The Guardian 27 April, 2005

VSU would create
“campus wastelands”

During the past week the student organisations at the University of NSW hosted a “Dial-a-Senator Week” to highlight the depth of student opposition to the Howard Government’s plans to introduce voluntary student unionism (VSU).

“It is our democratic right to be heard on issues of concern to us”, said Manoj Dias-Abey, Student Guild President. “We are providing students with an avenue for exercising this right.”

During the week telephone stations were set up around the campus where students phoned key MPs and Senators to let them know about what they think of the proposed VSU legislation.

Student Guild Vice-President Michael Pratt said it was clear that the majority of students are opposed to VSU once all the facts have been explained to them. “VSU will be bad for student organisations and this in turn will have a dire impact on campus life. Essentially what the Federal Government wants to do is turn campuses into wastelands. Students won’t stand for it.”

While it carries out its attempt to destroy the collective power of student unionism, the Howard Government is running into stiff opposition over the funding to other areas of campus life that would be hit by its VSU legislation.

According to Education Minister Brendan Nelson’s double talk, VSU will give students “choice” about whether they become a member of a student organisation. However, lurking behind this “choice” is the inevitable loss of many essential services and functions performed by student organisations if union membership is not kept universal.

For example, VSU would have a disastrous impact on the nation’s sporting achievement, warned Sydney University Sport President, Bruce Ross, in The University of Sydney Gazette.

Over the past decade Sydney University has developed a comprehensive system of sporting scholarships and support mechanisms enabling elite athletes simultaneously to achieve sporting excellence and complete degrees that equip them to pursue rewarding careers after sport.

Sydney University provided 17 representatives at the Athens Olympics and Paralympics, five of whom returned home with medals. It has had more than 90 senior national sporting representatives in the past five years across a wide variety of sports, including 10 Olympic and world champions at senior level.

The vehicle for this unique fusion of outstanding sporting and scholastic achievement is Sydney University Sport (SUS). Fees paid by undergraduate students are its first source of funds, constituting 35 percent of its income. The remainder comes from commercial business activities, rents and sponsorships as well as sporting alumni.

The work of the SUS professional staff is augmented by the efforts of an army of volunteers who provide voluntary services such as coaching and administration for the University’s 44 sports clubs. Each year sport at the University advances, setting new standards and providing further challenges for other Australian universities. However, if the proposed legislation is implemented in its current form, this progress will immediately, and probably irredeemably, be reversed.

Furthermore, the proposals fly in the face of the Australian Sports Commission’s Strategic Plan 1998-2001, which stated: “From a Governmental view point it is reported that if an extra 10 percent of the Australian population undertook regular, moderate and effective exercise an estimated $500 million could be saved from the health budget each year”.

University sports unions around the country last week ran newspaper advertisements hitting out at the Howard Government plans for VSU. The umbrella body Australian University Sport says that only a fifth of students will join campus sports unions if VSU is introduced.

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