Heated SRC debate over Religious Discrimination Bill

By Meg Trewhella

UNSW’s first Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting for 2022 erupted into a fiery debate over the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB) last Monday.

In the first motion of the evening, President of the SRC, Nayonika Bhattacharya, moved that the SRC support the push to #killthebill. This involved preventing the RDB from passing by lobbying for the elimination of the bill.

When put to a vote, Bhattacharya’s initial motion was passed with only Spice Up’s Peter Alexander and Sam Pangilinan voting against it. As the votes were called, Left Action councillor Gina Elias typed in the online meeting chat, “Shame on the [two] Spice Up councilors who voted down the #killthebill motion.”

Elias then moved that the SRC take a firmer stance against the bill, with a proposed three-part motion. This included endorsing Community Action for Rainbow Rights’ [CARR] protests, and the Mardi Gras rally, and condemning the Liberal and Labor party for supporting the RDB.

As debate surrounding these motions grew heated, Elias was continuously warned to stop speaking out of turn, which resulted in her microphone being muted by the president.

The first action to endorse CARR was passed, with only Alexander and Pangilinan voting against, and Spice Up’s Pratham Gupta abstaining from the vote.

Muted Elias continued in the chat stating she was “taking note of the bigots who voted against this motion.”

In response Bhattacharya issued a warning in the chat, stating, “There is to be no name calling on this and we are to abide by the [ARC] safe space policy. I will give everyone another second warning and the third time you will be removed.”

The second action was also passed by the majority, with Alexander and Pangilinan voting against the motion to publicly endorse the upcoming Mardi Gras rally as part of protesting the RDB bill and for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Speaking for the third action, Elias said that condemning the Liberal and Labor party was vital in response to the RDB and requested those voting against to defend their position.

Pangilinan spoke against the motion, arguing that schools should have the right to abide by their own beliefs.

Nick Palmer voluntarily abstained from the vote due his involvement in the Labor Party.

In total, 15 SRC members abstained from the vote, with Pangilinan and Alexander voting against the motion. The motion to condemn Liberal and Labor for supporting the RDB did not pass.

The meeting continued with the SRC agreeing to publicly endorse the Uni student contingent to the March 25 climate strike, and to sign on to the Adelaide University SRC statement to defend union democracy.

The creation of the Australian International Students Association (AISA) was supported, with UNSW SRC to join the collective, and Keshia Kimber was appointed as the Paddington Campus Domestic Officer representative.

Bhattacharya responded to Tharunka after the SRC meeting, stating “While personal beliefs on the Council may vary, the Council has always steered itself toward protecting the wider interests of students.”