Representativeness

Me speaking at the 1 May 2013  student general meeting at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Me speaking at the 1 May 2013 student general meeting at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

At what point does a government or student union lose its ‘representativeness’ with decreased voter participation?

Today I attended a student general meeting at my university, the first one called in seven years. Was it worth it? No, it was a failure. Less than 400 people attended at a campus of 28,128 students. Yet the student association had the audacity to say that they represent the other 27,728 students who didn’t attend. This is no democracy. This is an oligarchy of the politically engaged few.

And who are these politically engaged few? Mostly those who are personally or professionally associated with the student association. Some might be employed by the association, others might receive funding for their club to buy beers and have barbecues. But most are in some way or another inclined for personal or professional reasons to assert or support positions which boost the association’s power or influence in the university. However this comes at the expense of a faux democracy.

If the opinions of some few hundred students didn’t imply the opinions of some 28,000 students, then I’d have far less of an issue with the entire endeavour. But not only was it implied, it was essentially the outcome and goal of the entire enterprise.

This student general meeting wasn’t called for the Vietnam War, either. It’s over a series of federal funding cuts to higher education. This sort of knee-jerk reaction is not only politically ineffective, immature and misrepresentative, it’s also a spit in the face to the genuinely foreboding, dire issues which have come before it, like those in the 60s and 70s.

I stood proudly against their first motion today. I didn’t care if I changed their minds or not, I just wanted to look them in the eye and tell them the truth as I saw it: that their politically consumed world wasn’t anywhere near as representative as they might like to think.

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3 thoughts on “Representativeness

  1. So what is your answer exactly? Never run elections or have student meetings or representatives just in case no one shows up? And why can we only protest wars?

    • No, run them for all I care. Just don’t presume it represents the entire student body, and don’t act like it does.
      I’m not saying only protest wars, protest whatever you like. But a SGM needs to be called on an issue which will mobilise a more significant number of students, e.g. the Vietnam War, for it to become a valid representation of the students under the current MSA rules (that >300 becomes ‘representative’). Personally, I don’t think these funding cuts are worthy of a SGM, but that doesn’t mean only hold them over wars!

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