21 July 2014


Hi there,

My name is Ed McMahon and I am the holder of the Sustainability Portfolio on our Board of Directors for the next year.

The Sustainability Portfolio has existed for two years and I am the third person to hold it. It has recently been complemented by the creation of the Sustainability Events Coordinator position (applications for which have recently opened, so consider applying!) The Portfolio Holder is responsible for overseeing the organisation to ensure its sustainability credentials, whereas an events coordinator is responsible for initiatives, such as events, that raise the profile of issues relating to sustainability. Of course, there is plenty of room for us to work closely together.

I want to take a brief moment to consider the terminology. Sustainability, after all, is one of the three main pillars of this organisation's current strategic plan. However, in the context of that plan "sustainability" is used to describe organisational and economic considerations, rather than just environmental ones. Indeed, only one of the listed strategies under the heading concerns itself specifically with "community and environmental needs." By contrast, the Regulations that contain the sustainability portfolio require that the Portfolio Holder be an environmentalist. So it is clear that my mandate is one of environmentalism. Indeed, that is why I wanted to hold the portfolio, for one of my primary election platforms was environmentalism. But even that term is fraught with ambiguities.

What does it mean to be sustainable? One line of argument is that without organisational and economic sustainability, we are unable to make any meaningful contribution to environmentalist outcomes. The error of that argument, however, is that organisational and economic sustainability is defined by reference to a capitalist market that has mercilessly consumed fifty percent of the planet's non-renewable resources in half a century and occasioned the greatest mass extinction event since the dinosaurs. To be perfectly blunt, I am personally of the belief (and I have the stone cold hand of hard scientific fact on my side) that gradual environmentalist tweaks at the seams of neoliberal capitalism will not be enough to achieve true sustainability.

All of that said; it is of course necessary to consider our organisation's longevity in all that we do. I do not believe that we should always define ourselves by reference to "the market" for the reasons outlined above. We must, however, ensure that we remain viable in the context in which we find ourselves. More often than not, viability in fact comes from environmentally conscious thinking. The fossil fuel industry, for example, is ultimately doomed; not only because we will "run out" but because renewable energies are already competitive and indeed an economically prudent alternative. The willingness of organisations like ours to divest from fossil fuels or install solar panels is an important part of ensuring that fossil fuels continue to be shut out of the market. In short, there are decisions open to us that allow us to both ensure our organisation's ongoing viability and to lead the way to a more environmentally sound future.

This is the beauty of our organisation. We are a student union comprised of great and enthusiastic thinkers. We can be the architects of a visionary organisation that has a meaningful impact on the lives of its members and that can also contribute to broad societal changes. Through this organisation we can contribute to changes that are much bigger than any of us, and our time at university.

Clearly I have left a lot of questions unanswered. There are many instances where economic thinking and environmental thinking are at odds, and I do not have a blueprint by which to solve those tensions. What does sustainability mean? What does it mean to be an environmentalist? How does such a person respond to these tensions? Do we engage with and profit from the destructive policies of neoliberal capitalism, or do we have a duty of civil disobedience in the face of ecocide? What even is the environment? Although it is covered in sandstone and concrete, our campuses are part of this elusive "environment". Interestingly, for example, the loveable ibis is with us because its native wetlands in the north-west of the state have been destroyed by activities such as mining – I have written about this previously for Honi Soit - http://honisoit.com/2014/04/ibis-intrigue/

When we live in a closed system such as our planet, questions of sustainability become much more complex than a simple balance sheet.

If you have any answers to the questions raised here, or want to help me find them, you can email me at E.McMahon@usu.edu.au. I'm not necessarily looking for complete answers either. You may simply have a suggestion about how our day-to-day operations could be more environmentally conscious, or perhaps you want to propose a way in which we can support your environmentalist endeavours. Alternatively, if you want to be involved with the environmental movement more generally you should consider heading along to Enviro Collective, details of which can be obtained from the SRC.

In love, rage, and rainbows,

Email: E.McMahon@usu.edu.au
Consultation hours: TBC - watch this space!

14 July 2014


On Sunday 6 June several members of the Board of Directors and USU staff attended the Sydney Bust the Budget rally held at Town Hall. We arrived around 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, by which point Town Hall Square and the streets surrounding had already filled well to capacity with thousands of people. After hearing several keynote speakers we took to the streets alongside teachers, pensioners, families, doctor, nurses, and fellow students.

Recently Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz publically stated that creating a private market out of universities is ‘absurd’, and that the deregulation of fees will move the Australian tertiary education system in the wrong direction. We attended the rally to express our disapproval of the current government’s push for uncapped deregulation of university fees on behalf of the Union’s members.

Figures cited by the Sydney Morning Herald1 show that “students will be hit with double fees for some arts degrees and at least 55 per cent rises for engineering and science degrees at the University of Sydney.” The figures, which go on to show severe increases across all disciplines, are a mark of an unprecedented era in higher education.

These increased costs have a severe impact on student equity, access and participation – and will leave students crippled with debt, and therefore unable in the future to buy their first homes, set up enterprise and support their families. We believe deregulating fees creates a discouraging environment especially for poorer students from low socio-economic backgrounds; this would be yet another hurdle to obtaining a tertiary education. We believe educational resources should be available equitably, and that access to education should not be easier for some than others.

Your Board of Directors is committed to fighting the deregulation of university fees alongside other student organisations. As access to tertiary education becomes more difficult, so too does the ability for many students to get involved in campus life.

Our CEO, Andrew Woodward, also considers the reduction of funding to Australian universities to be a major concern and feels it should be reassessed. “The recent history in this sector is to remove funding which is leading to more and more pressure on individual universities. This is not a good thing.”

We encourage you, our members, to read about what deregulation may mean for you, and form your own opinion. (Caroline McMillen, Vice-Chancellor at University of Newcastle, has written two articles on The Conversation which may prove useful - http://theconversation.com/the-government- should-think-hard-before-deregulating-university-fees-26175, and http://theconversation.com/a- vice-chancellors-defence-of-the-uncapped-university-system-18639).

If you would like to discuss the deregulation debate, or talk to us about how you can get involved, feel free to contact us, whether it’s by email, Facebook, Twitter or dropping by our office on Level 5 of the Holme Building.

Tara Waniganayaka 

On behalf of the USU Board of Directors.

1 Swain, Jonathan and Smith, Alexandra (June 1, 2014), ‘Uni course fees expected to double, analysis shows’, Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/uni-course-fees-expected-to-double- analysis-shows-20140531-39b0b.html

03 July 2014


Hiya there!

My name is Kate Bullen and I’m your new Wom*n’s Portfolio Holder on the USU Board of Directors. Thank you for stopping by this page today.

It is my job to represent the interests of all wom*n-identifying students, (both my own and the community as a whole). I will work towards complete gender equality within the Union and will use this blog to keep you updated on projects and campaigns I’m working on to achieve this goal.

Furthermore, throughout the year, I will use this blog to communicate about issues relating to the wom*n’s community of the University of Sydney. In addition to this, my contact details are at the bottom of this page as well as my consultation hours and location.

Before I begin, I would like to start by explaining why I will be using the term wom*n instead of women. Here at the USU, we use the term wom*n to recognise, reflect and respect the diverse range of experiences of those within the wom*n’s community. The term is used to encompass all people whom identify as a woman and/or have lived experience as a woman.

So let’s get down to business.

“No society treats its wom*n as well as its men,” That is the conclusion from the United Nations Development Programme Report, “And no society is free from violence against wom*n.” That’s a pretty damning tale. The World Health Organisation says that these levels of violence range from about 15% of wom*n in Japan all the way up to 71% of wom*n in Ethiopia. 

Have a think about where Australia might fit on that spectrum; I will tell you soon.

The independence of wom*n all over the world differs greatly too. Of course, if you are studying at the University of Sydney you are exceptionally lucky. Yet, in Saudi Arabia wom*n are not allowed to drive cars or ride bicycles on public roads and in Chile wom*n lack the right to own land. In many countries, girls as young as 12 are forced to marry men two or three times their age. In fact, the problem of child-brides is so great, that recent statistics released by UNICEF indicate that more than one-third of wom*n in the world aged 20 to 24 were married before they were 18. One third of 20 to 24 year olds. That’s our age group.

The United Nations often cites the statistic that state wom*n do two-thirds of the world’s work for only 10 percent of the world’s income and own only 1 percent of the means of production. Yet they do this work with access to very little education. Wom*n make up more than two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults. This gap in educational attainment becomes particularly maddening when you consider the numerous studies that have been done which show that educating girls is a key factor in eliminating poverty and aiding development.

However, by attending the University of Sydney it already means that you’re significantly more educated than millions of others around the world.

Yet, we still have a problem. Wom*n are not making it to the top of any profession, anywhere in the world. Despite making up half the global population, wom*n hold only around 15 percent of elected parliamentary seats in the world. They’re missing from all levels of government—local, regional and national. In the corporate world, Board Directors, upper-level managers it’s around 16%. In the not-for-profit world, a domain, which is often heralded as a champion for equality, is only marginally better at around 20%.

In addition to this, it has been proven that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for wom*n.  We have been conditioned to expect male leaders to be calm, stable and competent, where wom*n leaders are shrill, mean and emotional.

In America, a 25 year old full-time working woman earns on average $5000 less per year, than a man her age. In ten years, her cumulative lost wages will be around $34,000. By the age of 65, this adds up to a loss of around $431,000.

In our own backyard, in Australia, the figures are much the same. In her first year out of university, a woman will earn approximately $5000 less than any man in her class. This figure is calculated across all faculties. This all adds up. A woman’s superannuation pay-out is around half of that of a man’s; simply because of the cumulative effects of the gender pay gap.

Violence against wom*n is still big problem in our society too. The percentage of Australian wom*n whom have experienced violence is around 35%.  In fact, violence against wom*n is the number one contributor to death and disability of Australian wom*n aged 15 to 44.

As you can tell, I’m a massive advocate for feminism.

Feminism. That’s a big word to dissect; but basically it’s about gender-equality. There have been many failings of feminism. We have alienated wom*n of colour, wom*n from lower socio-economic backgrounds, queer wom*n and wom*n of differing levels of physical and mental ability.

But my life and the lives of every other woman at this university are indebted to the work of wom*n before us, and to quote Senator Penny Wong (International Women’s Day 2014), “if we walk away from the term “feminist,” we diminish their achievements.

Gender stereotypes cause problems on both sides of the coin. Our society, both past and present puts far too much pressure on men to succeed. In places like Lithuania and Belarus, suicide rates of men are 6 times that of wom*n. In America and Australia, the ratio decreases, but is still three times that of wom*n.

It is in all of our interests to decrease this figure. Men’s suicide is not a men’s problem; like wom*n’s low leadership-levels are not a wom*n’s problem. We all need to work together. Men need to feel like they can be valued and fulfilled by choosing to work less, or work in the home and wom*n need to feel like they can be successful in their careers and still be liked.

There is an index which continues to track the strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its national competitiveness in terms of economics and trade. Since wom*n account for one-half of a country’s potential talent base, a nation’s competitiveness in the long term depends significantly on whether and how it educates and utilizes its wom*n.

The promise of equality is not equality. 

Feminism is like a bus travelling up a steep hill. If you don't keep your foot on the accelerator you start rolling backwards.


Mobile: 0424628831
Consultation hours: Wednesdays 2-4pm in the Wom*n’s Room, Level One of Manning Building.
(Please note that the Wom*n’s Room is an autonomous space for wom*n-identifying people)