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October 1, 2018 | by  | in From the Archives |
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From the Archives

The structure of student politics at Vic used to be quite different. From the 1966 until about 2012, VUWSA policy was set at meetings of the Student Representative Council. SRC was comprised entirely of students, and any student could initiate a motion at one of its meetings throughout the year. If someone else seconded the motion, those present debated its contents and took a vote on whether it should become VUWSA policy.
The intention behind SRC was to create a flat policy-making structure which was truly representative of the student body. In the 1960s, radical students the world over were influenced by Marxist thinking, and the participatory (rather than representational) democracy of the SRC was a manifestation of these ideas. Within this model, every student had an equal say. VUWSA simply provided the finances and personnel to enact the policy that students created. If VUWSA overstepped its bounds and was seen to be trying to generate policy on its own, the exec were censured in Salient.
SRC dictated VUWSA’s positions on all manner of issues. National and international political issues, the management of VUWSA’s assets, and VUWSA’s relationship to the university were all the subject of SRC debate.
Unfortunately, SRC was faced with the perennial issue of getting students to give a shit about student politics. When anything to do with Capping Week, beer, or assessment workloads was on the agenda, SRC attracted large turnouts. Meetings addressing the humdrum business of setting association policy drew far fewer students.
The lack of student engagement at SRC led some students to question whether it was really achieving its purpose. It only existed to accurately represent the student body. If no one showed up to meetings then it was failing in its sole purpose. SRC Coordinator for 1976 Anthony Ward articulated the issue with SRC in Salient:

“The end of a typically action-packed Student Representative Council meeting. General business. Start asking why noone’s here. Start understanding how come 100 of us can claim to make policy for all 6000 students. Start wondering how things could be better.”

SRC meetings often had to contend with farcical diversions from serious discussion as well. Because a debate could be initiated on any subject so long someone seconded the motion, a small group of piss-takers could pretty effectively highjack proceedings. At the final SRC meeting for 1975, Salient contributor Tony Ward was on the receiving end of such hijinks:

“Paul Swain (who else) moved that this other guy called Tony Ward, because of the Fentonish connotations of his last name, change his name to Tony Hart. Pat Martin agreed – Hart has a much more romantic aura about it. Well that motion was passed. Then David Cunningham moved that because Mr Hart’s first name was similar to a product pushed in sexist ads, he should change that too – to ‘Sunlight’. The motion was passed, with one dissention recorded, from Sunlight Hart.”

I can’t determine exactly when SRC became defunct or was re-branded, outing me as a talentless hack with no capacity for historical research. Based on an exhaustive search of the Salient and VUWSA websites, it seems that SRC still existed as recently as 2012. That year, VUWSA President Bridie Hood wrote in Salient that VUWSA was looking at “re-branding our Student Representative Council meetings (SRCs) and making them more relevant to students today”.

That was the same year that Voluntary Student Membership was introduced, so the end of SRC was likely one of the many drastic changes resulting from VSM. It’s a pity. For all its flaws, the principles of participation and accountability which underpinned SRC were admirable.

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