It's Alive: NUS to hold SGM

Filed under: by: M Robin

Posted: 3rd of January

According to official notice, given by David Barrow, 2009 NUS President (NLS) and David Wilkins, 2009 General Secretary (Unity), NUS is to hold a special general meeting (SGM) of all national conference delegates, in order to elect the new executive for 2010. This meeting will be held on the 30th and 31st of January.

The previous conference cost every delegate (well, usually, their union) $725 (plus GST). This is on top of affiliation fees. Details of how much each delegate would cost their union for this SGM have not been publically released yet. I presume in order to limit cost, NUS has scheduled it immediately following its yearly Presidents Summit (27th to 29th), with both it and the SGM being held at the University of Sydney. Many NUS delegates would also have been attending Presidents Summit, and so may remain in Sydney for the NUS SGM.

NUS National Conference 2009: What Happened

Filed under: by: M Robin

Posted: 20th of December

The National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference began on Monday the 14th of December. It closed the following Friday. The Conference is used to elect the national executive of the organization for the coming year, as well as to debate NUS policy.

But you know all that. You’re in all likelihood reading this to find out what the hell went wrong, so I’ll just get on with it.

According to one source, on the Sunday immediately before the conference, an NUS national executive meeting saw the affiliations of two campuses remain in question. Affiliation is important, as it determines who can and cannot vote on the conference floor. Voting breakdown is important when factions vote on bloc, as they do at NUS, and all want as many of their people in positions of power within the premier student organization as possible.

Both of the disputed campuses (University of Western Sydney and Notre Dame) experienced difficulties with their NUS delegate elections which were similar to those experienced at Adelaide last year (i.e. A failed election, followed with delegate appointment). UWS is considered a left-wing campus, and Notre Dame, unsurprisingly, is right-wing. The same source claims that the Labor Unity (Labor-Right) did not want UWS brought on, and so pulled quorum for the executive meeting, meaning the issue remained unresolved when the conference started the following day.

The first sign of trouble to many of the delegates was when, on the first day of conference, no one was attending. Both of the two major factional groupings at NUS (Labor Unity, and the Labor Left Faction, National Labor Students – NLS) had the numbers, if they could control their people, to prevent quorum (50%) being reached. Without quorum, no conference is valid. The same source also claims Unity were not attending the conferences, out of concern over campus affiliations. Complicating the issue further from the earlier exec meeting is that several left-wing universities had paid money into the NUS account just prior to the conference. Members of the right are alleged to have insisted the money clear first before the delegates from these universities be allowed to vote.

This was not a problem for the AUU, which, despite presenting a cheque only on the Monday of the conference, was not required to wait until it cleared before its delegates were registered to vote.

It isn’t until the second day of the conference that quorum is finally reached for a sitting (possibly at 4am). This sees the election of the Business Committee. NUS is, from all accounts, a chaotic conference involving hundreds of delegates. So it makes sense that first thing, a committee is elected to decide when to hold meetings, on the agenda, and other points of order. This is however more than a logistical position, giving whichever faction rules the Business Committee significant ability to influence the debate on the conference floor (through the agenda), or even when/if votes are held (as occurred in this case). The Left factions had a slender majority of delegates (57% I have heard, from two left sources). However, in protest at the lack of conference the previous day, Socialist Alternative (one of the left factions) decided to boycott the vote. This meant that Unity won 4 of the 7 positions on Business Committee. Josh Rayner (Unity) was appointed Returning Officer for future elections.

Despite the election of the right, the Left still had the majority of votes. Quorum was not reached for more meetings on the Tuesday.

By Wednesday, one source has NLS convincing Unity to come back to the floor. Debate briefly resumes, and the position of an International Student Officer is created. Talk then moves to the affiliations of UNSW, Murdoch and UWS (all left campuses). A motion asking for the Business Committee to put this on the agenda is ruled down by Business Committee, who is then overruled on this motion decision by the larger Conference. There are then three motions, in very rapid succession, to affiliate each of these universities, giving their delegates voting rights. One right-wing source claims this was obviously rehearsed, as it happened so quickly it took Unity several moments to realize what was going on. This is corroborated by a left-wing delegate, who says that it wasn’t until the second motion (to affiliate the second campus) that the right reacted at all. David Wilkins (Unity, and 2009 NUS General Secretary) is reported to have screamed for all Unity delegates to exit the conference floor, so as to pull quorum. A right-wing source says Unity delegates were prevented from leaving, with one NLS member barring the door. A left-wing source disagrees with this, saying it all happened so quickly there was no way they could have reached the door in time, so there was no need to bar the Unity delegates into the conference room. A motion is then passed to close the meeting. The left breaks into a chorus of ‘Solidarity Forever’. They expect, given that with the affiliations of the three campuses their lead is even larger, to be share almost all the NUS Office Bearer positions among them and their allies. Evidently, their celebrations were premature.

Both right-wing and left-wing sources then have Unity, after some time, quickly reentering the conference room, and holding a meeting in which there are no left-wing members present. Of course, quorum requirements exist precisely to prevent this from happening. However, one right-wing source claims that as the smoking balcony is counted as part of conference floor, quorum was in fact reached. Another source claims that even if this were the case, the smoking balcony was empty regardless. The right justified this meeting by saying that Barrow had incorrectly closed the previous session, meaning the conference was still in session when they re-entered the meeting room.

Sometime during the course of these previous events an ambulance was called. Right-wing sources have this being the result of injuries sustained as they were prevented from leaving the conference floor when they rushed out in an attempt to prevent the left-campus affiliations. Another source claims that a female member of Unity was injured as Unity rushed back into the conference room floor, claiming she was trampled by her own faction who did not stop to help her. Yet another left-wing source has a girl being simply ‘shaken up’ by the proceedings, and wasn’t sure at what stage this occurred. Not having been there, I have no idea what happened, but can establish an ambulance was called. Other than that, everyone I’ve asked about it has a slightly different story.

While in this hasty Unity meeting, motions were passed affiliating several right-wing campuses, such as Notre Dame, Monash Caulfield and Edith Cowen. Motions are also allegedly passed disaffiliating some of the dodgier left campuses, some of which had nonetheless already been affiliated prior to the conference.

This finishes Wednesday, and on Thursday (Office Bearer Ballot day), all is quiet. Several people (understood to be the current President (David Barrow – NLS), Josh Rayner (in his role as returning officer) and another member of NLS) have to sign off on the campus accreditation report (which decides exactly who can and can’t vote). They can’t agree. Here, my left sources unambiguously blame Josh Rayner, who they say wouldn’t sign off on anything barring the inquorate meeting affiliations and disaffiliations. The right says Rayner did everything by the book, and furthermore says it is unlikely that the Returning Officer would have been given the power to decide who can and cannot vote. I cannot say for sure who it was that ultimately refused to compromise, but it is unambiguously clear that no agreement was reached before Friday morning, when some delegates began to leave the conference to return home. The secretariat was reportedly kept open to 3am in case of a ballot, but none occurred until the Friday morning.

NLS refused to support a Friday morning ballot. Left sources then have Unity attempting to hold a ballot in Melbourne at Trade Hall (NUS Offices), but ultimately all attempts to hold a ballot fail as so many delegates have gone home. The conference closes, with no national executive for 2010 having been elected.

Like many crisis situations, the twin seeds of dissent at this year’s NUS Conference were laid early. Moves to affiliate campuses with election problems were not successful at an executive level prior to the conference. Coupled with the right holding the majority on Business Committee (but not a majority of delegates – their positions on Business Committee being due to the Socialist Alliance voting boycott), these two factors set the stage for a contested decision.

There are many who bear no love for the National Union of Students. However, both the left and right-wing Labor sources spoken to expressed regret at the danger NUS is placed in as an institution, and the situation this leaves students in as the Government considers broad changes to their welfare situation and other educational overhauls. Needless to say, this particular conference was also a huge waste of money for many already cash-strapped student unions around the country.

One source was of the opinion that there was no plausible option other than to wind up the lobbying body. Apart from finishing off the 23-year old organization, the other options on the table are either to allow for a postal ballot (currently used to deal with casual vacancies), or to have the current executive appoint the new executive. Or (and this is very unlikely) have another national conference, soon. None of these avenues are really all that desirable. A postal ballot is preferable, but all sources agreed on the enormous difficulty this would be to conduct.

Legal advice is expected to be released to NUS on Monday. Until then, there’s nothing much to do but wait.

The hastily prepared profile picture currently being used by many Left NUS delegates on facebook to protest their situation. Carla Drakeford, Warren Roberts and James Butchers are, respectively, the left candidates for President, Indigenous Officer and Education Officer of NUS.

Several corrections to yesterdays post have been made. See here to read

For those not entirely familiar with NUS, I compiled a list of internet sources I found around this time last year you might be interested in taking a look at.

Will NUS See the New Year?

Filed under: by: M Robin

Posted: Very early on the 19th of December

This is written on events currently in progress. For this reason, it is likely to contain errors or incomplete reporting. Subscribers with more information are encouraged to point out faults or supply missing facts from this post.

When it comes to dodgy practices involving the National Union of Students (NUS), it’s all in the family at Adelaide Uni.

NUS has a yearly conference when delegates from most Australian universities gather for a week in Ballarat. While there, they debate NUS policy, and vote on who the following years NUS Office Bearers will be. This is, understandably, difficult. Especially when the Labor Left and Right both want power.

Former AUU President Josh Rayner (Student Unity - Labor Right) became nationally infamous yesterday when, in his role as Returning Officer for the NUS Office Bearer elections, he was alleged to be involved in, according to NUS President David Barrow (NLS – Labor Left), “the withholding and manipulation of the campus accreditation report”.

While a campus is affiliated to NUS until it holds a successful student referendum seeking otherwise, every campus is required to pay affiliation fees on a yearly basis. This is on top of a $725 fee for each of the delegates it sends.

Crikey reporter Andrew Crook has the dispute arising as a result of an unclear cut-off date for fees (sorry, subscriber only). Cheques arriving on Monday were ruled ineligible, making some delegates, I presume, ineligible to vote. Furthermore, Crook writes that meetings to resolve this were held in the ‘dead of night, when members from opposing factions were asleep’.

Right-wing sources at Adelaide paint a slightly different picture, saying that when faced with a Labor-Right/Liberal coalition, the Left chose to pull quorum* instead of face a vote which would see them lose (Update: Left sources entirely dispute this, saying that even with a right-wing coalition they still had the numbers, and maintain that the left never pulled quorum). This would explain the one-hour of policy debate decried in a Liberal press release. I note the alternate account does not necessarily dispute the original account published this morning by Crikey.

Haywire has a great, though factually light, interview on the whole saga, which is far more critical of both factions than I dare be at this stage. Those interviewed seem to be of the opinion that this is the end of NUS. Update: NUS Delegates have informed me that Thomas Green is a member of the right-wing independents, and that the 'journalism student' is his fiance. Not that that discredits his opinion, but for the purposes of full disclosure and all...

Adelaide’s NUS delegates were recent AUU President Lavinia Emmett-Grey (Independent, running for NUS Welfare Officer from what I understand), Hayden Tronnolone (another Independent) Sarah Anderson (NLS), Ashleigh Lustica (NLS) and Jason Virgo (also NLS). Also elected were Unity members Andrew Anson and Tim Picton. At this stage, I understand that Andrew Anson did not choose to attend. Also absent from Adelaide is outgoing State President Robert Fletcher (NLS). AUU President Fletcher O'Leary assures me that the AUU is a financial member of NUS, having paid affiliation fees ($14K approx in 2010 $9000 in 2010, plus another $5000 approx in delegate registration fees) for the coming year.

I presume this means our delegates can vote, if this is indeed the issue here. Different sources suggest this to be just the result of infighting between the Labor factions, or something to do with affiliations not being accepted, 'denying access to some from the wheels of power'. Information right now is, unfortunately, scarce.

Barrow is quoted as saying he is seeking legal advice. The morning will no doubt bring new developments. Watch this space.

*Quorum of meetings of the National Conference is the presence of a majority of elected delegates (i.e. not counting proxies) (Item 23 of schedules, NUS Constitution, Section R23 P 17). Also of note, I could not find any Constitutional contingency plans should an executive fail to be elected at the National Conference, although the Heywire interview does broach the option of postal votes. The other option is, of course, for them to be appointed by the current executive, in which case NLS has a majority.

Links from the Other Side

Filed under: by: M Robin

Posted: 21st of November

Young Liberal politics tends to be played, from everything I can see, off campus. Involvement in the AUU (which, despite the best efforts of Liberal Board Director Mark Joyce, retains the word ‘union’ in its title) is understandably minimal.

For this reason, the world of student politics as understood by the right-wing side of our campus is relatively alien to me. Every now and then though, one hears rumours of intrigue and power-plays, but they don’t usually occur in a public forum I feel comfortable reporting on. Every now and then though, something happens which is fair game.

This Saturday The Australian ran a story detailing Liberal infighting, centred around an editorial written by electoral officer and Adelaide student Ben Bartlett which “poured petrol on the flames of a climate change debate”*.

It was Vex News which broke the story two days ago. Vex also put up the original editorial, and the rest of the magazine, the whole of which seems to extol liberalism at the expense of the conservative elements of the Liberal party.

Vex’s unnamed source claims "the little moderate clique is getting organised for a massive branch stack recruitment drive” in SA. I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

* Those who follow Federal politics will know that the issue of climate change has pitted the denialists against current leader Malcolm Turnbull, who demands some engagement in the Labor Governments ETS scheme.

UC Election Results

Filed under: by: M Robin

Posted: 6th of November

University Council elections closed today. Chris Wong and Lavinia Emmett-Grey won the two undergraduate spots. Xu Ting won the post-grad position.

Full details of the count and final margins are avaliable here.

In summary, Chris Wong received 431 primaries, with Lavinia on 149 and Paris Dean on 119. Tomas Macura was some way behind on 48 votes.

Chris Wong broke quota by some 200 votes, and so his votes flowed on to Lavinia (82 votes), Paris (54 votes) and Tomas (45 votes). This brought Lavinia to 231 votes, and Paris to 172. Tomas was eliminated.

The next round of redistribution saw 33 of Tomas’ votes flow to Lavinia, and 36 to Paris, bringing their totals to 264 and 209 respectively. Reaching the 250 quota figure first, Lavinia was elected to the remaining spot.

The post-graduate count only took 2 rounds, with only 156 valid ballots being cast. Quota was 79 votes, which none of the candidates reached. Xu Ting had 74 primaries, David Coluccio had 44, and Morteza Mohammahzhaheri has 38. Morteza was thus eliminated, and the ballots redistributed (15 to Xu Ting, 14 to David). Xu Ting was elected with 89 votes, David Collucio eliminated on 58 votes.

Repost: To A Degree, It's The End of University Conversation

Filed under: , by: M Robin

Posted: 6th of November

The following is an article published in The Punch today. It is written by incoming On Dit Editor Connor O'Brien, regarding the Hughes Plaza consultation session which took place last Wednesday:

On the table, a hundred cups and saucers (arranged neatly, ten by ten). The university has pegged its hopes on this meeting, emailed the entire student body three times, plastered the campus with large, full-colour posters asking – begging – students to attend.

The meeting is an attempt on the part of administration to give students direct input into proposed campus redevelopments. The idea: have a cup of tea with members of the university’s Strategy and Space Planning department, air your grievances, and put forward your vision for a better campus. As they tell us repeatedly, desperately, “We’re listening.”

I count three students. (Hannah and I don’t count – we’re student journos. We have to be here). Anne, who’s in her fifties, is a mature-entry student who volunteers at the library. Gunter is an ageing hippy who’s been drifting in and out of campus for the past thirty years. The final ‘student’, Angus, doesn’t even attend the university.

This is a disappointment. Because students are unwilling to engage with administration, it has been increasingly difficult for the university to provide the college experience students wish for (but are refusing to explicitly ask for).

It’s not like students don’t care about what’s happening on campus. They do. A month ago, the university announced plans to demolish a historic theatre to make way for a state-of-the-art science precinct. Within weeks, five hundred students had joined a Facebook group petitioning against the redevelopment. A hundred students posted comments on that page, variously labelling the impending destruction a “barbaric act”, a “disgrace”, and a “tragic loss”.

But none of those students are here today.

I remember speaking to the editor of a local youth culture magazine who told me, “People can’t be f….ed anymore. I try to promote a show or an exhibition, and I’ll get hundreds of people clicking ‘Attending’ on Facebook, but they just won’t show up. You also have people who think it’s enough to become a ‘Fan’ of a local artist on Facebook, but then not buy any of that artist’s work, because they feel they don’t need to – they’ve already shown they’re a fan, by clicking a button. What I’ve realised, increasingly, is that what people do and say online is completely meaningless.”

I asked one of the students who joined and commented on the Facebook petition why he joined the group instead of speaking directly to a member of the university’s Strategy and Space Planning department. He told me that he assumed that, as soon as the group reached a “critical mass”, the university administration would have to sit up and take notice. When I point out that it’s unlikely that members of the administration actually use Facebook, he told me, “Yeah, but it’ll get on the radio or in the papers.”

Had he written to the papers? “No. But somebody else will, I’m sure.”

You can’t blame him, or any of the others, for not getting involved. Students have too much on their plates already to really give a damn about the state of the higher education system. A recent survey revealed that Californian students work an average of 23 hours per week – empirical evidence suggests that the Australian student experience can’t be much different. For all the talk of a “wasted generation”, students are actually spending the vast majority of their time working, attending classes, hitting the books – or in front of the computer, trying to resist the temptation of typing into the browser window. Even before VSU hit, there was just no time for campus culture.

You hit a point where you realise it’s all become too darn complicated. On the one hand, students are feeling increasingly disconnected – universities have become so driven by the profit motive, students feel, that their concerns no longer factor into the equation. At the same time, the administration is struggling to connect with a student body that is distant and unresponsive. Nobody’s talking.

Two senior tutors, in their final tutorials of the year, implored us to send letters to administration. About anything – the IT system, course structure changes, even the quality of the food at the cafeteria.

“They don’t give a shit about faculty,” one tutor told me. “But they give a shit about you, because you’re the customer.”

In the closing five minutes of the final lecture of his academic career, a History professor spoke frankly about the changing face of the university.

“What is happening right now at this university,” he said, “will destroy higher education.”

This lecturer was speaking about course structure changes which force students to enroll in a larger number of introductory subjects across their undergraduate career. I’ve spoken to at least a dozen members of faculty: none are happy with the changes. Humanities students feel as though they’re now receiving a “joke education”. Yet – and here’s the kicker – the faculty are afraid to complain to administration, and students either don’t know who to talk to, don’t believe they’ll be listened to, or simply don’t have the time to voice their concerns.

I look around the room, with ninety-five coffee cups still gleaming and untouched. Angus is speaking, lamenting, “There’s no sense of collegiality. You get in, go to your lecture, leave.”

Members of the administration are writing this all down. It’s new to them. And this guy, Angus, who’s providing them with all this juicy info – he doesn’t even attend the bloody university.

Heads Up: Hughes Plaza Redevelopment questions

Filed under: by: Hannah

Being that it's one of the biggest changes to the uni and student opportunities for input within the uni in a long while, there's some work going on here to write a relatively comprehensive piece on the work being done on Hughes Plaza over the next year. As part of this, I'll be interviewing Paul Duldig of Property Services in a couple of weeks. If anyone has any questions that they'd like me to ask, leave them in the comments or email them to me privately and I'll see what I can do.