I was extremely saddened and angered to read in the Herald recently that Tom Raue has been summarily banned from the USYD campus. Tom has for some time been an enormous inspiration to students fed up with being asked to sit down and shut up, that their views on not just education but environmental policy, refugee policy, welfare, women’s rights, queer rights, indigenous rights and all sorts of other political issues don’t matter and won’t be listened to.
Students are in many ways uniquely placed to comment on the state of politics in our society. In my experience USYD students are an extremely diverse bunch coming from a range of different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are people who’ve just finished highschool in classrooms with people who have children in the same position. There are people like me who grew up in Darlington and people who grew up in Darwin, or even Dhaka. Many students have experienced hunger, homelessness, mental illness, family problems and problems with drugs and alcohol, and understand the value of social support because of this. Students generally display a keenness for ideas and an open-mindedness that are sorely lacking in the rest of political discourse. I’ve never heard a federal politician admit candidly that they did not know something, that they had made a mistake and that they were sorry. Those things are for me a totally essential part of the developmental process I am undergoing as I engage with my studies and campus life.
As with the rest of politics, this diversity is squashed the more mainstream and visible the part of campus life under the microscope. The union board elections were recently contested almost exclusively by white middle-class candidates whose priorities are things like parties, beer, bean bags, onesies and neon – not food, shelter, childcare and health services. Many societies are hugely unrepresentative – examples like Law and Debating appear to function more as exclusive clubs for the privileged than as real student organisations. Just as these people are out of touch with the real needs of their constituency because they’ve never experienced any real hardship, so too disconnected is parlimentary politics from the needs of Australians.
People like Tom are a rare and much-needed voice for this diversity, for views that don’t fit neatly within a model of political engagement where people like George Brandis can always make their point and everybody else has to sit politely, grin and bear it, and take any dissent to the ballot box in three years’ time. The truth is that the disengagement and disenfranchisement many people feel towards the political system at all levels is not some kind of unfortunate side-effect of what is otherwise a well-meaning and effective system – it is part of the purpose of that system. Politics is a vehicle for legitimising, normalising and actuating the interests of particular sets of people who are not and never will be representative. Students are taking to the streets, to bourgeois sit-down politics TV and to any campus event at which Tory politicians have the gall to raise their reactionary heads because they have no other way of having their voices heard.
It’s extremely disappointing therefore that the University has decided to remove Tom’s pricless presence from it. I stand in solidarity with Tom, and invite anybody frustrated with the state of politics in this country and eager for change to join me.
Andy Mason, BA/BSc II