The SRC will begin 2019 with only a fifth of its elected officials, after tonight’s second RepsElect meeting failed to complete any of its agenda. As a result, an unprecedented third RepsElect will have to be held, most likely in February 2019.
Tonight’s meeting, which replaced the cancelled RepsElect held earlier this month, quickly stalled. Business was unable to proceed after Socialist Alternative observers walked into the meeting room, defying the Returning Officer’s decision to lock out all observers. The SAlt protestors refused to leave, despite two security officers being called to the room. A stalemate emerged, with SRC staff refusing to continue the meeting with the observers present. After almost two hours of argument, the standoff only ended when councillors voted to end the meeting with no positions elected, except those which were filled at RepsElect 1.
Tonight’s lack of results means the SRC will operate on a skeleton crew for the 2019 Welcome Week, with only a president, vice president, general secretary, general executive and education officer. The remaining 19 positions, including the hotly contested wom*n’s officer role, are still vacant, as are two committees appointments.
This year’s first RepsElect was evacuated after fire sprinklers were triggered, causing the meeting room to flood. In response, SRC staff made the unprecedented decision to hold tonight’s replacement in two rooms, with observers locked out of the meeting room, which was open only to the 33 councillors, SRC staff and media. Observers were required to spend the night in Abercrombie Lecture Theatre 1050, watching Honi Soit’s Facebook livestream of the events happening next door in Abercrombie Lecture Theatre 1060.
The SAlt protestors, who entered the meeting at about 7pm, argued that the new security arrangements were undemocratic. They pointed to an article in the SRC’s regulations which says all meetings must be open, unless the council votes to close them to the public. Council had not taken such a vote.
The protesters, among them prolific SAlt activists Omar Hassan and Vinil Kumar, called on councillors either to allow free access, or to go on record and vote to close the meeting to the public, including media. RO Karen Chau said the second course of action would be “more undemocratic”. “Of course it is,” replied Hassan, “but that’s your choice”.
SAlt’s Lily Campbell told Honi that “students reserve the right to observe meetings of the council,” calling the “personal proclivities” of the returning officer Karen Chau and secretary to council “farcical”. She criticised their interpretation of SAlt’s conduct as unnecessarily vitriolic. “Political disagreement does not constitute abuse,” she said.
The protestors maintained Honi’s live stream was unreliable, meaning observers could not properly scrutinise the conduct of the meeting: they pointed to substantial lag and issues with audio, caused by a slow internet connection.
Members of Grassroots, a far-left minority faction, agreed. Lara Sonnenschein (Grassroots) said in a statement that her faction had initially intended to see the meeting through, but that “it became abundantly clear that the livestream technology could not facilitate an accountable process.”
As a result, Grassroots sympathised with SAlt’s actions. “We understand that student members of Socialist Alternative objected to the restrictions that were put in place and we understand why they took these measures,” Sonnenschein said.
At 8pm, an hour and a half into the meeting, a motion was passed 18-12 to move the meeting in camera, closing it to all observers, including Honi Soit. Despite this, the SAlt protestors again refused to leave, with Secretary to Council Cameron Caccamo announcing that “the room has been declared unsafe”. The majority bloc then moved to skip all remaining business and accept as valid the four positions elected at RepsElect 1.
Councillors appeared reluctant to end the meeting, and many were overheard trying to negotiate a way out of the stalemate. But throughout, SAlt and the minority bloc were adamant the meeting should be reopened to all observers, which majority councillors refused to do. There seemed to be little possibility of a compromise, apart from concluding the meeting without electing any positions.
Ultimately, all 33 councillors voted to end the meeting. After the vote passed, there was noticeable despair, especially from majority members, some of whom asked RO Karen Chau to reopen proceedings.
At the outset, the meeting looked set to be uneventful: councillors arrived around 6pm, and the meeting kicked off half an hour later. The voting blocs were unchanged from the first meeting: Panda, the Moderate Liberals, Unity (Labor Right) and two independents had a majority, with 18 councillors.
They quickly moved to accept the minutes of the first meeting, meaning the replacement RepsElect could proceed from where the original had left off, with the election of the wom*n’s officers. At this stage, there was only mild protest from the minority bloc of Grassroots, Socialist Alternative and Advance.
Nominations were then opened for the wom*n’s officer, which this year has been wrapped in controversy. At RepsElect 1, the majority seemed intent on ignoring the Wom*n’s Collective’s preselected candidates for the role, who in previous years have been ratified by council in deference to the collective’s autonomy. Instead, the majority nominated its own members—Gabi Stricker-Phelps (Shake Up, independent) and Crystal Xu (Panda), who also nominated at tonight’s meeting in absentia.
The protestors entered the room after the speech from the collective’s preselected councillors. A confrontation between Grassroots’ Liam Donohoe and President-Elect Jacky He erupted shortly after, and both were ejected from the meeting room. The two security guards present lacked the power to remove the remaining observers, after verifying that all were students.
Before the final vote to close the meeting, SAlt’s Campbell and Kumar approached NLS’ Will Edwards and Unity’s Adriana Malavisi to implore them to re-open the meeting to observers. Each side blamed the other for the stalemate and the subsequent closure of the meeting.
President-Elect Jacky He expressed disappointment at tonight’s events, saying that he witnessed students “who have received years of higher education descend[ing] into a state of mindless children”.
Labor Right heavyweight Adriana Malavisi said her faction was also disappointed with the outcome, and held Grassroots, Socialist Alternative and “other factions” responsible.
“Ultimately the safety and wellbeing of staff and councillors is our highest priority, and we will continue to work with staff and councillors to ensure that the SRC can properly function as soon as possible, despite the best efforts of many reckless councillors and observers,” she said.
Secretary to Council Julia Robins said, as a consequence of tonight’s stalemate, the SRC would lack resources over the holiday period. “If office bearer positions aren’t filled, there is no budget, there is no printing until they are filled. So any actions you might want to do over summer might be affected.”
Students on Twitter also weighed in on tonight’s antics.
Maybe third time will be the charm for #repselect2018 pic.twitter.com/ldCwLV9RGU
— Tim (@timmy_seg) November 26, 2018
Hi everyone and welcome to the livestream of #repselect 558 – the 558th attempt to hold 2018 repselect. Returning officer Karen Chau is now 35. Omar is 52, and has never left the room
— Naaman Zhou (@naamanzhou) November 26, 2018
You can watch Honi Soit’s full livestream on our Facebook.