NUS

NatCon 2018: Day One Wrap-Up

11 December 2018

First day is under the belt! After a very long drive up to Ballarat, a quick lunch and a whole lot of waiting around, sessions came and went (prematurely or not) and day one was wrapped up by 10pm, hacks and reporters alike waiting for tomorrow with bated breath.

So what happened today?

Election of BizComm

The election of the Business Committee (BizComm) caused some controversy on the floor today, as the nine nominations received meant that it had to go to a ballot. Unity’s insistence on using the pre-conference committee (in which Unity holds the majority) caused members of other factions to walk out, effectively pulling quorum and ending the afternoon session early.

The beginning of the evening session began with an announcement that two nominees had withdrawn (to the disappointment of the Secretariat, which had spent hours preparing the ballots), meaning the following were effectively elected into BizComm:

  • Inez Meredith Penrose (Unity)
  • Christopher Graham (Unity)
  • Ella Lola Gvildys (Unity)
  • Elizabeth Holly Jackson (SAlt)
  • Alice Smith (NLS)
  • David Lawrence Grover (NLS)
  • Licoln Aspinall (Grassroots/Independents)

BizComm decides which motions get discussed on conference floor after receiving little bits of paper from the audience, as well as from pre-submitted motions from the 170-page policy book, and will also often consider placing several policies into a bloc. BizComm is also known for eating those little bits of paper to prevent motions from being discussed.

KPIs

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were the major focus of discussion today.

ADMIN 2.16 Against KPIs, a motion moved by Socialist Alternative (SAlt), was discussed for around half an hour today and caused perhaps the most hubbub. SAlt argues in the motion that the National Union of Students (NUS) is “at its most relevant and effective when it’s leading student campaigns that challenge government attacks, highlight the corporatisation of universities, brings attention to social injustice, and extends its solidarity and support to other off campuses causes”.

However, those for KPIs believe that they will keep officers accountable, as evidenced by a separate motion in the policy book ADMIN 2.11 KPIs for everyone: keeping our union accountable, a motion moved by the National Labor Students (NLS).

The argument for states that due to restrictions around the way that the NUS is structured, primarily due to the single-year terms held by National Office Bearers, yearly performance by NUS and its Officers can vary greatly. KPIs would provide clarity and increase the quality of communication and reporting and enable assessment of performance from year to year.

KPIs are also supported by the Grassroots/Independents (GIs). One of their leaders Megan Lee spoke in favour of KPIs, believing that “I don’t think it’s wholly unreasonable to expect my national union to follow its constitution, but unfortunately it has not.”

Thus the nervousness of headkickers across the conference floor: knowing that Unity and SAlt would vote KPIs down, NLS and GI leaders rushed to vote for a campus count to ensure that all votes are accounted for, considering delegates from different campuses hold different numbers of votes.

KPIs also came up during budget council, suggested as a way to hold the NUS accountable so that UMSU is not simply handing the NUS a “blank cheque”. Criticisms of the NUS’s efficiency have been raised over the past few years, with some calling it “corrupt” and “shocking”. Notable is the fact that the NLS ticket at the University of Melbourne—Stand Up!—argued against KPIs at budget council, but voted for them here at NatCon.

What else?

Aside from the KPIs, most of policy discussion either went by quickly, or devolved into factional chants.

Notably, motion UNION 3.24 Frack Off WA Labor, moved by the GIs, caused tension in the room. The motion called the NUS to condemn the Western Australia Labor government for not completely banning fracking, citing the damage it does to the environment. A SAlt speaker criticised both labor factions, NLS and Unity, for not seriously engaging with politics, and the room was taken over by Unity’s “Frack, frack, frack” chant.

Often it seems as though the policies being discussed take a back seat to the pandemonium that waxes and wanes on the conference floor. Reporting from the back of the room means many of the speakers’ words are lost in the whispers and chants among factions.

These disturbances from the audience were addressed by the Grievance Officer at the end of the night, but judging by the number of disinterested people packing up, it’s unlikely that the situation will ease up tomorrow.

Nevertheless, we’ll be up early for day two’s morning session, scheduled to begin at 10am.


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