Political rights

Australian student body attacks political rights on campus

An online Zoom meeting hosted by the Newcastle University Students’ Association (UNSA) has highlighted the organization’s undemocratic attempts to muzzle student political activity on campus in the New South Wales region. .

Under the guise of the pandemic crisis and behind the backs of students, new club and society guidelines have been instituted by the UNSA at Newcastle University (UoN) which threaten to prevent the reaffiliation of political clubs and long-time religious. Affiliates are prohibited from “proselytizing,” that is, engaging in discussions with students for the purpose of winning them over to a certain perspective.

Newcastle University [Credit: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/]

UNSA is a newly created company that emerged alongside a university management restructuring affecting hundreds of jobs and courses. It replaces a number of liquidated student associations, including Yourimbah, the Newcastle University Post-Graduates Student Association (NUPSA), the Newcastle University Students Association (NUSA) and the Club Management wing of Student Central.

The September 16 Zoom meeting was held with the purported intent of outlining the transition of no less than seventy clubs previously affiliated with Student Central to UNSA.

In the Q&A, John Davis, president of the International Youth and Student Club for Social Equality (IYSSE) on campus, condemned the UNSA’s crackdown on political rights.

“I think this whole process has been very undemocratic,” Davis said. “A bit of background, when Student Central was set up by the university it was to undermine existing and long standing student organizations and poaching clubs away from the Newcastle University Students Association (NUSA ). It did not work.

“What I think we’re seeing with the transition of all clubs from Student Central to UNSA is completing that process in another way. Now the university has used the transformation from NUSA to UNSA to bring student clubs and organizations under university control.

“It should be remembered that the UNSA itself was created last year under the leadership of the university administration. The decision to close the former student associations, NUSA, NUPSA and Yourimbah was imposed bureaucratically without any input from students or student clubs.

“The whole objective of this enterprise is to have a student organization entirely subordinate to the management of the university. This can be seen from the fact that the UNSA has refused to fight against the devastating restructuring underway.

“I think nothing expresses this better, however, than the new guidelines set by the UNSA in May, which virtually exclude a number of clubs from financial aid and limit what they can say.”

UNSA General Manager Georgia Killick attempted to interrupt Davis, but he ended his remarks by demanding “that these rules and regulations be withdrawn immediately.” New regulations should be developed through a mass meeting of students and with the participation of all students and clubs.

Killick claimed that the UNSA was formed through a democratic process and that its creation was “propelled by the members of the student associations, involving the presidents”.

This is belied by the stunned response from student clubs, the most active section of the student body, over the past year. The IYSSE contacted UoN-affiliated clubs during the first restructuring hearing, and of the five who responded, only one had been informed of the process. None, however, were aware of a vote or discussion on the formation of the UNSA.

Other clubs have also reported it publicly. The president of the Newcastle Christian Student Club, for example, said: “Over the past 18 months we have been very worried and frustrated. We were not welcomed and there was no consultation.

In response to concerns raised by students about the new guidelines, Killick said they are fully compliant with Student Services and Facilities Fees (SSAF) legislation.

The IYSSE Treasurer rejected Killick’s interpretation of the SSAF stating that “the guidelines went far beyond what is stated in the SSAF legislation…there is no clause prohibiting ‘proselytizing’. Far from making the clubs “vibrant and prosperous” as claimed at this meeting, the UNSA actually restricts the clubs’ political activities on campus.

Passed by the Green-backed Labor government of Julia Gillard in 2011, the SSAF legislation imposes mandatory fees on students to provide basic services, which should be free.

It also stipulates that the funds collected cannot be used to support a political party. This has been interpreted in the past by the administration to revoke the ability for clubs such as the IYSSE to host “political members” on campus during orientation week, claiming that SSAF fees were effectively embezzled. to a political party.

The IYSSE led a fight against this interpretation at Newcastle University in 2015 by turning to the student body who successfully forced the repeal of the decision. In a statement that year, the IYSSE placed the attempted restriction of political rights on campus within the content of the bipartisan assault on higher education, growing social inequality and the militarization of college campuses, in accordance American-Australian preparations for war. . He stated :

IYSSE warns that the reinterpretation of SSAF legislation by UoN services sets a precedent that will be used to prevent students from developing the political means to fight these attacks through the organization of political conferences, courses, meetings, debates and demonstrations.

More than six years later, the deepening crisis of capitalism has led to a pandemic of historic proportions and the student body is once again seeing its democratic rights under attack on a larger scale. The pandemic is also being used by the corporate elite to accelerate their attacks on higher education, which they declare, for the sake of profit, already “dead”. According to union estimates, up to 90,000 jobs have been lost in the sector since the start of 2020.

Universities are also increasingly integrated into the war campaign against China. The UoN states favorably in the research section of its website that it is “uniquely placed to collaborate with the defense industry” listing a range of research initiatives in which it is involved, such as “the ‘Operation and Sustainment of the Australian Defense Force’ and Development of the Army’ Autonomous Systems.

The IYSSE exposed the pro-business role played by student associations and trade unions throughout this process. In the name of “transparency,” UNSA held consultation sessions where management was given a platform in front of students to justify pro-corporate restructuring on campus. The NTEU did not call for a single mass staff meeting, instead preaching defeatism and calling on management to work more with the union.

Notably absent from the Zoom meeting and silent throughout this whole affair has been the UoN Socialist Club. Formed this year, it has made no statements on its Facebook page opposing the guidelines or the restructuring, or voiced its opposition at student consultation meetings. His complicit silence is in line with the pseudo-left club’s orientation towards Labour, the Greens and the unions.

Only the IYSSE, the real socialist club on campus, spoke out against the cuts, social inequalities and the danger of war.

The latest interpretation of SSAF legislation in the UNSA club guidelines is a warning that management is cracking down much harder than before on any independent political activity by students. The UNSA denies being a political organization but, like its predecessor, the UNSA, it is run by students from the Labor Party.

Underscoring the anti-democratic intent of the guidelines is the fact that some clubs seeking affiliation have been forced to seek the approval of the university’s vice-chancellor. Chief Information Officer Anthony Molinia told the university newspaper Yak that if a major conflict were to arise between the UNSA and a club, the university would likely play a role in finding a solution.

The IYSSE unequivocally opposes the guidelines in their current form. Membership should not be subject to the political beliefs of the university leadership. Students must fight for their democratic right to form the club of their choice.

We urge young people, staff and students to contact the IYSSE Newcastle and attend our next Affiliate Annual General Meeting in October, which will oppose the corporate assault on higher education.