Amelie Vanderstock responds to a letter in last weeks Honi

Unfortunately, Harry Stratton needs to master the humble Google search engine before announcing ‘I tend to research my claims.’ Indeed, the Kimberley Land Corporation initially voted 60% in favour of the LNG processing plant going ahead in the Kimberley region. That must have appeared in the first search option. However, Harry, I’m sorry to inform you that quite a great deal of supreme court level corruption has occurred on the part of the WA government on this issue.

Prior to the vote, the Goolarabooloo/Jabbir Jabbir people had been threatened by the WA Government that if the Kimberley Land Council voted against the LNG proposal their land would be compulsorily acquired, the project would go ahead anyway, and they would not receive the compensation package which would arrive if they voted ‘yes’. Surely, such threats entwined in a ‘democratic’ vote is evidence of corruption?

Yet with such threats to land and livelihood, only 60% of the indigenous representatives voted yes. That’s not exactly an ‘overwhelming vote in favour.’

In September 2011, after Walmadan (James Price Point) had been confirmed as the exact location of the gas hub, traditional owners from across the Kimberley denounced the Kimberley Land Council as their legal entity and announced their staunch opposition to the project. The Goolarabooloo people even went so far in their opposition of the project to invite Sea Shepherd Conservation Organisation, amongst other ‘professional protestor friends’ to join them on their land, in their fight. Does that sound like the actions of people who wanted the project to ensue? Community campaigning then took form as Indigenous elders and community members set up a blockade at Walmadan to stop the destruction of their lands and of their songlines. The Lurujarri Heritage Trail follows part of a traditional Aboriginal Song Cycle which goes directly through Walmadan. I’d agree that those traditional owners ‘know a damn sight more about where their songlines are’ ‘’than the both of us.

Evidently, indigenous communities of the Kimberley are not a homogenised mass and there were those in favour of the project due to its economic benefits or otherwise. But making an ‘indigenous benefits package’ contingent on the project is evidence that State and Federal governments are still withholding from remote indigenous communities, and using autonomy as a bargaining tool. I feel quite comfortable labelling that as corruption. Is it not a repetition of ‘paternalistic policies of the past’ when indigenous Australians are forced to compromise their lands, their beliefs and their heritage in order to gain the economic and social support that every other Australian living in cities across the country receive? It’s really really easy for ‘inner city trendies’ such as ourselves to argue within the lines of a student newspaper. It’s harder to sustain solidarity when complex questions of environmental and social justice are playing out in the real world. Community campaigning in the Kimberley demonstrates the coming together of not just ‘professional protestors’, but everyday people for intersecting reasons. Whether they feel personally afflicted or no, they choose to fight corporations to save the land of a peoples for generations to come. Hopefully the rest of the country agrees that autonomy and justice to indigenous Australians is long overdue.

Amelie Vanderstock writes an open letter to the student protester

Dear Students on the picket fence,

We are all at university to learn. We are able to do so because we are fortunate and intelligent enough to be to here, to expand our minds and think about the ways of the future. We hence understand that academic freedom, ant-discrimination laws and job security are fundamental to an equitable, quality teaching and learning environment. We can’t possibly disagree with these endeavors. But, we still allow ‘political neutrality’ or fear of short term academic disadvantage to stand in the way of our value for a worthy and fair education institution?

Striking is a polarizing choice. There is no politically neutral ‘grey zone’ when it comes to crossing a picket line.
It is easy not to go to class when our classes are cancelled. That choice is made for us by our lecturer who is striking in solidarity with a majority union vote to stop University operations.

The choice comes when our classes are running. Perhaps, like me, you are of a faculty such as science, where university corporatization is less threatening because it is more ‘economically profitable’. As such, these staff may feel less personally endangered, so choose to continue teaching. But although these subjects are vital, they need not run at the expense of future working conditions of all staff on campus.
Still, as students who value our education, concerns with missing valuable classes cannot be overlooked. Unrecorded lectures, compulsory tutorials, assessable laboratories…we feel by skipping these we’ll miss out on core content, or be unfairly disadvantaged.

The Vice Chancellor capitalized on these concerns when sending every student an email painting the strikes as an “inconvenience” to our studies. Of course administration wishes to isolate students and staff when they are the very body placing the educators, and quality of our education at risk.

But even the Vice Chancellor’s debasing email cannot mask our right as students to support the strike:

“No student will be penalized if their class does not take place or if they are unable to attend their class”

Striking is a legitimate reason for being unable to attended class. We cannot be penalized.

The SRC is here to support you make the choice not to cross the picket line. If you feel you are being unjustly disadvantaged, the SRC Case Workers can help you. Email help@src.usyd.edu.au  or come see us in the SRC office (Basement of Wentworth building).

The SRC values your education as you do, and hence asks all students to choose to stay home, or join the picket on an NTEU strike day. If the University continues to refuse negotiation with the NTEU on fair teaching conditions, there will be another.

To cross or not to cross a picket line is an active, polarizing choice, and we ask you to choose to act in solidarity with your teachers.

University Investments called to account

University. For me? Research. Usyd! Apply. Accepted. Registration. Complete. O week. Free stuff. Too much guarana. Timetable?  Workable. First class? Found and attended! Congratulations, our university education begins. But let’s back track a second. What was it that made us choose Sydney University in the first place?

Is it the 160 year old sandstone buildings that makes us feel as close to Hogwarts as we can be without a wand? Is it the ‘student life’ so sought after? Is it the abundance of lecturers with academic freedom for quality teaching? Is it USYD’s forward research into a sustainable future? Is it the social justice initiatives that such an internationally renowned institution has the capacity for, which makes us as students feel a part of something worthwhile?

While USYD does carry a certain rep for historically derived prestige and bustling student life, I’m willing to guess it wasn’t the later justifications. Perhaps these aren’t always at the forefront of our minds- after all its arguable that the connection between research, investment, education and the outside world is intentionally mystified. But as we witness the cutting of staff on financial grounds alongside a little research into where this capital goes, academica, sustainability or social justice cannot be why we chose USYD. Simply because these reasons would be inaccurate.

We as students are implicated in an institution who’s ‘Investment and Capital management’ (ICM) department’s objective is to  “enhance the overall wealth and fiscal capacity of the University through the adoption and implementation of investment and capital management best practice.” No mention of ethical or sustainable ventures in USYD finance. So what are our investments and who are the investors?  These speak loudly to the interests of our institution. To name three;

  • ANZ, the bank on our student cards, is also the funder of $20 million to companies expanding the coal industry in NSW and QLD. Companies including Rio Tinto, Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Whitehaven which are remembered for oil spills and encroachment on farms and state forests. Surely an ethical investor would reconsider partnerships with socially and environmentally unsustainable fossil fuel projects?
  • BHP Billiton donates a subsequent slice of the $13 million pie to finishing bio-molecular/chemical engineering students. While these grants give futures in the work force, isn’t our university constraining our opportunities for development in sustainable industries?
  • Nuclear weapons – Sydney University invests $2 million into 15 companies that manufacture and manipulate nuclear weaponry. On what grounds can we justify an education institution funding nuclear warfare?

USYD investments don’t stop financially. Our new chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, is the current director of AGL (known for its propagation of coal seam gas, a socially and environmentally unsound fossil fuel). She is also the former director of the conservative think tank, The Centre for Independent Studies, known for libertarian views on education as a business rather than a quality learning experience. Appointment of leaders with such vested interests again question what USYD really is invested in.

We, as students, are implicated in this system. This is where our fees and SSAF are pooled. But more importantly, these interests fuel our education. This feeds into the centers established, the direction of research, and the scholarships/grant options we receive for our hard earned years of study.
So although it may not be at the forefront of our minds when we choose our institution, our courses or our timetable… maybe it should be?

Want more information? Lock the Campus is a nation-wide campaign looking into investment relationships between university and the Coal/CSG industry.

Visit lockthecampus.org.au to find out more