“Hissy fits” and “Culty” Organisations; SRC 6 Full of Fiery Exchanges
By Xanthe Murrell
SRC 6 was not without its drama. Held on Wednesday 22 September, the meeting discussed some important policy initiatives that will change the direction of ANUSA’s COVID-related policy. After Grassroots’ sweep of the executive in this year’s elections, much of the meeting was characterised by the Socialist Alternative questioning the political intentions of Grassroots representatives. The meeting occurred online due to the ongoing lockdown in the ACT.
Meetings such as the SRC show a side to the student government that is largely unknown to the wider student body – for whom the workings of ANUSA are generally confined to a stream of Facebook posts seen around election time.
‘Lockdown to Zero’ causes a commotion
Although it is hard to choose which was the most contentious point of the evening, the longest back-and-forth occurred with respect to the “Support Health Before Profits” motion. The much anticipated and publicised motion was moved by the Socialist Alternative’s (SAlt) 2022 Gen Rep candidate Nick Carlton.
Carlton called for ANUSA to endorse a hard-line approach to lockdowns (and to therefore oppose the push to “live with the Delta variant” being promoted by the “Liberals and Dan Andrews”). SAlt member Grace Carter described the debate as “weighing up business interests” against “actual human lives”. In this vein, Chris Morris argued that “ANUSA and NUS” needed to “take this fight to the government” to prioritise “working class” lives.
Many Grassroots members did express their support for continued lockdown until the ACT could ensure the highest possible vaccination rates. A few of the representatives cited the recent ANU study supporting a vaccination target of 90%.
However, SAlt’s argument, and its unflinching push for the Territory to lock down until it reached zero cases of COVID-19, was not looked upon favourably by all present. Grassroots member and next year’s Gen Sec Ben Yates cited some of the social issues incurred by lockdowns. These issues included the effects of locking down on peoples’ mental health and on rates of domestic violence.
Max Evans, the only member of the Liberal Party in this year’s SRC, labelled SAlt’s approach to the argument excessive “virtue signalling”.
It was somewhere in this discussion that the meeting descended into a series of political (and sometimes personal) attacks. SAlt’s biggest point of contention seemed to be the Environment Collective’s (EC) – chaired by Luca Corby – lack of support for the motion. Having framed the lockdown debate as a divide between “left and right”, SAlt called the left-wing EC’s lack of firm support “pretty appalling”. The personal attacks continued in the Zoom chat function, with a SAlt member calling out the Disability Officer Sinead Winn for her lack of support for the motion. This move prompted General Secretary Meghan Malone to turn off the chat function entirely.
Despite such disagreements, the sentiment that young people should be given adequate time to get vaccinated (before the state reopens) was shared across the SRC. As a result, the motion was eventually passed. ANUSA is now obliged to become a signatory to the ‘NSW Lockdown to Zero’ campaign statement, and to publicise its support on the ANUSA Facebook page. It will also “call on” ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to “support a COVID elimination strategy”.
It should be noted that since this decision was made, Barr has announced (on 27 September) a new pathway out of lockdown that will begin from 15 October 2021.
BIPOC report completed
Chido Nyakuengama and Katchmir Russell, ANUSA’s respective BIPOC and Indigenous Representatives, brought forward a motion for ANUSA to support the recently completed ‘Racism Report’. Both Nyakuengama and Russell expressed their dismay at the volume of responses they had received when compiling the report.
“This report only covers a fraction of it and that’s shocking because you can see the number of responses in the report”, said Russell. They also stressed the importance of reading the report, “especially if you’re not BIPOC”.
For Nyakuengama, the report’s main priority is to reform the processes by which ANU deals with instances of racism. She said she wanted “ANU to actually take this seriously” and for it “to direct funds towards this issue”.
Nyakuengama also noted the lack of BIPOC representation on the Access and Inclusion Committee to which she reports instances of racism: “When I report racism as the BIPOC officer to ANU, I am reporting those instances of racism to a white person”. She concluded that it is “not appropriate for racism to be reported in that way.” The motion was passed without criticism.
Uproar over SAlt environment protests
In conjunction with the COP26 global climate summit in November, SAlt introduced a motion for ANUSA to “endorse and promote” a university-led climate protest on 6 November (which would coincide with other protests being held across the country). Continuing the trend of EC/SAlt clashes, Environment Officer Luca Corby brought forward an amendment asking that ANUSA only support the protest should SAlt allow others to be involved in organising the event. This was met with uproar from SAlt, with member Grace Carter calling it “very sectarian” of ANUSA to restrict SAlt’s autonomy. Carter then labelled the entire amendment a “hissy fit”.
In response, Ben Yates called SAlt’s organising structure “culty”. He was joined by other Grassroots members who questioned why SAlt was opposed to collaborating with others on the protest.
“It beggars belief why you wouldn’t want to open [the organisation process] up to more people”, said Indigenous Representative Katchmirr Russell.
Ultimately, the motion for ANUSA to endorse the protest was passed, along with the amendment that SAlt take a collaborative approach in organising it.
COVID ruins the best laid plans
A common theme of the Executive and Department Officer reports was the effect that nationwide lockdowns have had on their agendas. Various events planned for the upcoming term, such as Queer Ball, have been postponed due to their incompatibility with an online format.
However, there was a clear determination across all departments to transition online. The Indigenous, Environment, and International portfolios discussed various social events that they had already held online, and the disabilities portfolio committed itself to holding ‘Spoon Week’ online in week ten.
Tenancy battles continue
2022 ANUSA Vice President Christian Flynn, who has been Acting President while Madhumitha Janagaraja is on leave, discussed his efforts in helping residents in their tenancy battles with ANU. While many residents have been unable to return to the state due to border closures, they are still being “forced to pay rent”, Flynn said.
ANUSA pledged to continue to work with any students in this situation, in the hopes of finding ways for them to cancel their contracts. ANUSA also committed to supporting students with any financial hardships they may be facing.
Contributing reporting by India Kazakoff.
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