SRC President Ong uses authoritarian measures to silence debate
Words by Nicholas Birchall
Editor’s Note: I would like to point out that at several points throughout the meeting, attempts from myself to ask questions in my capacity as editor of On Dit resulted in my microphone being muted by Ong.
In moves that shocked many present, last night, newly appointed SRC President Oscar Ong engaged in what many present at the meeting have described as “unconscionable, and completely inappropriate behaviour”. With some labelling it as a “blatant abuse of power”.
Ong at several points throughout the meeting, amidst heated debate on motions, muted several members of the SRC who attempted to speak to motions or object, using his privilege as meeting chair and Zoom party host.
This came to a head when General Councillor Ben Foster referred to “the right” in his speech, and their inaction on the “corporatisation of the university”. Foster was named for a third time by Ong, and was subsequently removed from the call. Ong cited that Foster has “personally attacked” another member of the SRC in his speech. This came after Foster had been named twice previously for disobeying Ong’s guidelines for speaking length.
On Dit would like to note that strict speaking lengths were not consistently enforced by Ong, with members of Ong’s own faction, Progress, often allowed to speak for longer than the stated limit.
Members of the SRC who attempted to object against Ong’s actions were muted.
Subsequently, Ong relinquished chair to General Secretary Isaac Trumble, at which point Ong delivered a lengthy and scathing criticism of Environmental Officer Ahmed Azhar and the policies of Azhar’s faction Climate Action, to which Ong referred to as Azhar’s “Socialist friends”.
To directly quote Ong to Azhar: “How many years have you gone without making a positive change to [sic] students? Everything I have outlined in my report has happened because I have good working a relationship with the university…We have made more changes than you have ever done in the SRC.”
An objection was made by GC Darcy Hermsen, urging Trumble to name Ong for “personally attacking” another member of the SRC, to which Trumble refused, citing that he did not believe Ong had personally attacked another member.
Following this, Trumble passed the chair back to Ong. Ong subsequently put item 7.9 on the agenda to an immediate vote. He refused to allow any member of the SRC to speak to this motion, or clarify what they were voting on, muting the mics of councillors Hermsen, Azhar, Zimmerman, SchamSchurin, and Etienne.
During emergent business, Ong proceeded to allege that Azhar, Foster, and Zimmermann had leaked “sensitive information” to On Dit, regarding the Vice Chancellor continuing to be paid while on leave. He further suggested that as a result of this, the three in question were now barred from further SRC consultation with the university, inviting them to resign if they objected to this.
Following the official close of the meeting, On Dit was afforded the opportunity to ask the SRC several questions.
When asked about not naming Ong for the same offence Ong had named Foster for, Trumble stated different chairs had the ability to interpret the rules as they felt necessary. On Dit asked that regardless of having multiple individuals chair a meeting, shouldn’t precedent on interpretation of a specific rule should be maintained within the same meeting? Trumble rebuked that the circumstances were different.
On Dit then questioned Ong as to whether he believed that it was accurate to categorise Foster’s comments, referring to “the right” as a “personal attack”?
Ong replied: “Look, I’ve given you the answer you deserve”, and proceeded to end the Zoom call.
On Dit has contacted Ong subsequently asking him to substantiate his claims that Zimmermann, Azhar and Foster had leaked “sensitive information”, as well as to clarify if his executive power allows him to bar elected student representatives from attending SRC/University consultations.
Ong has been unable to substantiate his claims, nor provide comment on the extent of his executive power.
Ong has also been unable to provide comment on whether he intentionally quoted former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his response.
Speaking with members of the SRC privately after the meeting, several expressed their concern with Ong’s actions, with one member referring to them as a “full frontal assault on student democracy”. Another stated that they “[found] his actions disgusting and not in the spirit of student cooperation.” An SRC Office Bearer stated that they believe “there [are] a handful of councilors who are letting political ideologies stand in the way from having fair and open conversations.”