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Sydney Labor Students: dead?

Justin Pen reports on an exodus from SLS.

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A large number of Sydney Labor Students (SLS) have left the faction following a dispute over who the caucus would support in the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) election this September.

The members resigned after a procedural motion was passed to close the speaking list during a debate over whether they would support a Centre Unity/National Labor Students (NLS) coalition or Grassroots for the SRC Presidency. 

The following Office Bearers have resigned from SLS: Vice President Max Hall, General Secretary James Leeder, Welfare Officer Chiara Angeloni, Sexual Harassment Officer Georgia Carr, and Welfare Officer Philippa Specker. 

The resigning SLS members told Honi Soit that all SRC councillors in SLS, other than Harry Stratton, have already, or are expected to, leave the faction. One remaining member of SLS disputed this, saying that the majority of SLS councillors have remained in the faction and would not resign.

According to those resigning, the motion to close the speaking list was used to stymie debate and force a vote. They said that, at the time the debate was closed, 8 members remained on the speaking list, 6 of who had not yet spoken, and a number of members had not yet indicated whether they intended to speak.

Remaining members of SLS insist that democratic processes were followed during the meeting. Oliver Plunkett, a remaining SLS member and the SRC Welfare Officer, said that “the issue had been discussed for more than an hour, and all sides had a fair hearing – there was plenty of thorough debate”.

Resigning members contended that, while procedure was followed, substantive democratic processes were not adhered to as the speaking list was prematurely closed. 

Although remaining SLS members have the said that the reason for the closure of debate was that 3 members of caucus needed to leave the meeting due to prior plans, resigning members insisted the meeting would still have been quorate without their presence.

The resigning members further alleged that a large of number of caucus attendees were inexperienced, and were uninformed of important issues related to which candidate the faction should support in the SRC election.

When asked why they chose to resign, a number of former members said the stifling of debate at this meeting was reminiscent of their experience in NLS. SLS formed as a faction following an acrimonious split from NLS in early 2013.

The margin to close the speaking list was decided by two votes. 

The subsequent determination to back Unity/NLS over Grassroots was decided by a single vote.

The resigning members, whose ranks include current SLS conveners Carr and Specker, stated that while they had the power to reconvene the meeting at a later time, they decided not to for fear of perpetuating undemocratic caucus practices.

Former member Peter Landi commented that, for those who had resigned, it was the “end of the project to form an independent group in opposition to a Labor machine which sees student politicians rise through SRC positions, union jobs and into parliament.”

The resigning members stated they would remain organised up to the SRC election but that they would make decisions about their future political involvement on campus individually.