Was That a Voice to Parliament Debate or a Tennis Match?

Welcome to our reporting of the National Union of Students annual Education Conference.   
This year the event is held at the University of Queensland from Monday 25 June to Thursday 29 June.   

Keep reading to see what informational sessions Glass attends, what campaigns the NUS is highlighting, and to see how long it takes for the different factions to get into a screaming match with one another.
Oh, wait! That already happened!


The National Union of Students plenary on the Voice to Parliament featured heated debate between major student political factions, Unity, NLS and SAlt. The Tuesday morning session began by playing the Uluru Statement of the Heart, and then dove into further context surrounding the proposed Voice to Parliament.  

NUS President Bailey Riley and First Nations Officer Patrick Taylor laid out organisation’s stance on the issue and detailed the union’s support of the national Yes campaign. They recommended students at each university build relationships with the Yes23 movement and begin actively campaigning across all campuses. 

Riley stated that the NUS’s mission is to make sure the Yes campaign is heard across the country at universities everywhere. “I think what we have to do as NUS is what we do best, which is organise students on the ground,” she said. 

NUS Queer Officer Grace Hill called for the room “to counter the racist No Campaign”, and called out the Labor government for allowing Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton to argue his case. Hill urged the NUS to publish and campaign for material wins, rather than a PR campaign. 

The floor was then opened for questions and discussions. NUS General Secretary Sheldon Gait asked Riley and Taylor how they saw the NUS supporting the Yes campaign. Riley said NUS members needed to partake in campaigning and engage with their peers at their universities. “Throw your entire weight behind this,” she said. 

Riley then asked Deakin University Student Association Vice President – Education Guleid Abdullahi what his union was doing. Abdullahi said DUSA had organised multiple campaign days and door knocking to spread the message. “We need to communicate is that a yes vote is not a vote against anyone,” Abdullahi said. This comment appeared to agitate the crowd, with multiple students specifically calling for more activism fighting against “the racists” and the No campaign. 

NUS Education Officer Xavier Dupe said he thought Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has executed a poor strategy by accepting Federal Opposition Peter Dutton’s arguments on the matter instead of “calling out racism”, and said he will “continue to campaign against the racists and the No Campaign”. 

Turrbul woman Ella spoke next to share that the Voice to parliament is meant to be unifying. “No matter your political view, if you are voting yes, you are voting with Indigenous Australians,” Ella said. 

Riley echoed the sentiment stating, “A yes vote is a vote for treaty and truth.” 

SAlt speakers then asked why the NUS would want to throw their weight behind a campaign that won’t make material changes for Indigenous Australians. Riley responded agreeing that NUS should fight for material wins but said the fight for equality for Indigenous Australians is a step-by-step process.  

“We can’t fight for [material] things if we can’t even get a yes vote,” Riley said.  

Riley then asked SAlt whether they would be campaigning for a yes vote to which they did not respond. SAlt then countered and asked whether the NUS would be campaigning against the Australian Labor Party to which Unity and NLS did not respond.  

Chaos then ensued with hundreds of students yelling at each other before a question was asked to First Nations student leaders about what should be said to students when spreading the Yes campaign.  

The response was to communicate what the referendum is and how it will operate to make up for the lack of communication from the government. 

SAlt member Oscar said their faction want NUS to remain critical of processes that claim to lead to self-determination for Indigenous Australians, and ensure the fight is for “genuine self-determination and genuine rights”.  

NLS member Sinead asked how NUS will fill the gap in strategic campaigning for a Yes vote. Riley said the best strategy is to be actively out there and engaging with their student unions and peers.  

SAlt then interrupted Riley and called for NUS to not stand with a “racist Labor government”. Riley then said she acknowledged there were problems within the Labor government and called Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk a racist.  

QUT Guild’s very own Environment Officer and member of SAlt Isabella Foley said it was great that Riley was calling Palaszczuk racist but urged the NUS to go further. “We need to campaign against the ALP and take strident anti-racist positions,” Foley said. 

Another member of SAlt spoke about how the No campaign has allowed for racist voices to be given a seat in mainstream politics.  

As the plenary came to a close, Riley took the mic one last time to address multiple statements and ideas raised in the session. She started by agreeing there are multiple issues facing Indigenous Australians and that the Voice may not be the most important issue, but it is still important. Riley agreed that in discussions around the Voice, a meaningful treaty and meaningful truth needed to be addressed as well. 

“The Voice is a step in the right direction.”  

You can read more reporting about the Voice to Parliament here and here.  

Graphics created with images sourced from @AlboMP on Twitter, @peterduttonmp on Instagram, @annastaciamp on Instagram and NUS National Union of Students Facebook Page.

Ben Steele
Ben Steele
Articles: 31

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