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The Far Right on Campus

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The far right is on the rise across the world—even here at Monash.

The first day of semester 2 saw the re-appearance of Nazi propaganda on campus, threatening the arrest and deportation of Chinese students, and calling for a whites-only Australia.

Last year, Donald Trump won the most powerful election in the world by promising to deport immigrants and ban Muslims, while boasting about his past sexual assaults.

In Austria, the Netherlands, and France, fascist parties have come dangerously close to forming government. In Greece and Hungary, the neo-Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn and Jobbik have attacked migrants, Roma and their political enemies, and have gained a footing in parliament.

And right here in Australia, Pauline Hanson is back in Parliament, denouncing Muslims, migrants, and autistic children. Fascist and fascist-sympathising groups, such as Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front, have been organising anti-Muslim street mobilisations since 2015.

Their beliefs are hardly radical. Flag-waving, Muslim-hating, migrant-bashing, homophobia and sexism are promoted everywhere from the Herald Sun to the House of Representatives. The “radical” right just amplify the prejudices already promoted by the mainstream, and take them to their logical conclusions.

The student world is no exception. Universities aren’t the enlightened havens of intellectual progress that some like to imagine. The snobbery and social privilege of many university students translates easily into far-right, and even fascist, worldviews.

Far-right activism is experiencing a mini-revival on some Australian campuses. In some places, it’s the pathetic and resentful antics of “Men’s Rights” clubs. Increasingly, it’s the vilification and intimidation of Muslims. At the University of Western Australia a severed pig’s head was left outside the Muslim prayer room in 2015. A few months later at the University of Sydney, the Muslim room was trashed and threatening racist notes left.

In New South Wales earlier this year, posters were put up around campuses celebrating the forty-year fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, where tens of thousands of dissidents were killed, opposition parties banned, and women excluded from public life. For some years now, pro-Nazi leaflets have been distributed annually throughout universities.

At Monash this year, we’ve seen the emergence of the Monash Right, whose posters around campus have celebrated Trump and denounced alleged socialist conspiracies. And at the start of semester 2, “Antipodean Resistance” made a splash with their Chinese-language posters threatening to arrest and deport international students, alongside other, even more disgusting posters calling for all non-whites to be banned from Australia.

These aren’t all the same. There’s a difference between hyped-up conservatives and outright Nazis. But the right as a whole are increasingly promoting anti-migrant, anti-women, and anti-left sentiments on university campuses.

What to do?

Some argue that people who oppose fascism and the far right should ignore them and they’ll remain small and irrelevant. But we can’t wait for fascists to build up their forces before we take them on. If we do, it means those who stand up for egalitarianism and democracy are passive, while those who stand for oppression and discrimination promote their worldviews and organisations. The left, Muslims, women, LGBTI people and anyone else who oppose the Right have a reason to be concerned and take the threat of a growing right seriously now, not later once passivity has allowed them to grow to the extent they have in other parts of the world.

Others hope that we can bully the right into submission, or hide from them.

“Safe spaces”—including literal rooms devoted exclusively for the use of oppressed groups like women, LGBTI people, and people of colour—may be comforting to small groups of students, but they do nothing to stop the spread of right wing ideas in the world outside those tiny rooms. By retreating into our own inner lives, and ignoring the world outside, we give the other side free reign. We have to resist—not retreat.

And we can’t just try to turn the whole university into a “safe space” by demanding security guards and the university shut down our opponents. By calling on authorities to ban controversial speakers, leaflets, and meetings, we allow those who support oppression to act like martyrs of civil liberties.

And neither of these strategies increases the confidence and organisation of our side. Those of us who oppose discrimination and oppression have to collaborate to promote our ideas and activities with more boldness, confidence, and strength in numbers.

Ultimately, no matter how many speakers are banned and how many safe spaces are declared, the only way to defeat the right is by out-doing them on the field of organisation, argument, and activity.

That means we need to defend free speech and the right to organise politically on campus, because we need to use it. The ideas of the Right are promoted by the President of the USA and the columnists of the daily newspapers.

We have to use our resources to promote pro-migrant, pro-women, pro-LGBTI, and pro-equality messages that can win over students: our student papers, our student unions, our campus clubs, and our university spaces.

A battle of ideas is inevitable. The only way the broadly progressive forces can win is by taking a stand with confidence, organisation, and resources. That’s why it’s important to have our collective resources pooled to defend the rights and dignity of students and staff. It’s why taking a stance on controversial questions is important.

Clubs, societies, and student unions can’t afford to be be “apolitical” when Nazis are promoting their beliefs. And anti-fascist students can’t afford to be passive and leave it to others to sort out.

Luckily at Monash we are well equipped with a well-established student union; a number of broadly progressive political clubs; clubs and societies that represent LGBTI students, Muslims, and international students, and others; plus our student journalism and radio organisations, and many other resources.

All these groups, and many more—plus any interested student reading this—can, and should take a public stand against racism and the far right. If you don’t fight, you lose every time.

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Student

Inhospitable Conditions

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If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a student. And if you’re a student, there is a good chance that you have, do or will work in the hospitality industry while studying. Along with retail, it’s one of the few feasible job prospects that can be accommodated around full-time study. And it can be a great experience: meeting people who you otherwise never would have, prolonged post-shift drinking sessions in which stories are shared and life lessons taught. I personally found this to be the case, especially in my twenties. I learned a lot from the opportunities I’ve had working as a waiter and a barman, and have many fond memories. However, this same industry is one where systematic worker exploitation and wage-theft is endemic. Many will know what I’m talking about: not having penalty or even base award rates paid, setting up or closing outside of the nominal shift hours, managers taking the lion’s share of tips, or worse still, owners taking tips for themselves (a particularly grey area in Australia where tipping is not well established).

And it’s really hard to know how to feel about all of this. Is this fair practise? The generally accepted position is that there are unwritten rules for working in hospitality, which is that it’s often for cash payments below the award wage, without super payments, with each establishment having its own system of divvying up tips at the end of some period of time. Of course, this situation is most often completely opaque; it seems to be the case that none of this is discussed, you figure it out when you receive your first pay or you quietly ask a workmate when you’re polishing glasses. But the general justification for this dynamic seems to be that everyone accepts that turning a profit in hospitality is really, really hard and they simply can’t afford to pay the full-wage to staff. This is the regular industry argument against the validity of having to pay penalty rates in the evenings, on weekends and public holidays. This argument is easy to understand and get on board with. But it’s also a fallacy: it’s not a legitimate business practise– legally or morally– to base your business plan in part around wage theft. This was, as I’m sure many of you are aware, a major preoccupation of the twentieth-century. While I’m sure many restaurant owners wouldn’t recognise the practise in this way, this is in effect what it is.

There is another dynamic at play: these jobs, casual jobs, are precarious by nature. There are very few protections for casual workers and those in hospitality are generally regarded as disposable. As Noam Chomsky outlines: “If workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively”. It’s not that the cafe down the road is in the same league as Monsanto in terms of evilness, but the sum is that you can either accept the unspoken agreement or remain unemployed. Without meaningful income protection or universal income scheme, most will take the job. You have little choice. Like I mentioned, it’s hard to know how to feel about this. You might see the job as transitory until your degree is finished and not care so much. On the other hand, you might be so grateful to have a job that it feels rich to want more (ie. the minimum wage). In any event, this situation is so entrenched that the devaluation of hospitality staff is reproduced by those staff themselves towards others. I’ve heard workmates in the past say that we weren’t worth the penalty rates, that we didn’t deserve them. Once an oppressive force manages to have its oppressed thinking contrary to their own best interests, something is seriously wrong. Let’s remember: the minimum wage as outlined has been determined by an independent body as to what one needs to be compensated considering the work being done, the time or day it’s being done, and the costs of living in Australia. So, why feel bad about wanting the minimum wage?

Having long-since left an employer who grossly and systematically underpaid their staff, I came to this conclusion: that I worked hard, that I did the work and that I should have been paid for it. After undertaking some investigation as to where I stood, I approached my former employer. I must say, I was terrified. I dispassionately pointed out the “mistake” in my pay and requested that it be rectified. And they did. While there is this weird “mutual agreement”, there is a legal one detailed on Fair Work website. At the end of it, I received what amounted to almost 11% of what my total pay should have been. Can you imagine landing your first job after uni, signing a contract, and receiving your first pay 11% less? You would point out the discrepancy. That’s a significant amount to not be paid, especially when you’re on the minimum wage. In my case, I must admit to feeling underwhelmed after it all. I had hoped that as well as seeking some personal retribution, that this business owner would reconsider their practise, or even just feel ashamed. But I feel that systematic wage-theft really is a part of their business plan, into which they account for one employee every five-years putting their hand out. Whatever they had to pay me, and the time spent to reconcile the situation pales compared to the thousands saved from all the others.

It doesn’t have to be like this. My position is this: if you engage with staff in a meaningful way from the start, your business will reap the benefits many times over in comparison to what’s involved in undercutting them. I say this because it’s happening where I work currently. Once I was taken on, the owner took the time to sit with me, outline what they expected of me and what I could expect of them. Not only did he outline my pay, he even printed out the relevant award for me and told me whom to contact if I thought my pay was not in line with it. This is best kind of managerial manipulation: I now feel like I want to do well for them. By focusing on their actual business activities instead of what they can get away with from their staff, I’d hazard a guess that they will be more profitable than spending all the time and energy in manipulating their staff and constantly retraining due to higher staff turnover. By humanising their staff rather than treating them as an input of production, by recognising that we are different to the fridge or the meat slicer, they will get more out of us. To those of you who are under the unspoken agreement, I urge you to investigate your rights and claim what’s yours. If we continue to accept this paradigm then, like the workmate who says we aren’t worth the minimum wage, we inadvertently reproduce the devaluation of ourselves and support this exploitation. If you don’t put a value on yourself, no one else will. The more of us who reject it, the less tenable the situation becomes.

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Student

F.O.I – Not for you and I

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The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI) was one of the many legal and administrative reforms brought in by the Cain state government. Prior to this, the government was not obliged to disclose information about its internal operations to the public. The Act represented a step towards greater transparency, with the objective of extending “as far as possible the right of the community to access to information in the possession of the Government of Victoria and [governmental agencies].”

It increased public scrutiny and debate over the oper-ations of government and other major public institutions. Recently, FOI legislation has been used to inquire into travel logs of members of parliament and government officials, such as Bronwyn Bishop and Tony Burke. The scandals generated by the revelations of extravagant travel expenses being charged to the taxpayer, such as Ms. Bishop’s helicop-ter ride, reveal how important the Act is in holding poli-ticians accountable. It helps to protect against corruption and the abuse of power in government agencies, by allowing ordinary people quick and reasonably low-cost access to information. Or rather, it should, were the Act adhered to as it were intended.

In 2012, the former premier John Cain slammed consecutive governments for manipulating the legislation to avoid releasing documents and dealing with public scrutiny. Public servants and bureaucrats are adept at disposing of problematic requests: such requests are usually for docu-ments that would reflect poorly on the agency, e.g. lists of donors to political parties, or the personal journal of George Brandis. The directive for a bureaucrat to reject a particular request can come from the highest positions of power, exec-utive councils and even ministers.

In 2010, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), an independent body to report on how the public sector collects, uses, and discloses informa-tion was established. It is also to serve as the watchdog for the administration of freedom of information and privacy requests. Despite hopes of ushering in an era of greater transparency and disclosure of information, the office has been much maligned since its inception, and chronic reports of inefficiency and understaffing culminated with the Coalition’s decision to scrap it in 2015. John McMillan, the first information commissioner, commented in an interview that politicians “hate” freedom of information laws.

He went further saying it’s “culturally acceptable, to thwart FOI requests” and that the tone was set from the top, by senior levels of government. Political interference in requests to protect an agency from damaging its reputation is common, and application of the Act has been eroded in serving the interests of government, to the point where the original wording seems almost laughable. The Act stipulates that it must “be exercised as far as possible, so as to facil-itate and promote, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost, the disclosure of information.” Clearly this attitude is not in keeping with the spirit of the legislation, but how are requests actually defeated, and is it legal?

The short answer is yes, there are many ways the legislation can be manipulated or inappropriately applied to deny the request. In my own recent experience with Monash University, I have been on the receiving end of what I believe to be deliberate attempts to sink my request. In July 2015 my request for a file list from the senior executive database was knocked back for being unclear, unironically signed off by executive services. This meant was that the request could not proceed because it had not been deemed valid, and consequently could not be appealed. To remove any doubt about the clarity of my request, I conducted some research and discovered the name of the database used by several key administration units, TRIM Context. I amended my request to seek a file list directly from TRIM, which was then to be refused under section 25A(6) for being an unrea-sonable drain upon resources.

Sourcing the documents, from the executive services database with a print file list function, notifying me of a decision and actually printing the documents were part of what was considered too burdensome, despite all being the most basic requirements of the legislation. More research on the classification structure of the database allowed me to progress by narrowing the scope to only two fifths of the database, which was eventually accepted. In the only con-sultation I had with a member of executive services ,I was advised to drop the request because it would never succeed. No effort was made by the University to provide me the re-sources I might need, even though the Act obliges them to. From my experience, Monash too, it would appear, does not follow the freedom of information Act in good faith.

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