NatCon 2018: Day Two Wrap-Up12 December 2018
Whew! We had three full sessions yesterday. Lots was discussed and, like day one, lots of yelling ensued.
NUS’s role in 2019 federal election
The biggest topic discussed was the National Union of Students’ (NUS) role in the 2019 federal election. Multiple motions from the policy book concerned the election, including EDU 4.23 A Union-wide Federal election campaign for 2019 and EDU 4.27 NUS’s role in the 2019 federal election.
Primarily, the demand for free education was brought up multiple times, mostly by Socialist Alternative (SAlt) members. SAlt proposed that the NUS should not be endorsing any party that does not have free higher education in their platform, and pointedly reminded the floor of the $2.8 billion cut from higher education by the Gillard government in 2013, as the majority of the NUS is held by Labor left and Labor right.
National Labor Students (NLS) became the focus of attack from multiple factions.
In discussion of EDU 4.27 NUS’s role in the 2019 federal election, which took a hardline stance and called for “students not to vote for any party which does not support free education”, SAlt accused the NLS of centring their platform on getting Bill Shorten and a Labor government elected without taking a strong stance for students. This was despite the insistence by multiple NLS members, including new NUS President Desiree Cai, that they support free higher education.
SAlt also invited NLS members up to the podium multiple times to speak in support of the motion, to no avail, as NLS responded that students face other issues and their votes should not be contingent on promises of free higher education.
On the other hand, Unity spoke against the policy of free higher education altogether, supporting the current HECS system and argued that simply electing a Shorten government would put students first. They called the NLS “spineless”.
The motion failed ultimately, but NLS was later called out by SAlt again for abstaining from the vote.
Freedom of speech on campuses
Motion EDU 4.30 Fighting for free speech was the subject of a lengthy heated debate. The motion, moved by SAlt, cited instances of universities and government ministers cracking down on campus protests, and called for the NUS to release a “freedom of speech on campus” charter that will oppose these attempts.
No one was surprised that this motion heightened tensions on the conference floor. Unity spoke against this motion, arguing that implementing freedom of speech will equate to implementing hate speech and will greatly disrupt student life. Notably, a Unity member who was an ex-Indigenous officer at their student union opposed the motion as they believed free speech would permit academics to say derogatory things about First Nations people.
The motion ultimately passed, with support from the NLS, the Grassroots/Independents and SAlt.
After dinner, it was announced that Desiree Cai, NLS member and former University of Melbourne Student Union President, was elected NUS President, and Michael Iroeche, Unity member and outgoing general executive officer of Victoria, was elected general secretary. This was the result of a long-standing ‘sweet heart deal’ between NLS and Unity.
Outgoing NUS President Mark Pace says that he is “looking forward to her work”.
“Clearly [Cai is] one of the hardest working presidents in the country. This is clear from what she’s achieved at her university,” Pace said.
Additionally, Unity member Samuel Roberts was also elected as Victorian State Branch President. Roberts has previously held office as Swinburne Student Union’s president and general secretary. He has allegedly had access to Swinburne’s union building revoked due to abusive and drunk behaviour in the past.
Disappointingly, no motions were eaten by the Business Committee (BizComm) yesterday, although many seem to have been shredded under the BizComm table. The implementation of a ‘no touching’ rule by Pace also seems to have allowed for a calmer BizComm.
Many of the debates conducted also seemed to last longer than necessary. Speakers’ arguments are often repetitive and the floor is clearly split between certain factions.
Farrago reporters were particularly disheartened at the inefficiency of the catered lunch. Due to incidents of dietary-requirement-specific lunches being stolen on the first day of NatCon, Secretariat decided to implement a system where attendees were checked one by one to ensure they were provided the correct lunch. The lunch line wrapped around much the conference floor and took at least half an hour to get through. One might wonder if there is a more efficient method of handing out lunch boxes.
Farrago would have liked to provide a visual to the lunch line, but unfortunately filming remains banned on the conference floor, regardless of whether conference is in session or not.