NUS NatCon Day 4: Thank God We Can All Go Home

Written by Alexander Lane and Zelda Smith

Bringing us to the end of our NatCon week was a wildly dramatic Day 4 that deftly managed to exceed expectations. Day 4 included finalisation of the small and regional chapter, electoral voting for 2023 National Positions, speeches from the retiring and incoming executive, rule change considerations, and urgency motions.

The shocking highlights included the use of the word “bitch” again by the incoming NUS president after the Women’s Officer condemned it yesterday; the General Secretary wrestling the microphone off the President; and factions strategically pulling quorum.

Another significant moment was the commitment by the NLS to publicly condemn the Religious Discrimination Bill in any form. This came after the NLS opposed condemning the Religious Discrimination Bill every day of the conference this week, arguing that there is no such Labor version of the bill.

Finalisation of Autonomous Chapters

The start of Day 4 began with the conclusion of the small and regional autonomous chapter. To the disappointment of the incoming rural and regional officer and chapter Chair – Cheyne Harris – much of this chapter was moved en bloc.

To public outcry during this chapter, the chair named a SAlt delegate for “relevancy” after they discussed the environment and the effects of climate change in the regional chapter. Harris then used her position as Chair to explain how tiring it is fighting “left-wing fascists all day”, presumably a reference to Socialists Alternative.

Overall the debate focused on the contentious idea that students from metropolitan areas were more privileged than those from rural and regional areas. Riley, an independent delegate from Flinders University, argued that, “We should actively acknowledge the inherent privilege of those who aren’t living in regional areas over those who are”.

Another important consideration of this chapter was the call for there to be greater representation of regional universities and students. Harris, in their candidacy speech, spoke to the inaccessibility and uselessness of city-based protests in advocating for rural and regional students.

Officer Reports: Lots of “Challenges” This Year

Each of the Office Bearers (OBs) presented their annual report, taking three questions from the floor and three from student media. Many thanked their faction, friends and partners for the support throughout the year, and for the opportunity to hold an NUS office.

President Georgie Beatty’s speech focused on “one fact, that the biggest barrier to getting to university is welfare,” arguing that “the cost of living crisis hits students now more than ever.” In pushing for increased financial support for students, and for raising the age of independence, Beatty cited media attention as a key victory. Beatty also celebrated the Albanese victory; believing it ushers in a new age of change, with the government listening to students and the NUS.

Woroni asked the first student media question: What is the campaign budget compared to the total budget for the NUS? The President passed over to the General-Secretary who explained that the total campaigning budget is $2000, and added that OBs have a travel budget as well. She did not give the total budget for the NUS. In 2022, the NUS spent $956 on campaigns and $5,494 on travel. With 12 total OBs that is an average of around $80 and $458 respectively.

A member of Socialists’ Alternative asked why the President had delayed telling student unions about Labor support for the Coalition’s Religious Discrimination Bill. The President said they were content to tell the LGBTIQA+/Queer Officers and leave it at that. Woroni understands that a number of student union presidents were unhappy with Beatty’s behaviour around the Religious Discrimination Bill.

The General-Secretary, Emily Sagolj spoke next. She said she was proud of the work she had done this year, and thanked the other OBs, even the ones she’d had fights with. She also thanked Unity, her faction, for their support.

Earlier this year, Honi Soit revealed that the General-Secretaries for 2020 and 2021, both of whom are Unity members, had allegedly “mismanaged” around $10,000 in what is an ongoing legal case.

Farrago Magazine asked how the culture of NUS has changed since the discovery of the financial mismanagement. Sagolj said it was hard to pin down, but referred to proposed regulation changes that were passed later in the conference, and to more professional meetings of the executive.

Honi Soit asked how many unions would have to disaffiliate for the NUS to collapse and how close NUS was to that point. The General-Secretary said she didn’t have a specific number but that “It wouldn’t be the case that ten unions would disaffiliate in a year.” It is unclear if this means that ten unions, or thereabouts, is the number.

Lastly, Woroni asked why it had taken Sagolj a month from discovering the financial mismanagement before she told the National Executive, and why her annual report did not discuss the mismanagement in depth. Sagolj argued that “it wasn’t like I’ve hidden anything here” and that she had presented a report at the NUS Education Conference. She added that where her report discussed governance changes, this was a reference to the mismanaged $10,000.

Each of the other officers also gave their reports. You can read their speeches and answers on the Woroni Twitter.

Motions: the Rules, the Regs and the Urgent

With most of Thursday devoted to OB reports and incoming speeches, there was little time for actual motions. Most of the rules and regulation changes were passed en bloc, as frequently happens on the last day of the conference, while four urgency motions were debated before the meeting became inquorate.

Motion 1.4 to the rules and regulations capped General-Secretary spending at $500. In moving it, Sagolj said it would help solve the “challenges” earlier this year, a likely allusion to the $10,000 allegedly taken by members of her faction.

Motion 1.7 clarified the process by which an OB is removed from office, stating that only an absolute majority of the National Conference can remove them. Billy Zimmerman, the Welfare Officer, seconded this motion, saying that the need to remove an OB was “very unlikely.” Zimmerman is also a Unity member.

After the rules and regulations came the urgency motions. Typically, these are the most rushed of all chapters of the NUS policy handbook, and important urgency motions will often be moved to other chapters so that delegates can debate them.

Two urgency motions were passed in this section: 14.11 Standing Against Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA’s) in-person attendance mandate and 14.53 Oppose Citipointe’s Sexuality Contract – No to Homophobia and Transphobia in Schools. Incoming Disabilities Officer Isabella Harding spoke in favour of the motion 14.11 stating that, “In person learning is not accessible for students with disability and it is often safer to have dual delivery”. Both motions passed.

Motion 14.53 was the most contentious urgency motion of the two. SAlt amended the motion to also call upon the 2023 NUS President to publicly condemn any form of the Religious Discrimination Bill, in a video next week. After days of belligerent speeches, heckling, and lunchtime discussions, NLS voted for the motion, committing itself to oppose the Bill. SAlt cheered as it achieved what appeared to be its key goal at the National Conference.

Somehow, the Debate Got Even Worse

Normally, the rules and regulation motions are debated last, after the urgency motions. However, NLS and Unity moved an amendment to debate them before the urgency motions. This ran the risk that once the rules and regulations were passed, either Unity or NLS would pull quorum, ending the conference, and debate of the urgency motions.

Hence, when the procedural motion to debate the rules and regulations first was read out, SAlt erupted in uproar, and tried to pull quorum itself. At this point, General-Secretary Emily Sagolj somehow acquired the microphone and began reading out the rules and regulations to be passed, calling for a vote without debate. Her aim, Woroni understands, was to hold the vote as SAlt walked out the door, so that quorum was technically still held and the vote would be valid. However, President Georgie Beatty, having not ceded the chair, snatched the microphone off Sagolj, and then said “We’re doing this democratically”.

Beatty restored the previous debate order, and SAlt entered the room once again. Sagolj never had the chair and thus tried to unconstitutionally pass motions. Later, she described the move as “…not my finest moment.”

After SAlt returned, the rules, regulations and four first urgency motions were debated. After this, one of the conference organisers announced that quorum had been lost and that the conference was hence over. There were still around 60 urgency motions to discuss. The conference organiser confirmed that, as delegates had left throughout the week, they had made quorum by just one delegate. It was confirmed to Woroni that a Unity member was the one to leave, rendering the conference inquorate.

With that, NUS’s National Conference for 2022, dominated by yelling, chanting, cheering, heckling and verbal abuse, ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.


For more minute-by-minute coverage, see the Twitter of Farrago Magazine, Honi Soit, and Woroni.

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