members have in some forums argued in support of militant tactics and supported motions by the left to condemn police violence. We are left wondering if this commitment evaporates upon election to office bearing positions.

Given that NUS has a policy of supporting militant action including occupations, we want to know whether the actions of the NUS Office Bearers on the day and since (including turning off the PA system and issuing media statements against the students at the occupation) represents NUS' position. If it is not NUS' policy to hang students out to dry, then we would like to know what action will be taken against the Office Bearers who spoke against NUS policy.

We hope that the combined campaign against fees can continue as an activist and (hopefully) militant campaign, and that NUS will be a part of it. We thus need to be assured that NUS is committed both to its own policy and to student activists.

We request that NUS immediately issue a public statement supporting the action of May 3rd, and that you forward a copy of this to the Education Action Network. We are meeting this weekend, and would hope to have a reply by then.

On behalf of WA EAN,
Adam Bandt