President’s Report: Jen Light
What is the Student Services and Amenities Fee and Why do we need to fight to keep it?
On the 1st of July 2006, Australia saw the rollout of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), consequently ending compulsory student unionism and ending valuable student services. On the 11th of October 2011 The Australian Parliament passed the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), a specific fee to be charged to University students for the use of non-academic activities. After the introduction of VSU the breadth and quality of many vital student services diminished, and SSAF has filled that void. Universities have used SSAF for legal assistance, sporting facilities and childcare, as well as student advocacy. The introduction of SSAF has facilitated an increase in student movements all over the country. Similarly it has provided welfare services that are invaluable for students.
At Sydney University the SSAF is divided up amongst six organizations. The SRC, SUPRA (Sydney University Post Graduate Association), the USU (University of Sydney Union), SUSF (Sydney University Sports and Fitness) and Student Services. The SRC relies solely on SSAF for funding, as we have no commercial operations. Through SSAF funding the SRC is able to provide essential services like legal advice and representation and casework to students for free. Similarly the funding allows student activists to have the facilities and resources to fight for student rights.
While a fee to any student is seen as a burden, the SSAF fee directly gives back to students and is one we need to fight to keep. Without this fee student support would dramatically decrease. Students have the ability to put SSAF payment onto FEE-HELP if they are unable to pay the fees.
With the Liberal Government on a cuts rampage the Students Services and Amenities Fee could well and truly be on the chopping block. This will be devastating to students. The SSAF provides essential services that students need through out University, as well as giving students a forum to have a voice.
Students need to fight against these cuts at every point, and ensure that SSAF is kept. So when you are paying your next SSAF installment don’t think about the money coming out of your account, think of the benefits you are receiving.
General Secretary’s Report: James Leeder
Dedicated readers, if you were away from campus last week you might not be aware that the most colourful student election, that of our Union Board Directors, has begun. Whilst many are caught up in the rainbow storm of promised change, it’s important to focus on what the Union actually does and what capacity to implement change Union Board Directors have. In the past we’ve been promised everything from large-scale renovations of Manning, Holme and Wentworth, to scores of new food outlets and more bars than you could drink at on a Young Labor pub-crawl.
Be aware that almost no candidate has fulfilled many of their promises in the past. Partly because board directors are not individually in charge of many of the activities of the Union and partly because directors only gain the institutional knowledge to figure out what can be done once they’ve been elected. Regardless, as students we have a right to vote for the candidates that speak to us. I urge readers to take the time to question the politics and vision that candidates have for the Union, as this is arguably the way they can shape the board the most. Do they see the Union as run by students for students, or do they want it to maintain its current trajectory of increasing corporatisation? The incoming Union Board is also significant in that the CEO of the Union’s contract is up for renewal.
Despite the election campaign, this week is also important as the federal budget will be delivered on Tuesday. By the time you read this we will know what sorts of changes the University sector faces. Regardless of whether or not we are facing drastic changes, it is important to remember that this is only the first budget of this federal government. Changes to the sector might not appear until next year or the year after; what matters is that we keep reminding our politicians of the views of students.
Turning our eye to what your SRC has been doing: Oliver Plunkett, one of the SRC Welfare Officers has been working on a campaign to lobby the university to allow HECS for Winter and Summer School – check it out on Facebook. This is a terrific idea and long overdue. At both UTS and UNSW students can claim these units on HECS, ensuring that they are accessible to all students, not just those who can pay $3000 upfront. Finally, there is an SRC meeting on this Wednesday, 6pm in the Professorial Board Room within the Quad. All students are welcome to come along to hear the motions being discussed and to ask questions of their student office bearers.
Vice President’s Report — ‘The More You Ignore Us, The Louder We Will Scream’: Laura Webster & Max Hall
First of all, we want to offer our congratulations to the University of Sydney Education Action Group, UTS Students’ Association and the NSW Education Action Network for such an amazing action on last week’s Q&A. The protest was in opposition to slashing education budgets and the proposed deregulation of university fees – this essentially means universities will be able to charge whatever their little hearts want.
Universities are already woefully underfunded and we cannot fathom what will happen if further funding is cut. Tutorials are already at capacity, staff casualization is a disturbing trend and academics live in constant fear of being fired at any moment. Do the Liberals care that our education system is failing? No, and the proposed fee deregulation is the final nail in the coffin of tertiary education.
Are we angry?
Do we have a right to be?
The Q&A protest achieved its goal of publicly broadcasting the discontent and frustration university students feel with the Liberal government. We have been constantly silenced, policed and downright bullied and, in the immortal words of Twister Sister, we’re not going to take it anymore. The only means we have of getting our message to the wider community is through media coverage and public protest and actions. Students are growing more concerned, discontent and furious as the government continues to obliterate our rite to a quality education.
Abbott and Pyne would have us think we are in a budget crisis. The fallacy of this is apparent to anyone capable of noticing that the OECD rates us among the strongest and most secure economies. How can the federal government justify slashing education funding and then purchase $12.4 billion worth of fighter planes? If the ‘budget crisis’ is as dire as the government want us to think it is, why can’t these funds be instead spent on things we actually need like improved public health care, repairing infrastructure and funding quality and affordable education at all levels?
As long as the government continues to wage war against tertiary education, we will continue to protest. The more students you anger, the louder we will become. However we will take one piece of Pyne’s advise: as we are both students and tax payers, we will be sure to send each other flowers and chocolates as a thank you for funding each other’s tertiary education.
Education Officers’ Report: Eleanor Morley & Ridah Hassan
Last Monday night, activists staged a protest on Q&A against Education Minister Chris Pyne and his plans for the tertiary education system. For the most part, we’ve had an extremely positive response, but there’s also been a lot of tut-tutting and hand wringing from those who think we hijacked a democratic forum, and did more harm than help to our cause. Contrary to what Tony Jones thinks, there’s nothing democratic about the mind-numbing conservative consensus that marks QandA. Week after week, the ABC carts out the most right wing panellists it can find, allows a few people to ask pre-approved questions, lets the panellists retort their pre-written answers and passes it off as, in the words of Executive Producer Peter McEvoy, a “free exchange of ideas”.
Our disruption of a tightly controlled TV show was the opposite of ‘undemocratic’. Democracy should mean that in a debate about higher education, students and staff who are directly affected and with the most to lose actually have their opinions conveyed. The set up of the show purports to offer reasoned and rational discussion, but you can’t reason with people like Christopher Pyne. He is a born-to-rule Tory and has no interest in the opinions and struggles of students or anyone that’s not a rich bastard just like him. He rules for the 1%, and no argument, however articulate or measured, will change that.
None of the political parties represent the voice of students. In any case, we want to speak for ourselves. We want to take on politicians directly and on our own terms. That means putting forward arguments, raising our voices, speaking out of turn, calling out politicians on their lies, and yes, even chanting and using banners. The political establishment and its official channels and processes aren’t there for us to use, but for people like Christopher Pyne. Students don’t get their speeches broadcast on TV or on the radio, we don’t have mates who run the newspapers. The response we’ve received to our protest confirms our view that sometimes the only way to be heard is to disrupt business as usual and refuse to be silent in the face of stifling conservatism.
We have reached a critical moment. Higher education is facing the biggest attacks in decades. In the upcoming budget, students can expect to see fee increases, the undermining of student welfare and the full or partial deregulation of the higher education system. There is every reason for students to be pissed off. We don’t want to be polite, we don’t want to be respectful, or courteous, or measured. We are angry about the government destroying our education system and our lives, and we are going to say so.
So we disrupted Q&A, and in a week we’ll disrupt the country on May 21st in the National Union of Students national day of action for education! Sydney Uni students are meeting at Fisher Library at 1.30pm. Be there!
Wom*n of Colour Autonomous Collective Convenors’ Report: Shareeka Helaluddin and Tabitha Prado-Richardson
For those who don’t know about us, the Wom*n of Colour Collective is a collective existing primarily online for wom*n who identify as of colour, from an ethnocultural background, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or otherwise marginalised by white supremacy. Due to the complexity of experiencing both racism and sexism, we founded this collective to give wom*n of colour a space for solidarity.
We held a dance party on the 25th of April, at the Newsagency in Marrickville – a big thank you to all that came and to the Newsagency for supporting us. Shareeka curated the playlist which swung between blues, sixties pop, and then a medley of M.I.A., Solange, and Beyonce’s most recent album. Wom*n of colour staples. I can now say happily that I have danced until sweat fell in droplets to Matangi with a group of other wom*n of colour who, yes, also knew all the lyrics.
Being vaguely responsible for the night, I decided not to drink, and it struck me over and over again how relaxed and inhibited I felt anyway as the hours ticked by. It’s hard to convey it to those privileged enough to not know how it feels to be in an autonomous space, or those who aren’t privileged enough to be able to access it. But there’s a liberating sense of joy in finding or creating spaces that allow you to acknowledge the truth of your experiences, that not only act as sanctuaries from daily oppression but allow you to be a little more yourself.
While people might believe that autonomous collectives are divisive – especially ones as specific as ours – to me, that’s an irrelevant claim to make. Asides from the knowledge that the collective creates a uniquely inclusive and empathetic space, it seems obtuse to ask wom*n of colour to participate outwardly without allowing them time and space to nurture themselves. Young wom*n especially need time to crystallise their sense of self and shelter themselves while they grow. It would be shortsighted to think that’s all activism should be, but it’s important to keep a balance and to take care of yourself.
If your identity falls in line, come join our facebook group. We’re thinking of holding another event around the end of semester which looks to be less sweaty and more cosy. It would be nice to see more faces!
Anti-Racism Collective Convenor’s Report: Gabrielle Pei Tiatia
Since day one of Abbott’s Prime Ministership, our action as pro-refugee students has never been more urgent. The Liberal Party (LNP) has already spent over 7.2 billion dollars on expanding offshore camps, brutalising refugees and violating international law; meanwhile, they’re cutting 2.3 billion from the public university sector (which translates to 50 million dollars cut from USyd). This is a clear illustration of the LNP’s priorities and a clear reason why we should be fighting back against them.
At the Lowy Institute last week, Morrison announced the introduction of the Australian Border Force to take over customs and the Navy to turn back asylum seekers coming by boat. This is only to serve a rhetoric which shifts policy focus on militarising borders, that further stigmatises refugees and overlooks the reality of the persecution asylum seekers are fleeing from.
While Morrison and Abbott champion their policies for “stopping the boats” and hide behind a tough facade, they’re actually more vulnerable than ever. The Nauruan Government have come out announcing it will not resettle Australia’s refugees , and now the LNP are frantically trying to negotiate with neighbouring impoverished countries to take up our international obligations.
The Liberals have consistently been feeding the Australian public lies – bolstering vile myths, xenophobia and using racial scapegoating for their own political expediency. Despite how horrific these policies are however, this isn’t a time to despair. The movement under Howard showed that a pro-refugee mandate can be won through building a strong grassroots movement.
Tens of thousands have hit the streets to demand justice for asylum seekers and there is already a strong foundation being built to fight back against Abbott – pro-refugee groups at universities, schools, workplaces, unions, occupations etc. have been established all over the country that are committed to growing the movement.
Students are a vital component of the broader movement outside of parliament. We are always at the forefront of pushing progressive political agendas and we have have the power to dismantle Operation Sovereign Borders and shatter this pillar of systematic racism to shape an equitable future for the most vulnerable. In order to do this, we need to unite collectively to demand a principled and humane approach to refugee processing and resettlement. This can only begin by breaking bipartisan support, shutting down offshore processing centres and ending mandatory detention.
The Anti-Racism Collective (ARC) is committed to strengthening the refugee campaign by educating students and building up their confidence to become activists. ARC meets every Tuesday, 1pm on New Law Lawns. All welcome! For more info, check out our facebook page, ‘Anti-Racism Collective Sydney Uni’ or contact Gabby on 0416 488 258. We hope you can join us. Stand up, fight back!