'Health Before Profits’ motion an unwelcome distraction from ANUSA’s positive work and capacity to make a difference

ANUSA has been hard at work throughout the ACT’s COVID-19 lockdown. From achieving the return of CRS/CRN and a delayed Census Date, to reallocating funds to desperately needed emergency support grants, the ANUSA team has put tireless work into achieving these victories that provide tangible relief and assistance to students doing it tough.

This success is undeniably praiseworthy. The passage of the ‘Health Before Profits’ motion at ANUSA’s most recent Student Representative Council meeting is not.

 The passage of this motion from the leaders  elected by ANU students to represent them and their needs summarises the very reason why so many students at this University are so disillusioned with our student union: this motion simply doesn’t achieve anything. It is outside of the responsibilities and mandate that ANUSA representatives are elected for, and only serves to further alienate the ANU student body.

To begin with, it is important to address what exactly the motion passed by the SRC actually sets out.

First, the motion states that ‘ANUSA endorses the national Health Before Profits campaign and supports an elimination strategy that aims for zero COVID transmission in the community.’

Second, ‘ANUSA opposes the Morrison and Berejiklian campaign to open up the economy according to the four-phase plan and “live with the virus.”’

Third, ‘ANUSA calls on Chief Minister Andrew Barr to continue to support a COVID elimination strategy and opposes any move to further open up before community transmission has been eliminated.’

Fourth, ‘ANUSA demands state governments implement proper lockdowns in areas where there are active outbreaks, including closing non-essential businesses and keeping schools closed until it’s safe.’

Fifth, ‘ANUSA demands an increase in the amount and accessibility of income support payments, regardless of visa status. We need to pay people to stay at home.’

The motion concludes by stating that ‘ANUSA will sign on to the NSW Lockdown to Zero campaign statement, publish this statement on its Facebook account, and use its social media to promote Health Before Profits campaign events.’

ANUSA’s passage of such a motion is deeply problematic for a number of reasons.

This is a motion so detached from the reality of both the COVID-19 situation nationally and in the ACT, and that of ANUSA’s political influence. COVID-19 cases are on the rise across the country, despite months of lockdowns. In the ACT, even with our very good compliance, cases continue to increase. There is simply no public appetite after months of restrictions to return to an elimination strategy at this point in time, particularly as vaccination numbers climb, which is promising. An elimination strategy would of course be ideal, and it’s what we as a nation would probably have striven for if it weren’t for the significant failings of both the Federal and NSW Governments. But we’re in the situation we’re in, and now, no feasible path to eliminate the virus exists without a total shutdown, which would be ludicrous after months of restrictions already being in place. Even the strictest of lockdowns in Victoria have failed to halt the Delta strain.

Yet, ANUSA ‘demands state governments implement proper lockdowns,’ and ‘opposes any move’ to further open the ACT? What does this seek to achieve? Andrew Barr will not be changing his plans to move the ACT into lighter restrictions because ANUSA says so. Considering the COVID-19 situation, it is not only totally unrealistic for ANUSA to call for such measures as they do in this motion, but it is vastly overstating its own power, and is missing the entire point of its role: to represent and improve the lives of ANU students.

This motion does not even adequately reflect what the vast majority of students want. It is safe to say that most students want to get out of lockdown as soon as possible. A safe easing of restrictions is of course essential, but is a return to a nationwide elimination strategy really what ANU students are asking for? And are they really asking their ANUSA leaders to advocate for one, with their limited political influence?

ANUSA should by no means be an apolitical institution. ANUSA should be political, it should be progressive, and it should be activist. ANUSA-led protests surrounding SASH and safety on campus are critical. As is fighting for the National Health Co-op, and demanding ANU divest from fossil fuels. These are issues specific to ANU students, and ones that seek to make this campus a better place. But is this motion really doing this?

ANUSA’s voice could be better served in so many other ways relating to COVID-19. Why is ANUSA endorsing this unrealistic campaign for total lockdowns and elimination when we are so far down the path of opening up the nation already, and when the real key to fighting COVID-19 now is vaccination? Shouldn’t ANUSA be using its influence on campus to advocate for ANU students getting vaccinated? Surely this is a more effective and relevant use of ANUSA’s time than passing vague motions ‘demanding’ our leaders change the national COVID-19 strategy.

A scouring of the official ANUSA account’s Facebook posts for the month of September shows one single post about the COVID-19 vaccine, and it’s a shared post from PARSA. Yet, with so much misinformation and confusion surrounding vaccines, surely ANUSA could be doing more to encourage ANU students to get vaccinated, or provide information about vaccines?

The Health Before Profits motion passed by ANUSA, and its ensuing promotion on ANUSA’s social media, is an unwelcome distraction from the proper work and advocacy that actually helps students that ANUSA should be engaging in. The fifth point of the motion, urging an increase in support payments, is certainly relevant to students. But why waste everyone’s time passing an ultimately highly idealistic motion demanding a stricter lockdown no students really want, when there is real work that can be done? ANUSA should be a political and activist institution, and it can make a difference, but this is a misguided use of its time and energy.

 

Ben Harms is an ANUSA General Representative-Elect for 2022.