Grok Magazine’s first-ever Curtin Guild Election Debate took place last week and began with an Acknowledgement of Country from both parties vying for the opportunity to represent the university’s student body. It set the tone for the debate; that this election was to incorporate an awareness and a reflection that our governing body could pride itself upon. However, as the debate progressed, it quickly became clear that there was a glaring pitfall in both parties’ platform; neither current Guild leaders Illuminate or their opposition Left Action had a nominee for First Nations Representative on their ticket.
It was a jarring contrast to what was a genuine and heartfelt Acknowledgement of Country from both Illuminate and Left Action. Both parties briefly touched on their inability to secure a First Nations Representative, with Illuminate attesting that their hopeful candidate had to drop out of the ticket at the last moment. Opposition party Left Action highlighted their small party numbers, and the fact that they are not running a full ticket in the 2021 Guild Election anyway.
A quick look at Curtin’s Centre for Indigenous Studies website highlights the Guild as the representative and advocative body for First Nations students on campus. The absence of a First Nations Representative from either party’s ticket calls into question the ability for the Guild to function as a supporting body for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander students.
First Nations students remain vastly underrepresented across all areas of university life, despite sharing the same aspirations as non-Indigenous students to feel represented on campus. For many Indigenous students attending university, the social and racial isolation of being the only First Nations Representative on a Guild party’s election ticket may be an unappealing addition to an already demanding academic workload. Furthermore, there is little obvious benefit to taking on the responsibility of the First Nations Representative title—a quick examination of the Guild’s Renumeration Tribunal (made on the 26th August 2020) shows that the First Nations Representative is compensated $4140/annum, paid in monthly instalments. This renumeration is not enough for a student to support themselves and so would still have to work casually or part-time, further adding to their workload.
The Curtin Student Partnership Agreement (2020) enshrines a commitment to engaging underrepresented groups of students, and to adopt First Nations’ practices to strengthen a pathway to authentic collaboration with Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people. However, whilst both Illuminate and Left Action proclaimed their aspirations to increase First Nations representation within the Guild, it remains in doubt if these words can be turned into reality—after all, each party failed to secure a nominee.
A student guild with no Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander representation is one which risks further ostracising an already underrepresented group within Australian higher education. Whatever the outcome of the 2021 Curtin Student Guild election, it is imperative that the winning party honour their commitment to generating opportunities for First Nations students to represent themselves within Curtin’s governing student body.
Watch the live stream of the debate on Facebook here