The motions that bring forth the deepest praise and strongest ire towards our elected student representatives are often those that involve issues that go beyond the daily administration of the Guild. This years Guild Council has seen motions on issues as wide ranging as supporting moves to change the date of Australia Day, supporting refugees on Manus island and even the infamous Dalai Lama incident.
For context, the UWA Student Guild passes lots of motions. Many of these are simply part of day-to-day business – appointing people, approving things, all that fun jazz. These motions go pretty much unnoticed for the most part, with students not particularly interested or engaged with what Guild Council is doing. However, there are another basket of motions where the highest highs and lowest lows of student engagement with Guild Council lie – symbolic ones. In most instances these motions are either stances as part of broader societal issues or motions to reflect a position on the government of the day’s policies. In this instance symbolic isn’t to imply that these motions do nothing, but rather that the Guild is showing its support in whatever limited way it can. These motions often stand in solidarity with a group, acknowledge an impact or endorse a wider campaign by the NUS or another social group.
During recent Guild Council meetings, the most vocal critic of these motions has been Guild Secretary Jacob Fowler. He has been speaking to a view that seems to be gaining increasing support – that the Guild should do away with these motions altogether. Pelican sat down with him to find out why.
It was a long chat, so here’s a summary!
Fowler acknowledges from the start that he has supported many of these motions the Guild has put up. He states that this was because those motions seemed to have a tangible, direct link between the motions themselves and the lives of students on campus. But then came the Dalai Lama motion. If you need some context, check out this piece, but the backlash the passage of this motion triggered was a turning point for him on what Guild Council should be voting on.
His argument rests chiefly on two main points – representation and outcomes.
Guild Council, by virtue of its role as a group of student representatives, aims to represent the wider student body as best as it can. Fowler argues that the low voter turnout and small percentage of students engaged with the Guild creates issues for these kinds of motions to be in any way accurate or representative.
“This isn’t to say the Guild cannot act without 100% student turnout for voting, which is never going to happen, but more that given the low turnout, the things Guild Council does should be as reflective of the wider student body as possible.”
He argues that given the diversity of student opinion at UWA, it would be arrogant, if not impossible for the Guild to assume to know what students think of much broader political issues. While it’s fair to say students pretty universally don’t like cuts to education, can the same be said for motions about the military-industrial complex or (God forbid) the Dalai Lama?
Furthermore, he questions whether the students who did vote in the first place actually voted for motions like this. Fowler himself says he has had conversations with students along these lines, where he has been questioned about votes on issues as far removed from student life as the Federal government’s mandatory detention policy.
While ending mandatory detention might be an important political issue for a given member of Guild Council, was that really the platform they were elected to represent? Fowler, an elected STAR candidate at last year’s election, argues that the only party who can genuinely say they ran on an activist platform that they fairly represent at Council is the Socialist Alternative.
If the vast majority of students did not vote at all, should Council even engage with motions that could be wildly unpopular? Furthermore, if you don’t campaign on a political platform but choose to be political anyway, are you even effectively representing the people who DID vote for you?
That leads us to Fowler’s second argument – outcomes.
Jacob contends that these motions do more to push people away from these issues than engage students on campus. He cites himself as a pretty typical example of this – someone who found an increasing disconnect between the things Guild Council was discussing and his own life as a student. So much so that despite being a current STAR Guild Councillor, he’s running for Launch in 2018.
“If Guild Council comes out and says that students think x or y about mandatory detention or some other issue that you were never consulted on, you’re going to get some unhappy people.”
If that’s the case, then what does he advocate doing instead? He told Pelican that he’s in support of motions like those that improve lighting on campus or fix student accessibility issues, but doesn’t see the value in standing in solidarity for the sake of doing so. This doesn’t mean the Guild never deals with issues bigger than itself, but that those motions should be concerned with ‘actual outcomes’ of success in terms of that wider cause. Fowler argues that if you want to move a motion that supports ending mandatory detention, you need to explain the potential it has to achieve that goal. Without that, at best it does very little to help and at worst it pushes students away from engaging with that issue and the Guild as a whole. Some motions that have been put to Guild Council have openly recognised the likelihood they will bring about zero change, so what’s the point?
Do you agree? Should the Guild be voting on these kinds of motions? Let us know your thoughts.
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