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Open letter to NUS: Let us film your National Conference

An open letter from the editors of Honi Soit and other Australian student publications

open letter 2

The National Union of Students (NUS) is the peak representative body for undergraduate university students in Australia. Its delegates are elected by students; the University of Sydney’s seven delegates were elected alongside SRC councillors and your humble Honi Soit editors at the student elections in September. The NUS National Conference (NatCon) will run from December 7-11.

Dear NUS President Rose Steele and 2015 delegates,

On the 5th of November, two Honi Soit reporters live-streamed the University of Sydney’s now infamous “repselect” SRC meeting on Periscope to an audience of 4,993 people. The live-stream quickly became the main source for resulting media coverage by Sydney Morning Herald, Junkee and the ABC for an eventful six hours.

Despite being a spontaneous move, the livestream of #repselect has reignited debate about transparency within student organisations.

The National Union of Students (NUS) will be holding its National Conference (NatCon) in one week’s time. It has become custom for delegates to pass a motion issuing a blanket ban on video recording on the first day of this conference. Honi Soit believes this harms the transparency of NUS and as a result makes its delegates, who are elected by students at their universities, less accountable to their constituents.

Given the controversial nature of past conferences, we believe video recording and open media access is vital to the health of the union. Just as question time is a crucial accountability measure in Federal Parliament, where MPs are answerable to public criticism, a transparent NatCon should too be the crux of its organisational culture.

A recurring argument against filming NatCon is the need to ensure the conference floor remains a safe space for students to talk about sensitive issues like mental illness and sexual assault. Without undermining the importance of those issues, personal reflections on the conference floor should not come at the expense of NatCon’s integrity as a decision-making instrument of a representative body. Furthermore, this argument is ill-contrived as a considerable audience–those who can afford the $200 observer fee– will hear these personal reflections anyway. If such reflections are necessary for delegates to receive remunerated positions, all SSAF-paying students deserve to hear them.

The current $200 observer fee is prohibitively expensive. NatCon’s inaccessibility is compounded when the costs of interstate travel, forgone work shifts and accommodation are considered. In the absence of a live-stream, NatCon discriminates based on means: the very grounds on which the NUS recently, and rightly, opposed university fee deregulation

Motioning against a live-stream is an arbitrary measure that serves to lock out poorer students.

At the University of Sydney, SRC council meetings are open for all students to attend with full minutes published online, much like councils and unions across the country. NUS is atypical of both student unions overseas and Australian political groups: NUS UK broadcast their national conference live, and the ALP’s national conference is fully accessible to the media.

We firmly believe that NUS should allow open access for student journalists to film and broadcast at the conference. NatCon is meant to be the heart of our student union, and yet due to its culture, few students have even heard of it.

For NUS to reject a more transparent NatCon is for it to undermine the purpose of the event. The recent trend of banning recording at NatCon places NUS at risk of becoming a body that is out-of-sight, out-of-reach and out-of-interest of its constituency. We believe that a live-stream would be a step towards more accurate and powerful student representation.

Without transparency, NUS will simply be a clique for budding career politicians, instead of the national union that students need it to be.

Regards,

Honi Soit, University of Sydney 

Lot’s Wife, Monash University

On Dit, Adelaide University

Catalyst, RMIT

Rabelais, La Trobe University

Farrago, University of Melbourne

Empire Times, Flinders University

Pelican, University of Western Australia

Togatus, University of Tasmania

Hungappa, Charles Sturt University (Wagga Wagga campus)

Woroni, Australian National University

Metior, Murdoch University

Vertigo, University of Technology Sydney

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