Welcome back to our day three coverage of NatCon22. Today focused on autonomous chapters including Queer*/LGBTQIA+, First Nations, Disability, International, Ethnocultural, and Small and Regional Policy. These motions particularly focused on increasing visibility, terminology, activism and support for autonomous groups as well as committing the NUS to a stance on these issues.

Some successful motions included: Sport Is Good for All !,  Defend Our Queer* Spaces, Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility, the NUS Upholds Institutional Racism, Fight Racism in Welfare, AccessCon is not Optional, Disability? You Won’t Make Australia Home, Free Education For Every Student and Keep Your Laws Off My Body.

Controversy arose throughout these chapters especially around tokenism, non-autonomous speakers, respectful language, the NDIS, accessibility in activism, and free education.

Debates about tokenism were particularly prevalent during the First Nations chapter as SAlt argued that the Voice to Parliament is tokenistic and, “will do nothing to change the structural oppression of Indigenous Australians”. NLS disagreed strongly on this point.

Another point of contention between NLS and SAlt was NLS’ critique of SAlt’s understanding of disability, and more pointedly the systems in place to support disabled people. This included distinguishing that there are two organisations which facilitate support provision – the NDIA and the NDIS. Previously, SAlt has only acknowledged and criticised the NDIS, claiming it represented the “neoliberalisation of healthcare”.

A motion was also passed in support of recent protests in Iran. The NUS also committed to a photo in solidarity, which will be taken tomorrow.

Another fiercely debated point was the Free Palestine! Motion. This point consisted of many conflicting views across factions. An unaligned Labor right member expressed the view that, “You shouldn’t unconditionally support Israel or unconditionally support Palestine”. The speakers against the motion argued that it lacked nuance.

An independent from Western Sydney responded with “We should support this motion because as human beings we need to be on the right side of history”, while SAlt claimed it “is an important motion as NUS has a role to play in fighting against Israel.”

The Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) contributed to the debate, having not spoken previously. AUJS argued that, “Zionism is not racism. It is not the exclusion of Palestinians. Zionism is about self-determination and we represent Jews from across the political spectrum.” The floor passed the motion.

Moving on to small and regional motions, most of the section was moved en bloc. The main argument of this section was that students from metropolitan areas are “privileged” and wealthier than students coming from rural and regional campuses and regions.

Independent Tasmanian delegate Liam highlighted this when arguing that the Australian government considers the entire state of Tasmania to be regional. An effect of this includes “45% of the University of Tasmania students suffering from food insecurity” and there not being a “single remaining bulk billing GP in the south of Tasmania”.

In contrast, SAlt raised that this argument neglected the nuance of class. Off the conference floor, one SAlt member compared it to arguing that a homeless student in the city is better off than a rural student in the South Australian wine region.

Officers: An Unholy Alliance

The real prize of NatCon are the executive positions, which give factions a platform for their views and advocacy. Unity and SAlt this year struck a rare deal to split most of the positions.

The Officers are:

President – Bailey Riley (NLS)

General Secretary – Sheldon Gait (Unity)

Education Officer – Xavier Dupe (SAlt)

Welfare Officer – Grace Franco (Unity)

Women’s Officer – Emily Searle (Unity)

Queer*/LGBTQIA+ – Damien Nguyen (Grassroots) and Grace Hill (SAlt)

First Nations – Patrick Taylor (Unity)

Disabilities Officer -Isabella Harding (NLS)

International Student Officer – Arya Kushwaha (Unity)

Ethnocultural Officer – Ben Naiju (Unity)

Rural and Regional Officer – Cheyne Harris (Unity)

Vocation Education Officer -Salwa Kilzi (NLS)

That gives Unity seven positions, three for NLS, two for SAlt, and one for Grassroots. NLS always gets the President position with Unity as General Secretary. Everything else is on the table, and Unity has claimed the lion’s share.

What comes of this, remains to be seen. SAlt plans to use the Education position to campaign aggressively, which is why some independents have supported them over other factions. Unity supports lobbying and working with management to get things done. NLS favours an infamous “two-pronged approach” of activism and lobbying.

Expectations Not Exceeded

These disagreements and debate come in the wake of conference floor behaviour that has reached new lows. Two speakers were ejected from the conference floor, and delegates were warned not to use sexist language, specifically the word “bitch.” While the warning was given generally, NLS members were the most prolific users of the term, with their favourite retort in the First Nations section being “You’re a white bitch.”

All this occurred after a physical altercation last night which resulted in the separation of NLS and SAlt today in the conference room seating. Woroni understands these two factions were involved in the altercation.

Today also saw a suite of autonomous Chairs to ensure fair debate on the chapters. These chairs varied in their arbitration and neutrality, with some more controversial than others. However, a key trend was the Chair naming SAlt and independents for heckling and disagreeing, while remaining ambivalent on the heckling and swearing of NLS and Unity. The Chairs only named NLS and Unity a handful of times, despite fairly equal levels of heckling in the autonomous debates.

The warning about the use of the word “bitch” only happened after an SAlt lodged an official grievance. The Chair did not name any NLS member for it during the debate.

This was day three of our rolling NUS NatCon coverage. Thursday is the last day, and rest assured we’ll have more for you then.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.