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NatCon Day 1: Wrapped

Australia’s hackiest student hacks clashed over student unionism, vaccine mandates, and the NUS’ alleged irrelevance among a variety of contentious talking points on the first day of NatCon.

Session 1: Consideration of Rules Changes, Trade Unionism, Student Unionism

The NUS National Conference (NatCon) opened for Day One via zoom this morning. Unlike last year, delegates and factional caucuses from various states met collectively in state-based hubs and zoomed in from there. Prior to the pandemic, Natcon involved the national caucuses of all factions meeting at a rural campus and screaming at each other in sweltering heat. Yet despite its altered format, this year’s first day was not without its factional disputes and rowdiness. 

The admin of the conference this year is being run out of the Victorian hub, where Zoe Ranganathan, the NUS President is based. This is the zoom to be watching if you’d like to keep an eye on the key players!

The NSW Hub struggled with connection and volume this morning, so if you’re a loser hack like we all are, head over to Manning Bar tomorrow and Wednesday to see the action in person and make sure you don’t miss anything.

The morning session had a moderate amount of drama. Key moments featured a few ‘Zoe’s Zingers’, with Unity and NLS called out for mingling despite COVID restrictions, and SAlt also named for ignoring her instructions on social distancing (yes, the same faction of ‘Lockdown to Zero’). Other high points included Student Unity saying that police unions were necessary for… calling police out on their bullshit. Honi remains unable to understand this. 

Session 2: Student Unionism and Education Activism

A motion for NUS office bearers to have Right of Entry on affiliated campuses failed to pass despite NLS speaking to its importance. 

Delegates passed motions to implement activist groups in every state and to support grassroots organising, in addition to amending the NUS’ platform to include the terms “anti-colonialism” and “climate justice”. Various SAlt delegates, while supporting the motions, criticised Grindies, Unity and the NUS as a whole for ‘grandstanding’ while inadequately engaging in activism.

Factional clashes ensued following a motion to remain independent of Labor and Liberal parties. Lia Perkins (Grassroots, USyd) called for opposition to both parties due to their “support of corporate universities”, singling out Labor’s introduction of HECS and lack of opposition to “the crime of the JobReady Graduates program”. The motion failed without the support of the Labor factions.

A motion was passed to support 100% of SSAF funding going towards student unions. Luc Velez (Grassroots, UNSW) said student unions are “disastrously reliant” on university management for funding, thus compromising the capacity to fight them. Lauren Lancaster (Grassroots, USyd) supported, citing the need to “tear the power of funding” away from management.

James McVicar (SAlt, RMIT) opposed a motion to support clubs and societies, instead arguing “it’s time to fight, guys”. A speaker from Student Unity responded, informing James that students are “allowed to have fun” and are not required to “spend time in your communist convents” and “not shower”. The motion carried.

Speaking to the disproportionate allocation of course cuts, Sophie Nguyen (NLS, UniMelb) identified the vulnerability of subjects that “aren’t based on colonisation and Western views”. Nguyen argued that “it’s important the NUS supports these diverse subjects.” The motion was carried with support from SAlt. 

Delegates passed a motion to amend NUS’ policy to read ‘traditional and elite colleges should be replaced with accessible student housing’. Carlos Martin (Unity, UniMelb) was met with angry boos for his defense of colleges. 

Debate flourished following a motion titled ‘University Management Aren’t Our Friends’. Tom Williams (SAlt, USyd) labelled management “direct enemies because they depend on tearing higher education apart.” Amy Lamont (MQ, SAlt) supported the motion’s goal of “correcting NUS’ sucking up to management in the past few years”. Thomas Kennedy (Unity, UNSW) spoke against, declaring “it makes sense that SAlt doesn’t know what happens in lobby meetings because they are never in positions of power”. Kennedy pointed to the importance of academic boards and the constructive nature of strategic lobbying. Delegates fought passionately over whether classifying management ‘not our friends’ would compromise the ability to negotiate student demands. Lancaster, while in support of the motion, pointed out that “this is cringe semantics”. The motion passed. 

Session 3: Education, VE and Welfare (VE and Welfare not yet considered) up to 2.46

Upon returning, the third session focused on issues surrounding the scourge of online proctoring and special consideration. Delegates from NLS issued a call to oppose online proctoring services across the country with the ANU’s Sinead Winn (NLS) characterising the institution’s use of Proctorio a dangerous breach of personal privacy and placing a particularly onerous burden upon disabled students. 

“Not all students can control their physical movement or afford a webcam.” Winn said. Similarly, other delegates adamantly opposed proctoring services 

“We can’t expect a 30K private school kid to transition the same way as everyone else.” Olla Al-Sabaary (NLS) said, noting structural barriers facing low SES, regional, First Nations and other marginalised communities.  

A discussion on supporting a return to in-person teaching soon ensued, being proposed by Grace Hu (USyd/NLS Proxy). Although this motion elicited broad support from delegates, SAlt delegates pointed out that the NUS must not coerce such a move without proper COVIDSafe protections in classrooms.

For a tense moment, NUS President Ranganathan jolted everyone by noting that “Unity doesn’t have 50%” of votes required to pass 2.38. However, following an amendment and surviving a passionate dissent from a Student Unity delegate from Deakin University, the motion won the confidence of the floor. 

Subsequently, the floor interrogated difficulties associated with special consideration processes, late submissions and assignment extensions. Tom Kennedy and Nick Palmer (UNSW), both hailing from Student Unity, highlighted “unreasonable burdens” that current special consideration and inconsistent late submission penalties impose upon disadvantaged students. These tranches of motions passed smoothly albeit with two SAlt delegates being warned by Ranganathan for speaking off-topic in plugging next year’s National Day of Action on May 4, 2022. 

However, towards the end, the floor erupted in chaos and jeers when a motion opposing the NUS providing endorsement or campaigning for the ALP (Australian Labor Party) came to the room. Numerous delegates from Socialist Alternative, including USyd’s own Annabel Petit, spoke in its fervent support, delivering thunderous chants of ‘fuck the ALP!’ to all attendants whereas others characterised the ALP as ‘one of the most murderous parties in history’. Despite this, owing from Student Unity and NLS’ votes, the motion was defeated amid the rancour. 

And with that, the first tumultuous day of NatCon 2021 drew to a close.