Student Council Hit by Unity Punch

 

Shouting and slamming and swearing – Oh my! Empire Times brings you an eye-witness recap of the rocky May Student Council meeting…

 

The student council meeting in May was marred by shouting, slamming of tables and swearing. This is the second time this sort of behaviour has derailed a council meeting, and both times, the behaviour has been perpetrated by a member of the right-wing Labor faction, Unity.

May’s instalment of aggressive and inappropriate behaviour arose due to the Labor Left NLS faction (National Labor Students) attempting to use money from the Education Officer budget in order to finance an NDA (National Day of Action) – an event that the Education Officer, Unity’s Jordon O’Reilly, refused to run. Despite it being traditionally a part of the Education Officer’s role, O’Reilly refused to engage in the organisation or financing of the event. When questioned by other Councillors at the meeting, O’Reilly admitted outright to attempting to block the event; to directly quote his response, “You’re damn right I am”. O’Reilly also confirmed that his motive to block the event was because he considered the NLS representatives on Student Council to have blocked the Flinders bid for the National Union of Students’ Education Conference.

O’Reilly’s anger at NLS for the Flinders Student Council’s failure to secure the Education Conference appears odd when one considers that the conference is awarded by the NUS executive, and the dominant faction in the executive is Unity – which O’Reilly represents. All reports Empire Times have encountered have stated that the vote was unanimously against Flinders hosting the Education Conference.

The meeting continued for some time with O’Reilly pounding the desk for emphasis, shouting, and swearing. Some witnesses to the meeting suggested meeting chair (and Council president) Caleb Pattinson should have intervened earlier. Others who were witness to the clash acknowledged that they themselves had been reprimanded in Student Council meetings for behaviour much less intense than O’Reilly’s tirade.

One significant factor of this is outburst is that O’Reilly delivered the entirety of his rant to NLS member Sarah Polanco, the Social Activities Officer. The shouting grew for several minutes, stopped only briefly by Polanco’s faction mate, General Councillor Christopher Norman raising points of order. An individual present at the meeting later commented that “I think that most of the people in the room were in shock – I was. No one was expecting such an emotional, dramatic response from Jordon. I was waiting for someone to intervene and stop him, and no one did; when Caleb eventually did calm things down, the damage had already been done.”

As previously touched upon, the council meeting of April was also a turbulent one. Though it never reached the heights of the mismanaged aggression that derailed the May meeting, it provides much in the way of background information.

The meeting saw Student Council working out its tender for the Education Conference, a tender that was reportedly riddled with misspellings and very unprofessional. President Caleb Pattinson claimed that NLS member Hamish Richardson was a co-writer of the tender; this suggestion was quickly and vehemently denied by Richardson, who then exited the room. Pattinson immediately backed down on this.

These events are perhaps indicative of a disturbingly negative culture prevalent within the student council, one of aggression and bullying tactics by certain members. Numerous sources have described the council as being ‘sexist’ or intimidating. Criticism was made of Pattinson’s reticence to halt O’Reilly’s aggression.

Numerous sources have described Unity as having a ‘frat boy’ mentality, and being populated by ‘dude-bros’. The reputation is far reaching with this faction, famous for the ‘Unity punch’, a highly-alcoholoic cocktail that is drunk at the National Union of Students’ National Conference (editor’s note: look up coverage of last year’s events if you want to lose faith in our nation’s future).

This meeting also saw the all-male Unity faction move to suspend the payments to Accessibility Officer, Amy Huepauff, and Women’s Officer, Angela Tomarelli. In the case of the Women’s Officer, they were successful. At the June Student Council meeting, O’Reilly called to withhold the Women’s Officer’s honorarium yet again, for not submitting her Office Bearer report on time for the meeting. The motion to suspend Tomarelli’s honorarium payments did not receive enough votes to pass.

A female member of council stated she found elements of the predominantly male council to be unapproachable. It is interesting here to note that the break down of the Student Council is 50/50 males and females; this brings us to the old adage of ‘quality versus quantity’. The numerical breakdown may be even, but the quality of Student Council feels unequal to female members, some of whom reported feeling less respected than male counterparts and uncomfortable when in their presence.

Student Council has been labelled as a ‘boys club’, and more than once. The previous Student Council meeting offers further insight into this atmosphere as Accessibility/(Dis)abilities Officer (and NLS member) Amy Huepauff noted that in light of the messy state of the shared Student Council office, it had only ever been a female member of council to ever think to tidy the room. ‘We are also student Councillors; we are not your maids,’ she said.

Empire Times has previously reported on the matters of this fractious and disunited council. Democratically elected student council members should be accountable to the students they represent, which is why ET live tweets the Student Council meetings and write articles such as this and Student Council in Turmoil. This previous reporting led to demands for silence.

 

NOTE: Minutes and agendas for the Student Council can be found on the FUSA website.

 

Words by Liam McNally, Eleanor Danenberg, and Simone Corletto.