Being a National Councillor in the NTEU
I recently finished attending NTEU’s National Council 2022. Previously I’ve been on two Zoom-based National Councils. I did another post on the content of national council, but I thought it’d be handy to try and document what being on national council in the NTEU is like. I am going to try and cover from getting elected to attending and participating in the national council. This isn’t a guarantee about how the process will work for you (things change), but it’ll likely be very similar.
National Councillors serve two-year terms (ignoring COVID chaos). The NTEU had an election in 2022, just before national council, so the next election will be in 2024. Elections happen at the same time as other branch positions (branch committee members).
Let’s say you’re in the union, but not on branch committee. You may be following what’s happening and want to get involved, have a say, and maybe change things for the better. This is when you can look around (social media), talk to like-minded people, and maybe get advice. There are people that are political junkies and will have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in the union politics. I’m going to write this assuming you haven’t gotten in with a group, who would hopefully help you through the rest of this process. From now on this post is you going solo down this road.
You can contact your local branch and ask questions about possibly joining the branch committee and/or national council. This can be a GREAT way to get familiar with some of the machinations of the NTEU. NTEU politics isn’t a deep political thriller movie, but as soon as you mention an intention to people, it’s possible those people will check in with you/keep tabs on you/etc. This can be good (if they’re good/encouraging) or bad (if they don’t like you). You can also ask to observe a branch committee meeting (usually happening monthly, at least at my university).
Along with the above, you can look at what committees/caucuses the NTEU has and join them if you’re interested (and qualify). To do that, check the NTEU website. At the time of this writing (Oct 2022), there’s an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee, a queer committee (Queer Unionists in Tertiary Education/QUTE), and a Woman’s Action Committee (WAC). Also, due to work done at the recent national council, a National Migrant and Multicultural Advisory Group should be getting up and running.
The AEC determines the election dates (it’s VERY official), so while the union may have an idea of when the election is during the election year, they may not know the exact dates far in advance. The important thing to do in advance is make sure you are paid up for at least the last 6 months (I believe the requirement is that you’re a paid member for the last six months before you run), and make sure your physical and email addresses are correct with the NTEU (this is where AEC will mail and email the voting forms/etc). Also, you must start paying attention to union emails. Any email filters you may have set up for them, undo them, because important info is done via email.
At least a week in advance (according to the current rules, but hopefully earlier), an email will come from the general secretary announcing the election. This is an official email, done on behalf of the AEC Returning Officer.
The official email from NTEU announcing the 2022 elections.
This email will link to a pdf listing all the open positions. Here is the 2022 announcement. Besides committee positions, you’ll see three different types of national council positions:
- National Councillor (Academic Staff) – This is a normal national councillor, but the candidates must be an academic staff member. This is in place to make sure each branch (university) has a good mix of staff types.
- National Councillor (General Staff) – This is a normal national councillor, but the candidates must be a general staff member. Like academic, this is in place to make sure each branch (university) has a good mix of staff types.
- National Councillor – This can be any staff member type.
Roles that have “([General/Academic] Staff)” at the end are called “tagged” roles. In the branch committees there can be a casual-tagged ordinary committee member. In national council, you have academic and general-tagged roles. The number of national councillors get depends on their union membership at their branch. I don’t know the exact numbers, but for 1000 members I think you get 4 total national councillors (so maybe 1 position for every 250 members?). The greater the membership, the more representation you get. Either way, the PDF will list what positions are open.
The email will also link to the nomination form (possibly on the same page as the nomination announcements). This will also be a PDF. Here is the 2022 nomination form. The form is straight forward. You fill out your details and get two current (paid up) members to nominate you. Some pieces of advice when you fill out this form:
- Get over two nominators. Two is fine/legal, but if for some reason one of your nominators aren’t current or something else goes wrong, it’s good to have backups there. As you can see on the form, there are slots for four nominators. Talk to your branch committee if you need more nominators. They can help out.
- Include a candidate statement and a picture like they suggest. The picture and statement aren’t required but can be helpful. This only gets used if there’s an election (more people going for the number of positions than are available), but this is when you must do it. If you’re not sure what to say, talk about how long you’ve been at the university/in the union, what you see as the major issues, and what your values are/what sort of things you want to see changed in the union (which can flow on to your university).
- Submit early! If the AEC has problems, or your nomination isn’t acknowledged, it gives you time to get the issue resolved before nominations close.
- Submit nominations for multiple positions. In the case of national council, this includes nominating for the non-tagged role, and the tagged role that applies to you (academic/general). This means multiple nomination forms, so line them all up and have your nominators do them all at once so you don’t bug them too much! You can withdraw before they go up for election, so if you default into one role, you can withdraw from the other one (contested or not).
During the nominations time, national office should also send out emails offering information sessions about the election in general. Attend these to get more information. You can also talk to your branch exec (president + VPs + secretary) about nominations, as they may know who/how many people are nominating for positions and if you will have competition.
When you email your nominations in, along with a candidate statement + photo, you should get a confirmation email that your nomination has been accepted. In my experience, it’s taken between a couple hours to a couple days for me to get confirmation. The second page of the nomination form has ways to contact the AEC to confirm your nominations were received.
In the next week or two after nominations close, NTEU will list the results of uncontested positions. This is where you may have already won! If the number of people nominating for a position is less than the number of positions available, everybody wins! Congratulate each other and prepare (maybe jump to the DIVISION COUNCIL section below to find out more details).
If you followed the advice above and went for multiple positions concurrently, and you won one of those positions, you can now email the AEC to withdraw your nomination for the other position. Do it quickly, because the withdraw period is generally a short time after the announcement. I don’t know what happens if you stay in two concurrent positions, but best not to find out 😊
For any positions that are still contested, it’s election time! If you’d like to go around politicking, now is the time! Shake hands, kiss babies, all that. People that can vote for you are members that are in your branch, so you can talk to your branch committee about possibly holding a member meeting to “meet the candidates” so you can put yourself out there if you’d like. Otherwise, let your candidate statement do the talking.
When it’s election time, the AEC will mail (physical mail) you the official voting documents. Fill these out and submit them back in (physical mail) early! If you don’t receive your forms, contact the AEC. This is important. In NTEU Election 2022, there were problems with people receiving their voting forms and blame was placed on AusPost, which I believe the rules say they officially must use. Things may change by 2024.
After the election, within a week or two, the results should come out via email, the same way the uncontested position results came out earlier. The quickest way to find the results is search for your last name. If you got in, congrats! If you didn’t, commiserations! Please don’t get discouraged, and consider getting involved at the branch level if you aren’t already (as a workplace union rep, or branch committee member, etc).
Results for an uncontested election to National Councillor (General Staff)
Results for a contested election to National Councillor (untagged)
Depending on your division (div), there’s a good chance if you are a national council member, you are automatically a division council member. You will have to contact your division for details (or you might suddenly start getting emails welcoming you to division council, that might be a good sign too!).
In this section I am going to focus on my experience in Victoria Division (vic div) council. Your div may function differently.
Division council will meet (generally a zoom meeting that lasts a couple hours in an evening, although div might move to in-person meetings? Not sure) to determine division exec (more on that in a bit), how often to meet, etc. There are official rules around this, with the announcement having to come from the div sec, the agenda having to be sent out ahead of time, etc. Watch your email for announcements.
Traditionally, vic div has met every 6-8 weeks on zoom. During the meeting the branches report on what they’re up to, there’s discussion about vic div issues, and there’s updates from various members of NTEU (Secretary, Industrial Officer representative, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative, etc). Sometimes there are motions. This can be good to see what vic div is doing to help the branches, advocate for your issues, etc.
Division exec are a sub-group that meets to make decisions about what is going on, report things back national exec, etc. I am being vague here because I haven’t been a division exec member. You do not need to go for anything here if you don’t want, but if you want to be more involved, go for it! There’s a div president, div vp, and then div exec members. I don’t know how often they meet, and it probably varies by division, so I won’t expand much more on this.
BEFORE NATIONAL COUNCIL
3-4 months before national council, you will get an email from the NTEU. This contains a timeline of turning in potential motions/rule changes, among other things. Normal motions can be changes to our policy, or encouraging a style of organising, or any number of things. The rule change motions are stricter. They are suggested changes to our rules, which must not contradict other rules and must be approved by the ROC (Registered Organisations Commission, a government body).
Assuming you have a motion (or motions) you want to raise; this is when you get them together. You can work with others (after all, if you’re the mover of a motion, you’ll need a seconder when it hits the floor) or do it yourself. A typical motion can just have at least two sections:
- NTEU Notes: paragraphs or a dot-point list of facts that explains the current situation/why this motion is needed.
- NTEU Will: paragraphs or a dot-point list of things you want to change (“Encourage WHOEVER to do WHATEVER” or “Update the policy manual to say XXXX”)
Rule motions, as mentioned, are a bit different. Here is an example one. This one, like all rule change motions in 2022, were withdrawn or deferred due to a greater change to the rules, but this is a good example. You can contact the NTEU staff (currently Ken McAlpine, but he’s retiring this year) for help forming rule motions.
When you are ready, you can submit your motion in to get it on the list. The timeline will give you a deadline and address to email the motion to. This does not mean the motion is set in stone. Motions can be updated and changed up the whole time leading up to council. They can even be changed during council, and often are as everyone comes together to discuss stuff. The rules are that the motion’s “final” version (if there are any changes) must be presented to the national council coordinators the block before it’s presented in national council. So, things can be fluid, but you need to submit early to get it on the agenda. You can always withdraw it later.
2-3 months before national council, you will get another email from the NTEU. It contains the registration form/proxy form for National Council, as well as other information. Here is the 2022 form (pdf). Fill this out and return it quickly. I can’t imagine what chaos is involved with herding 100+ people together for this, but I’m sure it’s a nightmare (shout-out to Tracey Coster and Anastasia Kotaidis and many many other people who aren’t the senders of the emails but still do all this!). The more time you can give them, the better.
In 2022, national council met in-person at the Novotel Collins in Melbourne. In 2021 and 2020 it was done over Zoom. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I’ll write with the assumption you’re going to attend national council in person.
The national office is based in Melbourne, so I believe national council is always held in Melbourne. If you are a national councillor, the NTEU will pay for flights and accommodation and meals (details are on the registration form). If you are an observer, you must fund those yourself. Even if you live in Melbourne, unless you live right next door in the CBD, it’s highly recommended you get a hotel room. This is because the days are EXHAUSTING and there can be early morning or after-council caucuses/etc (more on that in a bit). The second and third days I basically made it upstairs to my room and crashed.
This is also when you can be given proxy. Proxy means someone can’t attend part of/all the national council, so they give their vote to you. They might like your views, or they will tell you what to vote for each of the motions.
Anyway, fill out the registration form and get it in. If you’re someone’s proxy, make sure they get their forms in too!
A few weeks before national council, a provisional agenda and list of motions is emailed out by NTEU staff. This takes the form of a link to a SharePoint page, generally.
Screenshot of part of the NCM 2022 SharePoint.
The folders are how they sort the motions. Section A1 (Agenda and Running Sheet) has the master list of how things will run. Everything on here is fluid, but it’s your first look at what council will look like.
If you’ve lodged motions, it’s worth looking into the other motions that are in your section, as yours may align with (or counter) other motions that have been submitted. If that’s the case, it can be worth contacting the other movers to see how you could combine into one super-motion.
Around this time, your division may meet to discuss the motions as well. This is in no way binding you to vote with the rest of the division, but as the division goes through the motions, you can learn more information and see what the general feeling is like. If you’re part of another group, they may go over the motions too. These are generally zoom sessions that take an hour or two.
As we get closer to council, politicking will increase. Also, NTEU will send email confirming flights/hotels/cab charges/etc. Keep an eye out for that and try to respond to them quickly if there’s any questions from the staff!
Finally, the time has come. I will focus on how national council 2022 went, but some things may not apply. Will there be RAT testing next year? Probably not for COVID-19, but who knows what pandemic will be happening next! Anyway…
Council starts a bit late on the first day, so people travelling to the location that morning have time to get there. The president holds an informal information session before national council starts, so you’ll want to get there somewhat early so you can hear that. It goes over the way national council works. They hand out printed out copies of the standing orders (the rules of how the council works. 2022 standing orders are here), answer any questions, whatever. This is helpful to go to if it’s your first time, or if you need a refresher. The session is listed on the running sheet, which is getting closer to its final version (but still may get updated during national council).
On arrival to the hotel, you get directed to where NTEU is having the conference. You likely won’t be able to check into the hotel yet, but you can check your bag with the hotel. When you first get to the NTEU area, you start by taking a RAT. After 10 minutes, assuming it’s clear, you can move on to the registration desk. Here you get a nametag, told what table you will be sitting at (it’s assigned seating), and are sent off into the main room. This is where the informal informational meeting happens, as well as the rest of national council. Each table holds 6-8 people, and people are assigned locations based on what branch/university they’re from. There’s a UniMelb table, a USyd table, etc. For the unis that have under 6-8 councillors, they’ll combine a couple together to fill a table. There are tables in place for division staff as well. Each table seat has a nametag and a coloured carboard piece you’ll use for voting (multiple if you’re the proxy for someone else). On the table is a power-strip to plug into for your laptop/whatever, a microphone to be used when you’re speaking, and some water.
In the front centre of the room is the dais, which holds the national president, secretary, assistant secretary, and other members of national exec as necessary. There are multiple projector screens set up on the front which display the current motion being discussed, however most motions go over one page so you’ll likely want to have a laptop/your own screen so you can browse the SharePoint and load motions yourself.
The running sheet (in section A1) holds a breakdown of what will happen in what order for the three days. This is handy to have up just so you can see what’s coming next. The 2022 running sheet is here. This can be updated during national council, so you may want to re-load it each day.
I will not go through each section of the running sheet, but more talk about how motions pass/etc.
When a motion is brought up, the mover gets a chance to speak. After that, the seconder gets a chance to speak or reserve their speaking until after any debate and right before the vote. Movers and seconders are limited in how long they can speak (I think it was five minutes each). At this point, if there are amendments, they are presented, one at a time. Much like a normal motion, the amendment mover gets to speak, then the seconder is given the opportunity to speak or reserve comment. After that is the debate. The chair (someone on the dais) will ask for speakers against the motion (or amendment) first. If someone raises their hand, they get five minutes to speak. Using the microphone on their table, they’re asked to stand (if able) so people can see who is speaking. After there’s a speaker against, we hear from a speaker for. This goes back and forth until everyone has spoken (usually the case) or it’s been going on for too long. I don’t know what too long is; the chair decides they’ll close the speaking list at some point.
When debate is over, the seconder is given a chance to speak if they reserved their right earlier. Finally, the mover is given time to speak as the “right of reply”. They speak, and then the voting begins. Voting is the chair asking for people for the motion/amendment to raise their coloured cardboard sheet they have at their seat. They then ask you to lower your hand and ask for people against the motion/amendment to raise their coloured cardboard sheet. Finally, they have the dissenters lower their hands and ask for any abstentions (people that don’t want to vote for or against). If the result is unanimous or very lopsided, they’ll declare the motion/amendment carried (success) or lost (failure).
People voting on a motion
If this was an amendment and carried, then the original motion has the amendment applied to it (in your head, they don’t live-update the document). If there are more amendments, they’ll repeat the above, otherwise debate on the motion begins. This is the same as before, and in most cases the people arguing against the amendment were arguing for the original motion, so there’s possibly not much more debate that has to be had. If there’s no debate they’ll move straight to voting for the motion (either amended or ‘substantive’/’as is’).
If the vote looks too close to call visually, they’ll ask for a count (either the dais will declare a count is needed, or the mover/seconder can ask for one). NTEU staff distribute through the room, and they repeat the process of holding up your coloured cardboard at the appropriate time, but you have to do it for multiple minutes while the NTEU staff go around and do multiple counts to make sure they get it right. Then the chair will give the raw numbers of the counts and declare the motion/amendment carried or failed.
There are a couple things to mention about this process:
- With the “leave of council” (assuming council is fine for it), the mover of a motion can cede their opening time to someone in the room, including observers that aren’t national councillors. These are generally people who have put a lot of work into a motion, have very strong feelings (enough that they spend their time and money attending NC!).
- The mover can cede their “right of reply” to another council member as well.
- Observers/NTEU staff can comment on motions and speak for or against it with the leave of council as well.
- Clapping is generally discouraged for accessibility reasons (sometimes the chair is trying to speak when people are clapping, making it hard to hear what’s going on), however sometimes people will clap after something especially big or powerful.
Generally, the dais works hard to keep to schedule, but timelines can be changed if one section goes faster than expected and another goes slower. There’s a tea break in the morning and afternoon, and lunch. Lunch is a buffet style with a few mains, some salads, some veggies, a soup, some bread rolls, etc. They cater for vegetarians (and I assume vegans).
During national council (during the breaks or before/after the day officially starts/ends), there can be groups of people meeting to discuss stuff. The big one is most divisions will have a caucus to discuss motions and determine how they want to vote for national executive. National executive (national exec), like div exec, is a subgroup of the council. They meet more often and make major decisions about how the union will run. While national council sets policies and rules and other things, national exec oversee making it happen. Each division wants to get as many representatives as possible into the national exec to help their division, but politicking between divisions might go on too. I won’t go much into what national exec does, because like div exec, I haven’t been part of it and don’t know much. This is something you can ignore if it’s your first time (besides figuring out who you want to vote for).
National exec elections are run by the AEC on the day, and it can be a bit chaotic getting all the nominations/doing the votes/and doing the counts all in one short day. The AEC are hardcore though, and somehow make it work. It’s important to note that you can vote freely for whoever you want. You are not bound by a division caucus or any other group. You can get suggestions, or reasoning, but at the end of the day it’s your vote.
Besides elections and caucusing, there is one other part of council that you get in person: socialising. This isn’t a strict requirement, of course, but it can be good having little side chats to people. There are opportunities during breaks, during lunch, and outside of hours. One of the nights (usually the second night) there’s a dinner put on by the NTEU for councilors for people to socialise. I didn’t go to that one (I was exhausted), so I won’t say much about it. Besides the dinner there’s also splinter groups going for drinks or whatever. It happens every day of the council, and the days before/after it.
On the last day you finish slightly earlier than previous days (assuming all goes well) and head home! Some people from other states are in the hotel an extra night due to flights, and there’s local Melbourne people, so even on the final day there are people who are hanging around.
That’s it! You come back, possibly report to your branch if requested, maybe write a blog or twitter post or two, and sleep (hopefully). Your term is two years, so you’ll be doing it all again the following year.
The council in person runs smoothly, somehow more smoothly than the zoom councils did, which is surprising because voting and limiting speaking should be easier on zoom, I’d think. I understand people who would like a hybrid attendance option due to not being able to make it for any number of reasons. I think they would miss out on part of the “national council” experience, but they’d get more than they get now (which is none).
In the room, the council is a diverse mix of people and opinions, but GENERALLY people are respectful. Everyone has things that are more important to them than other things, and it’s easy to get upset with people who have differing views. You aren’t friends with everyone, but you can hopefully be civil in the room. At the end of the day we’re all NTEU.
I worked hard to keep this blog post neutral, as I don’t want to focus to much on the battles of the day or the problems in NTEU as much as just explain the experience for anyone curious (and hopefully help them understand how things work if they start down this road). That said, I’m going to get very biased here: Finding a group you align with early is good. I don’t know if I’d call them “factions”, but people tend to form up into groups where they’re comfortable and have similar values. This might be your division caucus, but it might be a group you just align with politically. For me, that was @ANewNTEU (ANN). They were organising their arses off and were getting motions ready/having meetings/helping people run for positions/etc well in advance. Also, during the meeting, it is some people to hang out with and discuss motions/etc with. In ANN’s case, we had a discord that we used to chat during the meeting on how we felt for motions/etc. IT’S NOT NECESSARY AT ALL to join a group or get involved with anyone and just run it solo, but there’s power in unity. That’s what the whole union is about.
I hope this helps give you an idea of what it’s like, and I hope to see you in a future national council.