SRC Vice President – not happy with the reactionary bipartisanship in our Asylum seeker policy

It’s now been 118 days since Christmas. As a good, Jewish boy, you may not have expected this nativity commentary from me. This is not from any newfound religious awakening (cue disappointed Rabbis worldwide), but to emphasise a broken promise.

Scott Morrison, in the midst of a coercive rhetorical kidnapping of a hapless cross-bench, committed to taking all children out of detention by Christmas. A little, merciful compromise wrapped in abhorrent, archaic legislation.

And yet, there are still 227 children in detention centres. 103 on the remote, lawless Nauru. How can this be? Offshore detention centres are no place for children. Or people.

I wish there was at least a little contention about our treatment of asylum seekers, instead of a quiet, reactionary bipartisanship. I saw a small bit of what that contention could look like at this past Sunday’s rally for asylum seeker rights. And yet, not a single major news organisation covered it. These, the same bureaus that report on asylum seekers almost academically, an ethnographic study in inhumanity. I’ve met so many people in just the past week that care deeply about other people’s rights, albeit in different ways: from the presidents of Faculty Societies, to the executives of SUSF’s sporting clubs, to everyone at the rally. I know that these are people who together will stand up for refugee rights. It is only a matter of time.

118 days is a really long time. To be honest, I know very little of the man born in a manger. But from what I do know, He, too, was a refugee.

Look at all that’s happened in the short span of two weeks: our humble PM has consumed two raw onion

Look at all that’s happened in the short span of two weeks: our humble PM has consumed two raw onions (that we know of, that is: others, privately consumed, are as of yet unconfirmed, but I trust The Garter to keep us well abreast of this topic); a former PM (who was, unfortunately, little known for his prescient stance against apartheid), and outspoken advocate for refugee rights in his later years, has passed; and, much to the disappointment of a strange assortment of PMs, yet another bill to deregulate our university sector has floundered in the Senate.

With all that in the foreground, it does not seem that my scrappy, little report is of much relevance. And it’s not. This split ink is rendered worthless. Worthless, that is, without you reading it: interrogating my work, challenging my assumptions and priorities, and thoroughly critiquing my biases. What is relevant—and what I’ll endeavour to do in each piece of mine in Honi—is to make sure you understand what I’ve been doing, where it’s going, and why.

That accountability, and its closely-tied buzz-word of ‘representation’, has been my focus for these past weeks. As I type this, I’m quickly learning the intricacies of Google Spreadsheets, creating a table of all campaign commitments all elected SRC Councillors made, such that we can work collectively to agitate and achieve their goals; spreading the knowledge and advocacy-work of the SRC beyond its Executive. I’m eagerly reconstructing (or, more aptly, resuscitating) the Faculty Societies’ Committee. Composed of all of the Faculty Societies’ Presidents, this is an exciting new opportunity to engage faculties (especially those under-represented in the SRC, ie. all non-Arts faculties) more closely in the work and advocacy of the SRC. I’ve also been working closely with the International Students’ Officer in conducting a review of the SRC’s operations in the International Students’ Lounge in the Wentworth building, and the efficacy of our bookshop. My most exciting project, however, is—undoubtedly—the awareness-building campaign (and associated video) I’ve been working on with the Cumberland Intercampus Officers.

That’s a bit of a laundry-list for you: and there’s so much of each project left to do. This doesn’t need to be a spectator sport, so please contact me any-time at vice.president@src.usyd.edu.au.

Vice Presidents Report

Hey. I don’t quite know how you managed to stumble upon this lonely spread of unread reports from your Student’s Representative Council, but, now that you have, welcome. In these pages for this year, you’ll find a collection of students who are—for sure, imperfect and embarrassingly, commonly fallible—but all of whom are genuinely committed to your student experience, and to the experiences of those not lucky enough to attend our leafy, sandstoney campus. And, hopefully, long after I’m gone from these pages, it’ll be a little less difficult for you to navigate Sydney administration; a little bit easier for you to attend and access all of our university’s opportunities; and a whole lot tougher for this university’s management, and our government, to ignore you. It’s incremental – and it’s not always gripping, or immediately successful – but it’s the efforts of those who organize, collaborate and fight injustice that change and impact political systems. You need not be a hardened political activist, or an anarchic rebel since conception. You can join an SRC collective to get involved with only a few clicks. And you only need to contribute where and when you feel comfortable and safe, and only to the degree that you are able. There is no special activist hierarchy – or a prize divined for whoever is the roughest, strongest, or longest devotee. If we are to fight at our best, it is when we are inclusive and diverse; not divisive and derisive. After all, Back-to-the-Future as an O-Week theme is remarkably relevant – as we are confronted by archaic, divisive, and unjust approaches to contemporary issues in government. This is from the looming specter of fee-deregulation – dredging up the system of decades ago, in which your education was predicated simply on your background—to the offshore detention and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers—indefinitely imprisoning foreigners, purely based on their means of arrival. O-Week is over—and while you still may oscillate between intoxication, induced by fermented grapes, potato-based ethanol and fruity, fruity cocktails, and insomnia, induced by assessments and extensions and everything in-between—spare what you can to fight for a fairer future; one that we won’t feel embarrassed going back to.

We read the Murdoch press. A horrible, horrible mistake.

I made a huge mistake this morning.

A horrible, horrible mistake.

I read an article published by the Murdoch press.

Yes, nothing good can ever come of this, but while I was reading about the recent symposium held by the Australian Human Rights Commission on Free Speech, it popped up on screen and I couldn’t help myself. Needless to say, it was a bad decision and I spent the next 20 minutes hiding in the supply cupboard at work screaming next to boxes filled with Papermate pens. When I finally returned to my desk, I was greeted by Christopher Pyne’s sneering face on The Bolt Report ranting that students are leeching off tax payer’s dollars while a clip of Tony Abbott was rolling in the corner. Keeping in line with this spectacular morning, I am now waiting for Joe Hockey to strut through the doors demanding my first born child.

Now, this “Free Speech” forum was called in response to Abbott and the Attorney General George Brandis’ now thankfully dropped amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act which reads that it unlawful to: “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of their race or ethnicity”.

The draft bill would have removed the protections for offending, insulting or humiliating someone based on the assertion by Abbott and Brandis that this law stifles free speech, with newly installed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson also voicing his support for the amendment. These changes have come up against very vocal opposition from Labor and the Greens, human rights lawyers and over 80% of the Australian public – even Liberal MPs threatened to cross the floor. If this isn’t a testament to the ridiculousness that would have been changing 18C, then nothing is. Conservative journalist Michael Sexton has written numerous articles for the Murdoch Press in support of repealing these protections with an ever present theme of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.

Why would these repeals have been so dangerous? Claiming that free speech should allow individuals to be able to say whatever they please, regardless of the harm and trauma it may cause, is opposed to international human rights law and the slightest amount of common sense, decency and courtesy. It completely ignores individuals’ rights to not be vilified or discriminated against because of their race, gender, class, sexuality or religion. Wilson claims that equality can only be reached through the repeal of Section 18C and he is disappointed the repeal is not being pursued, but in what world does repealing laws against discrimination and hate speech produce equality?

Despite the fact that we think repealing these protections against racial vilification under the guise of ‘free speech’ is absurd, it is easy to see how these upper class, heterosexual, white cis-males think it is a logical decision.

Max Hall and Laura Webster have things to say

Max Hall and Laura Webster have things to say and want somewhere to say them.

If there is a talent that every politician, administrator and rising member of an organisation’s middle management has to have it’s the ability to talk without saying anything.

For every article written and protest held about the changes to university fees (you know: deregulation, larger fees, probably fewer university places and a bonus hike in your HECS debt) Sydney Uni has responded with promises to consult and reason their way through an approach to the changes. This is great. Truly. If deregulation is to become a reality, then a process of consultation that prioritises the interests of students is our best chance of securing changes to fees that minimize the impact on students, particularly those from groups already marginalized in the education system.

But there is a significant difference between talking about consultation and actually doing it.

The announcement last week by the university senate of a town hall style meeting in response to calls for a convocation is a positive first step towards including all groups of the university community in deciding what to do about fee changes. Including current students alongside graduates and staff members is a sensible move on the part of the university. However, there is good reason to be concerned with the lack of detail accompanying the announcement. To make the meeting more than a publicity presentation from the powers at be, students, graduates and staff need an equal ability to speak and argue to that of the university administration. Relinquishing the moderation of the event to students or staff would be an ideal step to ensuring that discussion is meaningful and legitimate.

On that note, a single meeting is not enough. If they are to fulfill their stated desire to consult widely and reasonably with students then there needs to be greater access to the vice-chancellor and his views. Ideally this first forum would lead to several more and the university would establish a means of making written submissions that students and student organisations could expect to be publicly responded to. Without comparable measures the universities lip service to consultation will remain just that.

This is the view that we’ll be taking to the university in the coming weeks, hopefully resulting in a series of opportunities for you and anyone interested in saving public education in its current form to meaningfully influence the machinations of the university machine.

In the meantime, come to the NDA and stay angry.

Max Hall makes a few things clear to Mr Spence

I have stolen these few lines to publicly sing the praises of my co-Vice President, Max Hall, for essentially chastising Vice Chancellor Michael Spence in the middle of a 4 hour meeting with 20 University executive members. In a glorious blaze of glory, Max informed Spence that as long as he refuses to stand up to the Government and Group of Eight Universities, we will continue to question his every move, chant outside his office until he really begins to fight for the accessible and affordable tertiary education that is our right.

Eds: Our apologies to Laura for mistakenly not including this in last week’s edition.

Laura Webster

DO NOT EVER WRITE IN LIBRARY BOOKS. EVER. NOT IN PENCIL, NOT IN BLOOD. DO NOT DO IT. Okay.

A timely reminder, fellow students: the SRC has a second-hand bookshop in the Wentworth Building, near the Food Co-Op and the International Students’ Lounge. There’s a range of used textbooks for different courses, so before you rush into purchasing an $80 political economy tome, check whether there’s an edition at the bookshop for a quarter of the price. I have saved a significant amount of money doing this. Fellow students, shop around to get a good deal on your study materials. Remember, you might not always need a textbook for a subject so ask around – classmates or Facebook friends may have done the course before, and they may be able to tell you whether it’s worth purchasing that copy of Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and Its Ambitions for your modern science philosophy course (it’s not, I gave my unopened copy to a friend enrolled this semester).

James and I repeat this so frequently we should invest in frequent-repeater cards so that we get every eighth repetition free, BUT: THE SRC HAS A FREE LEGAL SERVICE. AND CASEWORK SERVICE. FREE. Academic advice, housing help, you name it – our talented and dedicated caseworkers and lawyers can help you.

Now I want you to take a deep breath – promise me you will do this – and imagine a tiny white piece of cork on the middle of a giant pin board. Think about it for a moment, and forget the ridiculousness of the first part of this report (god, I am so sorry, but I can’t change), because it’s taking a serious turn. Okay, now forget the pin board because it was never relevant to begin with. Physical wellbeing is an integral part of balancing life and studies while you’re at university. Sleep is a huge part of this. Eating well and exercising are also lauded as the pillars of good health, but they’re parroted so much by glossy brochures and daytime television shows that it’s hard to continue to give a fuck – the words and concepts become somewhat meaningless. But there are little things you can do that take little effort and make a difference.

How many of you out there are insomniacs? You? Good, this is for you: I have two tasks for you. Your homework for this week, if you please, is to stretch out as many of your muscles as possible before going to bed. This can be done with a background of soft music, an audiobook, or a bewildered partner. Also, I challenge every person who reads this to refrain from using any screens – laptop, TV, iPad – within two hours of going to bed. The science behind this isn’t as interesting as the results for those of you who have a hard time dozing off. I’ll allow (lolz, “allow”, who even am I?) very brief phone checks (text messages, setting alarms) within the hour before bed. But the rules are clear. No screens.
A note for regular readers of my report: smash capitalism, the patriarchy, racism, and the state. Free education and health care for all. Oh, don’t pretend like you didn’t read my report for your fortnightly dose of alienating far-leftism. You’re not fooling anyone.

Mariana – Joint General Secretary

Vice Presidents Max Hall and Laura Webster Ask, What’s going on?

Does Anyone Actually Understand What Is Happening Around Here?

No, we’re not talking about Sydney Student (although we don’t have a damn clue how it works either); we are referring to the current state of Australian Federal Politics. Ever the studious and engaged political hacks, we have compiled a list of the things most relevant to YOU:

Student’s for Women’s Only Services held a candlelight vigil to mourn the loss of vital women’s services due to the state government slashing funding under the Staying Home Going Home reforms. To date, over 22 women’s only refugees have been closed, with more closures expected. The impact of these closures is indescribable with an estimated 2000 women and children to be severely affected by these closures every year. To add your voice to the non-autonomous student movement against these attacks, visit https://www.facebook.com/swossydney. Special shout out here to the USYD Wom*n’s Collective for all their incredible work with this campaign.

Liberal Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne is continuing what is fast becoming a grand tradition of genuinely having no clue what his own education policies by producing yet another classic cringe worthy moment, when he stated the government should begin collecting HECS debts from deceased students families as a source of revenue. Seriously…who invited this guy?
The University’s Senate Fellows are petitioning the Vice Chancellor to convene a meeting of the Convocation to debate a motion condemning the Liberal Government’s proposed changes to tertiary education and request the University of Sydney to refrain from implementing deregulation of fees. Seriously, read up on this – it’s relevant, fascinating and hilarious. The term “going medieval on your ass” takes on a whole new meaning.

Tony Abbott, the self-titled ‘Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’, has once again proven that he is an ignorant bigot that should never be allowed to speak in public. During a speech on foreign investment, he actually said this; ‘’I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled…”. There are so many problems with this; we don’t even know where to start.

So there you have it, our abridged list. Feel free to cut this out and keep it as a memento of these dark times in Australian politics.

Why Constitutional Recognition is a necessary step

Constitutional recognition is something that Indigenous peoples have been asking for since the creation of said document. Many believe that it is the right step forward to address the discrimination and historical exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The constitution is a long document and there are very few people on earth that have actually read it (because why the hell would you? It’s not exactly light reading).

It is for this reason that sections perpetuating racism and racist policies are still induced and have not been repealed. Some members of the community would argue that instead of constitutional recognition, we should be fighting for self-determination rights. I would argue they are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand.

Constitutional recognition is not just a symbolic gesture; it is a step that finally and rightfully recognizes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia. It is an act that allows both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to address and reflect upon the historical oppression of Indigenous peoples and move towards reconciliation. It also allows the opportunity to add a section that prohibits discrimination based upon race, sexuality and gender. An overwhelming amount of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples believe that constitutional recognition will have a positive impact upon their lives and provide greater historical recognition of the struggles of Indigenous peoples. It also serves as one of the most promising and powerful gestures of repentance and reconciliation. With this in mind, doesn’t it seem logical that constitutional recognition is not only the next step in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, but is also a necessary step?

Despite the social and economic disadvantages we face as a people, we remain the oldest race on earth. We have survived everything that history has thrown our way and we should be afforded the respect and recognition that comes with such a feat.

Laura Webster

“The More You Ignore Us, The Louder We Will Scream

Vice Presidents Max Hall and Laura Webster love protests and hate the government.
First of all, we want to offer our congratulations to the University of Sydney Education Action Group, UTS Students’ Association and the NSW Education Action Network for such an amazing action on last week’s Q&A. The protest was in opposition to slashing education budgets and the proposed deregulation of university fees – this essentially means universities will be able to charge whatever their little hearts want.

Universities are already woefully underfunded and we cannot fathom what will happen if further funding is cut. Tutorials are already at capacity, staff casualization is a disturbing trend and academics live in constant fear of being fired at any moment. Do the Liberals care that our education system is failing? No, and the proposed fee deregulation is the final nail in the coffin of tertiary education.

Are we angry?
Yes.

Do we have a right to be?
Absolutely.

The Q&A protest achieved its goal of publicly broadcasting the discontent and frustration university students feel with the Liberal government. We have been constantly silenced, policed and downright bullied and, in the immortal words of Twister Sister, we’re not going to take it anymore. The only means we have of getting our message to the wider community is through media coverage and public protest and actions. Students are growing more concerned, discontent and furious as the government continues to obliterate our rite to a quality education.

Abbott and Pyne would have us think we are in a budget crisis. The fallacy of this is apparent to anyone capable of noticing that the OECD rates us among the strongest and most secure economies. How can the federal government justify slashing education funding and then purchase $12.4 billion worth of fighter planes? If the ‘budget crisis’ is as dire as the government want us to think it is, why can’t these funds be instead spent on things we actually need like improved public health care, repairing infrastructure and funding quality and affordable education at all levels?

As long as the government continues to wage war against tertiary education, we will continue to protest. The more students you anger, the louder we will become.
However we will take one piece of Pyne’s advise: as we are both students and tax payers, we will be sure to send each other flowers and chocolates as a thank you for funding each other’s tertiary education.”

Cheers!