Queensland students challenge Liberal control

November 18, 2012

The university semester is coming to an end, so now is a good time to take stock of developments in Queensland student politics.

In recent months there has been a rise in political consciousness and activity on campuses. Most big universities have had students protesting against alleged corruption in the student union or university.

Resistance members have been heavily involved in many of these campaigns.

Queensland University of Technology (QUT), University of Queensland (UQ) and Griffith University are the three major campuses in south-east Queensland.

At QUT, a broad left formation challenged the hold of the “Epic” Liberals over the student union in union elections. During the campaign, an Epic member allegedly attacked a prominent female activist in the back of the head, causing a concussion.

The university turned a blind eye to this, but arrested two other activists promoting a rally against Premier Campbell Newman’s cuts to the community and public sectors.

There were also serious allegations raised against Epic — including tampering with ballot boxes and vote buying. But these actions have not been taken lying down.

The left ticket responded by organising a “Free Speech at QUT” campaign group, which aims to publicise the conduct of both the Epic Liberals and the University.

The group has organised a convergence of left groups on QUT campuses. There have been four actions so far that have drawn about 30 to 40 people. One of the actions protested outside a University Council meeting.

UQ political activity has also swelled in recent months in response the “Fresh” Liberals ticket. Fresh changed the union's election regulations and registered campaign names that belonged to opposition groups before nominations closed. It then told some students from opposing tickets that they were disqualified.

This, in effect, blocked any group from standing against the Young Liberal ticket. Labor students, socialists and independents organised a 2000-strong rally in the university's courtyard and marched on the union office. More rallies took place, but with varying success.

However, a part of the problem with the campaign is that organisers called on the university administration to intervene, seemingly ignoring the possible ramifications of this. If the university were to intervene, it would provide an opportunity to disestablish the body as a fighting union, stripping it of financial resources and autonomy.

Another issue that has emerged at UQ is coal seam gas and the university's willingness to allow CSG corporate research to be conducted in campus facilities.

This campaign has attracted some attention from a few students and Resistance members have been important figures in the process. This campaign has had one action, which drew about 20 people.

Griffith has not had any big political activity, but there are a few things that give cause for hope about student politics there. A broad left group known simply as The Left Club (TLC) was set up recently.

After several attempts by the university, Labor Right and the Liberals to stop the group from gaining any traction, TLC has consolidated.

The group has held forums on CSG, Refugees, the “Neoliberal University” and the Quebec student strikes. It also recently held a “stop the cuts” forum.

Griffith University also recently had its Student Representative Council elections and during this there were allegations of wrongdoing by the incumbent student ticket Pulse Labor Right.

A Facebook page was set up to report on the proceedings of the election. Many submitted photos, videos and accounts alleging bullying and harassment. Pulse students allegedly held free lunch tables just outside voting booths and its members accused of going into student dorms at night, trying to garner votes.

Most of these left campaigns are in the early stages, but it is clear a few themes are emerging. Many students are beginning to ask important political questions such as “what is the role of the university?”, “where does our funding go and how is it being used?” and perhaps most importantly, “what should the Student Union/Representative Council do?”

Given the development of student politics in Queensland over the last few months, next semester will be even more exciting. Watch this space for updates.

Read more from Resistance here.

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