Democracy 4 QUT – The Importance of Student Politics

Intrigue, insiders, drama – no, I’m not talking about your latest group assignment, or even the #libspill – I’m talking about the secret world of the 2018 QUT Student Guild Election. Or… lack thereof I guess because it didn’t really happen. Let me explain.

With the recent #libspill causing a ruckus in the media, a smaller but still significant political discourse was going down at QUT. I mean right now the QUT Facebook group, QUT Stalkerspace 2.0, looks a little something like this.

There are some spicy memes my dudes.

EPIC, the current elected party for the QUT Student Guild, have been re-elected with no contest – with no competition coming forward, they automatically renewed their leadership. While this would be just peachy if there truly were no opposition, a student coalition consisting of members of opposing parties such as QUT Reach has claimed that EPIC purposely attempted to circumvent the process of democracy.

QUT Reach made a statement alleging that EPIC “opened nominations for a total of 4 days, editing a page on their website on Monday morning saying nominations were open, making a single post with little to no reach or engagement”. The nominations were much earlier than previous years, with a reminder from the guild only being sent 2 hours before nominations closed. I’m not going to draw any major conclusions, but I will mention that after 6 years in power EPIC only won by a very small margin in the 2017 election. Like a 398 votes, 4% margin. Considering it was Reach’s first year running in opposition, I would also be trying to pull out all the stops that the rules would let me to make sure there wasn’t another close call like that.

EPIC narrowly winning the 2017 election like…

As it currently stands, EPIC will remain uncontested and continue to be the elected party on campus. But ultimately, how important are student politics to our university experience, and should we even care who’s in charge?

The importance of student politics

The QUT Student Guild is in charge of a number of things – primarily protecting the rights and interests of students, supporting campus clubs, as well as advocating for marginalised students and students in need. I’m not going to go through it all here, but you can check out the Guild’s website to get a holistic picture. Ultimately, they have a decent amount of power that affects the way your uni runs – whether it’s through the free services that are available to you or how much funding your favourite club receives. For the majority, a lot of the services aren’t going to change our lives (more on that later), but there is still value in paying attention.

It’s been observed that even high school students reap the benefits to be found in mock student elections, and that participating in democracy is a vital life experience that can lead to being politically active throughout their entire lives.

Student politics are an excellent introduction to the real world (pun not intended) of politics. Being aware of and involved in how politics can affect you – and your life on campus, will be a handy tutorial for how life might be outside it.

Me trying to run for a political party.

The idea that students don’t want to get involved in politics does line up with a wider political trend. While the Australian voting enrolment rate for 18 to 24 year olds is a solid 86%, Australia is one of the few countries that has compulsory voting as part of the system. Compared to the United Kingdom and the United States, which have a comparatively lower 66.4% and 50% turnout for the youth vote respectively.

But to be fair our compulsory votes seem to matter the least

We’ve seen this with instances like Brexit, where it was suggested that if the youth vote were to mobilise, the outcome would have been completely different. only 64% of registered voters aged 18-24% voted in Brexit, compared to an over 90% turnout for over 65s, which resulted in the Leave outcome. When investigating the process of political decision-making, it was found that often the actual process of voting isolates young people, who feel like decisions are often being made for them by older voters who may not be as greatly affected by their decisions. Additionally it was put forward that if young adults are “trusted, given responsibility and encouraged to develop and express [their] opinions” than they are much more inclined to make political contributions.

So why not start making that contribution at university?

While student politics can ultimately be considered as low stakes for many, learning to harness your own voice and individual impact is an invaluable skill to be equipped with for modern adult life.

Let’s talk about apathy

One of the primary reasons that many people are cynical or even repulsed at the thought of politics is because it’s a mental turn-off. Watching the news and seeing issues that affect us getting pushed further down the agenda, primarily by “rich old white men”, is something we find isolating. Especially when you don’t share the values of being rich, old, white and a man.

Research has found that the primary reason  for apathy is a disengagement and cynicism of current politics, and disillusionment about their ability to have an effect. In fact many young people are politically engaged – but in ways that appeal to them more, such as particular causes or social issues, rather than mainstream politics which they believe is “unworthy of their participation”. Take for example the recent #hometovote campaign to repeal the ban on abortion in Ireland. The social media campaign saw thousands of young Irish expats flying home to ensure their vote was counted and make a difference.

Continuing to be apathetic can also predict future political behaviours. Michael Bruter of the London School of Economics pointed out that a person’s first two elections will form habits, and feeling a lack of influence as a result is a further deterrent.

However, research suggests that a large role in this cycle of apathy belongs to older adults, who are encouraged to provide better support when it comes to young people getting motivated about politics. Older voters could potentially even dispel some of the aforementioned cynicism, helping young voters to see the value in their opinions, their voice and their vote.

Bringing it back to uni, what’s important to consider is that while the student politics may not affect you directly, your apathy or lack of considered involvement (ie voting for whichever party has the coloured shirts you like so you can get your $5 lolly voucher) could make a world of difference to someone else’s year. Especially those who value services like the food bank, disability assistance or someone who was looking forward to having a safe space on campus.

What’s happening now

Democracy 4 QUT, a student group, started an online petition to reopen nominations for the Guild Student election.  On the 26th of August, the Democracy 4 QUT group were invited by EPIC to a private meeting to discuss how they could work together to create policies to suit students, but their invitation was declined.

Democracy 4 QUT @ EPIC

Until further notice, EPIC will remain the elected party on campus, with no action being taken to call for a re-election. Students will largely have no input into policies until the next election, but that means students have a year to look into what they want from their campus leaders, and even better, their leaders off campus.

Watching Parliament House go up in flames has been mighty entertaining, and everyone loves a good leaked screenshot from a private group chat. But I can’t say it would be as entertaining if I went to uni and discovered the library was closed, or my friend couldn’t get disability assistance, or a team member’s club was disbanded due to lack of funding – despite there being plenty of money for a blowout toga party. The Student Guild is important and a lot of what goes down is behind closed doors – so speak up when you see a blue shirt at uni – let them know if you think they’re doing an “epic” job or not.

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