October 16th, 2011 at 08:13pm
One of the great victories of the Howard government was the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism, which removed the mandatory burden of students of having to fund student unions. These unions, while they had their uses, were primarily in the business of providing services that could not survive if people had to choose to pay for them…in other words, services that the vast majority of students either didn’t want, didn’t need or didn’t have the time to use because they were busy mixing study and a part-time job (what I would call “keeping society’s wheels turning”). Worse still, these unions were almost all involved in a myriad of political activities on behalf of their mandated members who, in many cases, wanted nothing to do with the political activities due to disagreeing with the political stance of their union.
The act of making it voluntary to be a member of a student union meant something radical happened. The unions no longer had a guaranteed income and suddenly had to become responsive to the needs and wants of students in order to survive. The services and retail outlets that they ran had to do the same. A myriad of services and political activities which were unwanted by the vast majority disappeared. It gave students the right that everyone should have…the right to choose with whom they wish to associate, and it provided students with the ability to make it abundantly clear what they did and did not want out of their student union.
Around the time that this all happened, I recall the Canberra Institute of Technology got around the VSU legislation by deciding that they weren’t charging a “union fee”, but rather an “association fee”, and they knew that what they were doing was illegal but thought they would get away with it anyway. The primary role of this association seemed to be to provide discounted coffee to students at a rate which costed more in “association fees” than it did in coffee discounts…and we all know that the majority of the price of a cup of coffee is profit anyway, so goodness knows where this money all went, although I know that I saw some of it on display in the Never Ending Garema Place Protest About Anything And Everything that seemed to be in Garema Place all the time.
I don’t think CIT got away with keeping the fee in the form they did back in 2006, but it hardly matters right now, the point is that it was a useless black hole of student funds.
Fast forward to this year, and guess what happened in the Senate last week. While everyone was busy focussing on the Carbon Dioxide Tax in the House Of Representatives, a little law passed through the Senate which effectively repeals Voluntary Student Unionism. We are now back to the bad old days of forcing students to fund unions.
The story didn’t get a lot of media attention…in fact you could say that it really slipped under the radar. The Bendigo Advertiser had a decent writeup of the story with a quote from third-year student Ms. Jessi Muston
“I don’t think every student should have to pay. We’ve organised funding and sponsorship and I think that was a good experience,” she said.
And she is right. If there is a service that students want, need and desire, then they will be driven enough to organise the funding for it one way or another…whether that be by asking other students to pay for it or by arranging sponsorships by local businesses is up to them, but that’s the beauty of the free market. If people value a service, they will make it work. People should not be forced to pay for services just because a committee has decided that they will be the services that are offered this year.
Incidentally, at the time of writing this post, the poll on the Bendigo Advertiser’s article showed that 58.4% of respondents do not agree with compulsory student unionism.
The Australian also had a decent article on the matter with a quote from the always sensible Senator Brett Mason (Liberal-Queensland).
But opposition tertiary education spokesman Brett Mason complained that increasing numbers of students were of mature age and part-time and did not have the time or the opportunity to make use of campus services.
“We have over one million students [who are] forced to pay for services most students don’t want, or can’t use, and political activity they don’t approve of,” Mr Mason said.
Precisely my point.
It was a bad day for students when this legislation passed the Senate last week. It’s just a shame that almost nobody knows that it happened. This was a big deal back when the Howard government introduced voluntary student unionism back in 2005 with passionate arguments from both sides of the debate, and yet right now we are hearing silence. This might not be as big a deal as the Carbon Dioxide Tax, but it’s yet another example of the Rudd/Gillard government attempting to undo all of the progress which was made under the Howard government…people deserve to know what is being done legislatively by their government, because if people don’t know, how can they voice an opinion?
Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but I do not think that the timing of this legislation passing the Senate while everyone was focussing on the other house of Parliament is a coincidence…and I wonder what else has been slipped through without anyone noticing.