Student activists at Monash University have launched a public campaign entitled ‘Defend Democracy at Monash’ after the Monash Student Association (MSA) attempted to introduce regulations which will permanently limit in-person campaigning in elections.
The regulations have since been passed and have gone into effect as of 19 July 2021. They will apply to the upcoming election, taking place from September 20 until September 23.
Labor-right faction Student Unity holds a majority of MSA council seats, and hence successfully banned in-person campaigning as well as all campaign materials including t-shirts, chalk art, QR codes, posters, and pamphlets. The penalty for breaking these regulations is disqualification from the election. The ongoing pandemic and ensuring safety of students and staff were listed as justification for the motions, although social events held by clubs and societies post-lockdown are still going ahead as of their social media.
Former presidential candidate Kelly Cvetkova called the proposed regulation an attempt to suppress democracy and manipulate the election in favour of well-established, long-term tickets such as the ones the present incumbent ran on. “The reasons are hollow,” she told Honi. “Having QR codes and pamphlets do not add to the spread of the virus. It is hypocritical that ‘safety’ is a concern only while political discussions on campus are concerned, and not when the MSA is having social gatherings.”
“We need to protect free speech on campus,” said ‘Defend Democracy at Monash’ campaign founder Beth Jackson. “That means protecting the rights of minorities and smaller groups to say and campaign for what they stand for and what they believe – even when it’s inconvenient to the incumbents and the powers that be.”
National Union of Students (NUS) executive member Anneke Demanuele said that this regulation is “more about cementing the electoral position of the incumbents than it does with protecting student unionism.”
Honi reached out to MSA president Marni O’Connell for comment, but she did not respond in time for publication.