Smoke, Mirrors, and the Consulate
Words by anonymous
Recently, the Chinese Students Association was disaffiliated from the Adelaide University Union. The reasoning given is that the club failed to follow the union rules including record keeping and a democratically elected executive. However, in the context of current international politics, and the mud fight that is student politics, ulterior motives must be considered.
Clubs are a mechanism of the Union, with most clubs operating in affiliation to the AUU. There are exceptions, namely the Adelaide University Engineering Society, who operate external to the union, but for most clubs, union affiliation is essential. Disaffiliation means losing access to union assets, grants, and support.
The disaffiliation of the CSA massively restricts the ability of Chinese students to organise themselves. It is well known that candidates in student elections operate out of clubs. See the executive of the Labor club for the current and incoming SRC Presidents, or the Liberal club for three board directors. The international students are the same, International Voice is mostly the CSA executive, and Progress candidates are involved in their respective ethnicity-based clubs.
More to the point, clubs can act as voting blocs. Club members are likely to vote for their fellow members. The removal of a club associated with a faction in student elections is directly to the detriment of that faction’s ability to win. Labor left’s club, the Whitlam club, was disaffiliated around the 2018 student elections. One year later, Activate’s NUS primary decreased from 42.4% to 17.9%. Whether the disaffiliation is the cause of this is indeterminable, but to exclude it as a potential contributing factor would be foolish.
Club matters are dealt with by the Clubs Committee. The clubs committee consists of the AUU President, one elected director of the AUU Board, and two elected clubs’ representatives. The current AUU board elected Oscar Ong as President, and fellow Progress board member Stella Woo as the board representative on the Clubs Committee.
Progress’ brand is A-Politics. In a recent state of the union address in On Dit, Ong called himself “the representative of the University’s only apolitical team among other political factions”.
I’m not one to anonymously call out an elected representative, so I will just state the following actions Ong has taken on Clubs Committee.
- Disaffiliated the CSA, the club associated with his largest political foe in student elections.
- Involved in the drawn-out approval process for the affiliation and establishment of Life Choice Adelaide, a club that focuses on abortion and euthanasia from a pro-life political perspective.
- Rejected the application of the Women’s Collective on the grounds of the women’s officer existing on the SRC. At every other university with a women’s collective, there is also a women’s officer on the SRC.
Another factor in the disaffiliation that must be considered is the ongoing situation in Hong Kong, and the continuation of the movement in Australia.
The CSA was openly affiliated with the Chinese embassy and consulate, but so are many societies. Should societies set up to support those of national identities be responsible for their nation’s actions? Or should a society be allowed to remain affiliated on the merits of its community? Do the Hong Kong protests, the trade war, and the actions against the Uyghur’s mean Chinese students shouldn’t be allowed a union affiliated club? Should the AUU apply this logic to Australia’s allies that commit similar acts? The Saudi Student Club remains affiliated despite the forced famine in Yemen.
The ongoing protests in Hong Kong show just what can be achieved by a popular grassroots movement. They also show what happens when you question and threaten a superpower’s authority.
So far, pro and counter Hong Kong protests have taken place at the University of Queensland, University of Sydney, University of South Australia, and more. Displays of Chinese nationalism in the face of Hong Kong’s independence on campuses in Australia have heated up the stirring pot that is the media’s questions of Chinese influence in Australian Universities.
The University of Adelaide has not had either a pro or counter Hong Kong protest yet, and this may also be due to the decreased organising capabilities of the CSA due to disaffiliation. The question here is not whether a political influence exists, it clearly does, it is more a question of whether something should be done about it. Why should these students be impaired in their capacity to represent their opinion on factors affecting their home?
Oscar Ong has taken upon this onus to be the decider of fate, whether he can see the political nature himself is up to us as students. It is his right to call his actions A-Political, just as it is everyone else’s right to acknowledge that these issues are deeply political in nature, and that Progress directly electorally benefited from the disaffiliation.