By Adelle Millhouse and Skanda Panditharatne
The ‘National Independents’ and ‘Grassroots Left’ factions of the National Union of Students (NUS) have merged to form the ‘Grassroots Independents’. Although delegates for 2018’s NUS National Conference (NatCon) have yet to be finalised, the convenors of the new faction note that that the factions making up the Grassroots Independents last year controlled approximately 12% of conference floor.
The new faction will be convened by Ethan Taylor – who was the 2017-18 founding president of the Union of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students (UATSIS) and chaired the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy chapter at NatCon 2017 – and Finlay Nolan, a General Member on the 2018 NUS National Executive. Taylor told Observer that the merger was motivated by the convenors realising that Grassroots and the Independents had “similar politics and goals for the NUS”. Taylor believes that that the merger has created “a kind of organising synergy” within the group, increasing the efficacy of their activism.
The National Independents are a broad, generally progressive association of independents, who never bind votes. At the 2017 NatCon, they held 9.7% of conference floor. Grassroots Left, who also do not bind votes, describe themselves as an “activist network of left-wing students that subscribe to the common ideals of non-hierarchical organising, direct action as a tool for meaningful change, and advancing student unionism and the struggles of the oppressed”. Many of their members have been associated with the Greens, despite no formal links to the political party. At the 2017 NatCon, they held 2.9% of conference floor.
The Grassroots Left and the National Independents say they share similar politics and goals for the NUS, hoping to make the union “accountable, and progressive”, prioritising “transparency and grassroots activation”, according to Taylor. The new faction will not ‘vote-bind’, where delegates are forced to vote according to the party line, as is the practice among most other major factions. Taylor stated that “delegates’ campuses should be their primary concern during National Conference”, rather than the beliefs of their faction.
The merger has been in the works for some time, with Nolan noting that the two factions were “hanging out” together during NatCon last year. Grassroots Left members attended parts of the National Independents’ pre-conference planning session and were involved in the Independents’ group chat during conference. The merger was made official at NUS Education Conference in July of this year.
Grassroots Left and National Independents-controlled campuses have pushed for reforms to the NUS in recent years. ANUSA, whose Executive has a number of National Independents-aligned members, collaborated with other National Independents and Grassroots Left-controlled campuses this year in sending a list of transparency and accountability-focussed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to the NUS, on which affiliation to the NUS is contingent. A joint letter circulated to the SRC listing the KPIs was purportedly planned to be signed by the student body presidents of ANU, Curtin University, UWA, Flinders University, Edith Cowan, the University of Sydney, Newcastle University, and the University of Melbourne. However, the Sydney and Melbourne presidents later disavowed the letter, the former of whom is Grassroots-aligned.
2017 NUS Delegate and current ANUSA Education Officer Harry Needham described the merger as “overall a positive development for student politics”. Needham, who attended NatCon as a National Independents member in 2016 and 2017, stressed the group’s commitment to critically engaging with and reforming the NUS. He said he believes that this “reflects the values and priorities of many ANU students in regards to the NUS”.
Three of ANU’s five NUS delegates – Education Officer-Elect Tanika Sibal, General Secretary-Elect Lachy Day, and CBE Rep-Elect Croft Sun – committed to sitting with the National Independents during the ANUSA elections earlier this year. Sibal and Day confirmed to Observer that they would be sitting with the Grassroots Independents, stressing that as it was a non-binding faction, they would be able to act in the best interests of ANU students. The other ANU delegates are Niall Cummins, who will sit with Student Unity (Labor Right), and Ashish Nagesh, sitting with the Australian Liberal Students Foundation. It is not yet known whether they will have voting rights, as ANU will not accredit unless the NUS meets the aforementioned KPIs.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ethan Taylor was the 2017 NUS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer. An earlier version of this article stated that the convenors estimated the Grassroots Independents would control 12% of conference floor in 2018, rather than 2017. The article also stated that Croft Sun was a Gen Rep-Elect, Sun is in fact a CBE Rep-Elect.
Croft Sun did not respond to a request for comment.
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