In March this year, the ANUSA Student Representative Council (SRC) was divided as it discussed a motion to re-accredit with the National Union of Students (NUS), with a total of twenty students speaking at length on the topic. Finally, the SRC decided by secret ballot to reject the motion, thereby halting ANUSA’s accreditation with NUS.
In light of the upcoming ANUSA election, NUS seems to have once more taken centre stage as a major policy issue for candidates. In fact, a ticket called We Choose NUS has been created with NUS re-accreditation as their main platform.
NUS describes itself as the peak representative body for Australian undergraduate students. Jillian Molloy, NUS ACT Branch President and We Choose NUS nominee, credits it with playing a central role in the largely successful movement against the deregulation of university fees, and in consolidating the voice of students. Similarly, Amplify presidential nominee James Connolly spoke strongly on the importance of re-accreditation with NUS at the March meeting, arguing that its campaigns accord with ANUSA’s, and that it can play an important role in affecting change.
Nonetheless, there seems to be no disagreement that NUS is in need of serious reform. In 2015, a handful of ANU students travelled to the NUS national conference (NatCon) as delegates and observers, submitting damning reports on NatCon to the SRC.
Complaints raised included crippling factionalism, an inhibiting lack of information concerning the structure of NatCon, and concern about the physical and mental well-being of delegates. In particular, delegate Jed Buchanan’s report stated that ‘factionalisation is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, barrier to change and effective governance for NUS,’ a complaint echoed by many other delegates.
The conference is typically controlled by Labor party factions and Socialist Alternative. Attendees have complained that the degree of factionalism at the conference is so high that it is difficult to create policy change outside of this factional structure. Delegate Laura Campbell’s report also noted that she observed ‘a number of both physical and verbal altercations at Natcon 2015 this year on conference floor’.
Molloy said that much has been done to address these complaints, such as the creation of a grievance officer position to better address future concerns. ‘People always focus on the problems with NatCon, when a lot of great work happens outside of that, like at EdCon [education conference] and with campaigns like their opposition to the pink tax.’
In this year’s election, 15 people are vying for five NUS delegate positions. However, whether those elected will be invited to NatCon as delegates depends on whether ANUSA moves to re-accredit with NUS.
Currently, both Connect and Amplify advocate sending NUS delegates to the next NatCon as observers to determine whether safety issues and factionalism have been addressed. Both tickets also expressed optimism about NUS’s potential to improve, with Amplify writing that ‘NUS has been able to successfully lobby for some good policies’, and Connect writing, ‘We believe that NUS can be an effective representative body if the changes in its structure especially the way Nat Con is run can be brought about’.
Tom Kesina, currently ANUSA disabilities officer, is the only independent running for the position of NUS delegate. At the March SRC meeting in which the re-accreditation motion was rejected, Kesina voted against re-accreditation, citing safety concerns about NatCon, NUS’s lack of success in addressing complaints, and the meager benefits the ANUSA disabilities department had received from NUS.
In Kesina’s recent policy statement on the NUS, he concurred that ANUSA needs to send observers to NatCon, and stressed the importance of having independent and impartial observers, who ‘ought not to be aligned with a political faction’.
Connect, Amplify, We Choose NUS, and Kesina all stated their support for holding a vote in an SRC meeting on re-accrediting with NUS, after discussing reports from delegates and consulting with students.
Make ANU Great Again also had a statement about the NUS. ‘We need to stop sending so much of our money offshore to other universities. We need to put ANU first. We have so many problems that Crazy Karan and Crooked Connolly don’t care about solving.’
It is unclear how much re-accreditation with NUS would cost, but in past years the figure has been $5000.