(and the NUS probably isn’t)
By Nicole Gismondo:
- They eat paper
In what is probably the most secretly coveted tradition of the National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference (natcon), people eat paper, they chase after people to eat the paper, and this year even tackle them to the ground, to eat the paper. Now this sort of makes sense. The first thing you need to know is that motions are written on pieces of paper, then signed by each faction that approves, then taken to the business committee that decides whether that motion is debated. If there is a policy such as one that is pro-trimesters, which your faction thinks are categorically awful, and not worth discussing, then eating it fulfills your moral compass. To do this however, involves somehow getting it off the chair to eat it, or in the case that you are the chair, just eating it yourself. However, sometimes people are just a bit hungry and it goes way overboard, so in reality, it just means either ordinary hungry, or power hungry people are getting their way, and it often plays out in quite a spectacle.
- It has its own time-zone
Now stay with me here, just because it was in Waurn Ponds this year doesn’t make me say this. It’s because the conference never or rarely starts before midday. My theory is that there is no breakfast provided, so instead, lunch (breakfast, 8am) is at midday, conference starts at 2pm (a respectable 10am), dinner is at 7pm (late lunch at 3pm), and ends at up to 2am (which is actually only 10pm), followed by a dinner of suspect alcoholic punch and coping mechanism alcohol.
- You can’t leave
See if we could return to normal society, it wouldn’t be an alternate reality. Natcon is a place you really have to commit to, in some cases there isn’t even an opportunity to leave conference floor to go to the bathroom, due to quorum restrictions. Meanwhile, most participants drink away their sorrows, hoping that the headache might return some normality to their lives.
- One must yell to be heard (or face yelling and not be heard)
It’s true, unless you are pronouncing “I’m a proud member of Student Unity,” yelling at the top of your voice, (or actually getting emotional,) people won’t hear you. In fact, it’s more than likely they’ll just rudely chatter over you. Alternately, it is the habit of the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) faction to simply yell throughout your speech, to prevent you speaking on things they are opposed to. Or if you are a Liberal, you won’t even get to the podium, due to their strong protest.
There is one caveat to this rule (and it is pretty weak, depending on what you’re speaking on), if you present as a ‘first time speaker,’ but you only get to use that card once, so use it well.
- You cant film it, so did it even happen?
The factions tend to keep a tight handle on the visibility of their alternate reality, as to them it is a true gem I’m sure. Every single year there is a motion to ban filming, and every year it has passed.
If it wasn’t for Opus, Honi Soit and Farrago’s sneaky clips, I wouldn’t be certain that week of my life even existed.
- Seemingly arbitrarily selected people get elected
And at the end, when it’s all over, you endlessly fill out a seemingly arbitrary number of ballots, for positions that largely end up uncontested, or were never really a contest anyway. The legendary backroom deals are the only way into the inner circle, and for the factionless, this means there can be no engagement at all.
This is nowhere near Australia’s treasured democracy, which is why this is truly an alternate reality.
However, the National Union of Students (NUS) remains the only peak body representing all students across the nation. Despite the National Conference being truly cooked, the NUS has the capacity to fight fee deregulation at a national level, rather than each campus fighting it on their own. Whatever the natcon mythology, the NUS has national legitimacy to lobby governments, hold protests and be a voice for students. Despite disaffiliation across the board, many National Office Bearers work above and beyond expectations to achieve outcomes for students.
Of course, I also left out the good bits of the National Conference. We are embarking on a new education campaign to combat fee deregulation before it even comes up again. Countless people were first time speakers and smashed it. Good (progressive) Liberal policy was passed despite SAlt’s protest.
In short, the NUS is capable of great things, and with some reform (of natcon, please!), I think it *could* get there.
Editors Note: Nicole Gismondo is a member of the National Independents Faction, and attended her first natcon this year. Nicole is also an elected editor of the W’SUP for the 2016/17 period.