Having organised the largest national student protest in Australia for 8 years, including a mobilisation of over 3000 students in Melbourne, we were pretty pumped about the National Union of Students (NUS) Education Conference scheduled in Adelaide July 10-12. The theme for the conference: “Educate, Activate, Organise”. What better forum to swap notes, sharpen our arguements and plan an even bigger action for semester 2.
Day 1: We were pretty sure we had the right address. The NUS website clearly stated the conference would be held at the University of Adelaide from July 10. Trouble was, there was no evidence of any sort of organising around the campaign to stop the cuts. In fact, the conference agenda contained no sessions at all that would allow for a discussion around how to build the student movement in semester 2.
Needless to say we were a bit pissed about the agenda. Not sure what to do, local activists started talking about how South Australian Police were in the habit of shutting down demonstrations in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall. They did this using the excuse of a ban on “personal amplification devices”. We decided to use all our interstate reinforcements to test police resolve.
The Plan? We nominate and speaker to wield the megaphone, surround them with activists and physically prevent the cops from shutting us down. The result? Students 1 – Police 0. A very minor victory for democracy.
…but that didn’t solve the issue of planning a national protest in semester 2.
Having been mesmerised and wooed in the morning by the ALP students’ sermons ranging from ISIC discount travel cards to the value of lobbying ALP politicians, Khyl Hardy (pictured), in a moment of clarity, interjected to suggest we might think about discussing how to stop the government savaging the university sector.
According to Clare Keyes-Liley, National Education Officer, this was a rude suggestion and showed disrespect to all the hard work she had already done in organising the agenda (which was sent out less than 24 hours prior to conference).
Not wanting to unnecessarily alienate any potential activists, Sarah Garnham from the Monash University Students Association suggests (above) that, if the agenda absolutely can not be changed then we are happy to discuss the education campaign at a lunchtime plenary session. The bottom line being, we all came here to work out how to build the education campaign, and that is what we will do, whether the ALP students like it or not.
And here we are at our lunchtime plenary. Note the three empty pizza trays to the left of screen – the small rations afforded to more than 100 delegates who agreed the education campaign was the point of the education conference. Front and centre you can see Labor Left student Alex West from the University of Tasmania unable to escape, having been surrounded left and right by socialist students determined to advance the campaign.
In this photo Sarah shows great patience as an ALP delegate argues that we should not be having this meeting because we are endangering Hyperglycaemic delegates. [yes, In case you are wondering, it was actually argued that we can’t discuss the education campaign because of Hyperglycaemia among us!]
Once things got going we were able to have a range of useful discussions. In quick time the delegates adopted the following resolutions almost unanimously at large lunchtime sessions. The majority of the conference delegates attended.
National Day of Action on 20th August would be organised around the following demands
1. NO CUTS
To funding, staff or courses
2. MORE FUNDING
3. EDUCATION FOR ALL
No caps on placements, raise student welfare, reinstate start-up scholarships, more Indigenous graduates – retention and completion, concession cards for International students
Eventually the ALP student office bearers revealed openly that there opposition to discussing the education campaign was not so much about concern for the health of Hyperglycaemics working through lunch, but more to do with their perspectives for how to stop the cuts to higher education. Clare Keyes-Liley launched a campaign aimed at getting young people to vote for the ALP. The ALP office bearers want to substitute a second round of street actions and student organising with an online petition. They also produced T shirts. It was never explained just how this was supposed to stop the ALP cutting funding to universities. Given they refused to have an open discussion we assume the ALP students were not sure either.
Having already passed resolutions for a national student protest, and the ALP having launched their website the 3rd day final “resolutions session” loomed large as a bit of an unknown quantity. None of us had expected that not one single ALP student, nor any delegate outside of the left caucus would, would have any proposal at all! Apparently, besides their website these student “leaders” had nothing more to say.
The left once again took control. We heard during the conference that NUS office bearers, including national secretary Todd Pinkerton, who is an ALP member, were planning to participate in expenses paid junkets to apartied Israel later in the year. This is something of a tradition for office bearers of the NUS. Feeling it was only fair that the Palestinian people get a voice, University of Western Sydney delegate Hilal, in what perhaps his first speech at a student conference, delivered an impassioned defence of the Palestinians’ right to exist and moved a motion that NUS fund a Palestinian activist to Australia for a national campus speaking tour and print a poster to publicise it.
Not sure how to interpret the fast moving and confusing events, newly elected Greens student coordinator James Searle (pictured above) decided to stick with what he knew. He obviously didn’t want any more outspoken Palestinians on Australian campuses. Here he is pictured voting against Hilal’s motion which was lost 79-91. Close! Greens speaking and voting against the motion certainly did not help.
By this stage we were running an hour over time. The ALP office bearers, had taken more than 1 hour walking about near the podium, importantly talking to one another and looking at their computer screens before eventually starting the session. Perhaps they were trying to agree on a reolution or two to put to the session – something they failed to do. In any case the dithering came back to bite them because, one hour over time, the Labor Right “Unity” faction had to leave the conference for the airport.
Never missing an opportunity, the now left majority conference then passed the following motions:
1. That all NUS National Office Bearers be banned from going on paid junkets to apartheid Israel during their tenure.
2. Education Conference condemns the NUS National Women’s Officer and General Secretary for their trip(s) to apartheid Israel and call on the NUS National Executive to fire them.
3. Education Conference demands that any individual who goes on a paid junket to apartheid Israel be disqualified and/or disendorsed as a candidate for NUS National Office.
Our whole caucus, including the good number of students who joined it during conference, were super energised by the clear victory of the left. The left’s victory was not only in the resolutions session, but also, importantly, in planning the August 20 action, forcing ALP aquiescience for August 20, and generally putting the rightwing completely on the back foot.
Cat Rose typed up the media release and sent it. I searched Google News over the weekend.
The actual results of conference were not reported by any commercial news service. The ABC or JJJ, AAP, NineMSN and some Murdoch papers all ran stories lifted from NUS press releases announcing their web based petition thing. Google News search (above) expresses exactly what the establishment hoped the conference would achieve: a mild mannered student intervention into the elections in favour of a mainstream party. Kim Carr’s dishonest overtures to students (above) represents exactly what was rejected by the conference. But the conference’s actual democratic decisions were never reported.
Clearly we had not had the type of conference the mass media was hoping for. Looks like you will have to wait for coverge in Red Flag, Green Left Weekly and other left press for any serious reporting.
See you on the streets on August 20.