The final day of NUS’ National Conference collapsed under the weight of deliberate and repeated ableist aggression from the SAlt delegation. Formal business, including election of the national executive, and heartfelt speeches on Trans and Disability issues was overshadowed by the faction’s disrespectful behaviour, which left many attendees visibly traumatised.

Ballot and Financials

Day four of NUS NatCon began slowly with Balloting; while the National Officer Bearers, State Branch Presidents and State Education Vice-Presidents were all elected unopposed and announced on day three, 12 General Members of the National Executive (NX) were elected from a candidate list of 16. 

As with the rest of the positions, Student Unity dominated through their majority on the floor, picking up 10 positions while SAlt and NLS got 1 each. Combined with the National Officer Bearers and the State Branch Presidents, this gives Unity a total of 25 positions on the NX, SAlt and NLS each hold 3 and there is 1 (small-i) independent. 

While Unity held just over 68% of the votes on the floor, they ended up with just over 78% of the NX positions and just over 80% of the voting positions as the President (NLS) is non-voting. 

Following the announcement of the elected General Executive Members, the floor passed a procedural to allow outgoing General Secretary Sheldon Gait to deliver the annual financial report. The NUS annual financial report consists entirely of a financial audit with no further written information available, this raises questions over the transparency of the Union’s finances. 

Gait was generally positive on the Union’s financial position stating that NUS revenue had increased from $755,226 in 2022 to $957,944 in 2023, this however is not quite accurate; NUS’ cash and cash equivalents increased to the latter however much of this was likely a result of the decrease in trade and other receivables from $696,738 in 2022 to $306,109 in 2023. 

Union revenue increased by $38,244 from 2022 to 2023 while expenses increased by $177,942, however there was still a surplus of $166,116. The decrease in the retained profits from year to year of $236,775 is likely explained by a point Gait made that accrual accounting is used meaning that the retained profits in 2022 were inflated by affiliation invoices which were never going to be fully paid. 

Student media had the opportunity to ask questions of Gait after he delivered the report. When answering these questions Gait made the point that he is not an accountant and thus does not fully understand the audit himself. 

However, for a Union which received $516,541 in student money directly through affiliation fees as well as a further $239,277, most of which is also student money, it is somewhat concerning that there is not a dedicated office bearer to manage the organisation’s funds and Gait made no mention of the finances in his written annual report. 

Other points to come from student media questions were the reasons for an increase in travel and accommodation expenses as well as the surpluses NUS runs in order to protect its financial viability into the future.

Trans Remembrance and Resistance 

The conference unanimously passed an emergency motion on an “overnight massacre” in a school in Gaza, moved by SAlt. SAlt speakers attacked the Union and NLS specifically, saying “The NUS has 1.13 million dollars and you have done nothing”. Unity’s Ben Naiju capably chaired the debate to a close despite persistent shouting matches between SAlt and NLS arguments.

The conference also unanimously passed motion 7.14 from the Queer chapter, on Trans Remembrance and Resistance. Debate on Queer motions was almost deferred entirely in favour of Unity’s preferred motions, but independent attendees successfully negotiated to have 7.14 debated. Motions similar to 7.14 have been discussed at most recent NatCons.

Damien Nguyen, NUS Queer officer, and Skye Predavec, Independent delegate and ANUSA Welfare Officer, moved and seconded the motion. They forcefully criticised Unity for deferring Queer motions and for yesterday’s procedural to prevent cis men from speaking Women’s motions, which risked forcing trans people to come out in order to speak to motions affecting them.

Predavec made a moving speech, speaking to her fear as “a proud trans woman” that she would “join the hundreds of names listed in this motion”. ANUSA Education Officer Luke Manning challenged Unity to fight harder, asking “I know you will stand with me, but you need to stand against your party as well!”.

Unity member and ANUSA General Secretary Milli McDonald responded by offering an “unequivocal apology” for the procedural, agreeing that “for people to have to out themselves to speak in this space is unacceptable”. SAlt speakers, however, then hijacked the motion, giving passing mention to trans solidarity before moving to sledge the Labor factions and call for a free Palestine.

The S in SAlt stands for Shame 

The autonomous chapters are dedicated to marginalised communities,  with the majority of motions moved and seconded by the respective demographic. While in no way a perfect mechanism, the chapters provide a rare opportunity amidst the factionalism, for marginalised voices to be empowered on the NatCon stage.   

Outgoing NUS Disability Officer, Isabella Harding of NLS took the chair for the disabilities chapter. The floor passed multiple procedurals which required conduct to be respectful of sensory requirements; these included no clapping, members would instead raise and shake their hand, no heckling and no aggressive behaviour. 

The initial debate was on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which both the Labor factions defended while SAlt called for its abolition. However soon enough, as is a common theme in this conference, SAlt rerouted the discussion to Palestine. 

When the Labor factions limited debate to the Ethnocultural chapter, SAlt made a point by interjecting into motions about “democracy sausages” and rerouting the discussion to the “pressing urgency” of Palestine. However, their aggressive heckling and deliberate disruption of the sensitivity requirements during the disability chapter revealed a faction too consumed by its ignorance. 

SAlt members, often in unison, spoke and shouted over multiple people with disabilities, many of whom took the stand to speak about their experiences. Multiple speakers with disability were disregarded with one leaving the stand while SAlt heckled from the sidelines. Members of all factions except Independents engaged in a violent verbal confrontation; while those with disability were quickly evacuated from the room. 

Socialist Alternative is not unfamiliar to criticism over its protest politics, most recently facing backlash for it’s Pro-palestinian campaigns in Melbourne and New South Wales. The group has been accused of speaking over people of the Palestinian community during the weekly pro-Palestinian rallies and for attempting to make a profit off of the campaigns by selling Socialist Alternative branded “Palestinian” merch. As BIPOC speakers at the conference told SAlt hecklers, “We can look after ourselves–we don’t need you”. 

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Free, free Palestine” are both aspirational calls for the freedom and libertion of the Palestinian people. By weaponising these chants to create an air of intimidation, Socialist Alternative’s conduct was not only ableist, it was also disrespectful to the members of Palestinian community, many of whom they claim to fight for. By putting the wellbeing of people with disabilities at risk, this faction must ask itself how it can claim to advocate for the well-being of other vulnerable minorities. 

In the end, both SU and NLS walked out and pulled quorum. The Conference ended without the Office Bearers delivering their reports. A number of motions from the Disabilities and Queer chapters were passed unanimously.

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