NUS NatCon 2017: Who, What, Why?
By UTS Vertigo
The National Union of Students (NUS), the peak representative body for Australian university students, hosts a National Conference (NatCon) every year.
Each member university sends their elected delegates to network, debate policy, and vote on how NUS should spend time and resources the following year.
Is #nusnatcon just an elaborate excuse for stupol hacks to gain more twitter followers?
— Ashleigh Barraclough (@AshleighBarra) December 11, 2017
WHAT HAPPENS AT NATCON?
So, what does happen at NatCon? Who knows? Every year, once all NatCon delegates have arrived the voting begins to pass a motion that prohibits photography, filming or live-streaming of any kind at the forum.
If you’re not following #NatCon on Twitter, your student magazine or don’t have a friend who’s heavily involved in student politics, it’s quite likely you don’t even know what the NUS is. This is a great shame, as all students pay to support the NUS through your SSAF fees. That’s the $149 you pay (or defer) each semester.
The motion to keep students in the dark is always controversial among student media. Honi Soit editor Zoe Stojanovic-Hill said, “I doubt that the NUS would let observers film NatCon next year, given the history of the media ban. Media observers ask the NUS to lift the ban nearly every year and every year the NUS refuse to budge. Maybe [Mark] Pace and the incoming office bearers will be different, but I am sceptical.”
“If the NUS lifted the ban I think delegates would be more careful about what they said and did, for publicity reasons.”
The NUS won’t lift the ban anytime soon because that would mean the delegates wouldn’t be able to resort to tactics such as pulling quorum, wrestling, and eating the motions. No, that’s not a mistake: they really eat paper. Other common practices are heckling speakers, or even playing music over them to attempt them to stop speaking.
Members of BizComm running around the stage, almost in circles, to avoid forfeiting a motion #nusnatcon
— UTS Vertigo (@VertigoMagazine) December 12, 2017
NatCon has also never been known for running efficiently. This year the conference ran behind schedule nearly the entire time and started a day late due to SAlt not arriving the first night. Despite being scheduled to start at 9 am, most days quorum was not met until at least 9:30 am or later.
LET’S TALK FACTIONS
One of the reasons for all the hysteria at NatCon is that most of the delegates attending are aligned with the student wings of national political parties, primarily Labor and the Liberals.
This year, the conference was dominated by four prominent groups: Student Unity (Labor Right), National Labor Students (Labor Left), Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and National Independents (NI). Other factions such as Grassroots Left, Liberals, and independents were also present, but they were electorally outnumbered by the larger factions.
The following table is a breakdown of the number of votes each faction held:
|Number of votes||892||330||349||178||59||106||85|
In 2017, Student Unity held the most votes of any faction: 892 out of a possible 2000, equating to 45% of the conference floor. This meant they were able to successfully pass 27 motions.
The delegates of each faction vote together on motions, including electing the 2018 office bearers. However, these office bearers are often unofficially elected through backroom factional deals before the conference even begins, leading to uncontested victories for most positions. For the delegates that attend, the convention is the culmination of a year of protest, campaigning, and work – and an opportunity to begin planning the year ahead.
Various delays, primarily due to the conference not meeting quorum, led to some chapters being discussed in no more than two large policy blocs, preventing meaningful debate on issues such as LGBTI+ and women’s rights. This was mostly seen on one night when scheduled discussions regarding sexual assault and other women’s chapter policies were cancelled due to lack of time.
The conference was at its most effective and productive when motions up for debate were bolstered by a broad consensus, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) chapter. In 2016, the ATSI chapter was rushed through on the last night of the conference; however this year, the chapter was allocated an expansive amount of time. This allowed for civil and productive debate, however, this was not reflected in the debate of other chapters.
Controversy erupted during the LGBTI+ chapter when SAlt was criticised for consistently referencing the marriage equality during the debate, even when motions were not related, and then threatening to pull quorum. The UTS Queer Officer, Aadarsh Prasad, stated, “SAlt co-opted the marriage equality movement, had utter disregard for any other form of oppression…and threatened to pull quorum if a motion reaffirming asexual people as part of the LGBTI+ community was passed.”
Today unity pulled quorum for 2 hours, yesterday SAlt gave the same speech about marriage equality for 3 hours. And yet we ran out of time to talk about sexual assault. Students deserve better. #nusnatcon
— Harry Gregg (@HarryGregg9) December 14, 2017
This was only one of many contentious debates throughout the conference that arguably, did not have a productive resolution.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR NUS?
It’s impossible to know what will come of NUS in 2018. The Union has financially struggled over the last several years, been plagued with allegations of incompetent office bearers, and has had several universities including the University of Wollongong and the University of Tasmania disaffiliate completely and others, including the Australian National University, previously voting to disaccredit.
However, NUS has also worked to represent Australian students; they’ve run campaigns related to sexual assault on campus, student housing and student wellbeing, amongst others.
One can only hope that going forward we will see productive discussion, advocacy, and student issues remain the Union’s priority.
2018 NUS OFFICE BEARERS
National President – Mark Pace (NLS)
National General Secretary – Jacob Cripps (Unity)
National Education Officer – Constantinos Karavias (SAlt)
National Welfare Officer – Jordon O’Reilly (Unity)
National Women’s Officer – Kate Jean Crossin (NLS)
National Queer Officers – Kim Stern and Jasmine Duff (SAlt)
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Officer – Tyson McEwan (NI)
National Ethnocultural Officer – Hersha Kadkol (SAlt)
National Small and Regional Officer – James Callow (Unity)
National International Students Officer – Ziqi Han (Unity)
National Disabilities Officer – Kayla Dickeson (NLS)
NSW – State Branch President – Connor Wherrett (Unity)
NSW – Education Vice President – Caitlin Keogh (SAlt)
QLD – State Branch President – Chelsea Bently (Unity)
QLD – Education Vice President – Sofia Zeller
SA – State Branch President – Jordan Mumford (Unity)
SA – Education Vice President – Daniel Neser (SAlt)
VIC – State Branch President – Lily Xia (Unity)
VIC – Education Vice President – Anneke D’emanuele (SAlt)
WA – State Branch President – Jason Lawrence (SAlt)
WA – Education Vice President – Dylan Heywood (NI)
National Executive – General Members
Samuel Roberts (Unity)
Niall Cummins (Unity)
Michael Iroeche (Unity)
Max Kennedy (Unity)
Jessica-Mary Jaja (Unity)
Aditya Sharma (Unity)
Aidan Johnson (Unity)
Justine Whaley (Unity)
Hamish Richardson (NLS)
Jasmine Birch (Unity)
Finlay Nolan (NI)
Inez Meredith Penrose (Unity)
Campus Representative – Adelaide University – Leila Clendon (SAlt)
Campus Representative – Curtin University – Nicola Gulvin (NI)
Campus Representative – Deakin University – Jean-Marc Kurban (Unity)
Campus Representative – Flinders University – Grace Hensel (NLS)
Campus Representatives – Griffith University – Kimberley Collett and Vishnupriya De (SAlt)
Campus Representative – La Trobe University – Shae Williams (Unity)
Campus Representative – Monash – Caulfield – Caitlin Brown
Campus Representative – Monash – Clayton – Tess Dimos (SAlt)
Campus Representative – Newcastle University – Hayden Nichols (NLS)
Campus Representative – RMIT – Hafizullah Jan (Unity)
Campus Representative – Swinburne – James Atkins (Unity)
Campus Representative – University of Melbourne – Melinda Suter (SAlt)
Campus Representative – University of New South Wales – Madeleine Powell (SAlt)
Campus Representative – University of South Australia – Natrydd Sigurthur (NLS)
Campus Representative – University of Sydney – Kimberley Murphy (SAlt)
Campus Representative – University of Technology Sydney – Madeline Lucre (NLS)
Campus Representative – University of Western Australia – Phoebe Burrage (SAlt)
Campus Representative – Victoria University – Daniel Nicholson (Unity)