By Anthony Lotric and Rebecca Zhong
NatCon 2019 kicked off with a Welcome to Country just after 2 pm on Monday, after a delay with “delegate registration”. Such delays are apparently not an uncommon occurrence at NatCon, which will run from Monday to Thursday this week. The afternoon session, set to start at 5pm, also did not go ahead as scheduled after Unity members did not show up — Observer heard that they were dealing with internal factional matters. Unity controls a majority of conference floor, and sessions cannot begin without their presence. After lengthy delays, the evening session finally commenced at 8.32 PM, an hour and a half after its scheduled start time.
While waiting for the first session to commence, we overheard that the cost of running the conference— if accurate — comes to 9000 dollars of student money per hour and 300,000 dollars over the course of the conference as a whole.
We apologise for the delay in updates on the first day of NatCon, delays aside, we have been getting our bearings over the past 24 hours. NatCon has lived up to expectations so far in terms of the delays and the at times deafening yelling from the conference floor, although no paper eating has occurred so far.
Please contact us at [email protected] if you have questions, comments or memes.
What is NatCon?
The purpose of the National Conference (NatCon) is for student representatives from universities affiliated and accredited with the NUS to debate and determine the policies which will be adopted in the upcoming year, and elect office bearers.
So, what does the conference look like?
All delegates sit with their faction, and the seating at the conference is arranged to reflect this, with an area dedicated to Student Unity (Labour Right), National Labour Students (NLS— Labour Left), Grassroots Independents (or ‘Grindies’) and Socialist Alternative (SA), as well as a delegates not associated with any faction, who fall into the ‘small i’ indies category. The Grindies are a recently formed faction that emerged last year following the merger of the Grassroots Left and National Independents. Unlike all other factions, the Grindies do not practice vote-binding.
Observer understands that Unity holds roughly 51% of the conference floor, while NLS holds 16%, SA holds 12% , and the Grindies hold 16% of the floor. The Libs, who hold 3% of the conference floor, are voting with Unity.
You can find a detailed rundown of the NatCon factions in this useful explainer by former Observer editor Skanda Panditharatne.*
*Panditharatne, who is a NatCon delegate for the Grindies, ceased all involvement with Observer in March 2019.
What does the conference look like? (Continued)
On the side of the conference hall, four ‘cogging tables’ have been set up, with one for each faction. These tables are an important step of the journey made by each motion (written alone or en bloc on pieces of paper, or the ‘cogs’) before they reach the Business Committee (BizComm), who determine the agenda. Here, faction representatives negotiate and sign off on the motions that will be placed on the agenda to be debated and voted on. Delegates determined to prevent the discussion of particular motions have been known to tear up or even eat the paper those motions are written on.
This year’s BizComm was elected unopposed, and is comprised of 4 Unity members, and 1 member each from the NLS, Socialist Alternative and Grindies.
Day 1 Wrap Up
To kick off the Monday evening session motions from the ‘Unionism’ chapter of the Policy Book were considered.
The National Labor Students faction (NLS) spoke to their motion, which would have the NUS support the recent merger between ‘United Voice’ and the National Workers Union to form the United Workers’ Union. The Socialist Alternative (SA) denounced the motion, asserting that the merger was merely a factional power play by Labor Left – amounting to “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. They spoke further in support of a union movement that had no allegiance to the Labor Party, which they argue has weakened the movement in recent decades. The motion passed with the support of Student Unity (Unity), Labor Right and NLS, Labor Left.
We then moved to a motion condemning the ACTU ‘Change the Rules’ campaign for Labor during the election. This campaign was supported by both Unity and the NLS. A member of SA spoke to the motion, alleging that the campaign wasted millions of dollars of unionists’ money to campaign for the Labor Party.
A Student Unity member speaking against the motion was interrupted by heckling from SA. They responded to this hecking with “I wish changing the rules would get these guys to shut the fuck up”. ANU delegate Henri Vickers spoke in support of the motion while emphasising the political importance of mass mobilization of workers. NLS and SA voted against the motion, but it did not gain the support of Unity, and therefore failed to pass.
Other motions from the Unionism chapter that were debated and passed in this session included one concerning wage theft and staff casualisation on university campuses, while another called on state governments to legislate for a minimum 50% SSAF allocation for student unions.
At the end of the session, criticism was leveled at Unity by National Disabilities Officer Will Edwards for delaying the day’s business with their “game of musical chairs”. A shouting match ensued between Unity and NLS, Edwards’s faction. Just before 10:00pm the Grassroots Independents tried to have the evening session extended, but the motion was rejected by the Unity controlled BizCom and day 1 was brought to a surprisingly punctual close.
Day 2: Morning session
The second day began with a campus count, with the motion on whether Unity has the numbers (that is, if they hold 50% or more of the conference floor) passing with 1197 for and 972 against. Among the ANU representatives, there were 4 votes for ‘against’ from Lachy Day and Skanda Panditharatne of the Greens Independents (Grindies), Henri Vickers of NLS, and a SA proxy. Nick Pagonis, who is part of the Unity faction, vote in favor of the motion.
In the morning session, policies under the welfare chapter were discussed and voted upon. This included discussions of student support services, safe and affordable student housing, and access to mental healthcare. One motion which was passed supports more services which focus specifically on assisting victims of domestic violence at universities.
Members of NLS and the Grindies spoke in favour of WELF 7 which highlights rising costs of student accommodation provided by the private sector, but the NLS speaker argued that it does not go far enough: “these corporations are coming in and buying our universities to exploit students,” they said. A speaker representing SA also described the motion as “lackluster”, but it ultimately carried.
A bloc of policies opposed to the ‘war on drugs’ in Australian was passed. An NLS member speaking for the motion and in support of “humanitarian drug policy” asserted that “criminalisation has not decreased drug harm, but instead increased it”.
Another welfare motion called for an increase in free mental health services for students, particularly in relation to the policy’s call for an increase in the number of Medicare covered therapy sessions with a registered psychologist from 10, up to 15-20.
A subsequent bloc of mental health-related policies which included WELF 21, which was directed towards ‘raising awareness for regional men’s mental health’. This discussion produced heated exchanges between speakers Unity and SA speakers, with the former relating personal experiences with mental health to the conference floor after the latter announced that they would be abstaining on the vote because of the gendered framing of the issue, which they linked to the far right.
MISC 1 was also discussed as a part of the welfare chapter, titled ‘Deakin Sausage Crisis pt 2: gas BBQ boogaloo’. Two Unity speakers from Deakin University who spoke for the motion lamented the scarcity of BBQ facilities on their campus. They were then criticised by an NLS member who said “if Unity cared about student welfare, they would contribute more than one policy to the Queer chapter and the Disabilities chapter.” An SA member spoke next, accusing NLS of being “just as bad as [Unity]”.
A speaker from the SA faction, whose criticism of other factions is centred strongly on the mobilisation of students for ‘on the ground’ campaigning and protest, argued that “we shouldn’t be talking about this inane crap, about surveys” during debate on a bloc of policies which included an action requiring the NUS International Student officer to conduct a survey on student wellbeing.
Day 2: Afternoon session
The afternoon and evening sessions of the day were dedicated to policies under the ethnocultural chapter, with some education policy also being passed in the evening. The education chapter is the lengthiest in the policy book, containing over 60 policies — twice as many as most of the other chapters.
A speaker from NLS criticised the wording of the first motion, titled ‘Decolonisation [of] your Universities’. In particular they were critical of the language in the action points which included demands for “universities to decolonise their history and their institutions”, calling for more “actionable” motions. An SA member spoke in support of the motion, but argued that the source of racism is “at the top of the country”, including both the Labor and Liberal parties.
Around this time, there has been some back and forth about speaking time in the Grindies corner, where we are seated. The speaking time is currently 1 minute long. It was a little difficult to follow what was happening at the front of the room.
ETHNO 4, ‘Close the camps, bring them here!’, failed to pass when Unity… . During the debate on this motion, an NLS speaker told the conference floor that “it’s too hard” is not an acceptable response to the issue of ending offshore detention for refugees. SA members also spoke in favour of this motion.
Next up was ETHNO 15, which called on Unity to “stand against the Far Right”, in reference to the faction voting against an SA motion calling on the NUS to “campaign against the Far Right” at 2018 NatCon. A Unity member described last year’s anti-Far right policy as “pathetic”. An SA speaker told the Unity students that “the Christchurch massacre is on the back of your Government”, referencing the Labor party’s refugee policy. The motion failed.
Tensions between SA and the other factions relating to the approach to NUS policies were again displayed during debates on a motion to establish an Ethnocultural Officer Network. SA opposed the motion on the grounds that the creation of such a network “is not an effective way to fight racism”. In response, a Unity member speaking for the motion argued that student leaders are better equipped to run campaigns against racism by forming cross-campus networks across Australia.
Two separate motions were successfully passed: ETHNO 4 condemning China’s treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang, and ETHNO 2, which criticises the ‘Racism. Does it stop with you?’ campaign as “tokenistic”.
SA members spoke in favour of ETHNO 5 . However, an international student from NLS rebuked the SA representatives, criticising them for their “entitlement” in speaking on behalf of Chinese students.
The motion included a policy to condemn and call for an end to refugee deportation. An SA student described it as “outrageous” that Unity “keep putting up amendments to remove mention of the Labor party from motions”. Another SA student said that “both [Labor and Liberal] Parties are committed to hardline racist policy”. ANU student Zoe Ranganathan (NLS) similarly described it as “gross” that Unity wanted to remove all mentions of Labor. The amendment was carried by Unity, with all other factions voting against.
The last policy to be discussed in this session was ETHNO 9 (‘Fight Racism to save the planet! NUS supports climate justice’) before it was brought to a close for dinner.
Day 2: Evening session
Discussions of ethnocultural policies continued after a break for dinner, and debate on the education policy chapter was also commenced.
A student representing the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) spoke for the motion against anti-semitism: “I am a proud Jew – I will never be afraid to be jewish”. Students from Unity and NLS also spoke for the motion. ANU student Kim Stern, who is part of the SA faction, replied that NLS should be “ashamed for taking cheap pot shots” against SA in light of their protests against racism. The motion carried unanimously.
Towards the end of the day, a start was made on the education policy chapter, with EDU 22 (‘National Day of Action for climate justice and civil liberties’) being discussed. The motion failed as it was voted down by Unity, who argued that Extinction Rebellion climate rallies are “not accessible activism”, and that they were not in favor of “wasting student money” on rallies. Consistent with the position adopted by SA throughout the entire conference, one member said that the climate strikes this year “left the Liberal Party pretty afraid”, and reiterated that “[NUS needs] to mobilize as many students as possible.”
Up next was EDU 45, ‘Our Education in Our Hands — a National Campaign to Fight Corporate Universities’. As with the ‘Change the Rules’ campaign, SA is critical of the motion, with one member calling for student mobilisation “at the grassroots level”. A Grindies member responded that it was about “more money for SSAF,” while an NLS member said, “You can’t call everything you don’t like a ‘vote Labour’ campaign.”
Everyone but SA voted in favor of the motion, to cries of “shame”. A number of students from SA have moved from their seats to where NLS is seated, and a shouting match has ensued in that part of the conference floor. Anton Lucas, who is with the Liberals, was named three times for filming, and left the conference floor. As he left the room, chants of “Racist, sexist, anti-queer, Liberals are not welcome here” could be heard from the SA faction.
NLS and Unity are opposed to EDU 26, which calls for NUS to pay for the fines of student protestors, particularly in relation to the activities of protestors involved in climate rallies and the Extinction Rebellion. One Unity member declared that he would “rather be shot down where I stand” than support a motion to pay the fines and legal fees of student protestors. This was the last motion to be discussed, with the session closing at 10 PM.
Tuesday: Day 2 Wrap Up
Day two of NatCon was dedicated to debating and voting on policy, and interspersed with plenty of factional confrontation, chanting and paper hats fashioned from Red Flag pages.
The implications of a policy being successfully passed is written out in the ‘action’ section of each proposed policy. Beyond determining the policy positions the NUS will adopt next year, they often requires the NUS to assist with on-campus campaigns, national days of action and student advocacy at universities.
The policy chapters covered today were Welfare, Ethnocultural and Education. A motion to ban filming for the duration of the conference was passed a little later than usual, during the morning session. Such a motion is usually passed early on in the conference, although filming and photography without the consent of attendees is also prohibited in the code of conduct.
A lack of transparency on NatCon proceedings has been an ongoing issue, with minimal minutes provided by NUS alongside bans on live-streaming and photography passed each year. Additionally, the lack of transparency regarding the work of NUS office bearers is one of the problems which contributed to ANUSA’s decision to un-accredit from NUS and set KPIs in recent years.
Day 3: Morning Session
An SA member speaks to the first motion of the day, which condemns the Ramsay Centre and its funding of Western Civilisation courses. They argue that the Ramsey Centre “provides academic support for white supremacy”. A Grindies speaker said that the representation of Western Civilization as a coherent tradition, which is reflected by the programs that the Centre sought to fund, is “ridiculous”. An NLS member also spoke for the motion, describing such programs as legitimizing “racist narratives”. There were no speakers against this motion, and it passed. ANU withdrew from talks with the Ramsay Centre last year, with VC Brian Schmidt stating that the University would not endorse the “sponsored program” that was being sought by the Centre. This year, the Centre reached an agreement with the University of Queensland, and the University of Wollongong, but withdrew from negotiations with the University of Sydney earlier this month.
Next, a number of education policies were passed unanimously and en bloc, including EDU 18A, 19A, 20, 21A and 53A; and EDU 27, 37A, 64 and 54. The second bloc contained policies which opposed the implementation of trimesters at universities, such as those recently implemented at UNSW. Other policies in this bloc included a call to end after-hours and weekend exams, and opposition to the Federal Government’s abolition of the Education Infrastructure Fund, which supports research and teaching infrastructure projects at Australian universities. Both of these policies were moved by ANU delegate Skanda Panditharatne. As this was underway, Observer and other student media was informed that a motion relating to “journalistic integrity” was being cogged. The text of the motion “urged all student publications to comply with journalistic integrity standards… including, but not limited to; the right of response…procedural fairness, and substantiating claims and allegations.” A Unity member spoke in favour of the motion to hold media to account, telling them to “feel free to be critical so long as it’s accurate”. Panditharatne, who is also a former Observer reporter, spoke against the motion. He criticised the motion’s “dog whistling about fake news”, and argued that NatCon has long been “inaccessible to students”. 2019 NUS president Desiree Cai spoke in favour of the motion, maintaining that it was “not about attacking student media.” The motion is passed, with the Grindies voting against. The reporters from Melbourne University’s Farrago drafted a statement to be read out in the afternoon session as a response to this motion. The statement highlights some of the difficulties faced by student media in their coverage of NatCon, which is often challenging to report on, particularly without previous familiarity and experience with NatCon, or NUS more generally.
Observer, along with the other student publications attending NatCon, signed this statement. Despite gaining the signatures of most of the factions, it did not gain the support of Unity, and thus did not have the requisite support to make it onto the agenda.
One of the policies which was debated next was EDU 40, which supports industrial action taken by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) through measures such as the withholding of student grades. Will Edwards from NLS spoke in favour of the right to strike, while also noting that unions sometimes need to be criticised. SA criticised NLS for allegedly not being fully behind industrial action; NLS accused Unity of “scabby behaviour”. All other factions vote against the motion, but Unity’s control of the conference floor meant that it was able to pass the policy. Cries of “scab” could be heard from NLS.
EDU 57 (‘Stop the Continued Neoliberalisation of our University Councils’) was also discussed. A Grindies member argued that the motion was a “sound strategy” for better representation of the student body on university councils. SA accused NLS of collaborating with neoliberalism by supporting the motion, and rejected it as a “farce”. Cai (NLS) asked the SA students who are opposed to the motion for more student representatives on university councils, “do you know what you are mobilising against?” All factions but SA voted for the motion, to cries of “shame”.
Among the blocs of policy which followed, one source of controversy was EDU 35, titled ‘Why Labor lost the 2019 Federal Election’. Speaking to the Unity and NLS factions seated towards the front of the room, an SA member said that “the problem was the decrepit party that you have hitched your wagon to”. Another SA speaker was drowned out by pro-ALP chanting from Unity. ANU delegate Henri Vickers (NLS) said that he agreed with parts of the policy, but disagreed with one of its platforms, which stated that the “ALP didn’t lose because the Australian population is too right wing.” A Grindies member also spoke, reproaching Unity and SA for factional bickering at the conference.
A Unity member, Humaira Nasrin, was named 3 times during debate on this motion, and was asked to leave. Unity started chanting “pull the quorum” in response. After a brief delay, Nasrin was allowed to stay. Observer understands that this was because Unity threatened to pull quorum or pass a motion to remove the Chair, an NLS member, unless Nasrin was allowed to return to the conference floor. The motion ultimately failed, voted against by both NLS and Unity.
A Unity member speaking against EDU 34, which supports free education, characterized the policy as “middle class welfare. ” They were also critical of NLS for their alleged inconsistency on the issue, a position which was reiterated by an SA speaker. Will Edwards, from NLS, responded that “NLS always have and always will support free education”. The motion failed, as it was voted down by Unity.
A policy titled ‘Stop ANU indies attacking democracy’, which was submitted to the policy book by incoming ANUSA Environment Officer Grace Carter, was to be debated alongside another policy titled ‘Don’t work with Liberals’. The first of the two policies is related to the proposed ANUSA standing orders reforms at which were debated and voted on in October, at a Special General Meeting. The proposed reforms had included a requirement that motions submitted for consideration must be moved or seconded by a voting member at SRC, as well as a list of conduct for which a person could be “named” (in other words, warned) or removed from a meeting. Ultimately, neither policy made it onto the agenda.
Day 3: Afternoon and Evening sessions
The second session started with the discussion of several policy blocs. One of the policies which were discussed in the first motion supported TAFE students, a topic which has seldom made an appearance at the conference so far. A number of education policies were debated en bloc, including a policy which emphasised the NUS’ obligations to support and act in the interest of TAFE students, and a policy supporting the Student Voice Australia (SVA) project, which aims to facilitate student engagement in decision-making processes in tertiary institutions.
SA members opposed several policies included in the first few blocs, such as EDU 56 (‘Increase student ratios on university committees’) and support for SVA, rejecting the approach of cooperation between students and university administrations as “collaborationist”.
During discussion of EDU 32A (‘Fighting for free speech on campus’), the first speaker, an SA member, argues that freedom of speech a “fundamental human right”. Another SA student who spoke for the motion referred to incoming ANUSA President, Lachy Day, as a “wannabe despot.” The speaker made reference to Day’s role in proposed changes to SRC standing orders which were debated and voted on at a special general meeting in October, as well the controversy around Day’s decision to initially exclude a motion condemning incoming Chancellor Julie Bishop at SRC 6. The motion containing this policy carried.
Another policy, which has also passed in previous years, condemned unpaid internships for university students.
Women’s policies were the next chapter to be discussed in the afternoon and evening sessions. A motion to allow non-autonomous members to speak was passed, meaning that men were able to speak on motions in this chapter. SA and Unity members, including 2020 National Women’s Officer Humaira Nasrin, spoke in favour of allowing non-female identifying individuals to speak on policies in this chapter, while a Grindies member noted that the policy does consider non-binary individuals. NLS speaks against it, highlighting how women’s voices are silenced in society.
During the afternoon session, a policy supporting the inclusion of trans women and non-binary people in women’s spaces and discourse, and another policy supporting safe spaces for women and non-binary people were passed.
A motion condemning the the Morrison Government’s Family Court review was passed. All factions speak against this move by the Liberal Government, many speaking passionately about domestic violence and against figures such as Pauline Hanson. Another motion, WOM 20, which opposed police strip searches of women and children was also passed.
Another policy which was discussed, WOM 20, calls for an end to the strip searching of women and children by police; an SA member speaking for this motion described the practice as “violent sexual abuse”.
During the afternoon and evening sessions, a number of policies relating to sexual assault on campus were discussed and successfully passed. These included a policy which requires NUS to support student campaigns and lobbying for the announcement of results from the 2020 Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassmen (SASH) survey, conducted by Universities Australia, to be mandatory. Motions that were discussed included a policy condemning Bettina Arndt, and calling on the National Women’s Officer to support counter-protests and women’s officers on campus in campaigns to address sexual violence on campus. Arndt, who is a conservative commentator, spoke at a number of universities in 2019, expressing the view that the prevalence of sexual violence on campus is exagerrated.
WOM 1, 2 and 4 called respectively for the implementation of a National SASH taskforce at universities, support for student training and access to resources relating to SASH disclosures, and further campaigning and advocacy on behalf of students as the 2020 Universities Australia survey is rolled out. Speaking to these policies, an NLS member said that universities have been implementing “surface level” changes in response to SASH concerns raised by students, while another student also criticised the “tokenistic approach” of universities dealing with this issue.
WOM 33, which called for more campus security staff who were women, was a source of some controversy. An SA member spoke against the motion, stating that campus security personnel are “not friends of students.” A Unity student spoke in favour of the motion, and criticised SA for not supporting the policy. At this point, a chant of “we have the numbers” broke out among Unity members. and led a chant of “we have the numbers”.
The last policies to be considered in the women’s policy chapter were WOM 17 and 21, which concerned equal pay for women. The next, and final, policy chapter to be discussed on day 3 was the Disability Chapter. The evening session came to a close with candidate statements, as voting for contested positions were scheduled to take place on Thursday morning.
The first policies to be discussed and passed related to the accessibility of transport and parking to and from campuses. DIS 12 (‘Free and adequate public transport is about accessibility’) supports greater public transport funding to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are met, and DIS 21 (‘Don’t make me park in Siberia’) calls for campuses to ensure adequate disability permit parking spaces are available, and not misused. SA and NLS members spoke for the motion, describing their personal experiences with accessibility at their respective institutions.
SA student speaks for the motion on DIS10 (‘We want fully funded public care!’), arguing that favour the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) should be replaced with publicly funded disability support. Speaking on DIS 27 (‘Money Saved on the NDIS is Not Money Well Saved’) and DIS 25 (‘National University Mental Health Framework’), NLS member Will Edwards agreed that the current model requires improvement. He also urged the conference floor to extend the civility that was displayed in the women’s chapter to discussions of disabilities policy.
The next motion was moved from the floor by an SA member, and called for NUS to “support people with disabilities fighting back”. The motion made reference to the climate protests which took place throughout 2019, as well as the climate rally taking place in Sydney on the same day. An NLS member spoke in favour of the sentiment of the policy, but claim that it was a “control F” of a similar policy that was passed during the women’s chapter, but with “‘disabilities’ pasted in.”
The next motion that was discussed contained two policies, DIS 13 and DIS 28, that condemn the Federal Government’s policy of denying permanent residency to migrants with disabilities. Will Edwards (NLS) spoke in favor of the motion, stating that “the deportation of people with disabilities is disgusting”.
A motion concerning the availability and misuse of accessible bathrooms on campus was discussed. DIS and DIS 29 both supported cooperation between the National Disability Officer and student representatives to ensure that such facilities are readily available for students with disabilities, and that they are not misused by able-bodied students. One of the speakers, Eleanor (Grindies), noted that accessible toilets are often the only gender neutral toilets on campus, which they described as “shameful”.
A bloc of motions supporting the implementation of spaces dedicated to the needs of students with disabilities, disabilities collectives and officer roles on student associations, and improved counselling services was passed. The latter supported changes to mental health services like a reduction in waiting times and the removal of limits on the number of sessions allowed each year. Speaking for the motion, a Unity member said that “psychologists are not a luxury, but a necessity on campus”.
At this point in the session, an NLS member urged students to respect the accessibility requirement of using jazz hands rather than clapping during discussions of policy.
Policies concerning the needs of student carers were also on the agenda, with DIS 5 supporting special consideration for carers and DIS 19, which requires the National Disability Officer to work with student representatives to ensure that the needs of student carers are accommodated through special consideration and adjustments to course assessments.
The final suite of disability policies to be passed en bloc supported a range of accessibility issues, including accessible course materials, like closed captioning for audio material, and ensuring that protests, rallies and similar NUS events, like national days of action, take accessibility into account.
Before candidate statements commenced, a policy concerning the harassment of people with disabilities by police was discussed. An NLS member accused the SA faction of using this issue as a form of “political porn”.
After discussions of the disabilities policy chapter were completed, the evening session concluded with candidate statements in preparation for the office bearer elections on Thursday.
Wednesday: Day 3 Wrap Up
Observer aimed to cover the policies, controversies and conduct on the conference floor as comprehensively as possible; however, the pace of the conference and the occasionally overwhelming noise from shouting delegates and faction chants has meant that the daily blogs are focused on providing a broader overview of the policy chapters being considered at NatCon.
The third day of NatCon was dedicated to more Education policy, as well as the Women’s, Small and Regional, and Disability chapters. Part of the session on Wednesday night was dedicated to candidate statements, with voting for contested office bearer positions and general executive members occuring on Thursday morning. Before policy chapter discussions, the first session commenced with a report from Grievance Officer Will Edwards, who reported that an individual had been followed and intimidated the previous day.
Day 4: International Students chapter
Discussion of the international Students policy chapter consisted of two blocks of motions.
Discussion of first block of motions, INTL 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, was dominated by what Konrad Hogg (Grindies) described as “political point scoring”. Another speaker, Vincent Lee from NLS, accused Unity of not being committed to addressing international student issues. Unity again accused NLS of attempting to get their international student Presidential nominee removed.
INTL 13A, 12A, 11A, 15, 9A, 10A,14 were also controversial, with Unity voting to remove a series of motions, including one which proposed that the NUS pay for injured Hong Kong protesters to come to Australia. This led to a shouting match between Unity and SA at the front of the conference hall. Amid SA’s chanting of “one struggle, one fight, workers of the world unite”, the International Chapter, and policy discussion at large, ended with a chaotic shouting match between the factions.
The afternoon session concluded with the 2019 office bearers presenting their final reports. They spoke to their efforts during the year, and thanked various people for their assistance.
Day 4: LGBTQIA+ chapter
The LGBTI chapter began with a block of motions concerning the availability of gender neutral bathrooms on university campuses. Grindies and NLS students spoke to the importance of these motions, and an SA student asserted that “rights for LGBTI people are going backwards world wide”.
Two of SA motions from the floor were considered, including one condemning Labor MP Stephen Jones for allegedly connecting homophobia to immigrant communities, and another calling for corporate sponsors such as Woodside to be excluded from Mardis Gras. LGBTI 39 was then discussed, with Will Edwards from NLS criticising Sydney Uni for allegedly hiring a homophobic ex-police officer as a security guard. An SA Student also denounced the University, saying “bottoms, tops, we all hate cops”. The motion carried unanimously.
Next, motions regarding bans on queer people from donating blood came before the floor. These bans were described as “homophobic” by an NLS student. A queer Grindies student asserted that LGBTI people have lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, saying that they were “proud of the queer community for getting tested”. When a Liberal student stood up to speak against the motion, they were chanting “racist, sexist, anti-queer, Liberals are not wanted here”. The speaker claimed that the ban would protect vulnerable people. Everyone but the Liberals vote in favour of the motion, who voted against it.
LGBTI 12, 14A, 16, 28, 38, 40, which concerned pronouns and gender markers, were then passed. An SA student the fact that it is “exorbitantly expensive to change the gender marker on your licence” in most states, Grindies “being trans is really fucking expensive”.
When the motions concerning the Morrison Government’s ‘religious freedom’ bill was being considered, a Unity speaker condemned SA’s alleged defense of Brunei’s death penalty for gay people, saying that “when Judas sold out Jesus, at least he got a handful of silver”. The SA speaker who got up to respond was drowned out by cries of “homophobe”.
The block of motions LBGTI 45, 34, 10, 18 concerned justice for trans people and safe schools programs. An NLS and Unity student spoke for the motion, the latter of which described moving to a safe school as “life-saving”. Liberal student then came to the front to speak against the motion to chanting from, SA and some Grindies and NLS students, to which they replied “I thought you guys liked free speech”. Students from NLS and SA continue to disrupt the proceedings when they again attempted to speak. Chair Desiree Cai urged those interrupting to stop, saying “I know she is a Liberal but we should hear what she has to say, I guess”. A Grindies student speaking for the motion described safe schools as “harmless”, and commended the motion to the floor.
The block of motions up for discussion concerned healthcare for trans people, and opposed de-transitioning and gay conversion. A Grindies student told the floor that “healthcare is trans rights, and trans rights are human rights”. Unity use their speaking time to reiterate their criticisms of SA, saying that “NUS has a homophobe as queer officer”. An NLS student also spoke to the importance of combatting the conversion movement. The motion was voted up unanimously.
INTL3 (‘Supporting queer identifying international students’) was discussed during the LGBTI chapter. Speaking in support of the motion, an SA student stated that “we need to stand for open borders”. Another SA student stood up to speak in the against slot, even though they were in favour of the motion. The chair originally resisted, but then relented under cries of “authoritarian” from the SA faction.
LGBTI 37, 8 pushed for queer collectives to be activist organisations, especially with regards to environmental issues such as climate change. While one NLS speaker stated that it is “100% fundementally important” that the NUS particpate in activism around queer issues. Another NLS member stated that “[it is] pretty fucked that SAlt wants to put an extra burden on Queer people”, in reference to SA’s inclusion of LGBTI 37, titled ‘[The] struggles of the oppressed must be factored into the fight for climate justice’. After a Unity member asserted that Queer Spaces must be safe spaces for LGBTI people regardless of their political orientation, Unity voted against the motion, and it did not pass.
After LGBTI 20, 22, 23 were passed, progress on the LGBTI policy Chapter was paused so that Admin motions could be put forward as a block. The conference floor broke out into shouting and it took more than a minute to restore order. After a Grindie speaker commended the KPI related Admin motions to the floor, a SA student denounced them as “vacuous right-wing crap”, which was met by cries of assent from SA. Nevertheless, the motion voted up.
Unity then put forward a motion from the floor called “Let international students be President’. Two international Unity speakers accused NLS of trying to get Unity’s Presidential nominations invalidated during the Swinburne student elections. In the face of continuous jeering and chanting from Unity, an SA student called on NLS to respond to the accusations. Despite this controversy, all factions voted in favour of the motion.
LGBTI 20, 22, 23 concerned the lack of Queer Officers at all affiliated Australian Universities, and trans women’s officers. They were breifly spoken to by a Unity student, who stated that they believed it was “crazy that there are not queer officers at every university”. All factions voted in favour of the block of motions.
The next policy, ‘Pigs Outta Pride’, condemned the presence of police at Pride marches around Australia and called for them to be removed from future marches. NLS student spoke for the motion, asserting that “the police are fundamentally fucked… please don’t vote to put police where they don’t belong”, “I think the institution of the police is designed to oppress”.
A Unity student then spoke against the motion, announcing that they are “planning to join the police force” when they leave university, which was met by cries of “shame” from the SA faction. They went on to justify their decision by stating that they would “fight against homophobia” in the police force.
At this point, Will Edwards announced that he was filming on floor, meaning that the chair had to name him three times and ask him to leave. He subsequently refused to leave. Observer understands that his refusal to leave was a filibuster aimed at preventing LGBTI 44 – which supported opening up queer spaces to non-autonomous students – from being voted on. In response to this motion, NLS was concerned that if the motion became policy, it would allow people with beliefs antagonistic to LGBTI people to enter queer spaces. Music is played over speakers at the front, and most conference attendees stood up amongst the commotion. After a few minutes, Will Edwards left the hall and motion 44 was spoken to.
Unity speakers described Edwards’ filibuster as “disgusting” for wasting time, and asserted that “allies are just as important for our communities” as queer people. Another Unity student criticises SA for not being commited to Queer issues. An NLS member spoke against the policy, stating that “we need to have some queer spaces that are just for queer people”. Unity voted in favor of the motion, and it passed.
Day 4: First Nations chapter
To begin the session, Unity put forward joke motions regarding their right to smoke,and banning Henri Vickers from dancing on conference floor. Will Edwards asked the floor to “cut the joke motions”, given that there was only one session left to cover the First Nations, LGBTI and International Students chapters.
The first block of First Nation motions concerned the alleged murder of Kumanjayi Walker by an NT police officer. An SA student denounced the “deeply entrenched” anti-aborigional racism in Australia, and commended the bravery of his family. An NLS speaker echoed the sentiments of the SA speaker. The block was voted up unanimously.
A number of supplementary motions were brought to the floor. They included presenting a welcome to country at the beginning of all NUS events and protests, prioritizing indigenous students when commissioning artworks on campuses, hosting Indigenous Liaison Officers at all Universities, making Indigenous food available on campus, and calling on the Government to increase the rate of Abstudy. They were all passed unanimously.
A motion from the floor was then put forward concerning culturally appropriate accommodation. The mover of this motion, Kya Branch from the Grindies, explained that there is no accommodation on Australian university campuses that includes culturally sensitive elements for indigenous students, such as indigenous art. SA then spoke to a motion from the floor condemning the Labor party for its “blatant racism”. After some heated back and forth between SA, NLS and Unity, the motion did not pass.
The floor then discussed FN2, which supported changing the name of 26 January to ‘Invasion Day’; an SA student speaking for the motion characterised Australia Day celebrations as a “racist demonstration”. The policy passed.
A Motion from the floor was spoken to by Branch. The motion denounced SA for the use of the outdated acronyms and terminology concerning indigenous people (“aborigines” and “ATSI”) in their publications, namely ‘Red Flag’. Branch stated that even though they agree with the SA policies, it comes across as “tokenistic” when they use offensive terminology. The policy was voted up by all factions except SA, who voted against it.
The floor then considered motions FN6 and FN8A, concerning the development and degradation of the Murray Darling and Deebing Creek waterways. According to an NLS speaker, these developments have “[affected] indigenous communities’ ability to live on the land”. The conference voted unanimously to stand in solidarity with these communities. During discussions on this motion, an SA speaker criticised the “petty behaviour [of] the Queensland Labor government”, and an NLS member criticised Unity, stating that it was “telling” that they had not yet had a speaker come forward during the First Nations policy Chapter.
Motion FN9 concerned the Sacred Birthing Trees in Victoria that are threatened by a highway development. An SA speaker denounced the Victorian Labor government’s role in the development, and praised the “over 18 months of continuous resistance” that has been local indigenous people. Unity also spoke about the importance of showing solidarity with First Nations people whose culture is under threat by developments. The motion was carried unanimously.
There were only two sessions held on Thursday – a morning session where delegates voted for next years office bearers (which Observer was not allowed to report on), and a final afternoon session, where three policy chapters (First Nations, LGBTI and International Students) were discussed. After the afternoon policy discussion concluded, the 2019 office holders gave delivered their reports.
Thursday was punch night, a tradition were all factions — Grindies, Unity and NLS — come together to socialize in the evening. This reporter was present, but is unable to say more.
Candidate Statements & Office Bearer election results
Speeches from candidates for the national office bearer elections were heard on Wednesday night, although a majority of the positions were uncontested following the withdrawal of nominations. At the time of the ballot count on Thursday, only the positions of Disability Officer and the General Executive Member positions were contested, although a number of elected candidates still gave statements.
Molly Willmott (NLS), who was elected National President unopposed, spoke on “putting fairness and accessibility”, campaigning on SSAF, and against the “corporatisation of universities.” Previously, there were nominations from Jasmine Duff (SA), Jordan Mumford (Unity), and Katerina Hatzipanagiotus (NLS), which were withdrawn. This position has been held by a member of the NLS faction since the founding of the NUS, owing to a ‘sweetheart deal’ between NLS and Unity, with the position of Gen Sec held by a Unity member.
The incoming Gen Sec will be Samuel Roberts (Unity), who was also elected unopposed. In his speech, he promised to “rework and restructure the NUS”, calling the current structure “a relic of [the] past”.
Although they had withdrawn their nominations, both the SA and Unity candidates for National President gave speeches. SA candidate Jasmine Duff highlighted the climate rallies which took place in Melbourne this year and says that the NLS is “going to be left behind” if they did not do more to organise protests and mobilise students.
Humaira Nasrin (Unity) was elected as National Women’s officer, with the Grindies allegedly making a deal with Unity at the expense of NLS in relation to this position. In her speech, she spoke of her experiences growing up in a feminist family. Tamsin Anspach (NLS), who withdrew her nomination for Women’s officer, criticised Unity for failing to hold colleges to account on sexual violence, and said that NLS is the only faction” that can deal with sexual assault and harassment at universities.
Lincoln Aspinall (Grindies), was elected unopposed to the position of Education Officer after withdrawals from other candidates. Ali Amin (Unity) will be Welfare Officer next year, with the position again unopposed.
Kya Branch (Grindies), was elected unopposed to the role of First Nations Officer. In their candidate speech, they related their experiences as a first nation person to the conference floor, stating that “we will fight to have our voices heard”.
Kai Donaldson (Unity) was elected to the position of Small and Regional Campuses officer, after withdrawals from other candidates. In his speech, he thanked fellow Unity member Jordan Mumford for his work this year, and voiced his support for the Adani coal mine on the grounds that it provided regional jobs. Darcy Turner (SA), who withdrew his nomination for the role, denounced Donadson’s support of the Adani Coal mine. ANU delegate Nick Pagonis (Unity), who later withdrew his nomination for this role, spoke last. In his statement, he made reference to “Australia’s largest country town, Canberra.”
Vinil Kumar (SA), who was elected to the role of Ethnocultural Officer unopposed, was the last candidate to speak on Wednesday night. In a passionate speech, he told the conference, “where there is oppression… there is resistance.”
Votes for the remaining positions were held on Thursday morning, with the final election results and ballot count released on the Monday of the following week.
Alex Leighton (Unity) was elected as the 2020 National Disability Officer, after the Tori Holliday, who was the other candidate for the position, was ruled to be ineligible for the role after the initial ballot count announcement. Of the 12 general executive members who were elected, 9 are from Unity, 2 are from NLS, and 1 elected member is an independent.