DISCLAIMER: Daniel is the Managing Editor of Lot’s Wife. This is his opinion and his alone. Not Lot’s Wife and not the other editors.
This is partly a response to Jan Morgiewicz’s piece published on 09.05.2019
Student politics is a joke. To the majority of students on campus, student politics is a minor annoyance, a trigger word for eye rolling and groans. For one week in second semester, you avoid the campus centre but beyond that you couldn’t care less about it if you tried. You can’t tell the difference between one party and the next. Especially with their dull, generic, inoffensive names like ‘Together’, ‘Go!’, ‘Activate’ and ‘Switch’.
But for those few hundred inside the bubble, it’s exhilarating. It’s a battleground. The place where you forge life-long friends and enemies. You’re changing the world! If you don’t get elected and your opposition does, then Monash will be ruined! You are the lifeblood of this university!
And to be honest, they nearly have a point. I managed to get through four years of unpolitical studying at Monash. Four years in which student politics meant nothing to me. Then in my fifth year, I decided I wanted to work for Lot’s Wife. To do this, I had to run on a ticket with either Together or Activate for the MSA elections (the connection of journalism and political parties for Lot’s Wife is a whole other issue that I’ll write about later).
Suddenly, I was thrust into a world that I barely knew existed. I was quickly taught who were allies and who were foes. And it was exciting for a while. We would all ridicule the opposition because they were always wrong and we were always right. Oh! the scandals, the scheming, the politicking, it’s enough for its own Netflix series.
But as I’m sure you’re aware, the world of student politics isn’t just contained in Monash. Each student party is naturally placed somewhere on the Australian political spectrum. ‘Together’, the incumbent MSA party, in my own personal opinion unofficially represents Labor right. They will never publicly admit their link. But it’s well known that many of its top members campaign for Labor, are Young Labor, are staffers for Labor Candidates or have even run for Labor themselves. So, it’s easy to see the connections.
‘Go!’ was the party in power prior to 2018 (now allegedly rebranded as ‘Activate’) and they are similar connections with Labor too, but this time, allegedly with Labor left. Yes, the main battleground at Monash is just Labor fighting Labor, so much for politically diverse university culture. As the concept of Young Liberal is almost oxymoronic, their presence is much smaller than Labor’s and the Green’s. I mean, if you’re already conservative when you’re young, idealistic and unburdened by mortgages and taxes, you’re in trouble. The Greens are also present on campus with ‘Grass Roots’. Many of their members are active Greens campaigners or part of the Young Greens. This includes senior positions, with one 2018 Grass Roots candidate also running for the Greens in last year’s state election.
And this connection to the major political parties is a problem. Student politics become a stepping stone for these ambitious students trying to further their political careers and they forget common decency and what’s reasonable. This desire isn’t laughable though, many politicians have come through the ranks of Monash student politics, including Bill Shorten, Daniel Andrews, Josh Frydenberg and so on.
Have a read of my friend and colleague, Jan Morgiewicz’s piece, Unrealistic, divided and hypocritical: Why waste your vote on the toxic Greens?. I disagree with it; I believe it’s a rabid attack piece that’s pedantic and bizarrely conflates irrelevant issues. For instance, he suggests that because a couple of Greens candidates were sexist or racist on social media, then surely we can draw a giant line through the belief that the Greens are a feminist, tolerant party. By this logic, his own party, Labor, is the furthest thing from tolerant. They themselves have a long list of similar indiscretions. Something about not throwing stones in glass houses?
But the bit of his piece that I find really interesting, is his attack on Julian Burnside. Apparently, because Burnside was once a Liberal supporter and conservative, he is a terrible candidate. Jan might not have realised this, but Burnside was once a writer for Lot’s Wife in the late ‘60s. Burnside was penning articles for LW and voting Liberal 20 years before the Greens even existed. Also, the threat of climate change in the ‘90s is nothing compared to what it is now. A man can change beliefs, I’m willing to cut him a little slack.
But this belief that someone can’t change opinions, or that if they do, they’re untrustworthy, is what I find really tiresome about student politics. My friends, my colleagues and my opposition all believe deeply that they know the right answer and anyone who thinks differently is a bona fide simpleton. But not only this, this self-righteousness extends throughout life, as it is considered reprehensible to change your opinion in the face of new facts, realities, studies or just changing circumstances.
By this aggressive, black & white logic – I’m screwed. I have no idea what to think. I’ve only been on this earth for a little over 20 years, how could I possibly hold the complete and utter self-belief that they do? I’m impressed with their complete unflappability; I wish I could have a sliver of that confidence.
As Julian Burnside is being lambasted for changing opinions, I too must be mocked by my friends who hold all the right answers. I’m not originally a Victorian, only half of me is Australian. I went to a school where you were either conservative and Liberal or progressive and Green, Labor was not an option. Now, at Uni my entire world is Labor. I’m a political chameleon, which is probably the biggest insult you could say in student politics. I have no backbone, no moral compass, I’m a fence sitter.
This dogmatic, aggressive self-belief is what turns the majority of students off student politics. I’ve sat in meetings with blatant bullying between factions. To me, the things said were completely unprovoked, but to my friends apparently it was justified. Apparently, if I knew the history of student politics, then I would agree with the bullying and the scorn.
I hope not.
Student politics have forgotten their decorum and dignity. They live in echo chambers and have lost sight of what’s appropriate.
As we saw when Jan’s piece was published, the outraged response was swift and brutal. The calls that Lot’s Wife were biased were numerous. This wasn’t the intention; it was meant to spark debate. We reached out to several political parties on campus leading up to the election to publish their opinions, and whilst some will be in the upcoming physical next week, there were only a small number, and none were from individual students wishing to share their opinions on the election. Jan submitted this in his personal capacity and not as an editor. It went through significant vetting processes and many, many hours of verification. Maybe people’s responses would be different if it was one of many opinion pieces. But the reality is, it’s not.
We were hoping people realised this didn’t represent Lot’s Wife. But that’s a tone-deaf wish. With Jan’s & Together’s obvious political affiliations, it was always going to look suspect. The facts have all been checked, the logic leaps might be a bit spurious though. And that’s on us – we didn’t put up the appropriate disclaimers in time and when published alone it does look propaganda-esque. Unfortunately, whilst it may have been sensationalist and exciting, there was no deep conspiracy; Jan does not run Lot’s Wife, he runs the Facebook page with another member, we don’t have some deep political bias, we just run the submissions we receive and his was the only one. Ultimately the boring answer is that it just came down to a haphazard and unprofessional mistake on our part.
This wouldn’t have been an issue however if student politics wasn’t so inflexible and dogmatic. We were hoping it would bring more submissions and discussion, but the pervading self-righteousness and aggrandisement of student politics just led to expedient attacks and rebukes. But as we’ve seen, student politics is a viable pathway for career politicians. With the speed of the modern political game, 7 prime ministers in 10 years, it’s easy to see why these young students are so viciously keen. There’s no time to equivocate.
Student politics remains a joke. Unfortunately, not a very funny one.
Correction 13/05/2019: The original article mentioned that Grass Roots “has many paid staffers”. This is untrue and the article has been corrected to reflect this.