“Deeply undemocratic”: Adelaide University SRC push back against attempts to muzzle student activists

Prohibitions on distribution of O-Week content, antifascist materials and alleged censorship of student media by the AUU Board is attracting fierce opposition from students at Adelaide University.

CW: This article contains images of fascist materials. 

Funding cuts and a highly restrictive directive by the AUU Board (Adelaide University Union) is being criticised as “undemocratic” for seeking to curtail elected student activists currently presiding over Adelaide University SRC.   

According to a statement, Adelaide University SRC President Ana Obradovic learned that the current AUU Board President Oscar Ong was circulating a directive banning payment and distribution of SRC materials. The prohibition encompassed materials “promoting the NUS [National Union of Students]” and “any related fees of the SRC Counter Guide” – the latter being equivalent to USyd’s CounterCourse handbook that contains student-sourced information critical of the University’s corporate messaging.

Returning students were greeted on Welcome Week by “white students deserve safety” and “white workers built Australia” messages across Adelaide’s North Terrace campus. Orders for antifascist material by the SRC were allegedly blocked by Ong and the Progress/Young Liberal factions. 

It is understood a refusal to reimburse the SRC in line with the directive has now left the Adelaide University SRC in debt by $2,000. 

This follows a controversial funding agreement passed on 30 November last year by the conservative coalition stipulating that Adelaide University SRC must “not bring the AUU into disrepute”, compelling it to provide representation irrespective of “political views”. This agreement attracted ire for being raised on the last day of Ong’s SRC Presidency, indefinitely binding future councils.

The agreement effectively prohibits Adelaide University SRC from holding political opinions contrary to the Progress/Young Liberal-dominated AUU Board. An “overwhelming majority” of SRC representatives supported a motion against the agreement in the Council’s first meeting in 2022.

Obradovic voiced the SRC’s opposition, arguing that the AUU Board’s actions were an affront to student activists’ “mandate as elected representatives”. In November last year, the Left bloc at Adelaide took the Presidency in a tight 1211 – 1075 margin, upending two years of conservative leadership. 

Echoing Obradovic, NUS Welfare Officer Billy Zimmerman labelled Ong a “political conservative who cannot stand a student union not under his control”. For him and other elected representatives at Adelaide University SRC, this is consistent with the conservative factions’ record of opposing student unionism such as disaffiliating from the NUS and refusing to fund AU’s Women’s Collective.

Further, it was revealed that On Dit, Adelaide University’s student newspaper, could not report on these developments due to a recent constitutional amendment mandating that all editorial content be approved by an “independent committee” — the membership of which is not disclosed. 

In response, On Dit Editor Habibah Jaghoori characterised the amendment as “imposing censorship” and an “attack on free speech” as it effectively means that the Board wields unilateral discretion over what can be published.         

In a statement, USyd SRC Education Officers Lia Perkins and Deaglan Godwin strongly condemned the actions of the Young Liberal-dominated AUU Board.

“This attack on Adelaide University SRC is an attack on student democracy. Elected representatives must be able to criticise university management without reprimand as this is the job of a student union.” said Perkins and Godwin. 

“We condemn Oscar Ong and the actions of the Board and urge students to take action to defend their elected representatives.”

Update: a change has been made to reflect On Dit’s circumstances following clarifications from Adelaide University Union and On Dit Editors.