Seismic Shift Shocks Students

The National Union of Students is the pointy bit of the pyramid of the seething, backstabbing pyramid of student politics in Australia. In 2003, as a representative from Charles Darwin University, I made my way to the NUS Annual Conference to take part in proceedings (and to make a terrible fool of myself).

News reaches me that this year’s conference has had a big twist: Labor doesn’t hold the powerful General Secretary position. Instead, Green party member Matthew Chuk got the numbers to take the top job.

The second big twist is that he got over the line with Liberal Student votes.

This fairly dry piece from the SMH summarises the key points. Pay close attention to the lovely spin from my colleague Tim Andrews, a genuinely nice bloke and a rolled-gold Hayek fan.

In truth, as Andrew Landeryou points out, the ALSF correctly decided that putting a greenie nut in the driving seat would do both the NUS and Labor far more damage than they ever could. The enemy of my enemy …

As for me, I would suspect that Shoalhaven Clr Gareth Ward is the mind behind this lovely move. It’s certainly got his style and flair.

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19 Responses to Seismic Shift Shocks Students

  1. Ken Parish says:

    If you’re right about the Liberal students’ motivations, it implies (assuming a reasoned rather than purely and reflexively vindictive mindset) that the NUS does not (and could not) ever fulfil any genuinely useful function. Otherwise, why would you deliberately set out to destroy the organisation by preferencing to get a Green, for whose values and competence you have contempt, elected as President? Don’t university students have genuine common interests that would benefit from being projected and represented at a national level?

    Of course, an alternative explanation is that the ALSF wants to destroy NUS as an effective national voice for university students, merely because it suits the interests of the Howard government to have a supine student constituency (cf Howard’s intimidating charitable organisations into silence by threatening their funding if they dared to make public representations on political issues affecting their constituency). There’s no doubt that the heavy-handed, divisive political machinations of baby ALP apparatchiks over the years have led lots of people to the view that NUS is an utterly useless organisation, but that doesn’t mean it need always be that way. It’s only a “lovely move” from the narrow perspective of a sectarian Coalition groupie

  2. Jacques Chester says:

    Ken;

    To answer your questions will require quite a bit of explanation. Please bear with me as I prepare you for Australian Student Politics 101.

    If you’re right about the Liberal students’ motivations, it implies (assuming a reasoned rather than purely and reflexively vindictive mindset) that the NUS does not (and could not) ever fulfil any genuinely useful function.

    It is hard to assign any single motivation to the ALSF. In the history of ALSF involvement with NUS there have been more occasions of the ALSF splitting its vote than not. Other factions formally break up, the ALSF just refuses to have a binding caucus.

    Indeed a lot of ALSF clubs simply refused to campaign for NUS, on the basis that if VSU was a Liberal goal, then participating in the peak body of compulsory student unionism was simply lending legitimacy to an illegitimate organisation. The combination of personality and ideology meant that the ALSF was nearly always a weak faction on the floor.

    For the record, I don’t think that students can realistically express their voice through anything quite so chaotic and utterly insane as the NUS. It really is a case of the nuts running the asylum.

    Otherwise, why would you deliberately set out to destroy the organisation by preferencing to get a Green, for whose values and competence you have contempt, elected as President?

    Two reasons. Both the purists and pragmatists agree that the demise of the NUS serves both students and the liberal cause generally. It also doesn’t hurt that 2007 will be an election year – putting a Green in the NUS top job hurts the ALP.

    There is also a view among some Liberal Students that the best way to reduce the harm of the illegitimate beast was from within. Disruption – as much as possible within the rules – has been an ALSF mainstay for years. But whenever the ALSF can play kingmaker or shift the balance of power, it does so. People focus too much on the left-baiting and too little on the horses being traded out on the balcony.

    Of course, an alternative explanation is that the ALSF wants to destroy NUS as an effective national voice for university students, merely because it suits the interests of the Howard government to have a supine student constituency.

    This is the kind of childish conspiracy theory I felt you would be above. Howard couldn’t give a shit about the NUS. It’s a gnat in Federal Politics terms. It’s nice if it won’t be able to help the ALP, but it’s not some evil scheme orchestrated by distant masters. The ALSF is independent of the party, and these sorts of decisions are made on the ground.

    There’s no doubt that the heavy-handed, divisive political machinations of baby ALP apparatchiks over the years have led lots of people to the view that NUS is an utterly useless organisation, but that doesn’t mean it need always be that way.

    This is how NUS will always be. It’s how the AUS used to be, before it was destroyed by Costello et al. The ALP hasn’t just had a large say in what NUS does, or won most of the time. They have always controlled it, from day 1. Since then the NUS has just been an ALP subsidiary.

    It’s only a “lovely move”

  3. Sacha says:

    I was never involved with NUS except to support a referendum at Qld Uni for the student union there to affiliate to it, but everything I heard was that Liberal students greatly disliked NUS as Labor affiliated or left students controlled it, and Liberal-affiliated students only ever comprised a small fraction of the delegates.

    I can think of a few reason that Liberal students might have supported a Green:
    a. it’s a vote against a Labor person
    b. they might genuinely think a Green would be better (but unfortunately I doubt that good intentions would play much part in their decision)
    c. they might think a Green is more likely to make NUS even less relevant and more extreme than they think it is currently perceived as
    d. the personalities of the candidates might have been key (I don’t know the people)

    Student politics can (or could be when I was a student) be pretty immature and puerile – one shouldn’t assume that good intentions will underpin any particular decision.

  4. Geoff Honnor says:

    “Of course, an alternative explanation is that the ALSF wants to destroy NUS as an effective national voice for university students, merely because it suits the interests of the Howard government to have a supine student constituency.”

    I doubt that Howard has any more interest in the NUS than does 99.99% of the Australian population.

    The only people who think it has any relevance are about 200 post-adolescent political tragics, with persistent acne, who suffer under a triple delusion:

    That they’re political activists

    That they’re clever political activists

    That there’s something inherently impressive about being clever student political activists.

    That this sad phenomenon keeps reinventing itself, in approximately five year cycles, should not be seen as validation.

  5. Sacha says:

    Does anyone take NUS seriously? I can understand them as a sectional interest group – that’s fine – but the “argument” they proffer about many things is hardly ever, if ever, convincing.

  6. Sacha says:

    Sorry – that should be “arguments”…

    As I wrote on a previous thread on LP/catallaxy/andrew norton’s blog some time ago – I can understand how it is that NUS makes many of its arguments (eg against HECS), as I made many similar arguments when I was Education Vice-President in the Qld Uni Union in 1994. Now from a different perspective, I think that many of these arguments are selfish and insubstantial.

  7. Jacques Chester says:

    That there’s something inherently impressive about being clever student political activists.

    Yeah, guilty. Though I retired from the scene last year.

  8. Speaking as someone who was once heavily involved in student politics, I’d question why anyone who’s over 25 and not a current undergraduate student would care in the slightest what’s happening in NUS.

  9. Ex-hack says:

    As per usual, the Landeryou post is a cracker “

  10. Terje says:

    I remember being asked to vote for UNSW to join NUS. I loathed NUS even back then. I still loath it. I hope it dies a quick death. The idea that student interests can be amalgomated into a national initiative is stupid. Students mostly care about the cost of living, passing subjects, meeting girls (or boys or both) and finding time to organise good parties. Those that are interested in politics don’t need NUS spending their fees on running a poster campaign telling them that John Hewson is secretly a vampire who sucks the blood of naive students at night.

  11. Jacques Chester says:

    That Unity didn’t get Gen Sec is not a major victory for the opposition but rather a signal that Unity is losing interest in NUS now that VSU will bring it and its member unions to near-on bankruptcy.

    Oh? I would say it represents that lefties are voting for greenies on campus rather than ALP Right hacks.

  12. Ex-hack says:

    Jacques, I’d like to believe that … well, sort of, since a lot of greens are loons and what they are doing wasting their limited resources on student politics beats me, but I digress … Most students that vote have no idea of who is behind the myriad of tickets on offer. If Unity really though student unions mattered anymore, they would have put their substantial organizational resources into winning delegate positions and then into gaining NUS positions. That they didn’t bother to get enough candidates is a clear sign that the right-wing hacks realize that student unions are dead in the water and that they will need to use other avenues to promote their careers.

  13. Jacques Chester says:

    Yeah, could be. But where will Unity hacks go now?

    And what will happen to Unity Punch?

  14. Liam says:

    Dear God. I’d forgotten about Unity Punch. Jacques, curse you and your all-too-encompassing nostalgia.

  15. Gadget says:

    Perhaps this great thing of enlightenment -student politics- will just float away on the duckpond of life, never to be seen or accounted for again.

    Good bye fair-weather freinds.

    Ha

  16. Alex White says:

    The Labor Right didn’t get General Secretary, but the Labor Left did get the more important position of President, which has far more influence and power over NUS than Gen Sec. NUS isn’t like a trade union, where the Gen Sec position is the “true” power and the President is just an honourary title.

    The amazing thing was that the two Labor factions didn’t have 50% +1 of the Conference floor (despite the National Labor Students – Labor Left – being the largest single faction).

    Shows that students are deserting the Labor Right and embracing the Labor Left (and further left).

  17. Terje says:

    Shows that students are deserting the Labor Right and embracing the Labor Left

    It probably shows that students are abandoning student unions and that those remain are the hard core lefties.

  18. Jason Soon says:

    Ah, the nostalgia. In my student days, I ran once on a Labor Unity ticket for Sydney Uni SRC.

  19. Current Hack says:

    As Far as Alex White goes…hes just one of the few totally crazy fuckheads who still lives in the days of NOLS corruption and dirty games..

    Its simple..ALSF never wanted to support Labor Right simply to prevent the regular practice of the NLS backed President and Unity backed Gen Sec from signing cheques of hundreds and thousands of dollars in fruitless Federal Election Campaigns to support the ALP.

    In fact we see a more energetic and responsible union for the next year and not to mention the 2007 president Michael Nguyen was once a member of the Greens and attended conference once under the Grassroots left banner,simply to realise that if he were to achieve something as big as this …he had to switch partis and flay his political principles…

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