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Dramatic days for SRC: President resigns as union disaffiliation is discussed

The WSU student representative council will discuss disaffiliating from the student representative peak body, the National Union of Students (NUS), at a special meeting tonight. The meeting comes following the surprise resignation of SRC President Naomi Hastings last Friday.The push to disaffiliate comes from Frederick Bekker, the SRC General Secretary and one of the six elected WSU delegates to the NUS. The special meeting was requested following Bekker’s initial tabling of the motion at the last SRC meeting on July 17.

In an interview with W’SUP, Bekker claimed that the NUS does not serve the interests of the students and repeated his claims that the union was “internally defunct” and “a display of ignominy in action.” Bekker also claimed that five of the six Western Sydney’s University’s NUS delegates, including himself, strongly wanted to disaffiliate.

W’SUP contacted the five other NUS delegates to confirm this. Three did not respond to requests for comment. Of the two who responded, Adeem Jiwani declined to comment and Daniel Bonatti stated that he wanted a meeting so that everyone could voice their concerns.

Editor’s note: Following initial publication, three NUS delegates (Vageesh Jhi, Sarah Cupitt and Adeem Jiwani) all went on the record with their support for disaffiliation from NUS. 

Former SRC President Naomi Hastings (second from the left) and VP Education Undergraduate Matthew Bojanic (second from the right) at the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue Out There Summit on July 2.

What is the NUS and why is the SRC affiliated with them?

The NUS is a contentious body with reports that its politically polarised National Conference has been marred by factional in-fighting, and allegedly, physical and verbal violence. In recent years, prominent affiliates such as the Australian National University Student Association (ANUSA) have refused to reaccredit on the basis of a lack of financial transparency in the organisation. Yet, there are limited other options for collective cross-institutional student representation.

Bekker stated that the reasoning behind his push to disaffiliate from NUS is that the money can be better spent on WSU students in other ways. In an interview with W’SUP, Bekker asserted that the affiliation payment of $2,500 was made “without any consultation” of the incoming SRC.

Minutes from April’s SRC meeting show that the decision to affiliate was one made by the previous SRC. According to SRC minutes, the initial cost was to be $5,000 but was successfully negotiated down. In emails seen by W’SUP, the invoice was sent through to Student Representation and Participation (SR&P) on May 16 in keeping with the approved motion. There appears to be no public record of Bekker calling for the affiliation fee to be discussed by the incoming SRC team or for the processing of the fee to be halted when the invoice was sent through on May 16. The discussion to disaffiliate is first recorded as being raised in the July 17 meeting, more than two months and two meetings after the fee had been invoiced to be processed.

Hastings had tabled the motion in the previous SRC in April to remain affiliated. She had also unsuccessfully pushed for WSU to host NUS’s National Education Conference in July. According to sources, Hastings was leading the fight to remain affiliated.

This changed on Friday when she handed in her resignation as president, citing personal reasons. While this has not been elaborated on, sources noted that there had been tension between Hastings and Bekker following the April elections. Hastings did not respond to a request to comment.

Why is there a special meeting of the SRC being called? Will the SRC disaffiliate?

The purpose of the special meeting is to assign an interim president and to vote on whether the WSU SRC is to remain affiliated. However, W’SUP has been informed that Matthew Bojanic, the SRC Vice President – Education (Undergraduate) will be tabling a motion co-written with Frederick Bekker acknowledging the issues with NUS and calling for negotiations with NUS to ensure greater support for WSU equity collectives.

A key part of this motion is the development of key performance indicators (KPIs) that NUS must meet in order to continue receiving the annual affiliation fee. It remains unclear what would be measured to determine the effectiveness of the NUS on campus. Other university student representative bodies have previously floated KPIs as a means of increasing transparency and accountability across campuses and to ensure NSU national office bearers communicate what activities they are undertaking.

W’SUP has been informed that this motion has been pre-negotiated with Bekker in an attempt to guarantee its passing and to appease the calls for disaffiliation. When contacted by W’SUP, both Bojanic and Bekker stated their desire for the SRC to remain within a cross-institutional body for the purposes of collective advocacy for the benefit of students. A key part of this is the designation that Bekker, as general secretary, will be tasked with exploring alternative student representative organisations to potentially affiliate with. It remains unclear whether this motion will be passed, but both Bojanic and Bekker believe that together they have the numbers to do so. This would prevent disaffiliation for now, contingent on continuing negotiations with the NUS.

So… who will be the SRC President?

The special meeting will lead to the appointment of an interim president. As for what happens now regarding the presidency, according to procedure the casual vacancy for the position is to be filled by the candidate from April’s elections who received the next highest number of votes.

This would be Bekker who received 209 first place votes, but as he currently serves on the SRC, he is ineligible. The next in line would then be Mandii Carr who received 206 first place votes, but as she is currently the Vice President Activities, she is also ineligible. The position would then fall to Carl Martin, who received 109 first place votes. As of publication, it is uncertain whether the position automatically falls to Martin or whether the casual vacancy is open to expressions of interest. Martin has not responded to a request for comment.