Student Liberal Chad Sidler abused his position as General Secretary of the Sydney University Student Representative Council (SRC) in an attempt to shut down student activism in March. Chad steamrolled a motion through the SRC executive to shut down two activist student groups, the Anti-Racism Collective (ARC) and the Climate Action Collective (CAC).
The executive motion declared that CAC and ARC were to have “no funding, no support or use of SRC resources or resources that are available to the SRC.” Chad was only able to put the motion through because one of the Labor executive members was absent. At the same meeting, he also pushed through budget cuts for nearly all SRC student groups. Unfortunately for the Liberals, students were not prepared to take attacks on student democracy lying down.
At a Council meeting two days later, 30 students mobilised to express their outrage, and pushed an overwhelming majority of elected councillors to rescind Chad’s motion. In a victory for student activism, CAC and ARC were rewarded respective budgets of $2000 and $1500 and other groups had their budgets restored. This was despite Chad and his Liberal supporters attempting to leave the room during the vote to avoid “quorum” (the minimum amount of people needed to hold a vote)!
It is no surprise that CAC and ARC are in the Liberals’ firing line. CAC campaigns for 100 per cent renewable energy and green jobs. The ARC campaigns for an end to the appalling treatment of refugees and the Northern Territory Intervention. These two collectives vocally campaign against Abbott and the Liberals’ politics of climate denial, Indigenous assimilation and the scapegoating of refugees.
They are also the two collectives that have been in most vocal opposition to Chad’s plan to take student activism out of the SRC. The Liberals themselves admitted this when they denied the Climate Action Collective funding to attend the Climate Summit with the explanation that they did not want to “reward the behaviour of students who spoke out against the current administration.” That motion, too, was rescinded at the Council meeting.
Chad and the Liberals have sent a clear message—any student groups that disagree with the Liberal agenda will be starved of funding and denied the use of SRC resources. They want to make a mockery of an SRC based on democratic student participation.
In recent weeks, Chad’s General Secretary reports in the SRC newspaper Honi Soit have labelled student collectives “extremists”, refugees “illegal” and condemned the ARC for campaigning to “defend the sovereignty of Aboriginal Tribes [sic].” He has claimed climate change is a “partisan issue” that has no relevance to students.
What Abbott wants to do in parliament, Chad wants to do on campus. Under Howard, the Liberals did everything they could do destroy student unions. They fought for Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) that has crippled student organisations across the country.
The mobilisation at the Council meeting was a clear victory. Socialists, Labor students, Greens and student activists united to put a stop to the Liberals manoeuvres. But there is much more to do. Within a week of the council meeting, the Liberals had organised a petition to block CAC subsidies for the Climate Summit, despite its defeat the first time around. Though Chad could only scrape together eleven signatures of his petition, it shows he’s determined to continue his assault on student democracy.
It won’t be enough to rely on the SRC Council to sustain opposition. Some Labor Left students are still unprepared to directly fight the Liberals, and some Councillors refused to condemn his offensive commentary in the student paper Honi Soit. Involving more students and spreading the word about the Liberals on campus will be key to giving people confidence that the Liberals can be stopped.
The Liberals were not elected on a mandate to destroy the SRC—they ran on a ticket called “Students First” that campaigned for Fair Trade coffee and tutoring for international students. They did this because they know their conservative politics have little support. Building up awareness on campus about their real agenda can be the beginning of the end for the campus Liberals.
A week after the Liberal’s assaults, students had organised a “Defend the SRC Coalition” and collected over 100 signatures on a petition to condemn Chad.
Students can learn a lot from the politics of campaigns against Howard’s policy of Voluntary Student Unionism. Unlike other campuses, forums, pickets and mass mobilisations protected the SRC and its funding from annihilation.
Like the fight against VSU, the fight to kick out the Liberals out will be crucial for student activism at Sydney Uni in the years to come.