‘A Fucking Shitshow’: Negotiations between Grapeshot & the SRC break down… again

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Words || Angus Dalton

I had high hopes when I was finally invited to an SRC meeting last week to speak on behalf of Grapeshot. We have been trying to repair the fraught relationship between Grapeshot and the SRC for three years, and it has been a full year since the previous SRC passed a motion seeking to routinely invite a reporter to SRC meetings.

The vast majority of other universities hold completely open, public SRC meetings in which anyone can attend, but Macquarie’s SRC meetings are held under wraps.

Previously, two or three Grapeshot editors and reporters would go along to SRC meetings to help communicate the workings of the SRC without fuss. But somewhere along the way, beef cropped up, Grapeshot was locked out, SRC meetings became completely private, and the representative body began to harbour a distrust towards the student publication.

I went to the meeting last Thursday to put the disagreements between past Grapeshot editors and old SRC members behind, to allay concerns SRC members had about the re-inclusion of a reporter in the room, and to answer any questions they had.

What could have been a productive conversation and a win for student advocacy became an absolute fucking shitshow.

Sam Hurrell, an undergraduate representative, embarked on a bizarre line of questioning that started with a fair enough question – what information did we think we were missing out on by not attending SRC meetings?

I answered that first of all I didn’t know, because no one except the SRC and staff members have access to SRC meetings, and also, a reporter accessing meetings wasn’t necessarily about gathering information or collecting ‘scoops’. It’s about repairing the relationship between Grapeshot and the SRC so we can work together in publicising and advocating about issues that affect the student body.

It’s also about staying on top of the discussions surrounding issues like parking, construction and student-group funding so that when we do report on these issues, we have all the relevant information at hand, and don’t have to wait months before the minutes of the SRC meeting (which are compiled by a staff member) are released.

Hurrell then brought up an article called ‘7 Things I Hate About MQ’ that Grapeshot had published in our first issue of the year. In the article, we had written about how the current SRC structure had come about after the Student Union was dissolved over a decade ago. In 2015, Macquarie took seven of its own students to the Supreme Court so they could shut down the postgraduate student union too.

The article pointed out that since the dissolving of the student unions, Macquarie students have far less control over how their SSAF (Students Services and Amenities Fee) funds are spent, as the SRC only has direct control over $200,000 in contrast to the millions of dollars’ worth of assets controlled by student unions. (Also, last year the SRC only spent $120,000 of their already small budget, and SSAF doesn’t roll over, so for all we know that unspent 80 grand went straight into the Vice Chancellor’s Christmas pay packet).

Hurrell apparently took personal offence to the article, even though it was a critique of the way the SRC was set up by the university rather than the members of the SRC themselves.

He asked me whether I thought a student union would be more effective in advocating for students. I asked what this had to do with the implementation of a Grapeshot reporter. He didn’t answer.

I also asked if he could give me one reason why a reporter shouldn’t be allowed in the room – which is the debate we should have been having – and he didn’t answer. Instead, he requested to ‘answer my question with a question’ and continued on his frankly irrelevant rant about my hypothetical support for a student union. He didn’t really seem to come to a point. It felt like he was just asking questions to waste my strictly-allotted 10 minutes of time.

Then the Chair of the SRC, Fiona Reed, spoke up. (The Chair runs meetings and makes the final call on motions passed by the SRC.)

This was where the dire problem with the structure of the SRC became blatantly apparent.

Reed said that, as an independent chair, she doesn’t give her opinion on matters. She then proceeded to literally provide her opinion on the situation.

She said that student unions were very ‘political’ and that the SRC were in a good position to make positive change at the university. The latter point I agree with. The former point I have no idea about because I’ve never had any interaction with a student union, and it’s not relevant to the conversation we were supposed to be having.

Reed then criticised the fact that Grapeshot doesn’t send the SRC full articles for them to comment on before publication, even though I had already explained that we are in no way obligated to do so. All I was trying to do in that meeting was explain and stand up for journalistic values, but in her mind that wasn’t conducive to the ‘respectful relationship’ we were trying to establish.

Reed was clearly attempting to steer the SRC against Grapeshot. In conversations with many current and past SRC members, members have said that the Chair oversteps her role and sways SRC opinion and votes. I’ve heard that it happens, and now I’ve experienced it first-hand.

First of all, the chair of the Student Representative Committee should be a student. Not someone cherry-picked by the university to run meetings. Again, the vast majority of university SRCs and other student representative organisations have an elected Chair or President who is a student. But not Macquarie.

Second of all, if the Chair is not a student, they should not be giving their opinions on student matters. Reed has the power to stop motions and influence the SRC’s financial decisions. This is completely inappropriate.

My appearance in the SRC meeting ended with shouting and a brusque farewell. As I left, Lachlan McGrath – former SRC Treasurer – was invited in to give his opinion on the whole ordeal. This was galling to me.

McGrath was the SRC member that the previous Editor-in-Chief of Grapeshot had negotiated with for the inclusion of a reporter last year. Negotiations deteriorated when it became known to Grapeshot that McGrath and another SRC member, Alistair Booth, had written a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Grapeshot and the SRC and sent it to the university without even asking the Grapeshot team to contribute first. (The relationship between McGrath and Grapeshot was also complicated by an article our news team published about McGrath’s stacking of the MQ Labor AGM.)

Ignoring the fact that an MoU is supposed to be written by both parties equally, the MoU was unacceptable to Grapeshot as it set out severe restraints on our reportage. We rejected it on sight.

But now, the university asked an ex-SRC member along so he could provide the current SRC with the same memorandum that we’ve already rejected. Essentially, this means that progress on the SRC allowing a Grapeshot reporter has been pushed back a year.

The university has engineered this in a way so that that the same disagreements and concerns that have already been discussed for years between Grapeshot teams and SRC cohorts of old will all have to occur all over again.

The presence of a Grapeshot reporter in that room will boost the power of the both the SRC and Grapeshot in keeping the university accountable and advocating for students. But the SRC have again refused to be accountable, and seem to want to be in full control of information released about them, which is not only a slap in the face to the student body that actually elected them; it also allows university staff members to get away with steering meetings and influencing which motions or financial decisions go through.

Grapeshot extended the hand for the umpteenth time on Thursday and got shouted down. It appears that certain members of the SRC are happy to keep catering to university executives rather than fighting for their own independence or standing together with Grapeshot to advocate for students. I wish I could say that I’m surprised.


Grapeshot will gladly publish any SRC member’s take on this matter, or a statement written on behalf of the SRC. 

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