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Australian VSU law laudable but flawed

Australian VSU law laudable but flawed


Australia's Liberal government is to be congratulated for protecting tertiary students' right to freedom of association through their new voluntary student union law, however tertiary institutions and student unions are likely to attempt to subvert it, Student Choice said today.

Student Choice spokesman Glenn Peoples praised the new Australian law for protecting students’ right to freedom of association, but warned that the failure to unbundle non-academic service fees from student political representation was likely to lead to problems.

As in New Zealand, the provision of non-academic services and student representation have been linked at Australian tertiary institutions. Student politicians used service provision as justification for compulsory membership, and institution management opposed voluntary membership because of the impact it would have on services.

“The lesson from New Zealand is that non-academic services need to be separated from student politics before voluntary membership can be introduced. If this doesn’t happen, institutions and student associations will cook up backroom deals to secure funding which can be used to prop up services and student groups,” Mr Peoples said.

Peoples said Australian vice chancellors only had themselves to blame for the law. “Institutions refused to acknowledge that forcing students to join political groups was wrong. They didn’t act to remove student political groups from the delivery of services, and now the funding for both has been shut down by the new law,” Peoples said.

Institutions should be able to charge for non-academic, add-on services, but to protect freedom of association legislation needs to prevent institutions from using this to force students to join political groups.

Student Choice upholds voluntary membership of student associations on the grounds of freedom of association. www.studentchoice.org.nz

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