Once again, the National Union of Students (NUS) year defining event, National Conference (NatCon), has pulled us all back kicking and screaming into the world of student politics. Yet this year, NatCon received harsh backlash from both student politicians and student media alike.
What is NatCon?
NUS is the peak representative body for undergraduate students at university in Australia. Each year, NUS holds their NatCon, which provides a platform for student representatives that are affiliated to the NUS to debate on policies that will be implemented in the following year.
In a response to the radical changes COVID-19 has demanded throughout the year, NatCon 2020 was held over Zoom, a decision which plagued the conference with issues from beginning to end.
The conference’s first session on Wednesday was, at best, unhinged. After ten minutes of ineffective debate, NUS President Molly Willmott made a last-minute decision to change the Zoom format from a seminar to a traditional call. While this did, eventually, prove to be for the better, it did halt discussions for over ten minutes and left Woroni reporters at the mercy of our own ANUSA president Madhumitha Janagaraja to be let back into the meeting. Although seemingly inoffensive, this did herald what would soon become a pattern of ineffective planning and decision making for the conference.
Following this brief interlude, Wednesday’s discussion continued, featuring unchecked verbal abuse; the highly amusing claim from one delegate that “NUS has been a joke this year with the exception of myself;” and a seemingly laissez faire attitude towards democratic values.
Unsurprisingly, it was the executive’s attitude toward democracy which received the most derision. Delegates noted throughout that voting procedures and counts were being obscured; during a discussion of which Willmott noted that she would simply be ‘able to vibe how it’s voting’. However, no-one was able to ‘vibe’ alongside her, as she retained sole access to the vote count.
Furthermore, the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) appeared to be consistently forced out of discussions throughout NatCon, wherein their attempts to speak would often be outright ignored by the Chair and were limited to debating within the chat function of Zoom.
These tensions were reflected in the voting process. Faction in-fighting seemed to take centre stage over any real discussion of the motions being presented. Moreover, while roughly two thirds of motions presented were passed over the course of NatCon – a number which seems impressive until one realises most motions are administrative at best – it seemed entirely at the expense of any sort of genuine discussion over the issues students will continue to face over the next twelve months.
These issues came to a head when the third day of the conference was cancelled entirely, with little notice and seemingly little explanation.
In the past NatCon has often been defined by a surprising combination of budding alcoholism, incompetence, and boredom. This year, the conference defied expectations by avoiding any potential for fun and, while hardly boring, utterly outdid itself in incompetence.