The National Union of Student’s Education Convention starts today, with the AUKUS deal taking centre stage in the political discourse.
EdCon 2023, hosted in Brisbane this year by the University of Queensland, features workshops and group debate about a variety of issues being faced by tertiary students across Australia.
This year’s theme is ‘Welfare not Warfare’, in reference to the estimated $300B+ cost of the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal.
Money, the NUS argues, which should be used instead to deal with issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, increased Centrelink funding to lower the minimum age of Youth Allowance, and reducing the cost of tertiary education, to name a few.
The morning started off bumpy as the lengthy registration process delayed the Welcome to Country by Jahmarley Dawson and the following opening Plenary about the University Accords.
The Chair of the Accords, Professor Mary O’Kane, had to leave shortly after starting due to the delay, but the three minutes she was virtually present on the projector was enough to get the Socialist Alternative contingent frothing at the (masked) mouth.
Critical of the NUS participation in the University Accords, debate became heated quickly in the UQ Physiology Building lecture theatre, as the moderated Q&A struggled to maintain order.
Attendees then dispersed and moved onto the workshops, held in three locations around the campus, and included discussions of Student Services and Amenities Fees (SSAFs) and methods of student activism.
The energy from the opening plenary only grew throughout the day, as workshops, even those completely irrelevant, like ‘ChatGPT and AI – how will this impact our education’, became battlegrounds for AUKUS discussion.
Two of the three major factions, Socialist Alternative (commonly referred to as Trots, SAlt or simply SA) and the National Labor Students (NLS), were outspoken in their opposition of the trilateral security pact between Australia, The United Kingdom, and the United States.
To close out the day, the secondary plenary was held back in the Physiology Building to accommodate the hundreds of attendees. Focused on, you guessed it, AUKUS.
This discussion was moderated by NUS Education Officer Xavier Dupe and began with monologues from representatives NLS and SA, including author and retired academic Tom Bramble, all opposed to AUKUS and “warmongering”.
Student Unity, the third major faction, and purportedly Labor Right, were notably without a panellist.
When the floor opened to the Q&A, it was not the panellists that received questions but the factions themselves, as discussion quickly grew serious about the future of Australia and the Indo-Pacific region.
Both SA and NLS declared their opposition to the AUKUS deal as they theorised what the worst-case scenario could be.
Nuclear war, the likes of which the world has never seen, was the main thrust of their argument, with a healthy dose of condemnation of US and Australian imperialism.
Xavier Dupe proposed the NUS should make the opposition of AUKUS a key agenda for the union moving forward and was supported by NUS President Bailey Riley (NLS).
While General Secretary Sheldon Gait (Unity) stood, with his faction behind him, in opposition to the proposition arguing the NUS should focus on the issues facing the tertiary students and not the trilateral security pact.
An informal vote was held via a show of hands and resulted in the Unity contingent walking out of the lecture hall in protest, as every member of the Socialist Alternative chanted, “No Subs, No War, this is what we are fighting for.”
EdCon 2023 will continue for three more days and whether tensions will simmer remains to be seen.