NUS NatCon Day 1 Recap8 December 2015
“What kind of animal wakes up in the morning and thinks to themselves ‘I think I’ll join the Young Libs today’?”
These were the words muttered by a member of the Grassroots Left in front of me while I waited to receive my room key.
Students nationwide gather at Monash University Clayton this week to represent their universities and their political factions at National Union of Students’ National Conference.
The factions present at the conference are: Student Unity, the National Labor Students, the National Independents, the Liberals, the Grassroots Left, the Socialist Alternative, Centre Unity and other independents.
— Catalyst Magazine (@rmitcatalyst) December 7, 2015
The conference – though its main objective is to set policy and discuss student affairs – has been known in the past for its secret factional deals and transparency concerns. Photography and other recording was banned nearly immediately when the session was declared open.
My first insight into the NUS National Conference was relaxed. The official conference floor opened around 3.00pm, with various groups of coloured shirts clustering to indicate their factional allegiance. The welfare chapter of the policy book was discussed first, with suggestions ranging from cashless welfare cards to converting ALP Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek’s office into a kebab shop (killin’ it, Grassroots). The government proposal of a cashless welfare card was unanimously condemned by all factions on the floor.
“It is now, as it [has been in the past], a punitive measure which targets the most vulnerable student groups,” said Lia Vassiliadis, a University of Melbourne delegate from the Socialist Alternative.
Some delegates and observers who spoke in support of various welfare policies shared personal experiences and explained the boundaries they face as a minority. One delegate spoke of their negative welfare experiences with raising children in a same-sex relationship, which prompted a supportive round of applause from the entire room. Many other delegates spoke of personal experiences with depression and anxiety, arguing that improved NUS welfare policies would benefit others with similar experiences. Despite the factional rivalry, many at the conference view it as important to shine light on issues which transcend all those on the floor and acknowledge that there are simply some issues which cannot and should not be co-opted by a political agenda.
Each vote was followed by a call of “NLS up!” or “Unity up!”, a directive for all members of the faction to toe their party’s line. Bloc voting made questioning the necessity behind discussing the topics in front of us easy — we all knew how each vote was going to fall.
As the conference continued into the early hours of the evening, moods began to lower while volume increased – along with the rate at which people flung personal attacks across the floor.
“Seriously, you’re not welcome here, get out scabs!” yelled a member of the Socialist Alternative to the Liberal faction.
Following a motion to close conference at 10.30pm, all factions dispersed into their own drinking locations around the college. Student Unity turned on rally music in the courtyard and started dishing out their signature punch.
— NUS Snaps (@NUSsnaps) December 8, 2015
Exhausted from this new experience, I decided to turn in comparatively early to many others. I fell asleep as “death to the tories!” echoed throughout the corridors at one in the morning.