Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The  last few months has seen a renaissance of protesting, sit-ins and political unrest at la Trobe University in response to 500 plus proposed cuts to the humanities and social science faculties.

The students are concerned about the university’s plans to cut 45 academic staff jobs and 500 subjects from its humanities and social science departments due to depleted enrolment.

The university announced the plans in a document released June 20 with Humanities and Social Science Dean, Tim Murray declaring a final decision will be made sometime this month.

Since hearing of the news students have partaken in overnight occupations of their university grounds, protests, marches and a series of petitions to combat these changes.

 

Under the threat of expulsion and weeks of peaceful protests, the raging debate reached a tension filled apex as the Stop HUSS Cuts Collective  and Occupy La Trobe grew forceful in their frustrations.

Escalating from peaceful to pushy, a La Trobe University Professor was forced to use an underground network to escape the student’s wrath.

Vice Chancellor, Professor John Dewar was ushered into a room by security staff during La Trobe’s annual Open Day when students protesting against proposed cuts confronted and reportedly hounded him into a building at the university’s Bundoora campus.

Student protestors and media take over the Bundoora campus Humanities and Social Sciences building

Since this time significant changes have been made to the proposal including a decline in the number subject and staff redundancies.

 As it stands La Trobe University are planning to cut 37 jobs by the end of this year along with the dismissal of 370 subjects.

La Trobe University Professor John Dewar released a statement  on the reviewed proposal late last month.

  “We may all wish it were otherwise, but we must recognise that traditional arts degrees are no longer sufficiently enticing nor relevant to school leavers and employers alike, and students have been voting, in effect, for a smaller humanities faculty with their feet.” He stated.

Morgan Cummings, a third year arts student at La Trobe University and student union representative believes the battle is far from over.  Morgan took the time to answer a few questions about the future of the movement.

With a final decision still looming on what will come from the tireless protests and student efforts, Occupy Latrobe have implored the university to enter into negotiations with the National Tertiary Education Union in good faith, to create a shift in focus from saving money to saving jobs and for a redistribution of executive pay to save other jobs at the university.

Grace Stevens, Madeleine Gray and Caitlyn Kelly pictured at the La Trobe Agora showing support for the No Cuts protest.

Madeleine Gray (pictured above), a third year International Relations student at La Trobe University  and active member of Stop Huss Cuts considers this to be a positive step forward in the ongoing movement but one that still has far to go in ensuring their beloved institution is maintained.

With negotiations still surging it will be some time before the impassioned students and staff of La Trobe University receives final word on the proposed cuts. For the students and faculty members this will be a fight not soon to slow down.

By Kate O’Hara

Pop quiz: what did the 2010 federal election and Seinfeld have in common?

You could draw any number of similarities between short-statured men, annoying laughs, close talkers and oddball characters who show up unannounced in your loungeroom each evening, but for OurSay founder and Chief Operating Officer Matthew Gordon, it really comes down to not much at all.

“For us it was clearly a Seinfeld election – a show about nothing,” he says.

“Political and media engagement was in the order of the lowest common denominator. It’s not surprising that the Australian community didn’t choose a government in the end, and just left Gillard and the others to work it out.”

Spurred into action even before the campaigning machine cranked into gear, Gordon and a group of keen young entrepreneurs established OurSay, an organisation intent on improving political engagement and community interaction through social media.

With just two years under its belt, OurSay has already carved a small but significant niche as a player on Australia’s political scene, hosting around 25 forums including the first ever Hangout with the Prime Minister.

In its latest partnership effort with the University of Melbourne and Fairfax Media, OurSay recently launched the Citizens’ Agenda, a collaborative crowd-sourcing project which aims to connect with voting communities around Australia and analyse the impact of that engagement. Gordon says it will sort out what issues really matter.

“We thought rather than just having a leaders’ debate like Gillard and Abbott did during the last election, why don’t all candidates have a debate?” he says.

“Using the OurSay methodology, people will post and vote for questions. Those top rating questions will be debated in the community forum, down at the local RSL or town hall. We want to see whether the terms are debated on issues the community has raised compared to the issues the political parties raise through polling and focus groups.”

Researchers and academics from the University’s Centre for Public Policy and Centre for Advanced Journalism will analyse the Citizens’ Agenda as it gets underway in the coming months.

“The advantage of this sort of project is that you’ve got six brilliant minds looking at your product and testing whether it’s going to make a difference or not,” Gordon says.

“Have we changed or increased the level of political engagement in the election? Who’s included and not included? What’s the content analysis of media? Did the headlines change based on what we were able to achieve? The last election was a farce, let’s make this one about something.”

Gordon’s not the only one disenchanted with the direction of political activity and media reporting in Australia. Dr Margaret Simons, founding director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism and industry expert has high hopes for the Citizens’ Agenda and its impact on the country’s “dull political reporting”.

She says politicians are becoming so managed by public relations teams that we barely see any real policy debates these days.

Dr Margaret Simons. Image: supplied

“Instead, we’re seeing a lot of personality-based politics, a sort of presidential system where it seems to be more about the leader than the policies. It’s a shame – it leads to a less informed electorate.

“For a long time I’ve been following the ideas of people like Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis and key scholars on journalism futures which I find very compelling – optimistic – but very compelling. Rosen had the idea that part of the role of media is not only to highlight problems but also to be an engaged citizen in helping a community find answers to problems.

“That idea was over-taken by the internet and his modern iteration was what he calls the Citizens’ Agenda, and that once the agenda has been determined, media should pursue it regardless of what the politicians want to talk about.”

Politics and social media have certainly strengthened ties in the past few years – take Barak Obama’s online savvy and his 19 million Twitter followers for example – but the impact of such engagement has yet to be captured and measured.

Dr Simons, a canny Twitter user and observer of social media happenings herself, is optimistic about the project and its positive impact on political engagement in Australia. She hopes the research findings will inform political media reporting well beyond next year’s federal election.

“I often say that we’re living through an era of innovation, equivalent to that which was caused by the printing press, which led people being able to identify with a nation rather than just their clan or village. It made modern democratic forms possible,” she says.

“Now if I’m right, and we’re living through the equivalent innovation now, we have to expect democracy to change, because democracy has always been, to some extent, technologically determined.

“In both journalism and political science there is a lot of hope that social media can serve to improve civic engagement, perhaps improve politics and perhaps lead to a more connected journalism; we might actually get some coverage of politics as though it matters rather than as spectator sport.”

Australian for Syria rally aims to draw attention to the unstable situation in Syria recently.

20,000 kilometers from home, Norwegian exchange students at Deakin University‘s Waurn Ponds campus in regional Geelong feel the pain of a massacre that changed their lives forever. Roxy Goldblatt has the story.