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NatCon Day 2: Wrapped

We sat through Day 2 of NUS NatCon so you didn’t have to! Australia’s most seasoned hacks screamed — with varying levels of intelligibility — about everything from private school oppression to some very fraught debate on queer activism. Here are the highlights and lowlights from the day.

Welfare Chapter

The second day of NatCon opened with the remaining undiscussed motions from yesterday’s session on education — from motion 2.47A for the hacks at home. 

First up was a motion asking that the NUS acknowledge the wage disparity between public and private school teachers, and that they should support a set pay bracket. 

In the wake of this, a contentious motion to amend the wording of “private schools” to “rich private schools” sparked a cacophony of heckling as a Victorian delegate spoke against the motion. They stated that it should be downvoted because they “don’t want everyone to be equally poor in the regions.” Despite this pitiful argument, the motion passed.

After a few more motions demanding continued accessibility for students, particularly disabled students post-Covid and trade unionism in Vocational Education, discussions finally reached the welfare policy chapter. 

A speaker for SAlt (Monash) questioned the point of passing policy (at a policy conference), asking, “Where is the campaign?” in response to an important motion about equal support for part-time students through access to Youth Allowance and concession cards. Georgie Beatty (NLS, LaTrobe) spoke for the motion, arguing that it is “some of the most important policy we will move.”  

Another “proud” member of Student Unity (Adelaide Uni) spoke in support of the motion, criticising the “arbitrary age of independence as 22” to receive welfare support regardless of full or part-time tertiary study. The motion passed. 

Several motions discussed the importance of harm minimisation in drug use, with speakers noting that drug consumption is a common part of student life (including stupol). 

Perhaps surprisingly, a motion in favour of vaccine mandates was passed with support from all factions. However, a NSW SAlt delegate argued for sustained and consistent public health measures such as PPE and campus mask mandates because “vaccines are not a silver bullet.” 

Lastly, another motion relating to COVID safety on university campuses was moved by Holly Hayne (SAlt, UTS), which notably calls for audits of the indoor air quality across all campuses. The motion received dissent for being similar to the previous COVID-safety motion moved by Declan Kerr (QUT), but it passed nonetheless. 

A speaker from UniMelb said that they won’t “waste your time like the Trots,” which caused mass-heckling to break out and time to be wasted. 

Women’s Chapter

Once the break ended and delegates returned, the floor began to consider the Women’s Chapter —  with the conference running a whole session behind. Discussions revolved around expanding the purviews of the Women’s Chapter to recognise gender diverse and trans women, enhancing support for survivors of sexual crimes, queer inclusion and opposition to police on campus.

Motions surrounding increasing the inclusivity of the Women’s Chapter to recognise trans women and gender diverse students passed relatively smoothly. One of the first proposals (2.74) sought to recognise misogyny and discrimination that faces non-binary and trans women.

“There are trans women out there that experience misogyny and need representation. Trans women’s rights intersect with women’s rights,” said UQ’s Jordy Duffey (NLS). 

“There are individuals who identify as non-binary, trans and gender diverse. We need to continue to advocate within women’s spaces,” Duffey said.

Other amendments considered whether the NUS accommodated various forms of feminist understanding. For instance, the ANU’s Sinead Winn (NLS) spoke on multiple occasions highlighting possible exclusion emanating from a narrow conception of feminism.

“We do not stand for any feminism that is exclusionary. We can yell at Christian Porter as much as we like but I am not sure if he’s going to listen to us,” said Winn in an apparent reference to more seasoned activists in the conference. 

A recurring theme throughout the session involved various members of Student Unity decrying the NLS-proposed tranche of amendments to the Women’s Chapter as overtly “chonky”. For Emily Sagoji (Deakin), a Unity member, the proposed amendments appeared too verbose for their preference. 

“It’s just so chunky so we [Student Unity] are voting it down,” said Sagoji. “This chapter is so fucking disgusting to look at.”

LGBTIQ+/Queer Chapter

Chaos soon descended upon the floor when Student Unity proposed a controversial motion (2.97, for the hacks reading this) attempting to remove the activist orientation of Queer Collectives. Members of the faction accused the NUS of coercing queer students into activism and argued that these groups should be able to direct their own missions. 

“It’s important for spaces to be safe spaces and for social connections. Queer clubs are not your recruiting club,” Deakin’s Laura (Unity) said to jeers across the room. They were supported by National Queer Officer Bridge Truell who “commended” the proposal. 

Fierce opposition emerged when NLS’ Alec Hall excoriated the motion as “bullshit” and defended the historic raison d’etre of queer collectives.

“The point for the fucking movement is to do activism. The way that we maintained our queer space is by occupying the building. It’s by showing that we are activists,” Hall said. 

This motion also resulted in a split in Grassroots Independents (Grindies) votes. Honi was told that USyd, UNSW and UTS Grindies voted against the motion, whilst other campuses such as ANU voted in favour.

Conference briefly revisited the motion at the beginning of the third session for a vote recount after NUS President Zoe Ranganathan noted that some SAlt votes were misconceived as abstentions. Despite this, the motion still passed. 

Rancour emerged once again when delegates interrogated the role of police officers on campus events such as Pride. The conference was split between activists and Student Unity, with the latter endorsing the presence of police for “safety” reasons. 

“There are issues with police, however, it is important to have them there for the safety of students. Sexual assaults and drugging happens so we need cops on campus,” a Student Unity delegate from Deakin said to uproarious jeers across the room. 

“The NUS can’t oppose student safety,” the Unity delegate said.

In contrast, Duffey (UQ/NLS) argued that the presence of police only serves to silence activists and poses a safety threat to students. 

“It’s really important that we oppose cops being on campus because people feel unsafe with them. We need to ensure that there are no cops on campus. They’re fuckwits and don’t deserve to be on campus,” Duffey said to cheers at the conference. The motion ultimately secured delegates’ confidence. 

First Nations Chapter

After briefly revisiting the earlier controversial motion on queer collectives, the conference moved onto First Nations chapter, passing motions to increase the presence of Indigenous peoples and support for existing campaigns against Indigenous deaths in custody. A central debate was the role non-Indigenous people and the Union has and should play in First Nations activism. 

“Saying that only Indigenous people can have a say on NUS [First Nations] policy is saying that non-Indigenous people may abdicate their responsibility on this issue,” said a SAlt speaker.

A Unity member spoke in principle against motions they believed had not been written by First Nations people, despite these being moved by QUT delegates on behalf of their First Nations Officer. 

“We’re all for you coming to Invasion Day rallies to support us, just let us do it first… We may be a small group of people but we’re still fucking people,” the Unity speaker said.

It should be noted the NUS failed to fill the First Nation’s Office Bearer position since it became vacant earlier this year.

Disabilities Chapter

Discussions on Disabilities began with NUS Disabilities Officer Kit Sanders moving a procedural motion to un-bloc the four motions pertaining to NUS disabilities policy, as it reduced speaking time on disability issues. The motion failed to pass.

However, the first bloc of motions regarding invisible disabilities and diagnosis as a barrier for disabled students was passed with minimal controversy. 

The second bloc – consisting of motions on intersectionality in disability and consultation for accessible activism – was also passed, but with dissent from SAlt.

“It is not enough for student unions to provide services. That is not what they should be for. They should be fighting,” said a SAlt speaker. 

SAlt was also accused of “not caring” about the needs of disabled students by multiple members from Labor factions.

“I was told [by SAlt] that if I was unwilling to chain my wheelchair in front of a bus, I was unable to participate in activism,” said a speaker from NLS (Swinburne).

International Chapter

The International chapter saw six motions moved, largely pertaining to the wellbeing and workplace rights of international students. These issues included providing HDR students with a stipend, freezing exorbitant international student fees, lengthening graduate visas to three years and improving international students’ access to mental healthcare. 

Several clashes between Unity and SAlt speakers broke out. Unity-aligned international students argued that SAlt lacked knowledge or interest in international student issues, with General Secretary Param Mahal describing SAlt failing to know the NUS International Officer as “just SAlt vibes”. 

SAlt members complained that the NUS focuses overly on the economic benefits of international students rather than acknowledging that “education is a human right” and should be free for all students. 

Unity responded sceptically, asking, “Do you live in a fantasy world where money grows on trees?” which – perhaps unsurprisingly – prompted widespread heckling over Zoom. Despite these exchanges, all motions within this chapter passed.

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