By Adelle Millhouse
An ANUSA Special General Meeting (SGM) will take place tonight at 6:30pm and will discuss changes to the standing orders, the rules that govern the running of ANUSA meetings. The reforms are apparently an attempt to curtail “bullying, harassment, intimidation, and abuse” at SRC meetings, after members of the SRC expressed that they felt “unsafe” while attending SRC meetings. The reforms have also received criticism, however, with claims that they are “undemocratic”.
One key objection raised against the amendments is that they serve to increase the power of the ANUSA Executive “leadership clique”. Democracy for ANUSA, a Facebook page set up in opposition to the proposals, claims that “the motivation behind these changes is to preserve ANUSA as a place where important political and social justice issues are not up for discussion”. The page, which is run by unnamed “activist individuals connected with the EC, and various other activist groups from the campus left”, argues that the reforms are “evidently not about student safety”, and denies that there has been physical intimidation at any SRC meeting, “only verbal argument”.
General Secretary Day disputes these claims. “These changes are not undemocratic,” he says. “These changes have been put forward to ensure that all meetings of ANUSA can be safe for everyone that wishes to attend.” CAP Rep and mover of the proposed changes Kai Clark concurs, stating that “SRCs have become increasingly toxic, a drain on mental health, and unproductive”. They also deny that the measures give any power to the Executive, and argue that the amendments in fact reduce the power of the Chair, by limiting their discretion. Clark also emphasises that “if the SRC disagreed with the General Secretary’s decisions, they can vote against it”.
Currently, any person presenting “unruly” or “disruptive” behaviour, including interrupting the Chair or swearing, will be “named”. “Naming” serves as a warning. Once a person is named three times, they must leave the meeting or be considered trespassing. The Chair of the meeting – usually the Gen Sec – can also immediately remove a person for “outrageous conduct”. If this person does not leave in a timely manner, such as at SRC 6 this year, the meeting dissolves and no further business can be discussed.
The proposed changes would create a list of “intimidating, bullying, abusive, or harassing” behaviours that would result in a person being immediately removed from a meeting. These include “shouting, screaming, abusive name calling”, “disruption of the meeting”, and taking photos or recordings of the meeting without the permission of the Presiding Member or the person being recorded. SRC 6 was ultimately dissolved after a non-SRC member photographed members voting against a motion without permission. The amendment states that “legitimate criticism” of an officer, “legitimate scrutiny” of a report, or “vigorous debate” will not be considered intimidating or harassing behaviour.
A second proposed amendment would allow the Chair to request the assistance of ANU Security or the police if a person remains at a meeting after being expelled. Observer understands that while a reference to the police remains on the SGM’s agenda, it is no longer a part of the proposed changes. Clark has also expressed an intention to remove the reference to ANU Security from the motion. The Chair already has this power, with ANU Security being called in at SRC 6. The Democracy for ANUSA Facebook page condemned the proposal, stating that it is a “long standing principle of the union movement to oppose any involvement of the police… in the internal affairs of our institutions”.
A second amendment deals with members who refuse to leave a meeting after 5 minutes, or are expelled from a meeting more than twice in a calendar year. If an ANUSA representative had this occur, the SRC will consider a motion to refer them to the Disputes Committee. If passed, the Disputes Committee could then remove the person from office. Department Officers in the same circumstances are treated differently due to departmental autonomy. Their Department will be informed of their conduct, and the Department may then “chose to debate” a motion to call for their Officer’s removal. An earlier version of these amendments would have compelled Departments to consider removing their Officers. Janagaraja told Observer she believed that “unlike previous versions, the current form of the motion is not problematic” as it is “still the decision of the collective”.
If someone who is not an ANUSA Officer or Representative is in the same circumstance, the SRC or the ANUSA Executive may vote to refer the person to Disputes to revoke their ANUSA membership entirely. The Democracy for ANUSA page has claimed that the Disputes Committee’s agreement would be “an all-but sealed deal” due to the members’ connections to SRC members. However Clark speculated that for a student to have their membership revoked by the Disputes Committee they “would effectively have to commit a crime in [a] meeting”. He stated that it is “uncertain” whether the Committee would revoke membership for anything “short of grave violations of the constitution, regulations, or laws”.
The amendments would also change the rules around submitting motions. Where previously any ANUSA member was able to submit a motion for consideration by the SRC, the new amendments require that any motion be either moved or seconded by a voting member. A mover may also prevent someone from seconding their motion. The Environment Collective and the Democracy for ANUSA page have condemned these amendments as “undemocratic” and “curtailing” the right of students to have their motions debated and adopted by the SRC. They argue that “the majority of activist and progressive motions” passed by the SRC this year have been “moved by activists not on the SRC”.
Clubs Council Secretary Jason Pover, who assisted in drafting the amendments, stated that the initial purpose of this section was “to stop SRC meetings being abused as a soapbox”, by presenting motions that not one voting member agrees with. However, Pover stated that after hearing “legitimate concerns” about the proposal, he “would not be adverse” to removing this condition. He also noted that the “gag” motion and motion of closure under the current Standing Orders already serve to prevent ‘soapboxing’ by allowing debate to be cut off. Clark also said that no longer intends to support this motion, so it is unclear whether these proposed changes will even be considered.
The proposed amendments would also provide a framework for the ‘in camera’ discussion of “confidential” motions. ‘In camera’ discussions are witnessed only by voting members of the SRC, and not by any outside observers, including student media. The proposed amendments would also codify how to deal with confidential motions. Pover argues that in camera discussions have been “over-utilised” this year, and should be limited to motions that truly contain confidential information.
The Agenda for the SGM also states that the Freedom of Representatives Regulations are “inconsistent with the meeting procedures set out in the Standing Orders”, and there is a motion to affirm the primacy of the Standing Orders. The Freedom of Representatives Regulations come into effect on 1 December, and will govern the circumstances in which ANUSA is able to limit the speech of representatives, essentially overriding a large part of the Media Policy. Pover, who drafted the Freedom of Representatives Regulations, told Observer that he sees “nothing inherently inconsistent” between the Standing Orders and the Regulations. Day expressed concerns with Section 2 of the Regulations, which prevents any limitation on a representative’s ability to advocate for students within their role or engage in public debate and discussion about the Association, and argued that it is important to stress the primacy of the Standing Orders “if we truly want to prioritise safety over everything else”.
The SGM will also be passing the Probity Reports for 2018 and 2019, after Term 3’s Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) failed to meet quorum and the Week 8 OGM was postponed. According to Day, further changes to the standing orders will be discussed at the rescheduled OGM in Week 12.
Samuel Wright and Eliza Croft contributed to reporting.
Jason Pover was an Observer News Editor in 2018 and Secretary in Semester 1 2019.
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