When you are elected to a position in student politics you are knowingly entering into a contract of sorts whereby you represent the student body. All of it, not just the parts you like.
As a mature age student (if I can say that for the hundredth time since coming to ANU) I have never felt myself to be a particularly important part of this community. I am not a postgraduate student, so PARSA is out. I live on campus, so Griffin Hall’s Walter Wing is out. Every now and then there is a mature age ‘meet up’ but mostly we are left alone. Still, I was particularly sad when reading the agenda for SRC 8 to find that there was no movement on providing an event for mature age students during Bush Week. But amongst all the amazing work ANUSA does, my feeling left out didn’t seem very important in the scheme of things. After all, we are a small group, and I am inclined to listen to my anxiety when it tells me I am unimportant.
Then I attended SRC 8. I was already wary after having read outgoing president Eleanor Kay’s final report where she stated that, “as an Association [we] have to stop letting [student media] define what we do”. As a student reporter I can say that this insinuation is something that I have to vehemently disagree with. Student media exists to give voice to the student body and from this humble reporter’s opinion, our news is a means through which we can let the student body know what is happening and give them reason to give a damn. I say this as, from my own experience in a past life at the University of Melbourne, I was more likely to look at Farrago (yes, I am sorry, I was one of those people) for news than go searching for reports and minutes to keep up with student politics. I think student media allows the democratic process to be more transparent because it allows students a look-in on meetings that they are allowed into but may not have the time to attend. Regardless, I went in hoping for the best. This year’s ANUSA executive has put in a year of hard work and letting it all out probably felt good. After all, Eleanor wasn’t the only one to get a little spontaneous in their report.
As the name suggests, it’s the union that represents tertiary students Australia wide, the union that individual universities’ student associations (or their equivalents) may affiliate with, and in doing so, may also choose to pay an accreditation fee. This has long been a contentious issue: ANUSA pays a hefty sum of money in accrediting and sending observers (ANUSA bid for $18,000 in their 2019 SSAF bid for NUS costs according to their OGM 3 agenda) to NUS. On the other hand the NUS’ efficacy and value have been questioned many times. Earlier in the year, the SRC recognised both sides of this debate and passed motions that laid out key performance indicators (KPI’s) that would determine whether ANUSA exited or reaccredited with (and the monetary value with which we’d reaccredit) the NUS.
Ramon Bouckaert, someone with whose politics I have never personally agreed, raised a question about said KPI’s: since the NUS had not met with one of ANUSA’s KPI’s, isn’t it the case we do not reaccredit next year? Following this he was swiftly shut down by the chair, general secretary Eden Lim, without, in my opinion, being provided a direct answer to his question. After later reframing the question he was again given a dismissive and condescending answer, this time by president Eleanor Kay and education officer Harry Needham, the latter of whom specifically added a snarky remark about the Liberal Party. I felt that there was a valid question being asked and that the responses being given were evasive.
The unwarranted bluntness of this response floored me. Eleanor and Harry appeared annoyed that they were having to address this again: during their responses they exchanged glances as if they couldn’t believe this was happening. This is not the first time this year I have seen kind of behaviour at the SRC: earlier in the year, Ben Creelman, who in frustration used inappropriate language, was spoken to in a similar manner by the ANUSA executive at SRC 4. While I in no way excuse the use of inappropriate language, neither can I excuse the dismissive tone taken by the chair during this exchange.
These people were elected to represent the student body, all of it, not just the people who voted for them and here they were treating one of those students as though they were a nuisance. If it was okay to treat Ramon in this manner then I could easily imagine myself or any other student being treated the same way by our leaders and that is not okay. Young or old, Liberal or Labor, we are all students and we are all equal and I can only implore the incoming executive to please, please treat us as such.
Caitland Coulson is a News Reporter for Woroni. The opinions in this piece are hers alone and are not representative of Woroni.
The minutes for SRC 8 have not been published, but agenda and reports can be accessed at https://www.facebook.com/events/489689498200273/?active_tab=discussion