Fighting Fee De-regulation

Last week, our Vice Chancellor Michael Spence appeared on the 7:30 Report with Glynn Davis, Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University, and Rose Steele, President of the National Union of Students (NUS). They were there to publicly condemn the Abbott government for tying research funding to the university fee deregulation package. If the package is voted down in the Senate, no research funding will be assured, leaving 1,700 science jobs at risk, and potentially setting back research and innovation projects by several years. It’s outrageous that the government would hold research funding hostage in the name of gutting the higher education system.

At one point, Michael Spence spoke about the fantastic “19th Century” movement for a free, public, secular education system in Australia which afforded both him and the other Vice Chancellor a free university degree. He then made a smooth segue into corporate greed, maintaining the “accepted wisdom of Australian politics, on both sides of politics” is that students should have to front costs, as universities are businesses, and education a private investment. It is important to remember that indeed it was the Labor party who opened the door for more brutal attacks on the higher education through the Gillard government’s cuts to higher education.

Spence argued further that university fees should be deregulated so that universities could compensate for the lack of government funding, and to respond to “local conditions”. Spence basically reckons he should be able to determine how wealthy you must be to study at the University of Sydney. The other VC agreed wholeheartedly; the most prestigious universities in the country encourage competition and consumer choice. Living and studying in Sydney doesn’t permit many a particularly glamorous lifestyle, but the university does offer a whole lot of opportunity. Most students live under the poverty line, but how much more would/could you pay? How many meals will you sacrifice for your education?

Fee deregulation is being heard in the Senate on the day that this edition of Honi goes to print. The government is desperate to broker a deal with cross benchers to get the bill through. We hope the cross benchers hold strong in their opposition, and students have another chance to enter the public debate by demonstrating in numbers on March 25th in the first National Day of Action for higher education of the year, outside Fisher Library at 1 PM. And join the EAG. Now would be the time.

Kyol Blakeney wants you to have a think about your future.

As the semester picks up momentum and uni begins to take over your life, I want you to have a think about your future. Upon enrolling into university, many of you would have selected to pay for it through HECS. By the time you read this report the Senate may have already voted on the new reforms by the Liberal
Government regarding the deregulation of universities. This means that universities can charge what they want for your degree and sentence multiple
minority groups, and many other underprivileged students, to be in debt for life.

The Government’s hypocritical and regressive approach to higher education is damaging for students from almost every walk of life. It takes away opportunities from those who must spend large amounts of money to travel to uni from rural regions, from those of inherently disadvantaged backgrounds, such as Indigenous students, from those who will struggle later on in life as a result of their sexual orientation, and wom*n who already experience the bare brunt of the gender pay gap and therefore would take longer to pay off their debt to their university.

The vote could go two ways this week; for, or against. Either way I encourage you to take a stand on the 25th March for the National Day of Action. If the bill is voted up and you believe that a quality education is a right and not a privilege, march with us to call for the death of deregulation. If the bill is voted down, march with us calling for a free education system. If we have enough money to fund the killing of innocent people around the world, then we have enough to help people in our homeland and build the future of our country for the next generation.

Student Housing Report – Week 2, Sem 1

In a cramped townhouse a dozen students—mostly from overseas—study, eat, and sleep mere paces from each other. Some students have lived out of cars or in meth dens. Some live with homophobic parents or with abusive relatives or partners. Most students who live out of the family home live below the poverty line.

The majority of students who rent suffer from “rent stress”. A large proportion of their incomes vanishes with rent payments, leaving the pocket strained when it comes to budgeting for expensive textbooks, other semester expenses, or medical costs for students with disabilities, particularly those with chronic illnesses.

Add to that the increasing attacks on welfare by the Abbott government that threaten the Disability Support Pension, Youth Allowance, and HECS itself, and you have a picture of students beset on all sides by the fickle forces of rent prices, neoliberal government policy, and an increasingly casualised and underpaid job market.

In the face of this, Sydney University plans to develop up to 5000 beds over the next five years. The question is whether they will be affordable and meet the needs of students. The Student Housing Action Collective is being reignited in order to campaign for several simple goals:
a guaranteed percentage of affordable accommodation
inclusion of a temporary accommodation service for students who are temporarily homeless and dedicated crisis accommodation for more extreme cases
an approach to housing that recognises the unique issues facing wom*n, queers, people of colour, Aboriginal people, international students, and people with disabilities.

But starting a collective and a campaign from scratch is tough. If you want to get involved, join the Student Housing Action Collective FB group. You can be involved to any extent, from just giving your input to throwing your heart and soul into it.

Indigenous Report – Week 2, Sem 1

Howdy. Now is everyone ready for some knowledge? Well if you are reading this, you are procrastinating, a puzzled first year or an interested reader (You know who you are) so damn straight you are ready for some knowledge!

Well firstly, 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Ride. Fifty years ago, students from the University of Sydney toured towns in rural NSW to witness the discrimination of Aboriginal people. This publicity strengthened the push to eliminate racial discrimination. This year in commemoration, the SRC and University organised a new tour of the towns. This proved to be an eye-opening experience for the participants, as they learned that while some things change others remain the same.

Secondly, during OWeek the Indigenous Collective had a stall, the one with the emus. You know you saw it. We met a variety of interested students and University staff members over a very successful three days. However, there was a sour moment. A small group approached us asking what we do. Then they inquired into how much Indigenous we were. That was disappointing. There is no division, of half, quarter one sixteenth. No matter how you divide, an Indigenous Australian is an Indigenous Australian.
Thirdly, the Indigenous Collective has big plans for this year. The Reconciliation Week Festival later this semester, which we are hoping will provide the student population some excitement, knowledge and a greater understanding of Indigenous Australia. In week 11 the Indigenous Edition of Honi Soit, which is an excellent opportunity for the Indigenous students to have their pieces featured and to (again) allow for a greater understanding for non-Indigenous Australians. What about second semester you ask? Patience is a virtue.
Now if you have made it this far, you have probably noticed a recurring objective of the Indigenous Collective. Yes, understanding is the objective. Reconciliation is like the tango. Reconciliation takes two and without understanding, nothing will be successful. When it comes to Indigenous issues there needs to be a clear understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. While the Freedom Ride strengthened the pursuit to eliminate racial discrimination, we still have ways to go. That is it, enthused readers. Stay tuned for next time on the Indigenous Officer’s Report!

Almost 250 feminists signed up as Wom*ns Collective at o-week!

Wom*n’s Collective had amazing student engagement at OWeek this year: almost 250 feminists signed up as members and we made $505 selling our T-shirts and showbags. The money raised will go straight back to keeping the collective running smoothly, and our immediate plan is to use it for the costs of the Growing Strong launch, happening at 7:30pm on March 14 at the 5 Eliza ballroom in Newtown.

The launch was originally slated for March 7, but upon realising this clashed with Mardi Gras, we swiftly postponed it to this Saturday. We are in awe of the array of poetry, fiction and essays featured within the magazine and can’t wait to celebrate such diversity of female talent. Come along!

The collective also hosted its first social event last Tuesday. About 20 members attended the Mardi Gras Film Festival screening of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, and it was impressive to see the film’s intersectional approach in examining the history of the women’s liberation movement and its notoriously privileged and exclusive beginnings.

Additionally, the Wom*n’s Collective hard work and creative flair will be on show at SHE, an upcoming exhibition celebrating female artists. Three of the collective’s zines: vagina activity book, O-Week zine and activist handbook will be featured, and 20% of all profits will be donated to the International Women’s Development Agency.

Last but certainly not least, the collective’s first ever meeting of 2015 was a great success. It was fantastic to see faces new and old, and work together in planning a year of radical and creative activism. One of the action points to come out of the meeting was organising a wom*n’s contingent to the International Women’s Day March on March 14 and in this week’s meeting, the collective will be creating signs and placards for the march.

If you’re interested in getting involved, the collective meets every Thursday at 1pm in the Wom*n’s Room on Level 2, Manning. If you’re unable to make that time, fear not, as we have a fearless Facebook group where a lot of discussion and organising takes place. And as part of the expansion of our online empire, we’ve just revived the Wom*n’s Collective Facebook page, so chuck us a ‘like’ if you like: www.facebok.com/usydwoco

Happy International Women’s Day (aka everyday),
Xiaoran and Subeta

General Secretaries Report Week 2, Sem 1

Baristas have been pumping out caffeine to students shuffling sleepily to 8am lectures; Eastern Ave is swarmed by crowds on the hour; and it’s hard to secure a spare square of lawn at Hermann’s at the end of a long day. Another university year has begun. Hope your return to class has been bearable!

Our efforts in organising the SRC’s OWeek activities across the Camperdown/Darlington, Conservatorium and Cumberland campuses definitely paid off. All 500 SRC showbags were snapped up by students who visited our stall and spoke to our Office Bearers and casework team. If you missed out on one of our ‘How to Uni’ guides, we still have plenty more available at the SRC, so feel free to visit and grab a copy for yourself.

We also sparked conversations about the Abbott government’s plans to deregulate tertiary education as students had a go at our interactive ‘Pin the Tail on Chris Pyne the Deregulation Donkey’. The deregulation of tertiary education would remove the limits the government currently places on how much Australian universities can charge students, allowing universities to charge students whatever they want.

The SRC has remained in steadfast opposition to deregulation over the past year. At last week’s Council meeting, virtually all Councillors present indicated that they were elected by students on a platform of opposing fee deregulation. We’ll be making this opposition clear once again at the National Day of Action on March 25. Join us outside Fisher library at 1pm to march against fee deregulation, for a fairer and more equitable education system!

Last week’s council meeting was the first for 2015. Council is integral to upholding accountability in the SRC (as Office Bearers, including Max and I, report on their activities for the month) and engaging with students at the grassroots level (through motions submitted by students and voted on by the 33 elected Councillors). Council is held monthly and open to all undergraduate students to attend and participate in. If you would like to bring something to the attention of your student representatives, the next Council meeting will be held on April 1 (location TBA).

On a final note: if you’ve been waiting until Week Two to avoid the long queues for textbooks, check out whether the SRC’s secondhand bookstore has a copy of your textbook at a cheaper price. You can also sell your textbooks through our bookstore’s consignment scheme (subject to demand). For more information, check out srcusyd.net.au/src-books/

Launch of Ally Network – standing with Queer students and staff on campus.

Last week saw the launch of the Ally Network in support of standing with Queer students and staff on campus. In attendance was one of my predecessors, The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG and Liberal Member of the Legislative Council, The Hon. Don Harwin. The proceedings began with speeches from the VC, Chancellor, Oscar Monaghan (giving a students’ perspective) and yours truly. Reflecting on the event, I began to talk with many students from the queer community on campus about the event itself and what the network meant for them. It was a mixed response.

While I was taking a photo with Kirby he leant over and told me I was too soft. So, here’s what I really think. I think the event was full of symbolic and political gestures touching on barely any of the issues the queer community face on campus. Of course everyone promoted gay marriage. Everyone spoke about how important equality is. But nobody, besides the students, spoke in depth about the hate crimes we still see today, mental health, high suicide rates of our youth, or public bathrooms being unsafe for queer students. Furthermore, I know for a fact that students have been pushing a preferred name campaign with the University for about a year now and while it is considered dealt with on paper, students are still subject to humiliation in lectures and tutorials by being outed publically as a trans person. The Liberal who stands alongside a patriotic, queerphobic, racist party or the lack of queer speakers at the event was not what got under my skin. To put it bluntly, it annoyed me that students are facing these issues everyday of their lives and instead it was allies  who were congratulated and recognised for being decent human beings. It’s like saying, “Congratulations, you’re not a dick.” I don’t have to be part of an Ally Network to be a good ally. What even is an Ally Network?

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.

Peace be upon you, or salamon alaikum as most Muslims say when we greet each other.

Peace be upon you, or salamon alaikum as most Muslims say when we greet each other. My name is Fatema Ali, and I’m so honoured to be the founder of the Muslim Wom*ns Collective – an all inclusive and all welcoming space for Muslim wom*n of all sects and backgrounds. We welcome diversity within this community and hence our major aim is to celebrate it as much as possible – our differences empower us, and we won’t let them divide us. We aspire to unite Muslim wom*n under the banner of peace, as well as reach out to the non-Muslim community and increase the visibility of Muslim wom*n on campus.

This collective was a product of frustration at overpowering male voices, and constant pressure on Muslim wom*n to denounce their Islamic identity and be “liberated” from the oppressive force that is apparently Islam. The truth of the matter is that Islam makes us who we are and we don’t need others to speak for us or grant us freedom, no matter how well-intentioned.

O-week was home to our first official event and it was magnificent! We held a Hijab Booth, a little space where willing participants were offered free lollies and to try on a headscarf. It’s been months in planning, and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome and feedback we received from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. One of the main questions we asked wom*n who tried the headscarf on was “do you feel oppressed?” The response was unanimously no, many stating that the headscarf was quite light and they felt beautiful. Hopefully, this message will be shared far beyond the avenues of our university.

Weekly meeting times will be announced soon (inshallah, God willing). If you identify as a Muslim wom*n, you can either email us at usydmwc@gmail.com or join the private group here: tiny.cc/mwc. If you’re a non-Muslim interested in getting involved, you may also send us an email or check out our page at facebook.com/usydmwc. We’d love to hear from everyone!

Sydney Uni Refugee Action Collective

2015 began with a renewed crisis for the Liberals’ brutal offshore processing regime, Operation Sovereign Borders. Over 700 asylum seekers went on hunger strike to protest their imprisonment on Manus Island. More than 40 people stitched their lips and there were extreme cases of self-harm and suicide attempts including people swallowing nail clippers, razor blades and washing powder. The government responded with a savage oppression. They denied refugees drinking water and later roused up and imprisoned protest organisers.

The Australian Government’s brutal detention regime continues to take its toll on asylum seekers. The reality of indefinite detention, unsanitary conditions, the threat of deportation and violent treatment has led to constant unrest inside the prison camps.

The Human Rights Commission report on children in detention is just the latest confirmation of the kind of horrors asylum seekers experience in detention, whether they are women, children or men. It’s an unjust system and it has to go.

The Sydney Uni Refugee Action Collective (formerly Anti-Racism Collective) is a collective for students committed to campaigning for the rights of refugees. We stand for a pro-refugee campus and fight to see refugees have their claims processed humanely in the community with guaranteed resettlement in Australia. A just refugee policy can only begin by welcoming the boats.

Refugee rights groups have been springing up across the country to answer this challenge. Students must join the doctors, Christian groups, unions and rural Australians mobilizing against the government’s cruelty. We need to make our campus a bastion of pro-refugee activism and energy that will inspire others to fight back. Together we can win! Under John Howard, it was grassroots activism that shifted public opinion, broke bipartisan support for offshore processing and pushed back the Pacific Solution. It is this sort of vibrant campaign we will need to stop Abbott

COME TO OUR FIRST FORUM OF THE YEAR WITH SPECIAL GUEST, NICOLE JUDGE (12pm Tuesday, March 17 – New Law 117)
Nicole was a worker and eyewitness on Manus Island during the unrest that resulted in the brutal murder of Reza Barati. We’ll be hearing from her, discussing refugee policy in general and most importantly, what we can do as students.

We have a big year ahead of us. The Coalition government is determined to entrench some of the cruelest refugee policy seen in Australia’s history. But refugee supporters around the country are equally determined to fight for a humane refugee policy

The campus refugee rights club meets every Monday 11am on New Law Lawns. All welcome! If you’re keen to get involved, check out our fb page, ‘Sydney Uni Refugee Action Collective’ or contact Gabby on 0416 488 258. Stand up, fight back!