Sydney University’s SRC have passed a motion by Honi Soit to remove one of their editors, Socialist Alternative member Christine Lai, after a shock recount reversed the council’s apparent original decision against the motion.
It is the first time in history that the USyd SRC have voted to remove a student journalist from their position, after their power to do so was instated in 2013.
The motion, which took 35 minutes to resolve, was the peak of vitriol and disorder at yesterday’s SRC meeting. Councillors across the lecture theatre shouted and yelled rhetoric and obscenity out of turn, which was led by the dozen-strong section of SAlt members and affiliates.
Originally, it appeared that the motion to remove Lai received 18 votes for and 20 against. A right-wing faction of the SRC, which included members of the Young Liberals, sided with the large SAlt contingent against the motion. They could be heard laughing and joking throughout the vote, sarcastically commenting on their ‘solidarity’ with their usual adversaries.
The Honi 9 were visibly dejected at this outcome, while SAlt members shifted their demeanour from one of abject anger to a mocking of Honi’s apparent need for political support from the Young Liberals.
Honi’s case was based on allegations that Lai did not fulfill her contractual obligations in line with the rest of the team, as well as her failure to disclose her membership with SAlt as a conflict of interest. Lai was not present at the meeting.
Honi members with a conflict of interest must not engage in political coverage – a rule introduced this year by verbal agreement with the incoming Honi team, including Lai.
Editors Luke Cass and Kat Butler opened proceedings. Prominent SAlt member Yasmine Johnson then echoed their faction’s accusations that the sacking amounted to a ‘political attack’, and that Honi is a publication of ‘McCarthyite tradition’.
The Honi team matter-of-factly promised that, should the motion fail, it would be resubmitted at subsequent meetings until it is passed.
At one point, two SAlt members turned their backs to the stand to yell such accusations directly at the Honi team sitting behind them. Johnson appeared to cross the room to tell them to stop or tone it down.
The Honi team was also accused of taking a stance that forbade persons for engaging in student journalism if they identified with socialism as a political ideology.
Famed SAlt member Deaglan Goodwin then came to the stand with a copy of the most recent edition of Honi Soit (Week 10 Sem 1). He presented its cover as an example of Honi’s failure to engage in radical activism, which he and SAlt condemned. However, in doing so he inadvertently presented to the council the issue’s back page, which featured a full-page advertisement for an upcoming on-campus rally in support of Palestinians against the Gaza occupation, an error which was immediately and vocally noted by attendants.
From here, order was lost in the council. Councillors shouted across the room at each other during the speaking time of those at the stand. One member of SAlt spoke out of turn for over thirty seconds before the meeting moved on.
It was initially recorded that the vote failed. However, after a subsequent unrelated motion and a short break three hours into the meeting, business resumed with a procedural from a member of Unity and a member of Grassroots that the votes of three people in the back row of the far left corner of the room were not counted.
It was then confirmed that the vision of the secretary of council had been obscured by other attendees, and a recount was called. Having originally failed by a margin of two votes, the motion ultimately passed by a margin of one.
Honi told Tharunka that the the SAlt contingent were particularly ‘quiet’ in this moment.
After the success of the vote, Honi successfully moved to hire Caitlin O’Keefe-White as Lai’s replacement. O’Keefe-White had been carrying out their now-contractual duties since shortly after the rift between Christine and the Honi 9 opened, way back in early March.
They had been performing these services essentially for free, and will only now be formally paid for their work with the paper.
Honi told Tharunka that four members of the editing team had voluntarily taken a small pay cut to reimburse O’Keefe-White for their work over the last two months. They were paid half of the contracted $500 per fortnight, out of the pockets of editors who did were not experiencing an extraneous amount of cost-of-living stress.
Honi explained to us that, until now, O’Keefe-White had no swipe-card access to SRC office spaces, and had given their services with no rights to workplace protection, including if she had succumbed to injury or sexual assault in SRC spaces.
O’Keefe-White will now be paid the same as the rest of the team.
Socialist Alternative indicated that they would not be willing to speak to Tharunka on this matter. We separately reached out to Yasmine Johnson for comment and had received no response.
More to come.