Arc @ UNSW Limited - History - University of New South Wales Student Guild - Political History

Political History

By the time of the Guild's establishment, student politicians from the left-wing National Organisation of Labor Students (NOLS) had established a firm ascendancy. In 1994, however, right-wing students running as "Us" polled unexpectedly well, beating the ticket of the president-elect, Warwick Adams, 4-to-1. In the end, a complex network of preference deals between left-wing groups locked "Us" out.

A major phenomenon in National student politics at the time, the Non-Aligned Left represented centre-left coalition that avoided the extremism of radical activist groups like Love and Rage or Resistance. At UNSW they were in many ways populist predecessors to the Everybody phenomenon and, later, Students First in that they exploited links within the campus club and society community to gain power. Reminiscent of Democrats and (at the NUS level) Independent factions, they gathered a very significant volume of support at UNSW and on other campuses around the country. The Guild President in 1993, Alex Hanlon, was prototypical of the group which later involved Amanda Graupner (later the last NUS delegate from the NAL and a member of the Australian Democrats) and Greg Moore (also the president of the UNSW Union but not related to the UNSW Students' Union President of similar name.

As if to mirror the defeat of the Federal Australian Labor Party in 1996, after 13 years in office, right-wing students under the "Everybody" banner came to power under David Coleman. But the key to Everybody's success was not right-wing ideology: it was instead a strategic alliance with international students, coupled with a formidable network amongst colleges and clubs.

Non-left groups were to hold the Guild for seven of the next eight years thanks to this formula as a coalition of nonaligned, centrist and conservative students build a formidable get-out-the-vote machine though links to the residential colleges and communities of foreign students at UNSW. During this time, Australian Liberal Students Federation and National Liaison Committee-aligned student politicians, along with a large number of genuinely non-aligned students from the faculties of law, medicine and engineering, running under the Everybody, U'n'I and SpeakOut! banners, prospered.

In the 2000 elections, however, the Everybody/U'n'i/SpeakOut group fell apart. Without a core political base beyond the personalities of key individuals there was little to hold it together. This disintegration had been in place since the resignation of Nina Pham and the increasing tensions between the Guild Council and Tharunka. The election was poorly contested and a left-wing alliance of "Student Power" candidates led by members of the National Organisation of Labor Students (NOLS) in conjunction with identities from the National Broad Left (NBL), and other unaligned leftist and environmental activists, capitalised on the situation. Student Power pursued a more radical and activist political agenda. The new administration's budget dramatically increased funding to the Guild's activist departments and related collectives, dipping into the Guild's reserves.

A fissure of the NBL and NOLS alliance, coupled with the Guild's failure to cultivate affiliated clubs, helped propel the Labor Right-linked Students First ticket to victory at the 2001 election - with over 70 per cent of the vote.Students First, founded by Sam O'Leary and David Hughes, was based around the UNSW Labor Club (of which O'Leary was the President) and linked to the Australian Labor Party and the Student Unity faction (of which O'Leary and Hughes were, at the time, the State and National convenors respectively). Despite this political core, the ticket had a very broad support base, derived from college students and members of a large number of campus clubs and societies. Students First campaigned on a platform of reducing Guild activism on global non-student political "activist" issues in favour of a strong focus on the needs of students, the politics of higher education and lobbying on campus-specific issues.

Students First sought to undo what they perceived as the fiscal irresponsibility of the previous administration and redirect funding into clubs and societies. The Guild participated actively in the Federal Government's review of Higher Education in Australia, making a series of submissions to the Senate. This tied in with the group's ideological focus on education and student issues rather than engagement in broader political movements such as the anti-globalization movement, which it claimed was a misuse of student money, no matter how valid such movements might be on their own terms.

The 2003 Guild election saw the incumbent Students First group in decline as experienced people moved away. Students First faced a renewed challenge from National Organisation of Labor Students (Power) and Australian Liberal Students Federation (Your Own University) candidates. Power and Your Own University both outpolled Students First. But Power's candidates were controversially excluded by returning officer Andrew Phanartzis after the ticket was caught with campaigners from outside the university—grounds for disqualification under the regulations. Power's preferences flowed to Students First, nudging the incumbents ahead of Your Own University.

In response, NOLS, the dominant National Union of Students faction, ruled the NUS component of the ballot invalid, excluding the UNSW delegation from the organisation's national conference. The decision was reversed in a deal between NOLS and Student Unity, NUS being unwilling to forfeit the Student Guild's $135,000 affiliation fee.

In 2004, the Guild joined calls for then UNSW Vice Chancellor Rory Hume to be dumped for his role in the Bruce Hall scandal. When the embattled Vice Chancellor resigned in April, then Guild President Courtney Roche told ABC Radio that "Hume has simply meant more fees for students." Roche later told Tharunka that Hume's handling of the Hall whistleblowers had been "shocking".

In November 2004, the Guild was attacked by Daily Telegraph columnist Michael Duffy for attempting to prevent the expression of support for voluntary student unionism at UNSW. "Student politics is still notoriously corrupt and secretive," Duffy wrote, reporting that "the editors of the student union magazine Tharunka, have been told by the Guild Council ... not to publish articles in support of voluntary unionism."

Students First won the 2001, 2002 and 2003 elections—though the results of the last election were rejected by the heavily favoured NOLS opposition. In 2004, Students First pushed through changes to the Guild's constitution in order to make better use of the organisation's resources. This proved a high water mark for the group, which spent most of the latter part of the 2004 term fighting internal battles.

In 2004, the University of New South Wales Postgraduate Board, hitherto an autonomous department of the Guild, indicated its intention to split from the Guild.

The 2004 election was won by the National Broad Left (NBL) and NOLS-linked Power ticket, with Students First only a token presence on the ballot paper.

In 2005, the Guild attracted negative publicity in the mainstream and student press after it offered monetary incentives to campus clubs in return for getting students to attend a protest against voluntary student unionism. Then president Manoj Dias-Abey defended the $500 prize pool as educative. Education Minister Brendan Nelson dismissed the Guild's protest, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that "The average, normal students whose compulsorily collected fees are paying for this sort of rent-a-crowd have probably had enough. This is a perfect example of how they continue to be forced to pay for activities that they may not need or want."

In the 2005 election the incumbents under a new name of "Voice" defeated a combined Unity/Liberal challenge with an overwhelming majority. The election highlighted in particular the effectiveness in strategic alliances between large student clubs and societies with politically affiliated tickets. On the first day of polling, over 85 campaigners from Voice were seen to march down the main walkway. "It was a sea of red" claimed one bystander. This election was the subject of a student-made documentary, Politics 101: Big Fish, Little Pond, timed to observe student politics as the implementation of voluntary student unionism drew closer. Voice won the 2006 election, students electing Jesse Young as President. The Guild's position on a restructure presented the maintenance of almost all of their expenses as a minimum position during a 2005 review of student organisation services.

Read more about this topic:  Arc @ UNSW Limited, History, University of New South Wales Student Guild

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