Prove your humanity

The final day of the National Union of Students’ Education Conference 2023 began with a plenary on the Get a Room campaign with guest speaker, and Greens’ member for Griffith, Max Chandler-Mather.

The Get a Room campaign calls for affordable student housing in response to soaring rents and a lack of availability. It also calls for a national two-year rent freeze and the raising of welfare programs for studying and working students.

Discussion was heated between factions with Max Chandler-Mather suggesting that Labor are currently incapable of structural reform to the housing crisis issue. The Greens MP then called on student supporters of Labor to speak out publicly on policies and to use student protests to generate media attention.

Following the plenary was the A Dash of Hope: Cooking Up Strategies to Combat Student Hunger workshop. Featuring a comprehensive presentation that discussed food banks and services that support hungry students at the presenters’ own universities (Deakin, University of Melbourne, and RMIT).

Attendees were asked to share what their own universities have done to address the cost-of-living crisis and increased levels of student hunger.

Members of SAlt requested multiple times to respond to statements made by other student representatives but were told to wait for Q&A after the presentation.

Frustration was palpable, and the Q&A quickly devolved into yelling from all factions as chants of “Get Elected” met SAlt statements about the cost-of-living crisis.

University of Queensland staff members from nearby offices in the Social Sciences building entered the workshop and politely asked for the EdCon attendees to keep the noise at an appropriate level, and for the foul language to be addressed.

SAlt members replied with disregard and disdain for someone who was “an authority figure”.

Staff from the building then made a formal complaint to the University about the behaviour of EdCon attendees throughout the week.

Instances of graffiti in library toilets were also brought to the attention of the University, with the assumption an attendee was to blame, due to the anti-AUKUS related content.

Graffiti found in University of Queensland’s Central Library’s toilets. Photo: Celeste Muller.

Additional time was allocated for lunch while an anti-AUKUS protest was held off campus in Brisbane’s King George Square.

Back on campus The Future of the NUS: What do Member Organisations want to see workshop, hosted by NUS President Bailey Riley NUS General Secretary Sheldon Gait, was quite subdued compared to much of the conference.

Talks ranged from what the NUS will be focusing on in the semester (the Voice to Parliament campaign being the main priority), to questions on how to maintain accurate representation of students and their issues.

Bailey and Sheldon agreed that the NUS was at its strongest when addressing issues that uniquely affected students, with Bailey saying the NUS action on HECS Indexation “received more coverage than anything else the NUS has done in the past 10 years”.

The final plenary of the conference covered LGBTI+ issues and was hosted by NUS Queer Officer Grace Hill (SAlt) and UWA Student Alevine Magila (SAlt).

Large numbers of both NLS and Unity members had already left the conference to catch flights and return home.

Anti-AUKUS rally held in Brisbane on the final day of EdCon 2023. Photo: Athina Hilman.

Grace began by highlighting the rise in far-right groups and violence towards LGBTI+ people across the globe and called for continued action against the right and those who allow bigotry to flourish.

Alevine then discussed the recent attempt by the right to protest a Drag Storytime event at Maylands library in WA, which was drowned out by counter protesters in support of the event.

Alevine criticised ALP’s, both state and federal, handling of issues regarding discrimination towards members of the LGBTI+ community, asserting that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was allowing far-right rhetoric to flourish to secure votes from bigots.

Grace then addressed the NSW Labor Party’s new religious vilification amendment to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.

Grace argued that homophobia and sexism are not more valid just because they are based upon religious beliefs, and echoed Alevine’s comments that there should not be a strategy of accommodating religious bigots to secure their votes.

A motion was put forward that the NUS should make a statement of solidarity among student unions condemning the amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Act.

NLS stood with SAlt in solidarity, but Unity abstained from voting on the motion by arguing that the amendment was not going to empower and afford bigots protections, and that due to how recent the amendment is people shouldn’t jump to a decision on something that Unity considers fear mongering.

And with that, EdCon 23 came to an end.

Cue obligatory “that’s a wrap, folks”.