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Predictable Response From Compulsory Campaigners

Predictable Response From Compulsory Campaigners At Waikato

Patrick Dunford

16 October 2000

As voting begins in the Waikato Student Union's membership referendum, a range of pro-compulsory organisations have issued press releases justifying a compulsory stance.

Waikato University broke new ground in New Zealand in 1996 when, under the guidance of a pro-voluntary student executive, members of the association voted for voluntary membership. That status was subsequently confirmed in further votes held in subsequent years.

Recent votes held on other campuses have shown that student association executives have a disproportionate amount of influence on the outcome of membership referenda. The Labour Government, which supports compulsory membership, earlier this year passed a law which removed the checks and balances put in place by the preceding National Government and restored the ability of student associations to manipulate the conduct of campaigns and referenda to their own advantage.

In the recent Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology referendum, the Students Association successfully opposed a fully postal ballot, which would have produced a much higher turnout than the 9% who did actually vote, but which would probably have sustained voluntary membership at the institution. As it was, the pro-compulsory vote was the same as in the 1999 referendum, but the much lower turnout resulted in an outcome favouring compulsory membership of the institution.

It is unfortunate that when 8% or even 1% of students at tertiary institutions can bind the other 92 - 99% of students who have not participated in decisionmaking processes, such as referenda, there are no checks and balances in place to ensure fair campaigning and voting. There are much greater requirements for national elections. When student associations are exploiting a law that contravenes the right to freedom of association, much fairer rules should be applied.

For the reasons outlined above, I believe that there will be a small on campus turnout favouring compulsory membership. It will be fascinating to compare this with the situation at Auckland University where the enlightened executive is conducting a fully postal ballot and is sharing resources with groups favouring voluntary membership. The pro-compulsory campaigners at Waikato have trotted out their usual mishmash of propaganda arguments and halftruths, funded by moneys extorted from students of compulsory associations. Why should students have to hand over money to support these wannabe politicians and Labour Party supporters.


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