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‘I’m fucking sick of being spoken over by Socialist Alternative every week’: June SRC Council meeting recap

Last night, chaos descended on the room as Labor campaigners and Socialist Alternative traded tirades over whether Prime Minister Anthony Albanese can enact positive change.

The Scream by Edvard Munch.

Spicy debate and outright chaos reigned at June’s SRC Council meeting, as student representatives wrangled over Labor’s progressive credentials and Palestinian solidarity. Meanwhile, the future of FoodHub and the Wentworth Building (the SRC’s home) hangs in the balance.  

Spats over the future of activism under Labor 

Following the triumph of Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party last week, Socialist Alternative’s (SAlt) Eddie Stephenson and Jasmine Al-Rawi moved a motion on the need for student activists to question Labor’s “conservative” policies and continue to hold the government accountable.

“Good riddance to Scott Morrison, but that doesn’t change what student unions need to be doing, which is fighting back against the Albanese government.” Al-Rawi said, citing Labor’s continuation of refugee boat turnbacks as evidence of the party’s conservatism. 

It was clear that there was an intractable divide between Labor-aligned attendees and the Trotkyist factions as the room erupted into heated arguments, with an impassioned Mikaela Pappou delivering a thunderous speech directed towards SRC Education Officer Deaglan Godwin after she was the subject of aggressive heckling  from sitting SAlt members. 

“Apparently a woman spoke for too long,” Vice President Mikaela Pappou (NLS) declared to raucous cheers from a gleeful USU Board Director Nick Comino (Moderate Liberal) and Labor compatriots. 

“I’m fucking sick of being spoken over by Socialist Alternative every week. How many votes did VicSoc [Victorian Socialists] get? One thousand? That’s 1000 voters dumb enough to vote for you!” 

SRC General Secretary Grace Lagan (Unity) concurred with Pappou, accusing SAlt of harbouring a “reflexive hatred of the Labor Party” and promised that Student Labor’s involvement in campus activism will continue. 

Not one to miss the thrills of stupol, Nick Comino joined the chorus of dissent against the motion by advising the Council to direct their campaigning efforts towards the crossbench. Comino extracted cackles of rage from SAlt and Labor alike when he told the meeting, “Allegra Spender isn’t a Liberal — I know, I campaigned against her!”

Despite this hotly-contested intervention, a bemused Comino asked why SAlt dedicated most of their vocal range to chastising Pappou and emitting loud ‘hear hears’ whenever the socialists criticised Labor. “They’re like the ultimate horseshoe theory,” he told Honi.

Despite SAlt’s efforts, the motion failed in a close vote, with Switch Councillors including newly-elected USU Board Director Onor Nottle and SULS’ Grace Wallman initially voting against the motion on Zoom, before a pointed comment from faction leader and President Lauren Lancaster prompted them to abstain. 

Solidarity with Palestine 

In response to the recent murder of Al Jazeera’s Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Owen Marsden-Readford and Lauren Lancaster moved a motion urging the SRC to stand in solidarity with Palestine, condemning “ethnic cleansing” and “militarised apartheid”. 

The motion also directed condemnation towards the University of Melbourne Student Union’s (UMSU) recent decision to rescind a motion expressing solidarity with Palestine after backlash and legal threats. Speakers emphasised the importance of standing up for pro-Palestine politics, with Marsden-Readford telling the Council: “We need to stand with the oppressed, even when it’s unpopular with the powers that be.”

Lancaster condemned the “bullying” directed at advocates for Palestine, with General Secretary Alana Ramshaw describing the “low and cynical harassment” that USyd activists have faced from Zionists in recent months.

Labor speakers agreed that the silencing of pro-Palestine voices on student unions was anti-democratic, with Luke Mesterovic (Unity) calling the ability to stand up to oppressive governments worldwide a “precious privilege”. 

“There shouldn’t be an issue with standing up against apartheid,” said NLS’ Mikaela Pappou. 

SAlt’s Deaglan Godwin spoke against student unions being cowed by threats of lawsuits, arguing that “student unions and student activists have always put themselves out [for principled positions] at the risk of backlash… It’s important not to back down when these attacks come against us.” 

The motion passed overwhelmingly, despite Nick Comino voting against it on behalf of his proxy.

Councillors celebrate the NTEU strikes

A key theme of the night was support for staff strikes, both at USyd and other campuses.

In her report, Education Officer Lia Perkins described the strikes at USyd as “very important and really incredible”, especially noting the importance of the 24 May strike’s focus on First Nations staff.

Her co-Office Bearer Deaglan Godwin described the strikes as “the pivotal moment this semester” and argued that “we should really be looking for where we can continue that sort of polarising activism next semester.” 

Mocking Mark Scott’s self-identification on a recent podcast as “the manager of unmanageable people”, Godwin suggested that activists’ efforts contributed to challenging managerialism on campus.

A motion on the need to continue solidarity with striking staff passed unanimously, with SAlt speaker Annabel Petit arguing that “a lot of staff were really heartened” by the energy of student activists on the picket line.

Solidarity with Vertigo

A motion proposed by Ishbel Dunsmore and seconded by Khanh Tran on behalf of Honi Soit condemned recent cuts to UTS student publication Vertigo. The cuts will prevent Vertigo from putting issues in print. 

Speakers discussed the importance of student media as a countercultural force and in holding management to account.

“Cutting student media is very much an attack on student unionism,” said Women’s Officer Dashie Prasad.

Lauren Lancaster agreed, arguing that student media has a “real, material benefit” and pointing to the recent success of Honi’s campaign to reopen the Fisher Library rooftop.

SRC to reopen after two-years of in-person closure

After two years, SRC President Lauren Lancaster confirmed that the SRC will be reopening on Mondays and Wednesdays for students to access Caseworkers and walk-in consultations starting on 4 July. On 17 March 2020, the SRC Office was closed down in line with NSW’s first lockdown. 

Constitutional reforms

The SRC will be releasing proposals for constitutional and electoral reforms in July’s Council meeting. According to May’s SRC Executive minutes, possible amendments surrounding bulk nominations and student ID requirements are on the cards. 

“[Electoral Officer] Riki [Scanlan] has suggested in a move that would be extraordinary, that perhaps we consider abolishing tickets,” Lancaster said. “This would simplify elections massively – and make it more like the format of SUPRA [Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association]. I don’t really support this, but I thought I’d raise it.”

It is anticipated that September’s SRC Elections will be conducted using in-person ballots with an online absentee voter option for offshore or students who cannot come onto campus.  

Wentworth slated for demolition 

In a surprising development, Lancaster said that the University is planning for the demolition of the Wentworth Building “in the next few months”. Should this be realised, alongside a plethora of USU outlets, the SRC will be moving to new premises. Accordingly, Lancaster has applied for capital infrastructure for a new office and refurbishment.

Built in 1972, the Wentworth has hosted the SRC for five decades, however, the ageing structure is rife with problems ranging from flood water damage, collapsed roofings and persistent presence of mould. Named after the controversial Charles Wentworth, a noted colonist who held deeply racist views towards Indigenous people, student activists have long pressured USyd to change the building’s name to reflect the University’s modern standing. 

Proposed SRC x FoodBank NSW Food Pantry 

Following the revelation in April that FoodHub had stalled due to miscommunications between the SRC and the USU, Lancaster confirmed that a food pantry is in the works. Lancaster said that the proposed pantry will be demand-driven and “based on student need”, depending on the items most purchased by users. 

Compared to its predecessor, FoodHub, the new scheme is expected to offer a wider number of options, expanding beyond “just white people food” in an acknowledgement of FoodHub’s pitfalls. Last year, Foodbank NSW faced criticism for its limited range of food from community organisations. 

It is understood that, at this stage, the SRC’s conversations with Foodbank NSW are in the early stages. Echoing Lancaster’s words, Vice Presidents Mikaela Pappou and Emily Storey lauded the initiative as a means to address the cost of living crisis unfolding in NSW and alleviating the obstacles facing struggling students.