ANUSA Accredits with NUS, but Won’t Pay – Yet.
ANUSA will symbolically support the National Union of Students in 2017, but will not fund the Union until accountability, transparency and conduct conditions are met. Accreditation was passed by a vote of 24 for, 11 against, and 0 abstentions.
ANUSA may pay roughly $10,000 of SSAF to fund NUS’s activities, which include campaigns on student issues, conferences and other activities. $5000 will be paid in the form of an accreditation fee. ANUSA’s five Delegates also require a conference fee, usually around $1000, bringing the total ANUSA will pay to $10,000. However, ANUSA will only pay the fee if NUS improves its accountability, transparency, and conduct. The ANUSA President will now negotiate with NUS over delegate attendance, but NUS is unlikely to allow ANUSA delegates if the fee is not paid, which would remove the attendance fee. NUS ACT Branch President Nick Douros said it was likely “National Days of Action,” the NUS’s march-and-shout protests, would be held at the AN, while Education Officer Jessy Wu observed it would likely lead to “more campaigns on campus that are political, rather than examining policy critically.”
Controversy surrounded the decision, and members of ANU Labor, Socialist Alternative and ANU Liberal Club, as well as SRC representatives, sparred over the National Union. Conduct at the meeting was civil, owing in part to rigorous chairing from General Secretary Kat Reed, and was marked by passionate speakers, and consistent applause from Labor attendees for pro-NUS speeches. The ANUSA observers sent to National Conference in 2016 all spoke poorly of the conduct in their reports, and many, regardless of in-principle support for unionism, questioned the NUS’s effectiveness and acceptability given these problems. However, there were many strong advocates for the Union as well, especially from Labor factions and Socialist Alternative. Unlike some years, the 2016 ANUSA election did not feature a strongly pro- or anti-NUS ticket, so there was no clear voter mandate for the decision, although in an unscientific poll Observer conducted on ANU Stalkerspace last night, 69% of the 287 student respondents opposed accreditation.
Most reps agreed that NUS had significant issues, and debate centred around whether NUS could be better fixed by working within, or by symbolically rejecting the Union. The second key consideration was whether ANUSA can sustain national campaigns without NUS support. James Connolly, a negotiator with the NUS faction National Independents, strongly supported accreditation, arguing that successful change requires collective action, and highlighted the NUS’s contacts with the Education Minister. Connolly also expressed his hopes that NUS would receive increased ANUSA funding in future years. Connolly highlighted issues like deregulation and disability policy, arguing the issues require ”nation-wide action and response, and the only body which can provide that is the NUS.” General Representative Lauran Clifton, who seconded the motion, said ANUSA was “rendering ourselves powerless if we vote against [NUS]- why would we give up our voting power?”
Education Officer Jessy Wu was highly critical of the Union. “This is a Union that doesn’t allow media access”, Wu declared. “It doesn’t allow the reports of office bearers to be filmed. There’s no way for the students, who pay SSAF, to know how their funds are being spent.” Wu also raised the silencing of voices from non-dominant factions, and argued that “compassionate and dedicated people are disempowered constantly at NUS, so what hope can we have for making change?”
Wu strongly advocated for ANUSA’s ability to lobby federally without NUS. “Empirically”, Wu explained, “some of the most effective campaigns have been organised by individual campuses. In my experience as Ed Officer, we don’t need a national body to capture media interest … Boycotting NUS doesn’t mean opting out of activism,” and highlighted ANUSA’s centrelink debt and penalty rates campaigns. Labor attendees at SRC strongly contested this view- Briony Roelandts, ANU Labor Left President, rebuked Wu, proclaiming “ANUSA is a joke … there is no campaign on this campus that rivals NUS. The penalty rates campaign was not run by ANUSA, it was run by the power of the NUS.” Dom Cradick, NUS ACT Branch Ed Officer said “I don’t remember ANUSA reps sitting in front of senators, I don’t remember ANUSA reps organising mass protests, or lobbying the federal government.” However, Matthew Faltas and Ben Creelman later informed the SRC that the ANUSA President and Education Officer sat before a Senate Inquiry on fee deregulation in 2014, a claim Observer can confirm.
On the topic of whether NUS could better be repaired from inside, General Representative Harry Needham, acknowledging his perspective as a former member of the NUS secretariat, argued “if you see something that’s broken, I don’t run away, I try to fix it. If we feel NUS should be changed, we have to accredit.” Some reps disagreed, including General Representative Howard Maclean, who stated: “We need a strong national voice for students… NUS is not that voice. The ongoing support of NUS is actively harmful to the student union movement- it needs to be abandoned, wound up, and replaced. At this point, building a new house of disaffected universities is more viable than trying to fix NatCon.”
While ANUSA now symbolically supports NUS, ANU students’ SSAF will not go to the Union yet. General Representative and NUS Observer Tom Kesina, seconded by Maclean, moved that the accreditation fee be paid only if NUS release minutes of meetings, formal records of votes, and appoint a non-factional returning officer to run elections, among other criteria. “That NUS can get away with not releasing minutes for executive meetings for over a year,” Kesina said, “is frankly shameful.” Kesina’s amendment was sucessful, and the fee will not be paid until conditions are met.
Speakers also clashed over whether ANUSA’s vote is influential in deciding the votes of other Universities. ANUSA’s discreditation in 2016 was followed by several other student organisations removing their support, and several reps argued ANU’s status as a “prestigious institution” and the National University influenced other universities. Connolly contested that point, stating he “met with a lot of Education Officers from other Universities, and can tell you this is 100% not true.”
Wu, in conversation with Observer, promised she would not automatically follow NUS’s lead on all campaigns, specifically highlighting the Make Education Free Campaign. “I find it part of my mandate,” Wu said, “to subject that campaign to the critical lens of equity in a way I’m not sure has been done previously. If I were to put that campaign before the SRC, I would put together resources that looked at the costings of a free education, and who stood to benefit from that model.” Wu also highlighted that change comes from social mobilisation, not just official accreditation, arguing “The NUS isn’t potent unless students mobilise behind them- ANU is an incredibly intellectually critical campus, and I don’t think it responds well to vague claims, uncosted policies, such as free education”
The vote was conducted by secret ballot, a decision General Secretary Kat Reed said was to “ensure reps did not feel pressured by any external groups in the way they voted,” and instead voted according to their own judgement. However, several reps signed their names on their ballots. Each SRC member- the 7 ANUSA Departments, 6 Executives, 12 College Reps and 14 Gen Reps – had one vote.
This report has been written in real-time, and in the interest of timely news has been released without thorough checking by multiple editors. We will fix any errors in the coming hours.
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Full Motion Passed at SRC
“That the ANU Students’ Association reaccredit with the National Union of Students for the amount of $5,000, but the amount is not to be transferred until all of the following conditions are concurrently met. That:
• All National Executive minutes & Office Bearer reports are made available on the NUS website (at least from all of 2016 and the 2017 ones available)
• The 2016 National Conference minutes are made available on the NUS website
• The full audited financial report is made available to member organisations, with the missing two pages from the auditor attached
• National Executive appoints a Returning Officer who is not a current or former member of any NUS faction
• A guide explaining how to NatCon (consistent with Laura Campbell’s reforms and the letter sent to the 2016 SRC by the NUS) is created and distributed
• That the current budget of the NUS, once approved, be published on the NUS website”