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Observers to be locked out of replacement RepsElect

In an unprecedented move, observers will be made to view the meeting from a separate room

Observers will be locked out of the SRC’s replacement RepsElect, and will have to watch from a live stream as councillors conduct the meeting in another room. The unprecedented move is designed to avoid the chaos of this year’s first RepsElect, which was cancelled after fire sprinklers were triggered, flooding out the meeting room.

RepsElect is the first meeting of newly elected SRC councillors, who vote in the organisation’s executive for the coming year. Only the 33 councillors can vote, but a large number of student politicians normally attend as observers, either to support their faction or nominate for executive positions.

This year, when the first RepsElect was evacuated, only four positions had been filled, meaning a second meeting was necessary to complete the agenda.

The replacement meeting will be held on 26 November at 6pm. Under the extraordinary arrangements, announced today, all attendees will first meet in Abercrombie Business School Lecture Theatre 1050. Then, elected councillors, the president, the president-elect, SRC staff and Honi Soit reporters will move to a separate room.

The meeting will proceed in this room, which is yet to be announced, where Honi will film events and live stream them to Facebook. Observers will remain in Lecture Theatre 1050, where the live stream will be projected.

Observers wishing to nominate for a position will be conducted to the meeting room by SRC staff, where they will make a speech and then leave.

Honi Soit has broadcast RepsElect for the last three years, including this year’s first, cancelled meeting. The SRC did not consult Honi before deciding to close RepsElect 2 to observers, and our coverage plans have not changed in response to the decision.

In another unprecedented move, all observers at RepsElect 2 will have to sign an attendance sheet, and only USyd students will be allowed into the observers’ room. RepsElect often attracts student politicians from other universities, including National Union of Students office bearers. Kate Jean Crossin (NLS), the 2018  NUS Wom*n’s Officer attended RepsElect 1.

Observers will have to prove they are students, presumably by showing a student card. Otherwise, they will be banned from entering, which the SRC is empowered to do under its regulations.

SRC councillors were notified of the replacement meeting last Monday, in line with a two week notice requirement. Today, they received a follow up email from SRC staff, which outlines how the meeting will run, including the measures listed above.

The email explains that RepsElect 1, which was held in the Quad Refectory Room, was dangerously overcrowded: “One of the issues we had at the first Reps-Elect Meeting was the number of people in the space we had,” the email reads, “leading to a dangerous situation in terms of health and safety.”

The email then justifies the decision to separate councillors and observers on safety grounds:

“The first Reps-Elect saw multiple Councillors indicate they suffered from verbal abuse, and we came close to a physical altercation on at least one occasion.

“Ensuring that the Councillors are kept separate from the public gallery will go some way to ensuring that all Councillors are not at risk of further abuse.”

The new arrangements have drawn mixed reactions. Honi understands some student politicians, including councillors, are concerned that locking out observers will reduce scrutiny and damage democratic participation.

In particular, the left-wing minority bloc, made up of Grassroots, Chinese international student group Advance, and Socialist Alternative, is known to be unhappy with the decision. This bloc, which did not have the votes to win major positions at RepsElect 1, were disruptive during that meeting.

Honi has been told Returning Officer Karen Chau and co-Secretaries to Council Cameron Caccamo and Julia Robins pushed for the new security arrangements. The RO has unilateral control over how RepsElect is conducted, but it is believed both outgoing President Imogen Grant and President-Elect Jacky He (Panda) eventually agreed to the decision

He stood by the decision, saying it struck a balance between scrutiny and safety.

This is much like in any parliamentary debates or senate meetings in any democratic country, where all people in the country are allowed to access the decisions being made in the meetings through livestream and news reports, but the security would only allow electorate representatives to enter the meeting room”

He also said the decision would help with WHS compliance, by preventing overcrowding and ensuring a clear evacuation path in the event of an emergency.

He went on to claim the decision had broad support. “The decision was reached under the consensus of SRC staffs, myself and Imogen Grant, and all of us checked with the staff at the University of Sydney Campus Infrastructures and Services office,” he said.

For her part, Grant refused to comment beyond saying she had “every hope the meeting will be conducted smoothly and in a safe manner” and that she wished “all the best to the incoming councillors and officer bearers for 2019”.

The Moderate Liberals, Centre Unity and two independents, Dane Luo and Gabi Stricker-Phelps, also support the decision to lock out observers from the meeting room. George Bishop (Moderate Liberal) said “the use of two rooms might encourage greater civility in discussion and ensure the meeting is completed before midnight.”

As Honi understands it, Council will have a choice at RepsElect 2: it can vote to accept the minutes of Repselect 1, which will mean the four positions already filled will not have to be re-elected. Or it can scrap the first RepsElect, which will then open all positions for election.

At this stage, it appears that the voting blocs which formed before RepsElect 1 will stay the same. The details of those blocs are complicated, but can be boiled down into two broad camps: a majority made up of the Moderate Liberals, Panda, two independents and Unity (Labor right); and a minority made up of Grassroots, Socialist Alternative and Advance.   

If the majority coalition holds, it’s almost certain the minutes of RepsElect 1 will be accepted. That means RepsElect 2 will open with the highly contentious election of the Wom*n’s Officers.

In a controversial and unprecedented move, the majority bloc decided it would nominate its own members for the role, contrary to the wishes of the autonomous Wom*n’s Collective. Traditionally, the collective, an activist body separate to the SRC, preselects two nominees, who are then ratified by a vote of council.

This year, WoCo preselected Jazz Breen (Grassroots) and Layla Mkh (Grassroots) for the role. The majority bloc’s nominees were Crystal Xu (Panda) and Gabi Stricker-Phelps (Shake Up, independent), the daughter of Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps.

The majority’s attempt to roll WoCo’s autonomy drew fury from the minority bloc, and a number of WoCo activists decried the attempt to suppress women’s voices. The election of the Wom*n’s Officers could not be completed before the meeting was flooded out.

Stricker-Phelps has confirmed to Honi she will nominate for Wom*n’s Officer again at RepsElect 2.

Watch Honi Soit’s live-stream of RepsElect 2 at 6pm, Monday 26 November.