Thatcher Fires Up UMSU

31 May 2013

Student activism has been awakened at Parkville after a period of slumber, over a controversial motion passed at Students’ Council that ‘celebrated unreservedly’ the death of Margaret Thatcher.

Left Action Students’ Councillor Patrick Alves brought the motion. It included the condemnation of Thatcher’s support for right-wing dictators like Pinochet and Suharto, her violent crushing of British mining strikes and asked for a screening of Ken Loach’s documentary film Which side are you on? to ‘continue the celebration’.

When asked for clarification on what constituted a ‘celebration’, head of the Left Action ticket Jade Eckhaus told Farrago that the motion referred to both a symbolic and literal celebration.

“A series of actual parties are already happening around the world, held by people that have always worked against what she stood for”, Eckhaus said after the vote.

“It’s important that the real legacy of Thatcher is out there”, Alves told Farrago on the rationale of the motion.

However, he expressed surprise that the motion was won by two votes. “We knew it would be controversial [to suggest the Student Union celebrate her death], but you could say we were a bit surprised that it passed. Happy, but surprised”, he said. The motion was met with audible derision and laughter in the council room.

The motion was carried with five votes endorsing it, three rejecting and four students abstaining from the motion altogether.

Students’ Councillor Matthew Lesh voted against the proposal, and condemned the passing of the vote on Twitter.

“This is politicking in its lowest form”, Lesh told Farrago. “Celebrating someone’s death shows disrespect to them and their family, and I didn’t expect it to pass”.

“Students would be shocked that a council, which is elected by such a small percentage of voters but that represents all students, are putting up such extreme political views”, said Lesh.

“I hope the average student is more reasonable than this”, he continued.

In accordance with the motion, UMSU President Kara Hadgraft has posted an official statement on the UMSU website, upholding the demands of the motion.

Farrago asked students whether they felt represented by the Council’s decision.

“I have zero fondness for Thatcher, but the vitriolic response to her death has been pretty disgusting. I don’t really support the whole ‘don’t speak ill of the dead’ thing, but she still deserves some kind of grace period”, said student Bonny Ross.

Alves remained firm in his political convictions despite widespread distaste of students. “We [Left Action] were elected as a left wing party, and we continue to represent the values of left wing students”, he said when asked if he understood why some may draw the line at celebrating Thatcher’s death.

Jade Eckhaus told Farrago that the motion was put in a group effort, but that it was something she felt very strongly about.

“I don’t feel bad for Margaret Thatcher, I feel bad for the lives that she’s ruined”, she said. She also spoke of the effects of Julia Gillard and Barack Obama eulogising Thatcher as a strong woman and feminist icon. “There’s a real tendency to say ‘she’s dead so we can’t say anything bad about her now”, Eckhaus lamented.

Farrago learned that Secretary of the Union Steven Smith has received a petition from students for the councillors who voted for the motion regarding ‘Margret [sic] Thatcher’s death’ to be removed from office at a Special General Meeting (SGM).

Students’ Council (For) Dummies

What is the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU)?

The Student Union is the official representative body of students, undergraduate and postgraduate, at the university. UMSU has two groups of elected students. The first is Office Bearers (OBs) that represent offices like Arts, Media and Education. The second is representatives on Students’ Council. UMSU’s role is to facilitate services that assist students, from lobbying for education policy to providing student breakfasts, bands at Tuesday barbeques and printing of Farrago.

What is Students’ Council?

Students’ Council meets fortnightly at minimum during each semester. It is made up of 14 general representatives that are elected during student elections each year. There are also 4 special representatives that are elected to represent Queer, Mature Aged, International and Indigenous students respectively.

Who makes up Students’ Council?

Council is made up of these 18 representatives. Office Bearers are required by the UMSU Constitution to attend council meetings. The meetings are usually chaired by the President of UMSU, but only councillors can vote on issues.

Who can vote in Students’ Council?

The 18 representatives of Students’ Council.

Who can’t vote?

Office Bearers (including the President and Secretary of the Union) cannot vote on motions.

Who can attend meetings?

Meetings of Students’ council are open to the general student body. Observers are welcome. Office Bearers and observers can put motions, as well as comment on them. However, the only students with the powers to decide on these motions are the elected members of Students’ Council.

How does Students’ Council get elected?

UMSU elections occur each year during September. Any currently enrolled student is eligible to run for a position, and all enrolled students are eligible to vote. In 2012, of the 40,000+ students at the university, approximately 3,340 votes were cast.


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