The Student Representative Council (SRC) will increase its affiliation fee paid to the National Union of Students (NUS), as part of the 2018 budget passed last Wednesday.
The budget, released by General Secretary Nina Dillon Britton at last week’s council meeting, will also see a slight funding increase for office bearers and the creation of a new research officer position.
The SRC received a 1.8 per cent increase in its allocation of the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), from $1,734,913 in 2017 to $1,765,351. Following the trend in recent years, the six student organisations (SRC, USU, SUSF, Cumberland Student Guild, Student Support Services, and SUPRA) again chose not to hold traditional negotiations for SSAF allocation, instead handing the decision over to the University Executive.
At the August meeting, Dillon Britton said she would have “liked for this to be a more consultative budget”, something made impossible by many office bearers’ late budget submissions.
The budget raised NUS affiliation fees to $64,300 for 2018, a $1000 increase on last year’s figure.
“We’re really proud of that,” Dillon Britton said. “Funding the NUS is particularly important given the context in which students across Australia find themselves.”
According to Dillon Britton, this budget marks the first time since the passage of voluntary student unionism (VSU) in 2005 that the SRC has increased contributions to the peak student body. However, the SRC affiliation fee has previously been raised in 2017 by $300 from $63,000 in the year prior to $63,300.
The move is at odds with prior rhetoric from the current SRC executive. In remarks made to Honi at last December’s NUS National Conference, SRC President Imogen Grant described the NUS as a “Labor front” that divided the left, but said it had an important role to play in student representation.* Grant and Dillon Britton are members of Grassroots, a campus faction to the left of Labor.
Grassroots has long been hostile to the NUS. In 2009, the SRC contributed $94,000 to the national body. Then in 2015, Kyol Blakeney, the last Grassroots president before Grant, slashed NUS affiliation from $72,000 down to $63,000.
“This [year’s] small increase approved by Council does not make up for those cuts,” Dillon Britton said.
She attributes the change in attitude to honouring the Council’s “genuine commitment” to the NUS. She said her role was to create a budget that accurately reflected the Council’s goals, despite personally having “significant problems with the way it is managed”.
“This small increase goes some way in reflecting the fact that if the NUS is not adequately funded, it won’t be able to co-ordinate…in an effective way,” Dillon Britton told Honi.
She said she was “proud” to have achieved a small surplus of $287.64. Part of the SRC’s income includes $45,000 in sundries, which is interest earned from reserves and term deposits. When pressed by Centre Unity heavyweight Connor Wherrett, Dillon Britton said there were no plans to grow the reserves to ensure fiscal sustainability.
“That’s the problem of one year terms,” she said. “There’s nowhere to cut it from this shoestring budget. We are pinching pennies anywhere we can.”
She suggested that contributing more money into reserves would mean cutting huge parts or “whole departments” out of the SRC’s functioning.
One of the initiatives in the budget includes the hiring of a new research officer in the Casework Department. According to Dillon Britton, the new worker will sift through information that the University sends to the SRC en masse. They will brief office bearers on University committees, undertake research for key campaigns, and provide resources to office bearers. The position is a part time (three days per week) role for the next six months, and was referred to as a “pilot program”. If the trial is a success, the SRC will include this in their SSAF application next year.
SSAF allocation was handed down late this year, only being finalised at the beginning of July as opposed to the traditional March-May timeframe.
In her report, Dillon Britton suggested that office bearers had been more frugal in spending money, since they were unaware how much funding their portfolio would receive. She said that as long as they had been spending at a similar scale to the previous year, the budget would not significantly affect their ability to complete their job.
Office bearers were “unsure if they will get significant increases or changes to their budgets,” she told Honi, adding that the late SSAF announcement meant there was “less ability to plan for the year’s projects”.
In large part, the distribution method seems to have ensured individual departments’ proportion of funds changed little compared to last year. Dillon Britton explained she made allocations based on four bases: each portfolio’s budget requests, its 2017 budget allocation, its 2017 spending and its 2018 spending so far. Dillon Britton explained that past spending is what “many OBs [office bearers] have been working from in budgeting their year”, suggesting that their 2018 spending so far is likely to reflect their portfolio’s spending in 2017. This means that three out of Dillon Britton’s four bases for allocation are tied to last year’s distribution.
In this year’s budget, office bearers were given an addition $650. The total amount requested by office bearers in their budget submissions exceeded the available funds by $20,000.
Dillon Britton recommended dissatisfied office bearers to apply to the Council Resources Pool ($6,000) which collectives, councillors or SRC members can access if they have overspent their budget.
For instance, she said the Welfare Week run by SRC Vice-President Adriana Malavisi “would be perfect for the council resources pool”, after Malavisi inquired at the meeting why no money had been set aside for the project.
“Welfare did not apply for expenditure for Welfare Week. We gave them what they applied for,” said Dillon Britton. “I am not a mindreader and if you did not apply for it, I cannot give it to you.”
At the council meeting, Malavisi also said she felt “iffy” about the Environment Collective’s allocation of $9,500 and requested an itemised line-by-line breakdown, which the office bearer agreed to send.
The 2018 budget also covered costs for two weeks of casual cover in the administration department, a new server for the SRC and a new database system for the Legal Service.
General Secretary Yuxuan Yang, who holds the position jointly with Dillon Britton was present at the August council meeting but did not speak to the budget.
*This article has been updated to more accurately represent Grant’s stance.