Liam Donohoe

Week 12, Semester 1, 2020

The Students’ Representative Council Offices, in concert with society more broadly, continues to swell with more people and activity. Between Mutual Aid drop offs, protest organisation / resourcing, and a desire to get out of the house, Office Bearers and undergraduates alike have found themselves in the annals of Wentworth once again. And just as students are starting to return to the Offices, so too are activists returning to the streets—I attended a protest, and plans are afoot for more. It was, in all, a relatively calm week, which was spent planning for the storms about to hit our shores.

To that end, protest organising was the main focus of the week. With University’s experiencing a once-in-a-generation crisis generations in the making, students and staff are mobilising so we can defend our conditions and avoid the attacks the powerful seem to be planning. With the National Tertiary Education Union’s Executive selling out to University management and agreeing to a “National Framework” for EBA re-negotiations which will involve at least 15% cuts, it is little wonder we’re urgently strategising. Tuesday saw an open meeting of our Defend Our Education campaign, which aimed to make clear the connection between staff conditions and student learning conditions. By emphasising student conditions and connecting our myriad academic issues to broader structural determinants, we hope academic struggles will serve as a good entry point for engaging more students in the campaign to support staff and fight government negligence.

Not to be outdone, Thursday saw the Education Action Group host an online meeting and panel featuring Education Officer Jazz Breen and USyd Academic (and head of the USyd Casuals Network) Rob Boncardo. With an impressive audience from a few different political perspectives, the meeting made crystal clear how important student contributions will be to upcoming higher education struggles. Discussion specifically centred around the NTEU’s National Day of Action on the 21st of May (Thursday this week), which will involve a car convoy and possibly other forms of in-person protest. The SRC totally endorses the campaign, and will be sending a sizable contingent to the convoy and will encourage students to contribute digitally too! We will also be promoting and participating in the follow-up National Day of Action on the 22nd, which will specifically emphasise the “No Uni Cuts” and “No Deal” demands / outcomes which will be essential to winning this broader fight.

Between these actions, and a few others, it seems not only that in-person protest is back on the agenda, but also that the spirit of rebellion is in the air. On Tuesday I attended a small protest outside the NSW Parliament demanding relief for renters / tenants, which was, unfortunately, quickly shut down by the NSW Police. Despite their hasty and intolerant intervention, however, I did manage to sneak a speech in at Hyde Park amid a small crowd of staunch activists from the Housing Defence Coalition. And further actions are planned in the coming week, including a potential refugee solidarity action.

Protest and long-term structural change weren’t the only thing on the agenda, however. After the small but successful launch of the Mutual Aid delivery program in week 10, the SRC initiated its second-round of drop-offs. It is hard to convey the scale of the operation. Countless bags of hampers, kindly donated by the Exodus Foundation, are piled up in the Gosper and Office Bearer rooms, and filled with extra goodies we’ve received by careful volunteers. Once filled and tied back together, we sort them into different piles to reflect the different drop-off routes we’ve created. Then, after a few days of disinfecting, our drivers come by and load them into their car—we’ve had trips to Darlington / Chippendale, Burwood, Strathfield / Rhodes, Hornsby, and many more are planned for places far and near. And while this process has taken a bit of time to perfect and get off the ground, it is now running smoothly and efficiently. We have so far distributed 60 packs, and we intend to do at least another 40-80 in the coming week. For any students who have not yet received a pack, we apologise for the delay—we are running on volunteer labour and can only process so many bags in a given time frame. Please be assured that we are trying our best to help you.

As always there were plenty of committee meetings to attend. Tuesday saw an Undergraduate Studies Committee meeting, while Wednesday saw both a Student Life Committee and Board of Interdisciplinary Studies meeting. On top of my usual Friday afternoon meeting with key University managers, and additional ad hoc meetings with various staff throughout the week, I have been quite immersed in the University bureaucracy of late.

The next week will see yet more committees, with the Student Consultative, Academic Standards & Policy, Learning Environment, and Orientation Project group all meeting. More importantly, however, we’ll be building towards and then actualising two massive National Days of Action on Thursday and Friday. And with all this taking place amid the USU Elections, and the USU’s own staffing issues, I’m certain week 12 will be an incredibly busy and important week.


Week 11, Semester 1, 2020

The SRC’s Offices were a little busier this week. With broader lockdown restrictions and cultural attitudes starting to relax, this isn’t exactly surprising; between necessity and novelty, there’re plenty of reasons for staff and activists to (safely) duck in. Some were printing flyers and sourcing Calico for political actions. Some were getting files to complete important legal and case work. And many were packing bags and later cars to realise the first round of Mutual Aid essentials pack deliveries. It was, after many weeks of silence and monotony, a welcome and productive week.

Among many important activities, delivering our first round of Mutual Aid essentials packs was the most utile and challenging. A significant logistical challenge, it took a large team effort—involving 5 different sub-teams with specialised focusses—to make it reality. With Secretary to Council Julia Robins coordinating, myself and some others volunteers on Thursday went through each hamper provided by the Exodus Foundation and cleaned / properly prepared them for delivery. In addition to its initial contents—which included oats / cereals, pasta, long-life milk, packet noodles, canned goods, sugar, tea, biscuits, chocolates, and even potatoes—we added extra boxes of pasta and cereal, hand sanitiser, and information about the SRC and our Mutual Aid program. Beyond sanitising and cleaning the bags.

Having been anonymously labelled and sorted into distinct piles for different routes, the packs were picked up by 5 different drivers on Friday and dropped to students who filled out our form. While the process took a while, it is incredibly awesome to see it fully realised. Over the next few days we’ll be accumulating more packs from the Exodus Foundation, and now that we have a bunch of systems in place we’ll be able to distribute them very quickly thereafter. For any students that have filled out the form and are still waiting, we apologise for the delay. Though we have significant resource and labour limitations, we hope to get packs out to all who have (at this stage) filled out the form within the next fortnight.

The deliveries weren’t all that happened on Friday, though. In yet another admirable and successful action, the Housing Defence Coalition Sydney waged a staunch protest against Iglu Chatswood to protest their treatment of tenants and demand rent suspension. With the promised eviction of a tenant avoided, and safe, socially distant in-person protest once again demonstrated, the action was a tremendous success. The SRC is proud to be supporting the Housing Defence Coalition, and will continue to do so as the fight for housing justice becomes even more important over the coming months. I will be participating in and speaking at a protest for Housing Justice outside Parliament House on Tuesday the 10th of May.

There continues to be lots to do on campus and in the University sector, with meetings and protests galore. On Tuesday I attended the second Academic Board meeting of the year, presenting a report which highlighted the SRC’s activities over the last while, canvassed numerous concerns with the transition to online learning, and criticised the government for refusing to fund the University sector. On Friday student leaders had our regular catch up with University administrators. And On Wednesday night Zoom played host to the 4th Council meeting of the year, which was both seamless and politically important, with motions passed on prison abolition, supporting International Students, and a variety of other topics.

Among those topics were motions in support of both the NTEU and No Uni Cuts campaigns, with National Day(s) of Action called for the 21st and 22nd of May, respectively. These days, which many hope will feature protest and industrial activity, will be crucial in the emerging higher education struggle, a battle with existential implications for the sector this century. The SRC and Education Action Group will be building for them over the coming weeks through lecture bashes, open meetings, and other communications avenues. We will also be building the Defend Our Education campaign simultaneously, with another large open meeting of the student body planned for Tuesday.

The SRC also passed a number of motions about the University of Sydney Union, a fellow Student Representative Organisation which has undergone significant financial distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having lost basically all cashflow through their vast retail apparatuses, the USU has been trying to work out a way forward. The SRC condemned their approach to staff employment and incomes in this period, with wages reduced by 40% after most casual staff were already laid off. While I understand the difficult situation the USU is in, and understand that continuing to pay the same amount of staff at the same rate would have brought insolvency closer, there are countless other strategies that could have been pursued and realised before that insolvency deadline. For instance, the USU could liquidate some assets and take out some loans, to push that deadline further down the track. The USU could negotiate with the University for the funding behind closed doors, and get some sort of conditional funding. Or, best yet, the USU could work with the SRC and student activists to incorporate the USU’s funding needs into the Defend Our Education campaign, and demand it from the government and University. The USU is responsible for some of the most important parts of the University experience, and we need it to be well-funded and deeply democratised to do those things well. And while I totally agree that we should focus on demanding that the University and government fund the USU, I can’t accept the USU’s cost-cutting until they’ve at least tried a more open, combative, and unwaveringly pro-worker approach to this fight.

The upcoming week will see more on all these developments, I’m sure. With the USU elections intricately interspersed throughout them, there’s no doubt these debates will be at the centre of many students’ minds. I’ll also be heading along to a few committees, meetings, protests, and live streams, helping the second round of Mutual Aid deliveries get off the ground, and continue to work on Regulatory and Constitutional reform in the background. I hope everyone stays safe, particularly as some of us cautiously wade back into in-person interactions. We’re closer to the end than the beginning.


Week 10, Semester 1, 2020

Another week, another 7 days of at-times monotonous, at-times exciting, but at-all-times abnormal student unionism, as the University of Sydney Students’ Representative Council continues to work from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But like most weeks under these conditions, week 9 proved to be a busy one.

The highlight of the week was undoubtedly Friday’s car convoy protest, which aimed to celebrate and actualise the principles behind the International Workers’ Day, or May 1 / May Day as it’s also known. Without a vehicle or ride of my own I was only able to watch on as representatives from different trade unions, members of various socialist groups, and a bunch of SRC Office Bearers brought the city to a standstill. Rallying around the #NoWorkerLeftBehind mantra, the convoy aimed to draw attention to the economic injustices ushered in by the pandemic. Among other things, protestors demanded government assistance for International Students, an expansion of the JobKeeper and Seeker payments to include more workers, and support for the University sector. The SRC stood fully behind the protests, which at one stage surrounded all 4 sides of the block on which the Liberal Party’s headquarters are situated! Actions like this will be increasingly necessary as we fight for the survival of the most vulnerable and confront the government’s post-pandemic austerity plans.

Spurred on by a similar spirit of resistance, the Education Action Group and SRC held an open meeting of the student body on Wednesday, where students raised issues with the transition to online learning and we finalised our new education-focussed campaign, #DefendOurStudies. While the campaign will sit alongside and have the same end-vision as the broader #NoUniCuts, #NoWorkerLeftBehind, and #NoStudentLeftBehind campaigns, it diverges by focussing specifically on academic and educational issues specific to the University of Sydney. Various issues of this kind will be incorporated under the general #DefendOurStudies heading: among many other things, we will fight for better WAM adjustment procedures, the total elimination of ProctorU, greater support for staff during the transition to online learning, and intimate staff-to-student ratios. Through the campaign we hope not only to address these immediate issues, but also to provide students with an entry point into the battles on which our education quality ultimately depends. To that end, the entire campaign assumes and relies on separate demands around government support for the University sector and maintenance of employment for staff (as articulated in the #NoUniCuts and #NoWorkerLeftBehind campaigns), and so the SRC will continue to look outward and support workers however we can. But in any case, we hope that this campaign will be a more accessible, visible, and effective way for us to address the myriad concerns which are, rightly, frustrating USyd students at the moment.

The SRC hasn’t just been busy with campaigns, however. For one, the Legal Service is about to hire its first Paralegal, offering significant relief to our Solicitors, An and Cade. With the extra time An is hoping to offer more meaningful Visa assistance—stay tuned for more information about that new service, which should save students thousands. For another, our mutual aid program continues to go from strength-to-strength, with donated medical gloves and masks augmenting (and hopefully sterilising!) our already substantial essentials packs. We should be sending the bulk of these packs out this week—keep your eyes peeled! And our Constitutional and Regulatory Reform initiative, bedeviled by the pandemic of late, has recently started reconvening, with a view towards a first wave of reform in time for this year’s election.

But the week was not without its monotony, with the regular smorgasboard of committee meetings plastered across my schedule. Monday saw the ever-significant University Executive Education Committee, while Tuesday saw not one but two Academic Board subcommittee meetings. Not to be outdone, Thursday saw both an Honours Admission Taskforce meeting and a meeting between University management and tenants of various University accommodations, while Friday saw our usual weekly meeting with management. While the details of these meetings are too numerous (and perhaps confidential) to list, the student body can be sure that myself and other SRC representatives have raised student concerns and proposals forcefully and effectively. Indeed, while this type of direct advocacy may at times feel somewhat pointless, and is often quite frustrating, I doubt the University would have implemented pro-student initiatives, like financial assistance packages, WAM adjustment procedures, and reformed special considerations, without it.

More of these committees await next week, alongside further work on the mutual aid and #DefendOurStudies and #NoUniCuts campaigns. I hope all staff and students are taking care of themselves at this time—I can’t wait to see you all back here by mid-semester two (fingers crossed!)


Week 9, Semester 1, 2020

The Students’ Representative Council has had yet another successful (if unconventional) week under Work From Home conditions, and the eery silence of the Wentworth Offices has even been occasionally disturbed by the chugging of printers, dropping of foodstuff, and delivery of Honi.
The highlight of the week was undoubtedly the launch of our “essentials pack” program, an initiative that forms a key component of the SRC’s mutual aid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though the program took time to get up and running—it’s not easy working out how to source and deliver food and essential goods to people—the SRC has been working towards this launch for months. I’m pleased to report that our Offices’ Gosper room is crammed with countless pre-made hampers from the Exodus Foundation and mountains of Pasta and cereal box, more than enough to accommodate the 30+ requests we’ve received. Sincere thanks are owed to countless people, but I want to particularly single out Julia Robins (Secretary to Council), Felix Faber (Vice-President), Priya Gupta (Queer Officer), Klementine Burrell-Sander (Student Housing Officer), Robin Eames, Abbey Shi (General Secretary), Isla Mowbray (General Executive), Paola Ayre (Queer Officer), Liam Thorne, Nina Mountfourd, Simone Morris and Ellie Wilson (Women’s Officer) for their initiative and contributions at various points over the preceding months. Check out the backpage of Honi for more information on how you can help or get help through our mutual aid program!

The SRC has not only been concerned with providing immediate material relief, however — we have also been participating in a number of important struggles for the future of our education and indeed our entire society. The most significant of these campaigns is the emerging No Uni Cuts campaign, which demands full government funding and the abolition of University fees in order to both protect the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and also initiate the transition away from the failed Neo-Liberal University model. As part of Friday the 24th’s broader National Day of Online Action, the SRC participated in two live streams, the first (which featured Lee Rhiannon) concerned upcoming May 1 activities, while the second (which featured Mehreen Faruqi) concerned the role of student resistance in the COVID-19 crisis, particularly with respect to the tertiary education sector.

Both of these activities are intertwined: the No Uni Cuts campaign aims to, among other things, support and amplify the demands of militant rank and file within the NTEU, a demographic which will feature prominently in the May 1 car convoys. Indeed, in my capacity as a member of the USyd NTEU branch I attended their most recent meeting, and voted for militant positions alongside a resounding majority of rank and file members. These academic and University workers—forgotten by the new economy and the government smoothing its creases—as reluctant personifications of the “No Worker Left Behind” demand, will no doubt be prominent figures throughout Friday’s car convoy. The University sector, like the economy in which it is situated, will be neither worthwhile nor fair until the people it affects most significantly also have the most significant say over it. And the only way those most affected—like students and workers—have any chance of a genuine say is through acts of resistance; acts like car convoys, like symbolic celebrations of working class power, like preparations for militant strike action. The SRC is thrilled to be playing a positive role in the campaigns and initiatives that have the best chance at saving our sector and achieving a better University system, and we commit to total solidarity with academics, professional staff, and workers in all sectors.

These big, outward-looking structural fights intersect significantly with the work we have been doing on behalf of USyd students’ academic interests. We intend to make these connections clear at Wednesday’s open meeting of the student body, which seeks to discuss issues students have found with the transition to online learning and assessment. Topics will include, but won’t be limited to, ProctorU, mark adjustment schemes, reductions in courses, and increases in class sizes. These last two are not only of particular and novel concern, with recent reports suggesting the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences will cut one-third of its courses in semester two, but are also intimately linked with various failures of the Neo-Liberal University, including the under resourcing by government, the myopia of the University managerial class, and the profit rationales which have devalued whole disciplines and academic merit more broadly. We hope to package all of these concerns into a broader campaign around academic support and No Disadvantage, which we seek to run alongside the broader No Uni Cuts and No Student / Worker Left Behind campaigns.

Away from activism and mutual aid projects, I’ve also attended a number of the usual University committee meetings, with two Academic Board subcommittee meetings last Tuesday and a Vice-Chancellor Recruitment focus group session on Wednesday. Yet more await me this week, as two further Academic Board subcommittee meetings on Tuesday join an Honours Admission Taskforce meeting on Thursday and an Education Committee meeting on Monday. All in all, it promises to be another busy and exciting week, with Friday’s May 1 convoy and daily deliveries of our “essentials packs” likely to be the highlights.


Week 8, Semester 1, 2020

The past two weeks have been incredibly busy for myself and the SRC more broadly, though the mid-semester and Easter breaks offered some brief moments for recovery and reinvigoration. With COVID-19 and associated lockdowns / economic malaise continuing to cause tenancy, income, migration, it’s little wonder that the Casework and Legal services have been working tirelessly. Indeed, demand has been so high that we’re close to hiring a paralegal to both reduce the administrative burden on our solicitors and free our Principal, An Li, so she can assist students with Visa applications / extensions (saving them thousands!)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the SRC staff for their tireless work in this period. The Administration team, always the glue that holds the entire organisation together, have adapted to new and challenging conditions impressively, with our administration processes as smooth as ever. Similarly, the Publications team are as efficient and comprehensive as ever, adapting to the increased need for a substantial social media presence while continuing to manage and deliver Honi Soit as normal. And Mynsan, our cleaner, deserves special recognition, bravely coming to the SRC every now and then to keep the space tidy and safe for the various Office Bearers, staff members, and executives who occasionally work within.

Some staff have also been going above and beyond their ordinary duties. Secretary to Council, Julia Robins, has been spearheading the SRC’s mutual aid initiatives alongside OBs and other students. I am really pleased to announce that their diligence has paid off — we now have over 500 packs of Barilla pasta, hundreds of cereal boxes, over 1,000 medical masks, and—most importantly—an emerging partnership with the Exodus Foundation, who we are hoping will supply any remaining goods. We are hoping to (hygienically!) arrange these goods into “essentials packs”, which we’ll then distribute to students over the coming weeks. We have already begun circulating a form for students interested in volunteering — if you would like to complete this form yourself, feel free to ask me for one at president@src.usyd.edu.au. We will soon be circulated a similar form for students in need — keep your eyes peeled!

Staff diligence also explains why last Wednesday’s Council meeting was a surprising success. No doubt the first ever SRC meeting to take place entirely online, at one stage over 60 different undergraduates were on the Zoom call, with quorum comfortably achieved. While there were some minor technical issues and awkward moments throughout, many aspects of the meeting were indistinguishable from an ordinary one, and debates were not only well-managed, but also as interesting and compelling as ever. All in all, I’m quite chuffed to have chaired the first ever online Council meeting, and think its success raises questions about the use of Zoom for meetings in the post-COVID-19 world.

The SRC has not only been managing its internal affairs well, but also been thoroughly engaged in the abundant struggles on- and off-campus. I am proud to report that at the start of Week 7 the University announced that it would be embracing many of the academic support measures we’d been publicly and privately demanding over the past few weeks. These measures include multiple mark-adjustment procedures (Within-assessment mark adjustment, Post-assessment mark adjustment, and computation of a COVID-adjusted end of degree WAM), the application of DC, UC, and RI grades to minimise instances of student failure), and, most promisingly, a comprehensive reform of special considerations that reduces the evidentiary and administrative burden on students and commits to greater compassion throughout this period. We’ve also been fighting tirelessly against the ProctorU online invigilation system, and while the Uni seems intent on persisting with it, we have achieved some relief for students. For one, after much insistence the Uni has said it has granted special considerations to students with legitimate discomfort / objections to the system. For another, we have helped students draft emails demanding their Unit of Study coordinators abandon the system, a strategy which has seen countless Units and even entire faculties move away from the system. We have also supported honours and Higher-Degree-by-research students, with the University committing to grant extensions for theses and devising arrangements so students can access non-digitised research.

But our advocacy has not been limited to classroom concerns, with our platform, resources, and organising efforts directed towards countless community and student struggles. Last Friday we participated in a day of online action in support of refugees and their allied activists, as I filmed and uploaded a message of support to our main Facebook page. We will continue to look for opportunities to centre groups at disproportionate risk in this period, including refugees and Original peoples.

As part of our broader housing justice efforts we have been supporting the Sydney Housing Defence Coalition in a number of ways, including by printing their posters and helping display them around the Inner West. We are also extensively supporting tenants in USyd accommodation as they fight for housing justice, with our efforts helping realise the University’s moratorium on evictions, circumstantial rent reductions, and broader sympathy / support for tenants. We have also been assisting the National Union of Studenwts’ various welfare campaigns, joining them in demanding that non-citizens / non-residents be included in the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs, that the age of independence be reduced from 22 to 18, and that all part-time or deferred students be eligible for Youth Allowance.

But perhaps the biggest campaign we are supporting is the one being spearheaded by radical rank and file within the National Tertiary Education Union. Dismayed with the soft bargaining position taken by the National Executive, branches across the country have followed the lead of the USyd branch in censuring the Executive and developing their own grassroots campaign. The SRC supports this rank and file campaign, and will be participating in the National Day of Action on April the 24th as well as the May 1 car convoy. This participation is not only motivated by a general sense of solidarity with USyd workers, but also by the belief that this campaign will be a relevant entry point into the broader fight for tertiary education, one which also offers the underlying infrastructure for a successful fight. And with this struggle and NTEU members likely to feature prominently in the broader May 1 activities, it’s entirely possible this campaign will play a large role in determining the fate and living standards of all workers throughout this period and beyond.

Clearly the past few weeks have been busy, and while they’ve brought about many achievements, they’ve also made clear that even more things need to be achieved. If you would like further information on our recent efforts (or my contributions to them) check out the latest (third) report I delivered to Council, or alternately hit me up at president@src.usyd.edu.au if you have any questions!


Week 7, Semester 1, 2020

The SRC has had yet another busy week, with staff and student Office Bearers swiftly responding to a range of COVID-19-related issues. Though many things are being brought to our attention, the University’s use of the ProctorU invigilation system has generated significant grassroots outrage and energy. The system uses students’ webcams to livestream and record their exam process so invigilators overseas can ensure they’re not cheating, and students have expressed considerable concern about its privacy implications through USyd rants and other online fora.

The SRC is just as alarmed by ProctorU as the student body, and has taken a number of steps to push back against its use and impacts, including:

Assisting students as they network with others in their Units of Study and pressure their UoS Coordinator to abandon ProctorU (a strategy which has been incredibly successful). This has been through both the new Say No to ProctorU and SRC COVID-19 response groups, respectively.

Using our communications channels to create public pressure on the University, including through our social media channels and stories in the mainstream media.

Organising and sharing a petition through our Education Action Group and Education Officers.

Raising concerns at the University Executive’s Education Committee meeting, on Monday the 30th of March, and again on a Zoom call with senior figures at the University on Friday the 27tth of March and 3rd of April. This is in addition to countless emails, statements, and intermittent calls.

Undertaking an extensive survey which indicated significant concern about the use of ProctorU.

Unfortunately the University is certain that exams are necessary in certain cases, and there has always been significant bureaucratic momentum behind the use of ProctorU in those circumstances. The SRC has been trying to achieve a few things in light of this, and has had some success in:

Getting the University to encourage / assist UoS coordinators with devising alternate assessment, so that exams (and therefore ProctorU) are only used where absolutely necessary for professional accreditation purposes. This has succeeded, with many courses switching away from exams, though we do not know whether subjects that remained with exams did so for professional reasons. We will continue to fight to minimise the number of exams being set.

Encouraging students to pressure their UoS coordinators to abandon preexisting or recent plans for exams and / or the use of ProctorU. This has also been successful, with many UoS coordinators recently announcing new, non-exam assessments.
Getting the University to recognise well-founded conscientious objection to the system as legitimate grounds for special considerations. We want students who cannot get an alternate examination arranged through special considerations to have the option of Discontinuing without failure (DC) and a full fee refund. This will take longer to achieve, but we are making progress.

Aside from ProctorU, the student body has been caught up in questions around grading systems, particularly the pass / fail debate. Here, again, the SRC has been actively prosecuting the student case for the past few weeks, and we are now throwing our support behind a system where students have their WAM calculated with and without their semester 1 2020 marks and get the superior result. This would directly and proportionally correct for the worst-case instances of unique disadvantage that concern people now, while also preserving merit and success in this period. We understand that this approach is achieving a lot of support within the University, and we will continue to push for it until it alongside the introduction of “Result Incomplete” grades and an overhauled, more compassionate special considerations regime.

Finally, we have also been supporting campaigns to suspend rent and rental evictions in University accommodation over the past week. We are pleased to report that the campaign has achieved some of its demands, with Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence agreeing not to evict any students in an email. We will continue to support this campaign as it calls for rent reductions and suspensions, and play an active role in housing defence initiatives.

This week our new mutual aid working group should make further progress on our essentials packs, and we will also focus on demands concerning International Students, deadline extensions, and fee refunds. I wish all students the best over the coming weeks, and encourage any of them to reach out to me at president@src.usyd.edu.au if they have any concerns or ideas.


Week 6, Semester 1, 2020

This week was a strange and difficult week for the SRC and, it seems, the student body more widely. The sudden transition to online learning for students, and to work from home for the SRC, has been mangeable, for the most part, but alienating as well. The caseworkers and legal service are working hard as ever from home, and our Legal Service’s new solicitor, Cade Badway, is set to join us from Monday before print (the 30th). The publications team and Honi are also producing quality content despite the challenges of the work from home environment. Administration, as usual, is holding everyone together and assisting students with mutual aid initiatives. And Office Bearers are finding new ways to conduct activism, holding large meetings via zoom, executing broader social media campaigns, and, in some cases, assisting with brash political stunts alongside workers.

It is interesting to see how activism is changing under these strange conditions. There has been a deluge of good will and earnest initiative among many groups, not least the SRC, but without obvious leadership or coordination it hasn’t yet turned into anything very effective or urgent. Nonetheless, a few big achievements were achieved this week as a result of social media action and good old-fashioned lobbying.

After much lobbying and social media campaigning, the National Union of Students managed to force the government into including Youth Allowance in its welfare expansions. This will more or less double the fortnightly payments of over 200,000 students, and comes off the back of relentless pressure from the USyd SRC and other student unions for the past few weeks. However, as satisfying as that win was, we’re going to need even more support if students and the ordinary people of this country are going to avoid significant hardship during the crisis. We need relaxed eligibility criteria for all welfare payments, and elimination of mutual obligations — perhaps a Universal Basic Income would do it. We need an amnesty on bills, so expenses don’t grow uncontrollably. And we need a moratorium on eviction, so people have a roof over their heads (and walls within which to quarantine.) Hopefully the NUS and other groups around the country can cohere around these sorts of demands, helping to support rent and labour strikes achieve the significant structural change we need to secure people’s lives.

These broader political battles sit alongside tussles at the University of Sydney, of which there have been many this week. From behind computer screens, via email and Zoom, myself and other senior Executives engaged in a consistent conversation with University administrators about a range of topics, including the Census date, use of ProctorU software to invigilate online exams, use of alternative grading systems, reforms to special considerations, and other topics. I also had conversations about these initiatives in formal context at the Academic Board’s Academic Quality and Standards and Policy committee(s) on Tuesday. But while we made contact consistently and seemed to be making inroads each time, the University seems intent on pushing ahead with an opaque agenda which largely keeps business as usual. That said, our prosecution of the student case, and upswell of grassroots outrage and organising among the broader student body, has made them amenable to alternative, post-hoc remedies for the things making students concerned. We will fight for significant improvements to the ease and accessibility of special considerations, generous and compassionate awarding of Discontinue without Fail grades, automatic awarding of refunds for fail and DF courses, and other academic and financial remedies which achieve functionally identical outcomes to those demanded this week. We will also start encouraging students to push their Unit of Student coordinator to devise alternative assessments which don’t involve ProctorU, and to employ alternate grading schemes where possible.

The SRC and life itself will continue in its strange form throughout week 6, as yet more University committee meetings take place from behind screens and activists refine their strategies for these conditions. With any luck we will advance our mutual aid efforts further, and also develop a more structured approach to our strategy and assistance.

University quality, and an enormous injustice to the young people who depend on them for their future. And finally, accomodations around census date, HECS repayments, and visas would be the least the government could do to allay the significant stress this period is causing for students.
We welcome the NUS’ latest statement and set of demands on the matter, and look forward to working with them and student unions across the country to build a campaign which brings the issues students are facing to the forefront of the national conversation. Moreover, we will continue to pressure the University to provide appropriate course fee discounts, grants to affected students, and total, unconditional support for all staff, even if that requires increased borrowing and liquidation of assets.

Beyond this political advocacy, the SRC hopes to play a leading role in mutual aid and community solidarity efforts. We are looking into how our resources, space, and labour power can be used to respond to the specific needs and requests of the most vulnerable in our community. If you would like to join these efforts, please let me know at president@src.usyd.edu.au. With any luck these short-term measures will help contain the immediate harms of the crisis, while our broader political advocacy will help create the thorough, long-term response needed to ensure the basic survival of our economy, our instutitions, and the vulnerable.


Week 5, Semester 1, 2020

Like many other elements of society, the Students’ Representative Council has spent the week retreating into the refuge of private accommodation, with increasing concern around transmission of COVID-19 necessitating the implementation of a “work from home” policy. With the Offices locked to everyone bar those with swipe card access, appointments and consultations taking place over the phone / VoIP, and all other physical activities / processes suspended, the SRC has taken a more virtual form, but is still as active in its work for Undergraduate students as ever.
The University of Sydney, in contrast, has only just announced a belated and partial suspension of in-person activity, with tutorials and lectures finally cancelled but some medical placements and small-scale interactions still permitted. Amidst the stillness of an almost-entirely but nonetheless unofficially abandoned campus, I attended the University’s Student Life and Student Consultative Committee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. While these are ordinarily more exciting meetings, which invite the possibility to discuss forward-thinking initiatives and improvements to the student experience, the COVID-19 outbreak dominated all discussion. All future initiatives and funding opportunities have either been halted or are difficult to action amidst the unpredictability and increased workload created by the outbreak. Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to ask questions of Dr. Phillipa Pattison, Deputy-Vice Chancellor (Education), and Susanna Scarparo, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Student Life), who both chair these committees and have played a significant role in the University’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

To that end, the SRC has been working hard to put pressure on the University, government, and other institutions to respond thoroughly, swiftly, and fairly to the adversity and injustice that is rapidly emerging in the chaos of the outbreak. We have created a petition making a number of demands of the government, designed a number of posters (featuring QR codes linking to those petitions), and undertaken late-night postering of key destinations in the inner west. In addition, we have played an active (and perhaps even leading) role in the response of the National Union of Students and student unions across the country, helping to motivate a coordinated student response which has cohered the movement around radical economic demands.

These radical economic demands ensure that people will be able to access essential resources and housing. Without rental amnesties, expansions of welfare policies, and paid special leave, there is no hope for millions, particularly students and those who work casual shifts in demand-based industries. Similarly, these demands will ensure the tertiary education weathers the immediate crisis, avoiding mass job losses, an irreversible deterioration in University quality, and an enormous injustice to the young people who depend on them for their future. And finally, accomodations around census date, HECS repayments, and visas would be the least the government could do to allay the significant stress this period is causing for students.

We welcome the NUS’ latest statement and set of demands on the matter, and look forward to working with them and student unions across the country to build a campaign which brings the issues students are facing to the forefront of the national conversation. Moreover, we will continue to pressure the University to provide appropriate course fee discounts, grants to affected students, and total, unconditional support for all staff, even if that requires increased borrowing and liquidation of assets.

Beyond this political advocacy, the SRC hopes to play a leading role in mutual aid and community solidarity efforts. We are looking into how our resources, space, and labour power can be used to respond to the specific needs and requests of the most vulnerable in our community. If you would like to join these efforts, please let me know at president@src.usyd.edu.au. With any luck these short-term measures will help contain the immediate harms of the crisis, while our broader political advocacy will help create the thorough, long-term response needed to ensure the basic survival of our economy, our instutitions, and the vulnerable.


Week 4, Semester 1, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak remains the most pressing concern of the SRC, just as it is for the rest of society. With the number of local infections growing, and a University shutdown likely, the SRC has been quieter than usual. While there were banner paints, rallies, and even a few meetings, by the end of the week it was clear that the next few weeks, or maybe even months, would bring profound disruption to all our lives.

I am seriously concerned about what the next few weeks / months will entail for people, particularly students. Universities are going to have to deal with enormous revenue and funding loss, as shutdowns, pre-Census Date deferrals, and travel bans conspire to choke the sector. This will lead to worse learning outcomes, greater financial uncertainty for staff, and significant cuts to operations and provisions. The upcoming recession will significantly reduce demand for goods and services, meaning less shifts for casual workers and limited disposable income. Countless students will be left without any source of income or safety net, with many of us employed in demand-sensitive industries like hospitality, retail, tutoring, sex work, childcare, sports / activity coaching, call-centre work, and the like. Many of us will be infected, or have family and friends who will be infected, and social institutions will effectively be paused as we each siloise inside our quarantine zones.

The SRC implores all students to exercise caution and to be as safe as possible in the coming weeks. Please follow all self-quarantine directives and keep up-to-date with the latest health advice. We anticipate that the University of Sydney will shut soon, and we are likely to do the same once they do. While online classes may continue, it seems almost everything else planned is currently up in the air: the SRC General Meeting on April the 1st, National Tertiary Education Union’s Anti-Austerity rally on March the 25th, and even May’s climate strikes will depend on whether public gatherings are permitted, institutions remain open, and how intense the community outbreak is. It is imperative that we remain vigilant and politically active amid these challenging circumstances, holding the government to account and registering our dissent as best we can.
The SRC will continue to work on our major projects even if there’s a shutdown. Among other things, we will plan and finalise the food bank, prepare every aspect of our information sessions, and continue with our reforms to the constitution and regulations, so that each are ready for implementation once life returns to some semblance of normality. In addition, we will continue to facilitate and encourage activism inasmuch as it is logistically possible, so that we can deal with the extensive economic, social, and biological fallout of this unprecedented emergency situation. Our usual services will be provided in some form, with as little quality loss as we can feasibly achieve.

Despite the uncertainty and fear brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak, the SRC nonetheless had a busy and successful week. On Tuesday night we had a well-attended, efficient, and politically robust Council meeting. On Wednesday night the SRC held a banner paint for Sunday’s (now-cancelled) rally in solidarity with victims of Modhi’s fascist regime. The Environment Collective and Education Action Group both had well-attended meetings, and on Friday a small but forceful crowd gathered at Fisher library and marched to Henry Dean Plaza as part of what may well be the last climate protest for a few months.

Beyond those initiatives, I attended a number of meetings with the University, including a discussion about a campaign around educational integrity and a Board of Interdisciplinary Studies meeting. I have also maintained frequent communications with the University to keep on top of their response to the COVID-19 outbreak and ensure they’re aware of student concerns.

Though the next few weeks will likely see a pause in in-person activity, the need to organise politically and support students will be larger than ever. It is essential that the University prioritises safety and fairness over profits. Among other things, they must not unnecessarily delay shutting the University down past the Census date, they must make appropriate accommodations for and give compensation to students who are faultlessly disrupted, they must support staff financially, they must ensure conditions are sufficient for learning, and they must ensure that the overall experience is priced fairly. And, even more crucially, the government must respond with an urgency and thoroughness normally uncommon and difficult in a Western liberal democracy, particularly one run by self-interested anti-intellectuals with a facile festishisation of small government and limited spending. More specifically, they need to take steps which defy the logic of late stage neo-liberal capitalism: rents must be frozen; the government must immediately start expanding hospital capacity, establishing quarantine zones, and distributing medical products; and welfare payments (particularly Youth Allowance, Newstart, and Rent Assist) must be expanded and increased to cope with the significant decrease in shifts for casual workers and ensure citizens have basic subsistence. I have very little confidence that any, or at least enough, of these things will be done, and it is precisely this negligence which will do the most damage in this scary epoch. The SRC, at least, will do our bit to push the University and government to respond the right way, and fill the lacuna of care that their negligence will create.


Week 3, Semester 1, 2020

With the rigours and routines of semester firmly in motion, the SRC remained busy as ever, with all of our professional staff and Office Bearers working frantically to remedy an abundance of local and global challenges. The Environment Collective has continued to pull enormous crowds to their meetings, and recently had a meeting at the Conservatorium, a rare and promising move for a Collective. The Autonomous Collective Against Racism has been staunch and diligent in their organisation of a significant protest against Modhi and India’s descent into fascism, which will be on Sunday the 15th of March at the Indian Consulate General. The Women’s Collective had a large contingent at International Women’s Day, while the Queer Action Collective brought a large and colourful group of students along to the Pride in Protest float at Saturday’s Mardi Gras. And, as if all that weren’t enough, all the Collectives came together for a large bake sale on Thursday, which raised money for Indigenous communities that have been affected by black deaths in custody.

With the Office Bearers and Collectives setting such a fast pace, the SRC has had no time for lassitude. This week, the Sydney Legal Service board concluded our search for a second solicitor, which should relieve our Principal, An Li, and deliver greater capacity to the student body. In addition, staff have been particularly hard working as they assist students grappling grappling with Covid-19’s impact on study and this University, and we hope to soon start producing translated versions of SRC pamphlets and information to increase engagement and reliability of assistance.

Beyond these small-scale improvements to the SRC, week 2 also saw us begin the long process of Constitutional and Regulatory reform, which will hopefully culminate in a 200+ student General Meeting in Semester 2. The SRC has an open working group, and invites participation and feedback from anyone with thoughts on either documents. Our meeting on Monday was the first of many as we seek to give the regulations their most comprehensive shakeup since the introduction of VSU in 2006.

Though Constitutional and Regulatory reform is a large undertaking, it is not the 92nd SRC’s only big project that commenced this week. On Wednesday evening international and domestic students from a variety of different political groups and factions met to start work on the Fair Fares campaign, which is demanding concession Opal cards for international students. Though campaign strategy is still being formulated, at our meeting on Thursday we thought it’d be good for it to involve a protest in early May. Week 3 will see meetings for the SRC’s other major projects for the year, the SRC Feeds and SRC Informs programs.

On top of these SRC-oriented meetings, I also had a fair few with the University over the week. I had a Safer Communities Advisory Group meeting and induction to the Academic Board and University Executive on Monday, Academic Board on Tuesday, and a Thematic Review meeting on Wednesday, though at this early point in semester nothing major has yet been discussed at any of those.

The Education Action Group is close to launching their new exciting campaign for the year, and are mobilising around the NTEU’s March 25th rally. This protest challenges some elements of the University’s austerity measures which have been introduced to mitigate the financial impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak. These measures include a freeze on new hiring, and generally seem to promise greater precariousness for casual staff and must therefore be resisted by students out of solidarity with and concern for our own learning conditions.

The EAG and SRC is also actively organising to support the Gweagal-Bidjigal Resistance events between the 26th of April and 6th of May, which will acknowledge the 250 years of colonial brutality and inspiring resistance which began with Captain Cook’s first landing at Kamay (Botany Bay) in 1770. This will be a once-in-a-generation act of dissidence, and will be followed by what will be one of the largest months in the history of environmental activism, with International Workers’ Day (May 1) and May 15’s climate strike likely to give a large platform to industrial Green Left politics. In anticipation of those events, the SRC has received enough student support to call a General Meeting, which will be on April the 1st. This will be the first General Meeting since the introduction of VSU in 2006, and will be one of two this year. Find out more on the official notice, which is on page 5.


Week 2, Semester 1, 2020

Though the conclusion of Welcome Week has reduced the SRC’s workload somewhat, the staff and Office Bearers haven’t been resting, using their extra time and energy to initiate new projects, set the foundations for their Collective / department, and commence campaigns. I have been as busy as ever, and am hoping to use March to finalise many projects and deliver on a number of my key campaign promises.

To that end, the SRC has formed working groups to design and implement a number of projects for which we’ve received SSAF funding. One of those is our “information sessions” project, which will be a program of workshops delivered by caseworkers and others on topics relevant to students, like tenancy law / rights, rights with police, workplace law, etc. Another is our “food bank” service, which will provide food to a portion of the student body for free. In both cases the details have not been finalised and are being worked out by the working groups, which both met for the first time this week. I’m pleased to report that in both cases the meetings were productive, and I’m hoping we can launch them by April at the latest. As if that’s not enough, in week 2 the Campaign for Fair Fares (International Students receiving Concession Opal Cards) will have its first meeting, and so will the working group discussing Constitutional and Regulatory reform.

The SRC Legal Service has also ramped things up in the aftermath of Welcome Week. A committee, which includes myself and Liam Thomas (General Secretary), is in the process of interviewing lawyers to fill our current vacancy. But what’s even more exciting than the imminent second lawyer is the probable third lawyer we’re hoping to hire shortly after. Each of these new lawyers will enable us to significantly increase the breadth and depth of cases we can handle. In addition to these interviews, I also attended a helpful session on Not-For-Profit law run by Justice Connect with the rest of the SLS Board on Friday.

I’m really pleased by the diligence of OBs over the past week, with collectives working hard to start designing various campaigns and initiatives. I attended the Education Action Group’s meeting earlier in the week, where we discussed how we’d respond to Michael Spence’s recent resignation, how we’d support the Gweagal-Bidjigal Resistance activities in April, and how we’d engage with Environmental Activism in the short-run. We also discussed the possibility of changes to funding arrangements in the May budget. The EAG is not the only active Collective: QUAC marched at Mardi Gras as part of the Pride in Protest float and have had some well-attended meetings, ACAR is organising a massive rally in solidarity with those in India protesting Modhi’s fascism and the International Student Collective had a well-attended drinks at Hermanns in anticipation of their first meeting. And after a massive Welcome Week which saw many new members, the Environment Collective threw themselves behind the amazing February 22nd demonstrations last Saturday and have set the organisational foundations for a massive year of activism.

On that note, I’m excited to announce that I’ve received over 400 signatures in support of a motion calling on the SRC to host a General Meeting on April the 1st to discuss (and hopefully express support for) the May 15 Climate Strikes and any May 1st International Workers’ Day strikes. There will be formal notice of this meeting and further information in next week’s Honi Soit.

And as usual I attended a few University committee meetings, including the University Executive Education Committee on Monday and Honours Admission Taskforce on Thursday. Next week sees the first Academic Board and Safer Communities Advisory Group meetings, as well as a few more meetings to advance and finalise the campaigns and projects we’re been planning.


Week 1, Semester 1, 2020

The Students’ Representative Council will be a useful resource throughout your time at the University of Sydney, offering, in equal measures, a safety net in case life or Uni causes you trouble, opportunities to form strong communities, and the resources to organise for a better world. Beyond publishing this newspaper, Honi Soit, every week, we also offer free Casework and Legal Services to all undergraduate students and engage in activism (we organise most of the protests you’ll see). We also facilitate a number of collectives, which function as both communities and political organising spaces, and sit on University committees where we advocate on your behalf.

As President, I oversee the organisation’s operations and guide its direction for the year. I believe the SRC has to embrace activism and radical methods of change if it wants to remain a relevant and potent force for students. Given this, in recent weeks I have worked with a number of groups to help organise two separate rallies in light of the recent Coronavirus outbreak and the Morrison government’s racist decision to restrict entry from China to citizens and permanent residents. The first of these was at the Department of Home Affairs (Immigration) in Haymarket on Friday the 7th of February, and enjoyed a good attendance given the rain. I implore all readers to come along to the second, which will be on Wednesday the 19th of February outside Fisher Library at 1pm.

In addition to organising rallies, the USyd SRC has led the student response to the Coronavirus nationally. We have made public statements criticising the government’s racist actions in the SMH, Guardian Australia, Al-Jazeera, BBC, and countless other outlets at home and abroad. Moreover, we have pushed USyd to act swiftly and thoroughly to minimise the disruption to and suffering of International Students through public statements, committees, and direct lines. Many of the things we recommended have since been implemented by the University (search USYD SRC on Facebook for a more comprehensive overview of our response).

Aside from the anti-Sinophobia rallies, I’ve been supporting and keeping an eye on the emerging Sydney Climate Justice Alliance. I am incredibly supportive of their National Day of Action on February 22nd, and believe the Alliance is one of the most exciting and paradigm-shifting developments in the Sydney Left for some time. I urge all readers to attend the NDA on the 22nd of February (this Saturday), and to join members of the SRC at their regular open organising meetings.

In addition to my usual committee attendance (I’m notionally on 35 different ones), I also helped finalise our Student Support and Amenity Fee application (we did well and got enough money for most of our big projects this year!), and have begun planning our big projects for the year. I’ve also been to two National Union of Students’ conferences.

Finally, I have had direct and hands-on involvement in our Welcome Week preparations. As part of that I’ve helped confirm and finalise our stalls locations, assisted with the competition of our annual Countercourse / Orientation Handbook publication, and whipped our Office Bearers to make sure they meet deadlines and promote themselves well, among other things.


Welcome Week 2020

The Students’ Representative Council will be a useful resource throughout your time at the University of Sydney, offering, in equal measures, a safety net in case life or Uni causes you trouble, opportunities to form strong communities, and the resources to organise for a better world. Beyond publishing this newspaper, Honi Soit, every week, we also offer free Casework and Legal Services to all undergraduate students and engage in activism (we organise most of the protests you’ll see). We also facilitate a number of collectives, which function as both communities and political organising spaces, and sit on University committees where we advocate on your behalf.

As President, I oversee the organisation’s operations and guide its direction for the year. I believe the SRC has to embrace activism and radical methods of change if it wants to remain a relevant and potent force for students. Given this, in recent weeks I have worked with a number of groups to help organise two separate rallies in light of the recent Coronavirus outbreak and the Morrison government’s racist decision to restrict entry from China to citizens and permanent residents. The first of these was at the Department of Home Affairs (Immigration) in Haymarket on Friday the 7th of February, and enjoyed a good attendance given the rain. I implore all readers to come along to the second, which will be on Wednesday the 19th of February outside Fisher Library at 1pm.

In addition to organising rallies, the USyd SRC has led the student response to the Coronavirus nationally. We have made public statements criticising the government’s racist actions in the SMH, Guardian Australia, Al-Jazeera, BBC, and countless other outlets at home and abroad. Moreover, we have pushed USyd to act swiftly and thoroughly to minimise the disruption to and suffering of International Students through public statements, committees, and direct lines. Many of the things we recommended have since been implemented by the University (search USYD SRC on Facebook for a more comprehensive overview of our response).

Aside from the anti-Sinophobia rallies, I’ve been supporting and keeping an eye on the emerging Sydney Climate Justice Alliance. I am incredibly supportive of their National Day of Action on February 22nd, and believe the Alliance is one of the most exciting and paradigm-shifting developments in the Sydney Left for some time. I urge all readers to attend the NDA on the 22nd of February (this Saturday), and to join members of the SRC at their regular open organising meetings.

In addition to my usual committee attendance (I’m notionally on 35 different ones), I also helped finalise our Student Support and Amenity Fee application (we did well and got enough money for most of our big projects this year!), and have begun planning our big projects for the year. I’ve also been to two National Union of Students’ conferences.

Finally, I have had direct and hands-on involvement in our Welcome Week preparations. As part of that I’ve helped confirm and finalise our stalls locations, assisted with the competition of our annual Countercourse / Orientation Handbook publication, and whipped our Office Bearers to make sure they meet deadlines and promote themselves well, among other things.