The campaign to defend the Sydney University Student Representative Council (SRC) from the Liberals must get ready for the fight to come.
A Labor student won the SRC President in the recent elections, but Liberals have gained control of the SRC’s governing body, the Executive, and several activist positions. They are led by students from the far-right faction of the NSW Liberal party who want to smash student unionism. They are likely to use their control to attack the activist campaigns organised through the SRC.
The election results are not a vindication of right-wing politics. While the Liberals’ material did complain about funding for “radical” causes, they dishonestly promoted themselves as champions of fair trade coffee and international students’ rights. Their ticket, the misnamed “Students First”, won around 30 per cent of the vote. They only gained control by cutting deals with centrist and joke tickets. Another Liberal ticket that ran on the slogan “stop the boats” only won one seat.
Student Liberals campaigned for Howard’s Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) legislation, which weakened student unions and ripped funds out of progressive causes. The Howard government also pushed up HECS fees and introduced full-fee paying places at universities. A steady decline in funding—continued by Labor—has seen universities turn to corporate funding and slash subjects deemed unprofitable or unmarketable, as shown by the recent cuts to Geosciences at Sydney Uni.
The last thing students need is for their SRC to be controlled by the same people who pushed these attacks on students. Any time the Liberals have gained control of a student union they have set out to destroy it. Liberals drove student unions at Macquarie and Melbourne universities into bankruptcy.
We must do everything we can to get the Liberals out of the SRC.
The Geosciences cuts were partially reversed by student protests, and students at Sydney Uni fought long and hard to maintain an independent SRC after the VSU legislation passed. The SRC has a proud history of involvement in campaigns for social justice, from the Vietnam War protests to the freedom ride for Aboriginal rights.
This year, the campaigns to end the NT Intervention, for refugee rights and for funding for renewable energy have involved new layers of students in activism. This activity has formed the base of the campaign to defend the SRC and it is crucial we continue it.
We must use every opportunity to spread the word about the Liberals, so that when they go on the attack, we are prepared to respond. The Labor Left has maintained a distance from the campaign, a move that must be reconsidered if we are to build up the strongest possible base on campus to force the Liberals out.
We can look to build a Student General Meeting early next year to force a new student election or to condemn the actions of the Liberals.
By Eliot Hoving and Amy Thomas