The thermometer inside the heated atmosphere of New Law was boiling as USyd’s seasoned hacks returned to Council to wrangle over Labor’s impending Universities Accord, the SRC’s activism and its record on antisemitism.
Foodhub returns and simple extension reforms
SRC President Lauren Lancaster welcomed the return of the joint SRC x USU FoodHub program, which has had a soft launch on Monday and is slated for a formal opening party in Week 3.
“I also want to congratulate the VPs [Vice Presidents] for their efforts with FoodHub, it’s really exciting that we are relaunching this which began under former President Liam Donohoe,” said Lancaster, who implored the Council to spread words about the program particularly to students of need.
“It’s currently running in the International Student Lounge,” Vice Presidents Emily Storey and Mikaela Pappou said, urging councillors and SRC members to volunteer.
“They have two huge desks in there, you can bring your friends. We just need volunteers there!”
Lancaster also reported on a trial in which the University is streamlining the granting of simple extensions. In order to access simple extensions, students will complete a form in which and extension of up to five working days may be granted. According to Lancaster, the initiative aims to ease administrative pressures on Special Consideration applications.
The volume of Special Considerations applications has exceeded 41,900 requests in Semester 1 2021 alone, marking a doubling of applications since 2018, according to a Special Considerations Report commissioned by the Vice-Chancellor (Operations) Stephen Phillips.
Meanwhile, Hannah Rose spoke on behalf of the Women’s Officers Dashie Prasad and Monica McNaught-Lee about their ongoing project of Radical Sex Ed & Consent Week, which they have been working with the University of Sydney Union (USU) to prepare. The pair also reported that they are working to advocate for the NSW State Parliament to abolish legislation for the residential colleges and convert these buildings into affordable student accommodation.
SRC Welfare Officer and SULS Disabilities Officer Grace Wallman congratulated the Disabilities Collective (DisCo) for securing their long-awaited Disabilities Space.
It is understood that ACAR’s Ethnocultural Room will be moved to new premises within the Manning Building pending confirmation from the USU and Campus Infrastructure Services following a tour of the Collective’s room last Tuesday.
Electoral Officer Riki Scanlan briefly made an appearance to remind the Council that nominations are now open for the upcoming SRC elections. Nominations will close on Friday 19 August and campaigning will begin next month in Week 8 on 20-22 September.
Scanlan announced that this year will mark the return of on-campus polling for the first time since 2019, however voters unable to vote in-person will be able to cast their vote online.
The SRC’s activism and record on antisemitism
A tranche of motions concerning antisemitism at USyd were moved by two Jewish student councillors, SRC Education Officer Lia Perkins (Switch) and Wave’s Michael Grenier.
Perkins kicked off with a motion reaffirming the SRC’s opposition to antisemitism and far right groups, citing Honi Soit’s 2019 investigation into the links between fascist Discord servers and far right organising on campus.
“We should oppose antisemitism and organise against this when it rears its head. Therefore, I’m moving this motion to reaffirm this as the SRC’s position as being left-wing and opposed to antisemitism,” she said.
Similarly, SAlt’s Owen Marsden-Readford defended the campus Left’s record, raising Adelaide University SRC’s attempt to take down fascist materials in North Terrace despite the conservative Adelaide University Union’s (AUU) silence as evidence of activism against antisemitism and the far right. Adelaide University SRC has been engaging in an anti-fascist, anti-racist campaign since then, which received a donation from USyd’s SRC.
Despite opposition from Grenier, with him denouncing SAlt: “Fuck Socialist Alternative. Fuck antisemitism” in response to Perkins and Marsden-Readford’s motion, it passed.
Noting his dissatisfaction with Perkins’ motion, Grenier later posed two motions calling for the SRC to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) controversy in Boston, and to publish a report into the SRC’s activism against antisemitism.
“It’s been admitted that antisemitism is an issue on campus. However, literally nothing has been done about it,” Grenier said.
“I would love to see a report that proves me wrong. I’d love to see a report that shows any substantive action against antisemitism by this Council,” he said.
Both motions were swiftly disavowed by SAlt and Switch councillors.
“I think the SRC made a really important statement about antisemitism. In the motion, we reference some of the important work that the SRC have been doing,” Perkins said, referring to the SRC’s records of antisemitic incidents on campus and its reaffirmation of opposing fascism and racism in all its forms.
SAlt’s Yasmine Johnson also defended the SRC’s support of the BDS: “The BDS campaign champions their right to live free from oppression, to live without occupation and physical violence. And stands for the use of international boycotts of products with ties to the oppression of Palestinians-”
At this point, Johnson’s speech was disrupted by fierce shouts from Grenier.
In the end, both motions failed with the second being attributed to a large number of abstentions from councillors across political persuasions, including Grassroots, Unity, NLS and Liberal faction Strive.
Wrangles over Labor’s Universities Accord
Soon, SRC Education Officer Deaglan Godwin moved a motion condemning the Albanese government’s proposed Universities Accord. The room was clearly divided along partisan lines, with speakers from Labor Student (NLS), Grassroots and SAlt advocating for their case.
Godwin fired the first volley in the back-and-forth, arguing that “When the Labor government’s only aim is to align higher education with the needs of Australian capitalism, I think student unions and students should say no to this and have no interest in them,” Godwin said.
NLS’ Jack Scanlan returned the missive, moving an amendment to the original motion that sought to recognise the Albanese Ggovernment’s Accord process as open-ended and called for Albanese to “look beyond the sticker price of higher education”. He argued that SAlt and Grassroots’ criticisms were invalid because the Accord did not yet exist.
“The mention of the Accord is a problem because the Accord does not exist. It’s irresponsible to vote against it. We don’t know, we shouldn’t be shooting in the dark. It’s through pushing for Labor, the party for change,” said Scanlan.
SRC Vice President Mikaela Pappou (NLS) concurred, refusing to detail NLS’ position regarding the Accord until it has been published.
Coming in to challenge NLS’ perspective and citing her experience at Academic Board with Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott, Lancaster argued that Labor’s Universities Accord risks excluding students’ voice from the consultation process.
“We understand that there are going to be a multilateral agreement between industry and university management, and what that will do in practice is cut students out. So I don’t think that it is fair to say that we shouldn’t be discussing them [the Accord] in a substantive way.”
Accordingly, echoing SAlt and Lancaster, Perkins criticised the optics that the Accord process risks permitting Vice-Chancellors to present the opportunity as a “tick of approval” from students. Further, she cast doubt on the effectiveness of lobbying to the Albanese Labor government rather than investing energy in mass activism required to hold the government to account.
“It doesn’t list how we can do it. It doesn’t really give us the idea of how we can do it. The issues outlined are important. We need to build a student movement rather than making demands of the Labor party.”
Despite the heated session, an anticlimactic ending was achieved with both the original and amended form of the motion failing by a razor thin margin.
Yang Tu was elected unopposed in a surprise nomination from the floor as SRC Social Justice Officer.
In other news, USU Board Director Alexander Poirier (Unity) made a curious comment while mentoring his Conservatorium colleague Martin O’Flynn on the intricacies of student politics and the SRC.
“This is what Council is supposed to be, it’s supposed to be boring,” Poirier declared.
Poirier’s desire for boredom may not be met as the typically hotly-contested SRC Elections approach.