For the second time in a year, discussions over disaffiliation from NUS has resurfaced, causing frustration amongst the SRC.
In March this year, during the fourth meeting of the Student Representative Council (SRC), a major point of interest was regarding whether Western Sydney University would affiliate with The National Union of Students (NUS).
The NUS is the representative body that advocates for the rights and interests of students around Australia. This includes campaigns regarding sexual assault and harassment, climate change, student welfare, funding cuts to higher education, and many more.
Mr. Frederick Bekker, who is the General Secretary for the 2019/2020 term, put a motion forward suggesting the SRC hold a referendum and allow the students to decide whether Western Sydney University affiliates with NUS in 2020.
The agenda item outlined that NUS had been a focal point during the SRC terms of office. Fred also outlined the significant conflict of interest, as several reps including himself are NUS delegates. Fred, who is also the Campus Representative for Western Sydney University at NUS wishes to see this decision be left up to the students, a decision made by a binding student referendum.
W’SUP archives indicate that Western Sydney University SRC has been affiliated with the NUS since 2016. The then President, Mr. Michael Wright said, “The National Union of Students has come under criticism in recent years. In NSW, voters remain sceptical of unions, and student politics more broadly remains the domain of die-hards and hacks. While these claims aren’t totally unfounded, reform and change can only come from inside NUS, and affiliation gives us the best chance.”
As some of you may recall, this is not the first time that Fred has attempted to push Western Sydney University’s SRC away from the NUS. Toby Hemmings, former WSUP editor, reported on this issue last year. Toby’s article identifies Fred as the representative who requested the special meeting to discuss NUS disaffiliation.
After the meeting Fred said, “With the Chair of the meeting contesting an elected position which requires remaining affiliated, and 4 of the sitting SRC members being sitting NUS delegates, the impartial nature of requiring to make to decision to affiliate comes into question.”
Fred also said NUS had previously lied about their financial situation, claiming the organisation is misspending SSAF money. Fred said there was drunk and disorderly behaviour at NatCon and even claims of threats of violence.
Sarah Cupitt, the 2019/2020 Vice-President of Undergrad and an NUS delegate, strongly opposed the motion. However, this was not always the case, Toby’s article states Sarah was in favour of disaffiliating. Sarah said that 2019 was her first year of student politics and she was aware the NUS had come under criticism in recent years.
“Upon attending NatCon, meeting new friends and sharing all the heated policy drama on twitter, it came to my attention that reform and change can only come from inside NUS and affiliation gives us that power. A power that all students deserve,” said Sarah.
Ms. Cupitt also told me that 30 percent of students are on welfare, which would be approximately 9000 Western Sydney University students who are receiving some form of government assistance. She noted that as a result of the NUS campaign, students on welfare are now receiving an additional $550 per fortnight for the next 6 months.
During the meeting, a heated discussion took place with Daniel Bonatti, the 2019/2020 Vice-President, Post Graduate; expressing his concern that Fred did not address this issue with the NUS delegates before filing the motion.
Daniel also highlighted that this is an issue for the newly elected SRC to make as their terms of office begin. This was a sentiment that was repeated by various SRC members. Sarah, calling it undemocratic for the SRC to rush this motion on the last day of elections; a decision that would impact the new SRC.This was something that Fred was quoted saying, the affiliation payment of $2,500 was made ‘without any consultation’ of the incoming SRC, back in 2019.
Hollie Hammond, who was present at the meeting as a student observer, said, “I think a lot of reps were becoming frustrated, as Fred insisted repeatedly the proposed referendum wasn’t for or against NUS, but many of them remember him leading an unsuccessful motion to disaffiliate just last year.”
She went on to say, “I think other reps were getting quite annoyed as he kept insisting NUS is too political, as though student politics, higher education, and unions are somehow supposed to exist in an apolitical vacuum.”
Fred said, “I knew moving this motion was always going to be unpopular among the other SRC members and would never have passed. However, I firmly believe in strongly standing up for the students that you have been elected to represent, and am proud to have made a stand for my Western Community.”
SRC President, Mr. Matthew Bojanic, said, “The National Union of Students is an incredibly important partner organisation to the SRC. Its work during COVID-19 Pandemic has been invaluable so far in securing additional safeguards and support for our students at Western, and I feel this speaks to the importance of maintaining a strong working relationship with the organisation.
“The reality is that there are many areas that still need to be addressed during this crisis, including support for international students, and so it is essential that we continue to work together to advocate for all within our student community. As such, now is not the time to be driven by ideology and partisan political views. Now is not the time to even discuss disaffiliation. Because we must work together to overcome this crisis for the sake of our students, and this involves collaborating with the NUS.”
Whether you love or loathe the NUS, what do you think on the matter? Should the SRC start putting votes on the student body? Should we go to a referendum? Would this mean the end of the SRC as their role is to vote on your behalf? Let us know what you think below!
Edited by Shayma Abdellatif