On December 1, the Curtin Student Guild Office Bearers for 2018 finished their term and the Bearers for 2019 were ushered in. But, immediately prior to this, there was one last bout of turmoil between political parties Illuminate and Left Action in another year that has seen the two clash on numerous occasions.
At the end of November, dissension erupted in Curtin’s Guild Council after former Guild, and Illuminate party, President Liam O’Neill enforced a new regulation requiring Guild Councillors be award students of Curtin University.
Incomers Erin Russell and Scott Sandon of Left Action were two of seven Councillors deemed ineligible to remain in office because of errors with their enrolment status’—a decision which has since been amended after questions regarding the legality of their removal was raised.
Award students are enrolled at Curtin University to receive a Curtin certificate upon completion of their degree, so students from other institutions studying units at Curtin University are excluded by this regulation.
There are over 7,000 onshore international students at Curtin University, many of whom are not enrolled as award students and, rather, study Curtin units for their home university certification.
Sandon said that the regulation in question, which was enforced by O’Neill, disallows international students from participating in Guild Council discussions and infers that they do not have a right to representation.
Further, the rule was passed subsequently to the democratic election—meaning that, although Russell and Sandon were among the most popular candidates, the Guilds’ redefined election terms meant that the votes of the Curtin student body was effectively meaningless.
Councillor Scott Sandon expressed his outrage in an op-ed, likening this and other recent motions within the Guild to that of Benito Mussolini.
“The Curtin Guild, run by majority-party Illuminate, is decaying into a one-party dictatorship,” claimed Sandon, further arguing that Guild doesn’t want students involved in stupol.
“The best way for them to make sure no students get involved is to make sure no one knows what is happening behind the closed doors of Guild Council meetings,” he remarked.
Sandon asserted that Left Action activists were being punished for standing up to O’Neill, and that they are the only students who want to know what happens in Guild Council meetings.
Former President Liam O’Neill slammed this notion.
“Left Actions claims of a dictatorship are a farce. Illuminates candidates have been elected consistently every year, democratically,” he said.
O’Neill also stated that Left Action are more inherently focused on furthering their agenda rather than serving as a checks and balance-based minority party.
“A genuine opposition would be focused on holding Illuminate accountable, actually reading the papers of the Guild Council and not just figuring out the best path to exploit the Guild’s resources for their organisation,” said O’Neill.
Students have expressed concern that members of Guild are more interested in frustrating their fellow Councillors and serving their own political agenda.
Making a significant population of the Curtin community unable to represent themselves or their peers is not only insulting, but oddly controlling.
Students have also raised concerns about a lack of diversity at the Guild and the importance of legitimate participation. This has mostly notably occurred with the revival of the Facebook action page “Save Democracy in the Curtin Guild”—which is being heavily supported by Sandon and the Left Action party.
By excluding a significant portion of the student body, the Guild will undoubtedly become a hunting ground for a small group of similar-minded individuals swaying Guild discussion to meet their own demands, as Sandon stated that the former Guild President was “trying to force the only two opposition Councillors out of the Guild”.
Regardless, Russell and Sandon will sit on Council in 2019, but with non-award students disqualified, the issues and opinions of a large portion of the student body may go unnoticed in the future.
This will be exasperated by the alarmingly low election engagement. With a four percent participation rate for Guild elections, it seems as though the Curtin community is unaware, or cares little about, the very body that is sworn to fight for them against the increasingly aggressive policy makers.
Not only are students rarely actively engaging with the Guild, but by cutting participation opportunities out for such an important sector of the population the Guild could be missing the chance to correctly address the needs and issues of non-award students.
These issues are expected to be re-discussed in future Guild Council meetings.
So, Guild Councillors of 2019, while a portion of students may appreciate overly expensive protests and discounted sushi, it’s time to work to serve the whole community and not just yourselves.
Current Guild President, Finlay Nolan, was contacted for comment but hasn’t responded—this article will be updated when and if a statement is provided.