#NUSNatCon: A Summary

17 December 2017

NatCon was cut short this year—but it was nonetheless a long three days of heated policy debate, waiting to reach quorum and factional sledging. NatCon has a reputation for being a messy event, and it certainly didn’t let us down.

Check out our liveblog if you’re a true stupol hack and want to catch up on the details of specific policy proposals. Otherwise, find a summary of NatCon below, and meet your new office bearers, state presidents and campus representatives.

Office bearers
President – Mark Pace, Adelaide University, NLS
General secretary – Jacob Cripps, La Trobe University, Unity
Education – Constantinos Karavias, University of Tasmania, Socialist Alternative
Welfare – Jordon O’Reilly, Flinders University, Unity
Women’s – Kate Crossin, La Trobe, NLS
Queer – Kim Stern, Monash University, SAlt; Jasmine Duff, Monash University, SAlt
Ethnocultural – Hersha Kadkol, University of Sydney, SAlt
ATSI – Tyson McEwan, University of Western Australia, Nat Indies
Disabilities – Kayla Dickeson, University of South Australia, NLS
Small and regional – James Callow, UWA, Unity
International – Ziqi Han, Monash, Unity

State branch presidents
NSW – Connor Wherrett, USyd, Unity
SA – Jordan Mumford, UniSA, Unity
Qld – Chelsea Bentley, Griffith University, Unity
Vic – Lily Xia, RMIT, Unity
WA – Scott Harney, SAlt

States and territories that do not appear here do not have any National Union of Students’ (NUS) accredited universities.

Campus representatives
University of Melbourne – Mindi Suter, SAlt
Monash University (Clayton) – Tess Dimos, SAlt
Monash University (Caulfield) – Caitlin Brown
Curtin University – Nicola Gulvin, Nat Indies
La Trobe University – Shae Williams, Unity
Deakin University – Jean-Marc Kurban, Unity
Newcastle University – Hayden Nichols, NLS
RMIT – Hafizullah Jan, Unity
Swinburne University – James Atkins, Unity
University of New South Wales – Madeleine Powell, SAlt
University of Sydney – Kimberley Murphy, SAlt
University of Technology Sydney – Madeline Lucre, NLS
University of Adelaide – Leila Clendon, SAlt
Victoria University – Daniel Nicholson, Unity
Griffith University – Kimberley Collett, SAlt; Vishnupriya De, SAlt
Flinders University – Grace Hensel, NLS
University of South Australia – Natrydd Sigurthur, NLS
University of Western Australia – Phoebe Burrage, SAlt

The good, the bad, and the ugly
We came to NatCon with low expectations—we’d been warned by everyone we knew who’d ever been to NatCon that it would be some of the worst few days of our lives. Surprisingly, we left the conference in high spirits. None of our reporters had been before, but the NatCon regulars told us that this was a relatively good year. That being said, there were some moments when we wanted to be anywhere other than the conference floor. Here’s a short summary of the good, the bad and the ugly.

The good…
The storm was calmed for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) section of policy debate. Ethan Taylor from the University of Melbourne chaired this section, and was the first ever Indigenous person to chair the conference. NatCon can be a challenging time for minority groups to speak on policy due to the hostile and often vitriolic nature of the conference, but Taylor told the floor that “any racial attacks or vilification of ATSI speakers will not be tolerated.” Remarkably, the conference floor was silent and respectful while Indigenous students spoke on ATSI policy. All eight of the ATSI policies were carried, and a motion to change the date of Australia Day from January 26 passed unanimously (the Liberal delegates were not in the room at the time). The section ended with standing ovations and chants of “always was, always will be Aboriginal land” from the entire room.

Our precious time at NatCon is mostly spent discussing policy, but there’s also a lot of time spent sitting around, waiting to attain quorum. NUS President Sophie Johnston made this time bearable by playing music over the venue speakers. In a wholesome moment of inter-factional friendship, where the bitterness of policy debate was temporarily forgotten, delegates and observers from different factions (excluding SAlt) danced together.

The bad…
On the flip side, this period of doing nothing whilst waiting to reach quorum was highly detrimental to the conference. We’ve received reports that Unity kept pulling quorum in order to delay proceedings until they regained their majority on the floor. NatCon was already cut down from five days to four—then to three, but Unity pulling quorum meant that the majority of women’s and welfare policy proposals could not be discussed.

As a result, this meant that sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus was not discussed once, which is highly disappointing given the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Change the Course report this year and the NUS’s campaign to tackle sexual assault on campus. Whilst the women’s policies that were discussed were important, creating meaningful policy on sexual assault and sexual harassment at university campuses should have taken precedence. For instance, the motion calling for the resignation of the Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, may have been unrealistic. However, the NUS do have the power to lobby the government and universities to protect students on campus.

And the ugly…
The most painful part of NatCon was undoubtedly the queer policy section. The section lasted for hours, and involved dozens of shouting matches between SAlt and the other factions. Whilst discussing motions 7.14, 7.19, 7.24, 7.30, 7.31, 7.32 and 7.34 en bloc, surrounding issues faced by non-binary, intersex and transgender students, a member of SAlt used their time on the floor to criticise Penny Wong for opposing same-sex marriage legalisation in 2010. There was also an instance where a member of SAlt misgendered the previous speaker whilst shouting them down, and told them to “get fucked” when they corrected her.

Whilst queer policy was being debated, members of Unity intermittently interrupted to shout “bingo”. Unity had made their own NatCon bingo card, which is fine, but maybe wait until after autonomous policy discussion ends to impress your comrades.

That’s a wrap, folks
Our time at NatCon is done. Thank you to everyone who followed our coverage—it’s been a pleasure. Stay tuned over the next few days for some further follow up articles from the NatCon team.

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