SRC October Recap: USyd’s proposed Indigenous policy, Week 10’s strike and QEII
The penultimate meeting of the 94th SRC saw advocates launching a campaign against the University’s Confirmation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identity policy and support for Week 10’s student and staff strike.
In the penultimate SRC meeting of the year, dressed in a small sea of red following Socialist Alternative’s election of a record ten Councillors, New Law was packed with hacks from across the political spectrum to convene over issues affecting campus and the world.
Opposition to USyd’s new Confirmation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identity Policy
Former Sydney University Law Society (SULS) First Nations Officer Ben McGrory proposed the motion, supported by SRC President Lauren Lancaster, responding to USyd’s draft of a new admissions policy for incoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The new policy would require students to provide a Confirmation of Aboriginality rather than the current process, which requires students to sign a statutory declaration.
“A number of students that came to me were concerned about this, we need to have some cultural forums,” McGrory said.
“Students are scared to come forward because they are afraid of losing their scholarships or their jobs because they may not have a Confirmation of Aboriginality,” he said.
A draft of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Status Policy 2022 seen by Honi, represents a substantial revision of the USyd’s 2015 Policy, which prescribes a much smaller number of procedures. Compared to the previous 2015 version, the proposed policy looks set to significantly increase the burden of proof of Indigenous status for prospective students — with admissions subjected to scrutiny from a “Circle of Elders”.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Council that, “at the University, many times I have had my identity questioned not only by students but by staff.”
“For other people to quantify our identity, the Elders that they had today, I do not think that’s appropriate. They should not be able to tell me whether I’m Blak.”
Citing USyd’s abysmally low Indigenous admissions rate, among the lowest in the nation, postgraduate student Siupeli Haukoloa explained that the policy would worsen existing barriers for students who have been affected by the Stolen Generations and child removals, and therefore do not have access to confirmation of their Indigeneity from their community.
McGrory said that a petition is slated to be announced in the coming days to gather momentum in opposition to the policy.
Support for Week 10’s 48-hour strike student-and-staff strikes on 13 and 14 October
A pair of motions were moved regarding Week 10’s impending two-day strike by the USyd branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). SRC Education Officer Deaglan Godwin (SAlt) led the discussion on the first motion, which offered SRC endorsement to the strike action.
“We’re facing a totally intransigent management whose tactic has been to drag this on for as long as possible,” Godwin said. “The Union’s claims have not even been discussed in the bargaining team and negotiating meetings.”
“The University of Sydney sets the bar for the entire sector. If they give the union an inch, other workers will take a mile elsewhere [around the country]… That’s why it’s so important that we support the strike.”
“The interests of students won’t be at the negotiations table. This intransigence can only be beaten by serious and escalating industrial action.”
Fellow Education Officer and President-elect Lia Perkins supported the motion, citing significant cuts to FASS units between 2021 and 2022: “The Future FASS program and these other cost saving measures are pretty shameful. I think it’s an important time to be escalating the student solidarity campaign.”
Incoming Councillor Jack Scanlan (NLS) referenced his recent visit to the University of Queensland (UQ), which is also undergoing enterprise bargaining. Scanlan argued that the University of Sydney has a vital role to play in leading industrial action around the country.
“We have the most amount of demands, so we need the most amount of industrial action,” Scanlan said.
The motion easily passed with overwhelming support.
It was followed by a second motion resolving to close the SRC for the period of the strikes, in solidarity with the NTEU. It also passed easily.
The next motion was proposed by Lia Perkins. It endorsed recently proposed legislation to legalise cannabis nationally.
“Drug use should not be seen as a crime, it should be seen as a health issue. The criminal justice system unjustly damages lives and discriminates against vulnerable people such as those on low income and people of colour,” Perkins said.
Joining in the chorus of support, SRC Queer Officer Yaz Andrews expressed their backing of the motion, and the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis nationally.
“This is an excellent motion. We need to push for campaigns on laws that address harm reduction strategies and push against the incarceration of people on drug charges, as well as the removal of charges from people who are no longer serving sentences.”
No dissent was raised over the SRC’s intention to push for legalising cannabis.
Action on the Climate Crisis
The motion discussed the need for the SRC to support a larger activist campaign against coal and gas projects across the country in light of the climate crisis. Over the course of the discussion, councillors came to a consensus over the need to close coal mines and fossil fuelled power plants immediately, rather than supporting the Albanese government’s emission reduction strategy.
SRC Social Justice Officer Simon Upitis (SAlt), spoke to the motion’s overarching aim: “I think it means that we absolutely have to be shutting down the disgusting dirty coal generating and coal burning power plants that are still in use in Australia. We also have to be ending the fossil fuel export industry and close down all of the fossil fuel mines in the country.”
“We see the real reason why some people do shy away is because of softness on political parties, which themselves are never going to do closing coal mines, as they are guilty and complicit to the destruction of the planet,” Deaglan Godwin said.
“A climate movement that will win has to fight uncompromisingly for actual policies and demands that will save the planet.”
Respectability politics = doomed
The Council moved to condemn the reverence and disproportionate grief surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s (QEII) demise, particularly in light of historic and ongoing violence against Indigenous communities in Australia. Many spoke against Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s decision to introduce a Day of Mourning in response to QEII’s death.
SAlt speaker Julius Wittfoth said of the motion, “I think that it’s very good that the Queen is dead, and we shouldn’t have any problem with saying that it’s good that the Queen is dead.”
Lauren Lancaster pointed out the hypocrisy within the media’s reaction to Honi’s front cover and editorial, decrying the respectability politics shown since the Queen’s death.
“I personally decry a certain Director of Student Publications (DSP) who went on Sky News,” Lancaster said, in reference to the hypocrisy of the Young Liberal DSP who approved the edition without complaint, before publicly condemning the cover on a Sky News bulletin.
Julia Robins, Secretary to Council, broke her usual coat of impartiality to put forward a simple demand: “Bring on Irish Reunification.”
Chiming in with Robins, Scanlan mentions a number of other independence movements in the UK to the Council’s mind, “Welsh independence, Scottish Independence.”
And with that, Tiocfaidh ár lá.
Resistance against morality police in Iran
SRC Global Solidarity Officer Jasmine Al-Rawi introduced a motion standing in solidarity with Iranian women after the murder of 22 year-old Mahsa Amini by Iran’s morality police over allegedly not wearing a hijab properly.
“Women are forced to wear hijabs, are not able to access things like birth control, nor do they have some codified rights in Iran,” Al-Rawi said. “And there’s been boiling mass hatred for the President right now.”
Ella Haid, a first-year student and incoming Councillor of the 95th Council, spoke in support of the recent protests, particularly those at universities across the nation.
Haid implored Councillors to support Iranians’ campaign to overthrow the Iranian government: “They are demanding death to the dictator and this is absolutely right. Some of the stuff that the student union [in Sharif University] are calling for include women’s liberation and their own staff to strike, as their staff play a role in the economy in Iran.”
“The fight to be free of the mandatory hijab in Iran is the same fight in the West to be free of the meddling of the state in women’s affairs and bodies,” said SAlt’s Owen Marsden-Readford.
Administration and FoodHub
SRC Vice President Emily Storey provided an update on the SRC x USU Food Hub, which has serviced over 1,550 people since its reopening this semester. She reported that a slightly higher number of postgraduate students have been accessing the service, with postgraduates comprising 56 per cent of students. Undergraduates represent 42 per cent, and staff make up the remaining 2 per cent.
“We’re going to stock essential products like condoms, sanitary items and period products, which are all donated by the USU,” Storey said. She also noted that these items were donated to Food Hub from vendors connected with the USU.
A permanent increase to the stipends of incoming Honi Soit editors, extra money for Publications and funding for a new social media intern is planned in the SRC’s Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAF) application for 2023.
Now that 2022’s penultimate Council meeting has closed up for the day, we can look forward to RepsElect, the annual all-out wrangle for SRC Office Bearer positions. Next month will see the last Council meeting of the year prior to the incoming representatives’ term.
Staff and students will be on strike action between 13 and 14 August in Week 10 during which the SRC will be closed. Find the picket line event here.