Delegating Democracy: NUS NatCon Day Three13 December 2015
“Student Unity you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide!”
It would be easy to find someone on the floor who’d say the NUS National Conference this year was a success — hell, most speakers proclaimed as much at some point. However, it would be just as simple to find someone who’d argue the opposite.
Day Three primarily focussed on autonomous policy: Women’s, Queer, Ethnocultural, Disabilities, and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander.
Factions were divided over a motion to change from the term “queer” to “LGBTI”. Student Unity, spearheaded by national welfare officer-elect Robby Magyar, argued in favour of the motion with support from the Socialist Alternative.
“Queer is outdated, it is deeply rooted in an Anglophone context and it’s loosely defined,” said Magyar.
Magyar also argued that the word queer in its traditional definition was synonymous to ‘weird’.
Dylan Lloyd, NSW state queer officer and member of the Grassroots Left, opposed the motion with backing from the NLS and claimed the change of term was not inclusive of students that did not identify with any label.
“It’s not weird, it’s who we are and it’s disgusting that you are trying to take that away from us,” argued Lloyd, who also identifies as genderqueer.
Despite this, the motion was passed.
The ethnocultural policy chapter brought forth discussions on how students of colour can be better represented on both a local and national level. Sarah Xia, University of Melbourne Student Union Welfare Officer and NLS delegate, moved a policy endorsing the creation of a people of colour department within all student unions or guilds.
“[A people of colour department] gives them a place to go when they experience racism and marginalisation. [Racism] is something that so many students face…and it’s so important that they are represented by students of colour,” explained Xia.
The policy was widely supported and adopted.
Further into ethnocultual policy discussions, delegates found their way to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Members from Socialist Alternative were prominent in these discussions not only due to the frequency at which they spoke, but also because they drowned out any viewpoint with even the tiniest bit of nuance.
The discussions reached peak tension when Tarek Muhtaseb, a Palestinian delegate from the Liberal faction, was unable to speak over a wave of chanting sparked by Socialist Alternative. A motion was then passed to have Muhtaseb removed, supported by Socialist Alternative and the NLS. This was despite members of the NLS arguing that the floor should not be filmed because it is a safe space where delegates are encouraged to share personal experiences.
Members of Student Unity condemned the removal of the speaker.
“Why do white people think they have the right to silence people of colour? It does not mean standing with them only when it suits you. You should all be ashamed of yourself,” said Unity delegate Justine Amin.
Screaming led to pushing and shoving between opposing factions on the Israel-Palestine discussion.
Video from Honi Soit.
Quorum within the conference was pulled on multiple occasions due to political disagreements. One disagreement which whittled down to deciding the date of the annual National Day of Action cost the floor at least four hours of conference time, pushing discussions past midnight. At one point, the Socialist Alternative faction barricaded the doors to prevent other delegates from leaving the floor.
A positions within the NUS were elected as predicted, with the exception of the national queer officers. Dylan Lloyd, who was endorsed by the Australian Queer Students Network, was a favourite to win alongside Clare Francis from the Socialist Alternative who received 1048 votes. However, since Francis did not identify as a woman, affirmative action was applied and Lloyd was replaced by April Holocombe who only received 16 votes.
Though it could be argued that constructive policy was established at the National Conference, it is overshadowed by the incessant yelling throughout the floor. It is not a safe space, and will never be so long as there is the opportunity to be assaulted or for your voice to be silenced.