7pm Friday 21 November 2008
Speech of 80th SRC President, Kate Laing
- Deputy Chancellor, Mr Alan Cameron
- Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof. Andrew Coats
-The Honourable Anthony Albanese
- Fellows of Senate
- University Senior Executives
- Students, alumni and friends
Good evening and welcome to the SRC 80th Anniversary Gala Reception. My name is Kate Laing, and I’m President of the 80th Council. Before we get underway with tonight’s proceedings, I’d like to acknowledge the Gadigal People of Eora Nation and pay respect to their elders, past and present.
This evening, we celebrate 80 years of the SRC. Since its founding in 1929, the SRC has accumulated a distinguished tradition of student advocacy, campaigning, and rabble-rousing. Each generation of students has its own stories to tell and legends to reminisce. We of the 80th Council are honoured that so many of the storytellers and legend-makers, past and present, could join us tonight.
In 2008, the SRC continues to campaign and lobby on behalf of student rights and interests. Today’s SRC offers students a wide range of services. Our caseworkers offer independent advice on academic, welfare, tenancy, concession, and other issues. We run a free legal service, with a solicitor from Redfern Legal Centre who provides confidential advice and representation to undergraduate students. Our Second-Hand Bookshop buys and sells textbooks, making educational resources affordable for students. And you will be happy to know that Honi Soit remains alive and well – at present it’s the only weekly student newspaper in the country, giving a new generation of Clive Jameses and Chasers the opportunity for fame and notoriety.
The SRC is fortunate, in that the University recognizes the importance of fostering the rich variety of student life and sanctioning the independence of the representative voice so we can confront the burdens on today's students. This SRC has been kept alive largely due to the benefaction and support of the University.
Our first speaker, Deputy Vice Chancellor Andrew Coats, has worked closely with the SRC over the past year. Professor Coats comes from a distinguished background in Medicine, specializing in Cardiology. The University Community portfolio has been singled out for praise by the National Union of Students for its role in ensuring that the SRC can retain its independent voice and services. Please welcome Professor Coats.
Thank you Professor Coats.
Tonight’s keynote speaker is the representative for Grayndler, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Local Government, and Leader of the House. Long before he scaled the heights of federal politics, though, he infamously climbed the Clock Tower in the Main Quadrangle. Between 1982 and 83, Anthony Albanese was a student politician serving as an SRC Representative, Ethnic Affairs Officer, and convenor of the Political Economy Collective. During his time at the University, he was also a member of the Education Collective and a member of the Finance, standing legal, and Electoral Rules Committees, while taking up an array of positions within the ALP Club and Young Labor. I am pleased and honoured to welcome to the stage the Hon. Anthony Albanese
Thank you, Mr. Albanes
Past Presidents, Alumni, and Friends,
Firstly, thank you all for coming tonight. Some of you have kept in touch with the SRC over the years. For others, we of the 80th Council have great pleasure in renewing our ties with you. In the weeks leading up this event, I, other members of Council, and the SRC staff have had the opportunity to hear from several alumni about where their lives and careers took them after they graduated from University, and about the strange ways that the SRC has continued to play a part in their lives. For instance, Adrian Roden, QC and District Court Judge, served on Council in 1948. Mr. Roden told us that, just two years ago, he married another Council rep from his time at the University. It’s nice to know that the SRC is still serving former students’ interests.
The SRC was founded in 1929, at the beginning of the Depression. It started during one global financial crisis; it is now celebrating its 80th in another. While it cannot be said that the SRC was responsible for either economic situation, we can say that, through the decades, the SRC has reflected, weathered, and struggled against the political and social upheavals of the time
Throughout its time, students were involved in anti-Vietnam War rallies, and in campaigns in support of the indigenous vote. Students led protests against the South African apartheid regime. Many of you here tonight played leading roles in the Women’s Liberation movement and in the early Gay and Lesbian movement. The SRC was involved in campaigns against the First Gulf War and, more recently, the unpopular Iraq War. Across the decades, the SRC has consistently advocated the need for free education, lobbying for the Whitlam reform in the 70’s and against GST in the 90’s, and for tertiary assistance and liveable youth allowance throughout.
I personally find these stories and campaigns of old a testament to the enduring value of student representation. There are many people here tonight who were and are architects and agents of change. Today’s students are inspired by that spirit of change. We are encouraged by the message of change that has recently taken root in US politics, and by the catchcry of our times, “Yes, We Can.” We find that catchcry particularly instructive to our own historical moment, after a decade of the Howard Government’s ideological attack on SRCs and on tertiary education in general. During the years of the Howard Government, universities suffered huge funding cuts. Critical academic research came under attack as academics were forced to justify their research interests on the basis of market value. Corporatization on campus became a mantra and a governing ethos. And Voluntary Student Unionism became a reality.
Let’s be honest. The SRC is lucky to have survived the introduction of VSU. The Howard Government saw fit to dispense with the essential services offered by SRCs – with students’ right to access basic support services, their right to seek independent advice on academic appeals, their right to get involved in clubs, their right to consultation, and, above all, their right to collective representation. During the Howard years, it was argued that student organizations – historically a forum for students from across the political spectrum to debate each other’s views and ideas – were partisan hotbeds. In 1929, the students at this University joined together and sought to have a unified voice. The Howard Government tried to take that voice away.
In the wake of VSU, SRCs around the country have dwindled and died off. The notion that student life should contain an extracurricular dimension to it, that university should offer students anything more than pure academics, is no longer an orthodoxy on Australian campuses.
It’s often said that today’s students are apathetic. This isn’t true. But our recent national history is a nightmare from which we are trying to awake. We are burdened with work, with HECs, with skyrocketing debt, with educational costs imposed on us by a generation of politicians who received their education for free.
But we are not apathetic. In last year’s federal election, 75% of young people voted Howard out of office, just as the youth vote in the US soared in record numbers for Obama earlier this month.
The downfall of the Howard Government constituted a milestone in the history of Australian higher education. Even so, the battle for student rights has not yet been won. We believe that the Government needs to make brave decisions in order to make education truly accessible and fair.
We are making headway on scrapping VSU but we still have a way to go. Let me say, SRCs remain vital and relevant. This SRC will always be relevant and necessary so long as public education exists; access, equity, and diversity are priorities; and learning and teaching are valued in society.
Student voices should continue to be heard. Student stories should continue to be told. Student courage and creativity should continue to be expressed. Because students are the lifeblood of the University and the architects and agents of change in society. To students of the past, I say, thank you for your contributions and memories. To my fellow students in the present, I say, it is your work and inspiration, your benefaction, and your support for your community that enables the SRC to work for you. So as long as there is a University of Sydney, there will always be the Students’ representative council.
And so, I’d now like to propose a toast. Happy 80th birthday to the SRC -- still fighting, still strong for another 80 years.
Thank you to the speakers here tonight, and to Adrian and Clare Lim for helping me to prepare. Thank you to the alumni office, Sarah and Tracey for putting on this event, and to the SRC research department for the history and Clare McClure and Tina for the slide show. Thank you for everyone joining us tonight, please enjoy the rest of the evening.