Although – thankfully – Pelican editors are under no obligation to attend Guild meetings, we have heard there have been some shockers this year. Meetings in which over two hours were spent in camera. Meetings in which Left Action member Nick Brown was kicked out after taking his defence of breaking in-camera rules a little too far. Meetings – councillors have told us with ashen faces and eyes wide in reflected horror – that went to 1 a.m., picking torturously over details in complex commercial policy.
Tuesday’s meeting however, has been confirmed by several councillors as the worst. In a single night, a right-wing faction comprised of OGC members Ben Martin, Jess Porter-Langson and Steph Munro went in for the attack on SSAF, gender quotas, and indeed, our very own Pelican Magazine.
With the Sue Boyd room as battleground due to renovations in the usual Guild Council Meeting room, the space was jammed in with seventeen observers waiting for the show to commence. Given most Guild meetings are unutterably dull, this was, we can assure readers, a highly irregular sight.
After a few milder, more level-headed motions concerning SSAF solidarity and Postgraduate elections sailed swiftly through, the drama kicked off with motion 10.2, just around 7:50 p.m. (I.e. the time I would usually be having supper). Although initially put on the agenda by Martin, it was taken up last night by STAR’s Porter-Langson – who lately defected in the recent Student Guild elections to align herself with the conservative bunch.
The motion, seconded by Martin, requested Council “remembers and respects the fallen tree of Oak Lawn and issue its formal condolences.”
In subsequent discussion, it was confirmed that the tree was toppled due to bad weather, and not – as Council Chair Lucy Moyle speculated, “EMAS lightning”.
Inane but harmless, 10.2 would have been received far better – even jovially – had it not been the opening act to a slew of other inane but far more aggressive motions. It passed with eleven votes for, two against, and seven mostly scornful abstentions.
Martin then let loose on the Student Services and Amenities Fee. He proposed that the Guild Council “endorses the Axe the SSAF campaign” – which denounces SSAF as “unfair, unpopular, undemocratic, unnecessary, burdensome, politicised and wasteful”.
“How terrible it is that you are in such a privileged position that you don’t need to access the support services that the Guild provides,” Student Guild President Maddie returned drily. Reminding councillors that “off campus students do pay a reduced SSAF – either a half or three-quarters,” she declared that “in terms of your roles as councillors, you have a fiduciary responsibility to this organisation – and VSU is absolutely not the best move. It would cripple this organisation. Your duty is pro-SSAF.”
Nick Brown (the Council’s only ‘Trot’) saw the motion as even more “outrageous” than he does many others. Even a 50% SSAF is subpar “patch-up work” by Labor, he snorted. He would like to see “all the students’ money…in students’ hands”.
The timing of the motion was most likely calculated, but nonetheless baffling. The Guild has lately been revelling in the recent announcement that will see WA state law enshrining that university Senates share 50% of SSAF with their student guilds. It puts our guild in incredibly good stead to abolish the ‘loophole’ in our own university legislation, which has made UWA the only university in the state to receive less than half. Martin’s proposal could hardly be more out of sync with prevailing Guild sentiment.
Unsurprisingly, few attending councillors wished to return to the dark days of voluntary student unionism. The motion was overturned, with all Guild members outside Launch pair Munro and Martin voting against.
Motions 10.4 (“That the 103rd Guild Council acknowledges the violent and undemocratic nature of the National Union of Students”) and 10.5 (“That the 103rd Guild Council recommends to the 104th Guild Council and Governance committee to introduce Online Voting for the 2017 Guild Election”) were withdrawn. Ripples of shock swept the room, contained mostly in titters. 10.7 – which recommended that “the Societies Council immediately disaffiliates Socialist Alternative” – also sputtered. After fantasising to move the motion in camera (at which a great guffaw sounded – Nick Brown had in the previous Guild Council meeting been banned from all in camera motions), Martin declared he would defer this motion too.
“What’s happening?” exclaimed Education Council President Emma Boogaerdt, sounding worried. “Is your dinner getting cold?” Denied the chance to spit some sass-fire, she seemed quite put out.
The deferral was fortunate for Left Action member Nick however, who told Pelican earlier in the meeting that he hadn’t even been aware it was on the agenda.
But now it was Pelican’s turn in the BB gun crosshairs. Pelican print, avouched Martin, was unsustainable. Its run should cease immediately; its operations should move wholly online. Not only is it “suitable for the Guild finances” he averred, but it is “synonymous with the market in general and other media outlets and organisations. The purpose that Pelican once served… might be changing.” In other (paternalistic) words, moving online is for our own good.
“I’ve certainly not picked up a Pelican magazine in paper form,” Martin remarked – so sealing his argument.
As a brief but important aside, we are hurt that this motion should be put forward just before the release of our final Naked Edition. Personally, the expectation that my naked body would this November appear on covers some 2,000 times over was a huge incentive to my agreeing to this role. I am outraged at Councillor Martin’s endeavour to strip me of this venerable tradition and editor entitlement.
The main case however, put forward by myself as this year’s Pelican editor, was roughly this. Yes, it is true: printing 2,000 copies eight times a year is not cheap. Roughly, it’s around $11,000 total. Yet – and this next point is irrespective of the Guild’s financial health, which is after all looking a lot rosier now after the expected SSAF reform – should Pelican‘s print operations close shutters, it would come at a far greater cost to student community and culture.
Besides, how much does print put each student out of pocket really? We’d estimate a few dollars each per year. Hardly exorbitant, given this entitles them to eight, free, lovingly-crafted magazines annually, which capture the campus voice, engages the community, showcases unique design, and which evidences not just a neoliberal will to expand, but a genuine collaborative care.
Readers can expect a more in-depth apologia of print in a separate article soon. Suffice to say – with vocal support from Environment Officer Dennis Venning, PSA President Peter Derbyshire, Left Action’s Nick Brown, and Guild President Maddie Mulholland – the motion failed with two votes for, fifteen against, and three abstentions.
I see you Brad Forbes, abstainer. And I do not forgive.
The following motion to strip us editors of our pay also failed, with votes numbers cast the same way as previous. Martin’s grumble was, in summary: “Student Guild office bearers don’t get paid – why should Pelican‘s?”
Had it succeeded, UWA’s editors would have been the only student editors in the country not to receive some kind of remuneration for what amounts to a full-time – and often times highly stressful – job. It would make the position available only to those privileged enough to support themselves independently; it would make Pelican the playpen of the elite.
Guild Director Tony stepped in to suggest that we should, in fact, perhaps be going in the opposite direction.
“Pelican has to become a multiplatform media outlet,” he lessoned. “The online side has to grow. You can’t not grow your online… So we have to have a think – should the position be more of a professional position and paid accordingly? Would that enable more editorial control, with more content coming in, and more emphasis on the product?” It is a conversation to be had.
The night was almost over; but a few more bangs and whimpers were still to come. Put on the table by Munro and seconded by Porter-Langson was the recommendation the Women’s Officer had been waiting incredulously for: that the Guild conduct a “review into the necessity of gender quotas on Council Sub-Committees”.
Framing the motion as merely a “suggestion”, Munro argued that the current quota facilitated “tokenism”. “Having a female appointed regardless of their experience or skill if they’re the only one going for that position: that to me is quite risky. I think it’s ridiculous if you appoint someone independent of these.”
“We should encourage them to foster their skills, rather than get elected because of their gender,” chimed in Porter-Langson.
Emma Boogaerdt pounced. In her element, and abundantly, she shot back with a challenge as to the impetus for the proposed change. Were there any women currently on the council who aren’t pulling their weight? Who were seen as “risky”? The shots continued.
“You don’t get position just by virtue of being a woman. There can be two or more women competing for the same position! Incredible! Imagine! Amazing!” She swung her gaze to recent Guild election results, noting that “men – particularly straight white men – tend to get elected above and beyond women, even if there are more women running – which clearly shows that there is an issue with our electoral system.”
A mechanism which counteracts this bias is hardly unsuitable – it is vital for a functioning feminist council, Women’s Officer Laura Mwiragua agreed. The quotas in place “do not exceed representation” – not for a student body that is made up of over 50% women. They are not an “overcorrection in consideration of the natural proportion that should occur with women being on council and committee”. Her suggestion that the motion was a political card played “given in mind of how the elections panned out” (no female Launch members elected) was decried by Martin as “pathetic”. Eyebrows travelled roofward.
Of the eight motions put forward by the right wing faction then, only the joke one and one other concerning Fac Soc awards scrutineering came to pass. In other words, the outcome was as everyone had expected. The various threats were never real threats, as the minority right-wing faction had not the numbers nor the support behind them to flex any real power. It begs the question: why did the Launch councillors choose to move them in the first place? Well, the answer is moot – but most likely resides somewhere near the catch-all ‘because democracy’. The exhaustive stack of motions rolled out amounted to an ideological demonstration; an expression of malcontent by a party long disenchanted with Guild proceedings this year; and a fanfare of mainly petty proportions. Which, cold suppers aside, nonetheless roused some fine debate.
The 103rd Guild Councillors will sit for two more meetings this year.
Words by Kate Prendergast