As the NUS NATCON wraps up for another year, Woroni has broken down the portfolios of the 2020 NUS Office Bearers, and those that have been elected to hold office in 2021.
As National President, Molly Willmott of the National Labor Students (NLS) presented her report first, using her time to focus on the impact this disruptive year has had on students. She highlighted the increasing corporatization of universities across Australia, the ways it affects the student experience and how best to counter it. Of these, the most prominent of them was the proposed introduction of a Student Services and Amenities Fee to support student unions across the country. Going forward, however, she said the primary focus of the National Union of Students should be reversing the changes to the National Higher Education Bill. This was echoed by incoming president Zoe Ranganathan (NLS), who argued against encroaching neoliberalism on campuses. She also highlighted the need to include more feminist voices, as well as TAFE students, in the student activist movements. This, she said, would strengthen student activist movements as well as promote fair representation.
Sam Roberts, of the Unity faction, was next to present, focusing on how best to recover from the impact of this year and improve student representation going forward. This included focusing on education, gender, welfare and international student advocacy, specifically highlighting his desire to improve the visa process for international students. While he admitted the NUS’s COVID-19 response wasn’t perfect, he maintained the union supported students and continued to lobby for their rights. This included pushing for an increase to the coronavirus supplement, with 250,000 students seeing a monthly increase to payments of $915. Following this presentation, Param Mahal of the Unity faction, became the first international student elected to the position of NUS general secretary.
Grassroots Independent Lincoln Aspinall presented his report next, highlighting the role the NUS had played in supporting students through the difficulty of this year. In particular, he highlighted the NUS’s #SaveOurStudents campaign, which targeted the 6 key priorities of students in the COVID-19 response. While some of the demands were met, including increased financial support, others, such as tuition and assessment adjustments to reflect disrupted learning, were not. Aspinall went on to argue that the hybrid model that was eventually implemented provided an ‘effective balance between campus and national advocacy’ and was crucial in precipitating an increase in international student engagement. Incoming Education Officer Chris Hall of Grassroots Independence indicated the need for the NUS to grow in both size and power, so as to better service all students. He argued that the Union needs to ‘get out there and lead action across the states’, to advocate for students rights and prioritise education.
Ali Amin of Student Unity went on to present the Welfare Report, focusing on how best to maintain students financial stability while also fighting exploitation in the workplace. This included highlighting the need for continued income support, combatting wage theft as well as continuing to fight for housing and welfare, drawing upon the work done in organised protests in South Australia. While JobKeeper has been enormously beneficial to many Australians, Ali acknowledged that many students did not receive the support they required, particularly those working in casual positions. Incoming welfare officer Arabella Wauchope, also of Student Unity echoed these sentiments, highlighting her intention to fight to look after students. She highlighted her previous work in the University of Adelaide’s Women’s Collective, as well as student politics, in leading campaigns for student welfare.
The next report to be presented was from the Womens Department, Humaira Nasrin of Student Unity focusing on how best to support women on campus across Australia. She began by discussing the delay of the second edition of the National Sexual Assault and Harassment Survey (SASH) to 2021, and highlighted the need for the survey to be conducted properly. Similarly, Nasrin touched upon the #LetHerSpeak campaign, which emphasised the impact the pandemic had had on domestic violence and abortion rights in Australia and across the world. However, the bulk of her criticism was reserved for the Job Ready Graduate Package, underscoring the disproportionately negative impact the program had on women while simultaneously failing to increase women’s enrolment in STEM. Incoming Unity candidate Georgette Mouawad stated her intention to continue Humaria’s work, while also increasing focus on breast cancer awareness. Mouawad would also push for increased representation and upscaling for non-cis men, arguing that “Feminism isn’t feminism if it isn’t intersectional”
“Dare to act, dare to win”
Queer officers Natalie Acreman of the Socialist Alternative and Dashie Prasad of the Grassroots Independents (GI) were next to present their report. Addressing the successes of the Socialist Alternative, Natalie remarked that they had an effective role in the Bushfire Crisis during early 2020. The GI helped contribute to a number of prominent issues throughout 2020, including working with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Stop Deaths In Custody campaign, police abolition and fighting against cuts from the liberal government. With the premise of igniting activism, the GI believes that in promoting these issues, it will ensure that advocacy remains the heart of a fightback. Dashie Prasad acknowledged the importance of activism through their statement “Dare to act, dare to win”. Incoming candidate Bridge Truell, the current Queer officer of the GI, later followed fighting for the rights of queer people. They lead their campaign advocating for racial and intersectional issues. They further argue that forms of gender and sexual injustice stem from colonisation and as such, a more holistic approach is needed. Truell will aim to address these issues throughout 2021, as ongoing development in this field is needed. LGBTI officer for the National Labour Students, Emily Boyce, further initiated talks in support of queer people through safe housing and mental heath support, addressing the importance of such facilities. However, claimed that any policies which included Queer people had to be in consulatation with those that it directly effects. Emily later remarked on the importance of working against policies that may affect queer people.
NLS disabilities officer Kirra Jackson was next to present her report, highlighting the large amount of work that had been done internally to improve accessibility. This work included creating a Standard Operating Procedure for accessible events as well as organising the 2nd biannual Disabilities and Accessibility conference. She went on to discuss the issues with the federal government’s changes to the HECS-HELP scheme, highlighting the disproportionate effect the 3 strike rule will have on disabled students. Incoming Unity officer Kit Sanders echoed these concerns, underscoring the need for universities to provide more access to those with more diverse needs. Sanders outlined the difficulty she has faced working with her disability without the appropriate support and urged universities to recognise invisible disabilities.
Next to present was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander officer Kya Branch of the Grassroots Independants faction. Branch was quick to point out that while many of the issues facing Indigenous students are ongoing, 2020 had been especially hard for many. She went on to say that “We are many mobs, many nations”, highlighting the lack of Indigenous representation within many political spaces, including student unions. Student Unity candidate and 2021 First Nations officer Keenan Smith echoed these concerns, promising to decolonise the NUS and advocate for autonomous voting for all student bodies. Smith outlined the difficulty many students experience being away from family during lockdown and the subsequent isolation and alienation many had felt.
Ethnocultural officer Vinil Kumar of the Socialist Alternative was last to present his report, and focused on the increased activism of the Ethnocultural Department. The most prominent of this activism was that of the Black Lives Matter protests which erupted around the world following the murder of George Floyd in May. Kumar pointed out the Wollongong based demonstration in June which saw more than 3000 people march against police brutality and indigenous deaths in custody, and claimed that protests such as this are imperative to make change. Incoming officer Maryam Hasanova argued that the election of a Student Unity candidate would be the only way change would be possible.
Update 12/12: A previous version of this article misspelt Georgette Mouawad’s name.
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