SRC takes leave of its senses: Motion to pardon AWOL members fails
Words by Felix Eldridge
Report of the SRC meeting that took place on April 1st.
The meeting kicked off at 6.33 with the SRC President Ali Amin commenting that a motion passed at the last meeting regarding leave of absences was passed in the wrong format, saying that it should have been raised during ‘apologies’ or during ‘emergent business’. This was a reference to the General Secretary Patrick Stewart arriving half an hour into the SRC meeting, where he moved a motion mid-way through the meeting as though it was a motion for emergent business.
General Councillor Tom Auld raised a motion to endorse the Palm Sunday marches and to call for the shutdown of offshore detention centres with the immediate transfer of occupants to the mainland. This motion passed.
Auld then moved a motion condemning the Department of Home Affairs’ decision to deny Remi Kanazi a visa. He went on to say: “It’s a sorry state in Australia that the government can ban people from entering the country… This is the third year that the government has blocked a Palestinian speaker from coming into Australia.”
Amongst other comments, General Councillor Michael Brohier stated: “I guess you’re pretty keen for him to come considering he is going to be speaking at the Marxism conference.”
Education Officer Sam Chapman also pitched in, stating that: “Blocking someone for their views is a form of state oppression and should not continue.” The motion passed.
Brohier then moved a motion commending the university for doing a good job during the upgrading process of level 1 of the library. When introducing the motion, he said: “It might be nice to have something positive in the SRC rather than just condemning everything.”
Auld commented: “We shouldn’t get into the habit of commending the university for doing their job.” The motion passed.
During his Presidential Report, Amin enquired why the AUU still tells the SRC how much each affiliation with an external organization will cost, stating: “As a matter of SRC independence, we should have flexibility over how much money we can spend on affiliation. For example, if we have a surplus in one affiliation fee we should be able to use it to pay another. Why do we need the Board to tell us how much to spend?”
AUU Board Director Tamsin Anspach stated that the matter would be raised with the AUU Executive at the next meeting.
During the ATSI Officer’s report, the ATSI Officer Kynesha Temple raised a motion about the pressure on students who live overseas and struggle to attend meetings. The motion would have provided a blanket retrospective leave of absence for any member who had missed a meeting due to cultural or family reasons. The motion also purported to rescind any ‘failures to submit reports’. (This refers to Office Bearers’ obligations to submit reports which, had they missed two consecutive reports, would have been removed from the SRC) Temple went on to say: “Considering they were the first two meetings, we should have some leeway so that we can have a more diverse student experience.”
Amin stated that: “The section about report submissions is unconstitutional, reports are just part of the constitution. Procedurally the concept of a retrospective leave of absence is awful. We have a process for students to send in apologies, it’s a simple procedure. It is unconstitutional, it is non-factual and it is unfair on international students who did attend meetings. You can miss individual reports, we have a clause for that. We should just move on with our job.” The reference to report submissions reflects the fact that, while there is a mechanism for a leave of absence, there is no constitutional mechanism to ‘revoke failure to submit reports’.
The AUU President Oscar Ong then spoke about the motion, citing a long list of grievances. In response to the claim that international students could not attend the first meeting because of the Chinese New Year, Ong stated that since the meeting was on the 1st of December not January 25th, the absence of Chinese international students was offensive to those who did attend. He also brandished an ‘Activate’ how to vote card from the previous student election period and chastised ‘Activate’ members for running on a platform of ‘accountability’, yet showing none here. In response to the claim that SRC members overseas did not have access to their emails, he claimed that the General Secretary sent them emails through their personal ‘QQ’ email service, which is accessible from China.
After citing about ten grievances, Stewart told Ong to be respectful toward the speakers given Ong’s rapid fire pace of criticisms mainly directed at Temple.
The Ethno-Cultural Officer Angela Qin said: “I agree with the substance, but I think that this is not a good procedure to use.”
NUS Women’s Officer Sarah Tynan spoke about the motion, saying: “I think that this is a fantastic motion. We have more students than ever who come from different backgrounds. I think it is offensive to say that this is because people are lazy. It’s because they have a genuine problem. We need to be more inclusive and everyone has their own commitments that we need to work around. We need to do all we possibly can to include all members.”
Chapman stated: “There isn’t really an issue about missing one report. You have three chances to miss reports. The commitment really is one report a month.”
Amin added to the discussion: “In the past, people did miss meetings, even more than this year, but this sort of procedural motion was not proposed. If you send in an apology it doesn’t affect you. People were sending in apologies including people who were in China. It’s not a big deal if you miss one meeting, just move forward and be constructive.”
Stewart chimed in at this point: “I think that the fact that we have spent so much time on this motion only shows that this issue is a real problem. I think it reflects that the SRC structure needs work. I would like to express opposition to the factional attacks in the SRC.”
Brohier noted that: “No one can be stood down if your party controls the SRC because they can just continue to enforce the retrospective leaves of absence.”
An amendment is proposed by Amin to remove everything after ‘families’ in the motion text. (Thereby excluding the leave of absence and report submission issues) Just before the vote, members were informed that members who stood to benefit from this motion (people who missed either the first or second meetings because they were overseas at the time) had to abstain due to a conflict of interest. This motion failed by an equality of votes (6/6)
Just before the vote for the original motion began, Amin stated: “If this motion passes, then Patrick will have to review every apology this year and write a report on it.” The original motion also failed by an equality of votes (6/6)
At this point, Amin invoked the mandatory 10-minute break at 8.45. This is the second time in two meetings that this break had to be used. The meeting resumed at 8.57. After a few uncontroversial reports, the SRC adjourned at 9.12
During the course of the absentee motion debate, observers such as AUU Board Director Tasmin Anspach and NUS Women’s Officer Sarah Tynan, aligned with the ‘Activate’ block, took on unusually active roles in the meeting. While observers are welcome to attend SRC meetings, they are not encouraged to stand behind SRC members, whisper in their ears, put written motions in their hands and then inform the room that the members wish to contribute to the debate. It is equally unconventional for non-SRC members to sit at the SRC table, read out a motion and then ask if someone on the SRC would be willing to move it.
It is concerning that this sort of behaviour, known in the corporate sector as ‘Shadow Directing’, occurs at a grassroots level of student representation. It would imply that SRC members cannot think nor write motions for themselves, which is an affront to the genuine democratic process. While there were other observers in the room at the time, including members aligned with other campus political blocks, only ‘Activate’ members appeared to be vicariously engaging in debate through proxies at the table.
The following people were named for talking during the SRC meeting:
Felix ran as a ‘Unite’ candidate in the 2018 student elections