The National Union of Students (NUS), the peak advocacy body for undergraduate students in Australia, has their National Conference (NatCon) in the second week of December each year. This is where elected delegates from each affiliate university decide on the leadership team and overall policy direction of NUS. As you can well imagine, it is also peak #StuPol, with hacks across the country gathering to have their voice heard and their faction’s interests put above all others.
NatCon 2014, however, is shaping up to be one for the ages. For a start, it’s less than two months away and we don’t have a firm location yet, with rumours that La Trobe are refusing to hold it again after the issues of 2013. Incidents included attempted forced entry into University Reception, and members of Unity (Labor Right) being intimidated and shoved by members of Socialist Alternative, after a staff cuts rally.
More importantly, however, is the possibility of massive structural change to the organisation. In June this year, a summary of a full structural audit compiled by TLConsult was compiled. This was discussed at the NUS Education Conference in July, and predictably, chaos ensued. Representatives from Socialist Alternative and Grassroots were deeply unhappy with the many suggested changes, while National Labor Students (Labor Left) and the National Independents held reservations about significant elements of the report.
The structural audit was commissioned during last year’s NatCon, and was meant to be a way for NUS to receive independent advice about its internal workings. Since the institution of Voluntary Student Unionism, NUS has struggled to be as prevalent as it once was, with significantly less funding coming from its affiliate student associations.
However, many suggestions put forward by the report were met with criticism ranging from constructive to hostile. One of the more contentious issues was a potential restructure of office bearer positions, with the current 13 positions being potentially reduced to six – and none of these would be autonomous. Other suggestions include searching for new funding sources such as government grants (ha), developing Key Performance Indicators, having an advisory board of experts for consultation purposes, and appointing a temporary General Manager to oversee any major changes. These proposals were slammed as turning the Union into a bureaucratic entity, instead of focusing on activism.
Many of these reforms will be on the agenda at this year’s National Conference. Which of them will be discussed is impossible to say at this point, as policy submissions have not been requested yet. All changes to the Constitution or Regulations require a three-quarters majority, meaning that at least three of the major factions (Unity, National Independents, SAlt, NLS) need to vote together. Unity controlled roughly 40 per cent of all delegates in 2013, so having their approval is vital.
USyd will have a delegation of at least 17 students at NatCon: the seven delegates elected through the recent SRC elections, seven general observers, and three media observers. The SRC has also pledged $72,000 in affiliation fees, an increase on 2013, making it one of the biggest financial supporters of NUS.
Expect more analysis of NUS, and possible changes, in the coming two months.