22 May 2020
I submitted my Masters Thesis on the history of Aboriginal treaties in Victoria at the beginning of this pandemic. I was deeply disappointed that I couldn’t have lunch with my supervisor, a beer with the office, or even hug other post-grad students, my friends and family. Let alone attend a graduation (I know these are coming, but the anti-climax was depressing). However, I am grateful that I was able to complete my thesis before COVID-19’s social impacts really hit my household.
I am very fortunate to have a job that allows me to work from home and privileged to be without any financial or health vulnerabilities, but my housemates have all lost work in retail and hospitality. Sadly, a housemate from Japan dependent on cafe and bar work has made the decision to return home as the government continues to refuse to financially support visa-holding workers.
Over the Easter weekend a neighbour called the police on us as we were camping in our backyard in inner-North Melbourne (tent, fire, grill, esky – I highly recommend it if lockdown returns). We got no fine as we broke no laws, but a sense of ‘community surveillance’ from nearby apartments has pervaded our backyard since. Ethically, more concerning for me — I believe in resisting any expansion of police powers, demanding full transparency in policing, and am sceptical of their ability to provide genuine community safety — has been fighting the urge to report a (young, white, professional) neighbour whose frequent visitors violated social distancing laws so publicly and blatantly. Increased public discourse on privacy and police surveillance may be one positive to come from this situation, but the ‘oppression’ of limited movement and tracking technology claimed by many settlers can and should not be compared to the hyper-policing of Indigenous and marginalised communities. Still, like many vulnerable and furloughed workers, I know that the precariousness and uncertainty regarding my current and future employment is the result of institutional and government decisions.
The situation is becoming dire for the forcibly casualised employees of universities. The focus of NTEU talks and media attention has been on future ‘sacrifices’ of conditions and hours (conditions that were hard fought for, and should not be conceded without a fight). Less recognition is paid to the university’s ‘essential workers’ that scholars and students equally rely upon, who have already been stood down without pay or transparency: such as library staff, IT workers, English tutors. A survey by the UNSW casuals network shows that at least one in three casuals have already lost work. Moreover, it is overwhelmingly the casual teaching staff that stepped up to learn (often unpaid) how to effectively run classes on Zoom, move courses online, and support stressed and disengaged domestic students and international students who have been forced to go home or are still in Australia living precariously. Indications are that universities are going to use this crisis as an opportunity to first cut the casual work force and maximise the teaching load of permanent scholars. It is for this reason that networks of casualised professional and academic higher education workers are calling for solidarity from our permanent colleagues.
While I wrote my thesis, I envisioned entering academia through teaching and eventually, somehow, finding some job security and research or writing work. Now, these hopes seem painfully naïve.
Massimo Amerena is a teaching associate at the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre. Massimo works on local Aboriginal history and treaties, and is an IPCS member.