Union Board Election and the Budget

Dedicated readers, if you were away from campus last week you might not be aware that the most colourful student election, that of our Union Board Directors, has begun. Whilst many are caught up in the rainbow storm of promised change, it’s important to focus on what the Union actually does and what capacity to implement change Union Board Directors have. In the past we’ve been promised everything from large-scale renovations of Manning, Holme and Wentworth, to scores of new food outlets and more bars than you could drink at on a Young Labor pub-crawl.

Be aware that almost no candidate has fulfilled many of their promises in the past. Partly because board directors are not individually in charge of many of the activities of
the Union and partly because directors only gain the institutional knowledge to figure out what can be done once they’ve been elected. Regardless, as students we have a right to vote for the candidates that speak to us. I urge readers to take the time to question the politics and vision that candidates have for the Union, as this is arguably the way they can shape the board the most. Do they see the Union as run by students for students, or do they want it to maintain its current trajectory of increasing corporatisation? The incoming Union Board is also significant in that the CEO of the Union’s contract is up for renewal.

Despite the election campaign, this week is also important as the federal budget will be delivered on Tuesday. By the time you read this we will know what sorts of changes the University sector faces. Regardless of whether or not we are facing drastic changes, it is important to remember that this is only the first budget of this federal government. Changes to the sector might not appear until next year or the year after; what matters is that we keep reminding our politicians of the views of students.

Turning our eye to what your SRC has been doing: Oliver Plunkett, one of the SRC Welfare Officers has been working on a campaign to lobby the university to allow HECS for Winter and Summer School – check it out on Facebook. This is a terrific idea and long overdue. At both UTS and UNSW students can claim these units on HECS, ensuring that they are accessible to all students, not just those who can pay $3000 upfront. Finally, there is an SRC meeting on this Wednesday, 6pm in the Professorial Board Room within the Quad. All students are welcome to come along to hear the motions being discussed and to ask questions of their student office bearers.

What is the Student Services and Amenities Fee and Why do we need to fight to keep it?
On the 1st of July 2006, Australia saw the rollout of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), consequently ending compulsory student unionism and ending valuable student services. On the 11th of October 2011 The Australian Parliament passed the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), a specific fee to be charged to University students for the use of non-academic activities. After the introduction of VSU the breadth and quality of many vital student services diminished, and SSAF has filled that void. Universities have used SSAF for legal assistance, sporting facilities and childcare, as well as student advocacy. The introduction of SSAF has facilitated an increase in student movements all over the country. Similarly it has provided welfare services that are invaluable for students.

At Sydney University the SSAF is divided up amongst six organizations. The SRC, SUPRA (Sydney University Post Graduate Association), the USU (University of Sydney Union), SUSF (Sydney University Sports and Fitness) and Student Services. The SRC relies solely on SSAF for funding, as we have no commercial operations. Through SSAF funding the SRC  is able to provide essential services like legal advice and representation and casework to students for free. Similarly the funding allows student activists to have the facilities and resources to fight for student rights.
While a fee to any student is seen as a burden, the SSAF fee directly gives back to students and is one we need to fight to keep. Without this fee student support would dramatically decrease. Students have the ability to put SSAF payment onto FEE-HELP if they are unable to pay the fees.

With the Liberal Government on a cuts rampage the Students Services and Amenities Fee could well and truly be on the chopping block.

This will be devastating to students. The SSAF provides essential services that students need through out University, as well as giving students a forum to have a voice.
Students need to fight against these cuts at every point, and ensure that SSAF is kept. So when you are paying your next SSAF installment don’t think about the money coming out of your account, think of the benefits you are receiving.

Making Progress Student Carers Strategy and the Disability Action Plan

A lot has happened so far this year in the way of disabilities and carers’ matters and, as usual, this has largely involved behind-the-scenes work. In our capacity as student reps, we are a part of the Disability Action Plan (DAP) Consultative Committee; a group that meets every second month to discuss the progress of the University’s third DAP and an avenue through which members can flag any issues that may become apparent throughout the implementation process.

With five students on this committee, we are establishing a student consultative group to meet outside these meeting times to open the discussion and gather feedback from a broader range of students. We’re encouraging students who have been involved in their faculty’s local DAP to join the student consultative group as well as any other students who are interested in contributing their time and thoughts, so email us if you’re interested.

In other news, we have been meeting with other disabilities student reps from universities and TAFE in Sydney to rebuild the Australasian Network of Students with Disabilities (ANSWD) in the local area. This network will strengthen communication for students between institutions and serve as a way to share information, discuss campaigns and plan events in a unified fashion.

As far as our campaign for supporting Carers in Higher Education goes, we have been thrilled with the interest and feedback we have received through consultations with a wide range of stakeholders both within Sydney Uni and external institutions and organisations. We also have had involvement in the development of NSW’s five year Carer Strategy and are pleased that Carer involvement in education is now one of the major priorities of the strategy. Attending the NSW Ministerial Carers Strategy Summit in late March was a fantastic opportunity to be involved in this process but also to network with various attendees within university, business and government sectors. We’re confident that change is not far away- programs and policies to support Carers at uni are coming, but where they will appear first is anybody’s guess.

Writers Wanted for Wom*n’s Edition of Honi Soit

Hi everyone, hope you had a relaxing mid-sem break. We certainly did, but writing this report we are once-more overwhelmed with the exciting knowledge that in week 12 non-cis-male students of USyd will be taking over all 28 pages of this respected publication!

If you are an avid writer, poet, thinker, tinkerer, artist, creator or doodler and would like to have your voice and ideas in this space then we really encourage you to either submit to the Wom*n’s Edition of Honi or be an editor with our team!

The 2014 Wom*n’s Edition will be autonomous for non-cis-male students. This is a bit different to editions in past years, but means that everyone except male-bodied students, who identify as men exclusively, can submit and contribute to the creative process. The chance to establish an autonomous space in print media is an extremely exciting prospect as it gives us the opportunity to create according to our shared motives, reasons and values as well as remind ourselves and all students that our experiences, reasons, values as a community are actually mostly different and diverging. This is the radical opportunity of autonomy. Its a chance to reinstate, explore and value our differences as people away from the homogenising eye of oppressive and violent structures.

However, we must recognise that autonomy in itself is a structure that works on and encourages exclusion and categorisation. In the past Wom*n’s Honi has actively excluded students who do not identify as wom*n, or who have not had lived experiences as wom*n but also may not identify as “men”. Implicitly, the voices of wom*n who are not expressedly feminine, white, able-bodied, straight have also been silenced. This year we would love to create a publication that does something to challenge each and everybody’s ideas of what a wom*n, or not-a-man might be, and listen to those experiences, opinions, dreams, imaginings, ramblings, celebrations that are silenced at all levels of society, right down to the censorship we partake in of ourselves.

This will never be achieved in a single publication, week or year but if you are interested in this aim or have any idea how we can get closer to achieving it please get in contact with the Wom*n’s Collective, we would be overjoyed, relieved and super grateful to hear from you 🙂

We need all the writing, art and ideas we can get!

If you are interested in any of these opportunities, or our new non-autonomous book club, or just curious about what Wom*n’s Collective does, please send us an email at: usydwomenscollective@gmail.com.

Best wishes for Week 9!

It’s time to FIGHT the cuts to Higher Education

The Commission of Audit released last week was the stuff of nightmares. It recommended increasing student fees by 34%, lowering the threshold at which HECS repayments start to the minimum wage, turning relocation scholarships into loans, and a litany of other attacks on students and higher education.

This was all accompanied by suggestions to introduce Medicare co-payments, reduce the minimum wage, raise the pension age, undermine welfare payments, and a number of other severe measures designed to assault the working class and poor.
We don’t know exactly what will happen come budget day, but it’s clear by now that this government is there of the rich, and for the rich. The fact that the Commission of Audit was released on May Day, the day for the international working class, is telling.

Students need to match the intensity of these attacks in our campaign to defend our education system. We have to oppose any fee increases and Pyne’s plans to move to a US style education model with ferocity. Only a mass campaign on the streets is going to stand any chance of winning against the heartless bastards that make up the government.

The National Union of Students had called for a national day of action on May 21 to start that fight. Sydney Uni students will be meeting at 1.30pm oytside Fisher library for an on campus rally, before marching to UTS.

There’s no time to lose, public education as we know it is under threat!

Pick up some posters from the SRC, join + share the event online, announce the rally in your lectures + tutes – and make sure you and everyone you know is there on May 21!

Mental Illness and help for students

Mental illness is overwhelmingly overrepresented in young people at university and USYD is no exception. Sometimes it manifests in the form of not being able to complete uni work or social obligations. Other times it comes down to being unable to do basic daily tasks.

If you need help, please get it. Keep an eye out for unusual behaviour in friends, like detachment and disinterest in participating in activities they would otherwise enjoy.

The University has Disability Services, which you can register for in order to receive support for mental health issues that affect your studies. Their email is disability.services@sydney.edu.au, and they’re located in the Jane Foss Russell building, next to Wentworth.

CAPS – Counselling and Psychological Services – offer one-on-one appointments with psychologists, and they also have support groups to help you manage by adopting strategies. Their email is caps.admin@sydney.edu.au.

Headspace Camperdown is just down the road, and have free psychologists and psychiatrists. The waiting lists tend to be quite long, so allow for this factor by ensuring you have access to other support if you need it in the meantime.

Here is a short list of some quiet places to sit on campus, mostly away from people:

The high levels of fisher library, around the 900s of the Dewey decimal, the courtyard behind the chemistry building that leads to Fisher Road, the courtyards in Old Teacher’s College, St. Paul’s college oval when it is unoccupied, the giant set of steps next to the law building that leads to Victoria Park, the aesthetically pleasing but functionally useless steps next to Verge Gallery, the entirety of Schaeffer library, and the toilets in the basement of the Holme building.

If you need to unwind, buy a $1 bag of yesterday’s bread from Little Devil bakery near Broadway and feed it in bits to the ducks and eels in the Victoria Park lake. My friends taught me that one.

Remember that if you’re struggling with academic penalties or appeals, the SRC’s caseworkers can help you. We’re in the Wentworth building basement; enter via City Road.

Jen Light is not happy about Tony Abbott’s plans for Highter Education

The long awaited Abbott Government’s Commission of Audit was released on the 22nd of April. The Commission was established by the Government as an independent body to review and report on the performance, functions and efficiency of the Commonwealth government – in essence it was a tool for the Abbott Government to legitimize the reckless and damaging reductions in Government spending they have had planned since opposition.

The commission gave recommendations that if followed though, will be devastating for not only for the wellbeing of the Nation – but will absolutely destroy the tertiary education sector as we know it.

From the recommendations of the Commission of Audit, we see findings right from the once widely ridiculed list of desired reforms from the stupidly far-right Institute of Public Affairs. From a Government that before the Commission already singled their intention to fundamentally change the programs that make Australian higher education sector one the most accessible in the world.

The destructive Higher Education recommendations are as follows:

  • Decrease Commonwealth contribution to higher education costs from 59 per cent to 45 per cent and increase the student share from 41 to 55 per cent
  • Deregulation of university fees.
  • Increase interest rates on student debt.
  • Graduates repay HELP debt once they earn the minimum wage ($32,354).
  • Abolish all Commonwealth vocational education and training programs including support for apprentices.

This is the time to send the Abbott Liberal Government a message. We will not stand for cuts to education, for increased burden on students, and for ELIMINATING ACCESSIBILITY TO EDUCATION!!

Your SRC is ready to fight the implementation of these appalling recommendations and will be closely watching Abbott and Hockey’s first budget, due next week. Education is a right, quality education is a right, and we are ready to defend it.

Enviro Collective Campaigns

The enviro collective have been up to much eco-friendly mischief the last couple weeks. We had a very successful info-night discussing the horrors of the Maules Creek mine up in the Leard State Forest in northern NSW. We were lucky to hear from three fantastic speakers – Steven Laird, a man with great spiritual and familial connections to the area, our very own Andy Mason from Sydney Uni and Emma Wosson, a sustainability veteran from The Wilderness Society. The mine will destroy a devastating amount of Indigenous forest that is incredibly bio-diverse (396 species of flora and fauna; 34 are critically endangered), as well as disturb important farmland in the area. Whitehaven, the coal company pushing for the mine’s development, was shown by Andy to have dodgy plans for rehabilitation of the site and terrible offset modelling: planting a forest for threatened animals to move to in the next 20 years which will only be in a state habitable for them in 100 years at the earliest.

The almost 600 day blockade up at the forest against the new mine seems strong and a very worthwhile place to be.
We are very excited for May 1st, the National Day of Divestment Action. Look out for the collective on Eastern Ave as we urge the university community to reach out to their banks and to the university itself to divest from coal and gas projects in Australia. This brings us to FOSSIL FREE UNIVERSITIES! You might have caught Amelie as she strongly addressed the Chancellor’s building at the National Day of Action against cuts to education a few weeks back, talking about ‘fossil free universities’. This is an important issue that we are taking seriously within the collective. As the name suggests, we are urging the university to divest from mining companies and other fossil fuel producers.

Finally, we will be going to Canberra in early July for the Students of Sustainability conference and encouraging students to come along. Keep an eye out for more info on this and check out studentsofsustainability.org

If any of these campaigns tickle your fancy, our meetings are Monday 12pm on the Sunken Lawns next to Manning, and we’d love to see you! Feel free to get involved anyway you’d like from chatting on the Facebook page to realizing your environmentalist vision!

Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced

We’ve traipsed back from mid-semester, grudgingly faced assignments that should have been started earlier and are already counting down the days until a real holiday. Between now and then are the exams, essays, emails, extensions, excuses and all other things that start with ‘e’ – including elections.

Oh student elections. This time around we’re electing board directors to the USU, our campus-wide champion of the onesie and marketing focused parent of Manning and Hermann’s. It’s easy to write off the mess of coloured t-shirts and cringe worthy slogans as being the irrelevant noise of student politicians whose need for public validation is matched only by their willingness to promise you anything. This may be (read: probably is) true, but, mess and slogans aside, the process of student democracy and its outcomes should not be quickly dismissed.

Superficially, the first reason student elections are worth caring about is how much you have already invested into organisations like the USU. Last year a quarter of the Student Services fee that you paid to the university was allocated to the Union – in other words $70 per student, just over $3 million in total, is given over to the decision making of those students elected to the board.

Who cares? Well, if one truth emerged from the recent Raue saga it’s that the USU board is capable of spending student money on all sorts of things, including the cost of defending in court a failed attempt to oust the duly elected vice-president of the board. The Union hasn’t disclosed how much was spent in this . An exact figure is almost beside the point, because the example itself is enough to illustrate that the elected figures – yes, with their tshirts, slogan and cheesy videos – are responsible for spending your cash, even in situations when it is unclear why it is in the student interest. Anyone as broke as most students are cares where there money goes and how it is being spent, student elections give us just a little bit of control over who gets to do that spending.

If you don’t care about money, or prefer a principled approach to things, your second reason to care when the ballot arrives is for the sake of student control itself. Long past are the glory days of democratic learning when students were allowed to vote in department meetings. In contrast, it’s not so long ago that the University attempted to wrest control of the USU’s commercial operations away from students. There are worthy critiques to be made of the methods and decisions of student representatives and board directors, but at the end of the day the needs and interests of student will always be best served by their own and can be defended by simply casting a vote.

Student democracy – however inconvenient, annoying or downright obnoxious – should be embraced wherever we can get it, because at least we have it.

Elsa Kohane talks about the importance of non cis-male queer representation.

When I first started here at Usyd last year, Women’s Collective and Queer Collective were almost everything this little queer baby from a Catholic high school could ever want out of university life. However, there is an intersection between my identities that means something is lacking in these two groups; in women’s spaces that hold up heterosexuality as the dominant way of life and think only of the experience of heterosexual, cis-gendered woman; in queer spaces where I’m the only woman in the room, where I’m talked over and dismissed, where casual sexism is excused and the benefits of the patriarchy to cisgendered men are ignored.

Queerkats exists for this reason. Building on the work of a small group of queer women last year who started a Queer Women’s Network, we are an autonomous collective for any non cis-male identifying queer people. That is, anyone who isn’t a cis man (assigned male at birth and male identifying). We want to be a safe, attentive and comfortable space, where issues pertaining to queer non cis-men are actively discussed, prioritised and fought for.

This year ACON stopped printing The Birds and the Birds, an important information booklet about lesbian sexual education and health, and Gender Questioning, an information booklet for Trans youth.  It just shows how marginalised queer non-cis men are, when the largest queer health organisation in Sydney stops catering to us. It’s therefore important to try and make a difference. Throughout the year we will be running campaigns, workshops and skill-shares, creating resources and posters aimed at non cis male queer people, and holding parties and social events specifically for non cis-men.

Our first event of the year, a Queerkat Tea Party, was a huge success. Held in the Queerspace one Thursday afternoon, it was a great way for people with similar experiences to meet and chat comfortably and happily. Delicious tea and cakes certainly helped!

There are still many issues with our male dominated Queer Action Collective, that Holly and I are working hard at combatting, but the Queerkats has thus far been an amazingly successful, encouraging and positive collective, and we hope for that to continue throughout the year and beyond!

If you’re interested in getting involved, contact us at queerkatsusyd@gmail.com or friend Elsa Kohane or Holly Parrington on facebook to be added to the group.