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NUS: to affiliate or disaffiliate?

For the second time in a year, discussions over disaffiliation from NUS has resurfaced, causing frustration amongst the SRC....

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.

 

Here we go again!

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.”

 

Final comments

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.”


Your thoughts

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 

 

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

It's been a wild few days in WSU stupol....

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.