Maxim Buckley reports.
The 19th of August 2019 was a historic day for the Adelaide University Union (AUU), its representatives and the students at the University of Adelaide. The air was heavy with anticipation. Right wing members of the board were to raise a motion regarding the introduction of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, a controversial move at the very least. Many argue that the introduction of Western Civilisation studies on campus glorifies colonialist thought while reducing the experiences of Indigenous Australians and other Australian POC.
Security was checking cards at the door. But instead of the usual driver’s licence or proof of age card, they were checking student IDs. The AUU president Oscar Ong had decided that only students of the University of Adelaide would be able to sit in the ex camera session of the board meeting, a rule that certainly isn’t typical. The circulated reasoning for this was that the board feared it may be dangerous to have too many people in the room, but most of those present suspected that it was to ensure that voices from students of other universities wouldn’t be present to bolster the side of the argument Ong and board members in support of the motion didn’t want to hear.
The meeting eventually started, though it was difficult for Ong to quell the chatter in the room. There was an electricity in the air amongst those present, invigorating hot debate. The majority of those present were from ‘Socialist Alternative’, who had earlier that day organised for a flash protest to happen, garnering significant support from those interested. There were also members from the Labor Left faction ‘Activate’ and the Labor Right faction ‘Unite’, who had turned out to show support for the members of their respective factions who held positions on the board. A few stragglers who weren’t subscribed to any faction were also present, with a few being very vocally in favour of what was to come.
The meeting started with Hugh Sutton, from the faction ‘Swipe Right’, resigning from his position as AUU Vice President. When questioned about his decision, he gave the reason that he thought someone with a bit more time on their hands would better suit the position. He nominated his colleague Angus Heaton to fill the position. In response, Patrick Stewart of ‘Activate’ nominated his colleague Tamsin Anspach. The room was once again tense for a number of minutes as the AUU’s General Manager Gary Sutherland organised for the ballots. Heaton was elected 6 votes to 4.
Following this, there were a few significant items put forward in regard to student elections, though they were minor in the context of what was to come.
Eventually, Heaton moved one item we had all been waiting for, to disaffiliate the AUU with the National Union of Students (NUS). This had a number of ramifications, specifically for the Student Representative Council (SRC), a body almost completely separate from the AUU. The disaffiliation would result in several issues for the SRC and students as a whole. However, the major topic of discussion from this motion was the money, $18,600 to be exact. Ong argued that a number of university unions had decided to disaffiliate from the NUS and had been able to put their contributions to use elsewhere. The issue with Ong motioning for this to occur was that he was in effect motioning for the SRC’s budget to be reduced, a budget that is already starved and under pressure. SRC President Ali Amin was firmly in protest of this motion, arguing that Ong had no place to make such decisions. Ong argued that the money saved could be put elsewhere, mentioning the idea of creating a new position of a free financial advisor to students.
However On Dit understands that this motion may have been motivated by politics rather than cost-saving as Amin’s Unite faction has ended its relationship with Progress and joined Activate, Amin claims that this is Progress ‘punishing him’ for not supporting them in the upcoming election.
This seems like a cynical move and is starkly familiar to when NUS was last disaffiliated by Progress in 2016 with the money being redirected to a ‘refugee scholarship’ to try to make it unpopular to argue against.
The motion did carry, with many viewing it as a useless position for the AUU to take given that the money had already been paid to the NUS for 2019. Given that the NUS funding was in the SRC’s budget line, the motion means that the SRC’s budget will be cut by $18,600 for 2020, a large sum of money for a body with very little funding to begin with, especially when compared to the AUU.
Finally, the meeting moved on to what everyone had been waiting for. The Ramsay Centre. Heaton motioned for the Ramsay Centre, stating in his motion that a partnership with the centre would have obvious and long-term benefits for students. At this stage, the room was at bursting point. Ong was desperately trying to keep a hold over the meeting, ensuring that those who were against the motion were given as little time as possible to voice their concerns. Debate, however, was opened up to the floor, with a few members of the Socialist Alternative protest being able to share their opinions, even if it were only for 3 minutes at maximum. In total, 4 people who were not a part of the Union Board voiced their concerns with the motion and one 1 gave support in favour. The mood in the room was overwhelmingly negative. A major concern brought forward by Stewart was that the ‘Ramsay Centre appoints Ramsay Centre executives at universities, they are not appointed by the university themselves’ something that the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) is also concerned about. Right at the height of the debate, the board secretary decided to take a toilet break. This resulted in further informal debate amongst those present, something Ong seemed very displeased about. By now it was obvious that no one was in control of what was happening in the room. The motion, too much applause, did not carry. The reasoning for this was quite simple in nature but the ramifications it holds for Progress as a whole are widespread, and were also present at the SRC meeting later that week. Members of Progress, an allegedly apolitical organisation, decided to abstain from voting. A motion put forward by their political allies and seemingly fully supported by their Union President, given the way he treated those who were for the motion compared to those who were against, was too risky to vote on officially. The same happened at the SRC meeting later that week. Rather than put their support for or against something, they preferred to abstain. Perhaps to save their own skin. Perhaps because they didn’t have the time to look into the issue. Perhaps because they were sticking to their apolitical philosophy. Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. What truly shone through that night was that they couldn’t back their own party.
Finally, the night ended with the Union Board moving in-camera, something that apparently isn’t atypical of the 2019 Union Board. Ong started out the night by stating he decided to hold the meeting ex-camera for the sake of transparency. Once the meaty issue was dealt with, transparency was no longer the talking point on Ong’s lips. He wanted to get back to the way he’s been running the union the entire year, by stifling any form of transparency and wider debate from the student body.