May 18, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Death of Student Unions, submissions sought, 31 March 2010

5 min read

Whats the deal?

The Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill is a private members bill sponsored by ACT Party List MP Roger Douglas. It was pulled from the ballot on the 20th of August last year (ironically, the day the portfolio roles on AUSA were elected.)

AUSAFThe purpose of this bill is to make membership of all student associations voluntary (or opt-in) which would mean student associations could no longer collect a membership fee from all students. This would basically mean that at many campuses across the country, the student association would collapse. Given that the student associations are responsible for providing a whole bunch of student services, that would mean no more welfare and advocacy services, no more Orientation week parties, no more co-ordinated student representation on university committees, no more diary and wall planner, no more 10% off textbooks at UBS, no more Shadows, no more Parentspace, no more Unigames, no more clubsand on and on.

Why does this affect AUSA?

Since 1999, following an on-campus referendum, has already had voluntary student membership (VSM). Well, kind of. While we have been voluntary and thus unable to collect a membership fee directly, we have a contract for services with the University where we provide everything from O-week to free legal advice, and the university gives some of the money from the student services levy we pay in our fees each semester. Also, we had a bunch of assets that we had built under years of compulsory membership (Shadows, UBS, plus some cafes at Motat and the Tamaki Yacht Club to name a few), which meant we had some external profit coming in. No other student association has this, with the possible exception of the Canterbury Students Association, meaning they would collapse overnight.

And as you would be aware as a student at Auckland, while AUSA provides services some of them could be provided a lot better. Its the curse of VSM, that we are forced to limp along, unable to provide services to the level we think are necessary because we are constrained by totally unrealistic budget constraints foisted upon by the university. Take O-week for example, people complain its s*** every year but our budget for the entire week was smaller than the budget AUT had for their Friday night party.

So after that spiel, AUSA opposes the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill on three grounds:

  1. The language of the Bill is very ambiguous; there is a distressingly vague reference to tertiary education institutions not being able to act in any way that conflicts with the spirit and intent of the bill. Our current contract for services with the University could be seen as one of these conflicting actions we just wouldnt know until we had to fight an expensive court case on the wording of the section. But it could very well be the case that this Bill would destroy AUSA. No more WAVE, no more O-week, no more anything.
  2. We would lose the ability to one day return to compulsory and provide services to the extent we believe are adequate. And even if you think compulsory is a terrible thing that should be avoided at all costs at the very least, our negotiating power with the university would be utterly ruined if we couldnt use the ability to return to compulsory via referendum as a bargaining chip.
  3. Student Associations at other universities would almost certainly be destroyed, and all their services lost. Not only is this bad from an altruistic viewpoint, but it would also mean the death of Unigames, of other national tournaments, and the death of NZUSA a national organisation that lobbies for student-friendly policy and has regular meetings with the Minister of Tertiary Education.

What am I doing? (Alex Nelder)

As AUSAs EVP, my role is to co-ordinate AUSAs part in the national campaign. The Bill passed its first reading in Parliament late last year, and is currently before the Education and Science Select Committee for consideration. Members of the public can submit on this Bill, before the Select Committee delivers its report in May and recommends whether this Bill should be adopted.

Heres where we have a bit of hope. While National supported this Bill at the first reading, it is not a government bill. It is a private members bill, put forward by Roger Douglas, a member of the governments junior coalition partner, and arguably the most right-wing member of Parliament. A private members bill is not normally about some bedrock principle of the governments agenda but is a side issue, and the debate is normally more driven by ideology than pragmatic governing concerns. Im going off a tangent here, but the point is Nationals mind is not made up, and we can convince them to change their vote. We just need to make really really good submissions to the Education and Science Select Committee.

How I would like (/need) your help?

To show the select committee that this issue has real relevance to students, it would be good to get personal submissions from individuals students on the bill. Id like YOU to make one.

But, I understand you are busy and I also get that this is an issue that has far more relevance to my life (as EVP, I eat, breathe and sleep this madness) than it has to yours.

So if you are provisionally keen to help me defeat this mad bill, reply back to me, and Ill set up a time to have a chat to you (over facebook, or gchat or phone) and get some information about your experiences with AUSA services (from welfare to O-week etc). Maybe you have used them, but even if you havent Id like to get your opinion about the role they play on campus.

(If your experience with an AUSA service wasnt great that isnt necessarily a barrier to you being able to help me out. I want to paint a picture for the Education and Science Select Committee that VSM is a disaster. If we can show them that AUSA under a VSM model is unable to provide vital services to an adequate level because AUSA is starved of money and resources, then we have gone some way to defeating this bill.)

Finally if you just want to chat about the VSM issue more, I am happy to discuss with you.

THEN, after I have this information, I would write up something on your behalf and send it back to you. Provided you are happy (and we can talk over the language and substantive arguments) with it, we can send it down to Parliament, and you would have help save student welfare, advocacy and student life.

Please help me out, I really want to beat this Bill. We are under a bloody tight timeframe submissions close 31 March 2010! So, Id really appreciate it if you could get back to me ASAP!

Alex Nelder
Education Vice President
Auckland University Students Association Inc. (AUSA)
Te Roopu Tauira O Te Whare Waananga O Tamaki Makaurau
Tel +64 9 309 0789 ext 204 | Mob +64 21 792 589 | Fax +64 9 306 6580
Private Bag 92019, Auckland | 4 Alfred St, Auckland 1010 New Zealand

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