The Guardian 17 August, 2005
Day of action against VSU
Thousand of students and their supporters turned out for a national day of action last Wednesday against the Howard governmentís plans to introduce Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). VSU would hit studentsí right to organise collectively and would have a disastrous effect on a whole range of services and activities that are funded through the compulsory fees paid by students as members of their universityís students union.
More than 2000 people gathered at Sydney Town Hall, 1500 in Melbourne, 600 in Brisbane, 200 in Adelaide, 150 in Perth and 300 in Canberra. Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Gavin Brown reminded those at the Sydney rally of the threat VSU poses to university life. "We have a rich set of clubs and societies in the sense of rich and diverse, but poor and impoverished if the legislation goes through."
In Melbourne protestors heard speakers from the Australian Manufacturing Workersí Union, the Finance Sector Union and the National Tertiary Education Union. Assistant Secretary of the NTEU, Ted Murphy, said, "Students are the best people to determine what sorts of services they need and how to provide them".
NUS National President Felix Eldridge noted that the proposed legislation will attack all aspects of university life. "VSU will hit the thousands of students in need of welfare and academic advice.
"We donít want or need taxpayers to fund our services through grants. We already have a system that works. Itís time to drop this destructive ideological garbage."
Mr Eldridge warned that student parents will not be able to afford child care without the crucial subsidies student organisations provide. He said everything from tenancy advice, employment services, advocacy and representation to sporting activities will be destroyed if the government gets its way.
"The Australian sporting, arts and business communities have made their opposition clear, along with the higher education community. The question [Education Minister] Brendan Nelson needs to answer is: who actually supports this legislation?
"The Victorian, NSW and Queensland branches of the National Party are opposed to the bill ó even Liberals, including Senator Alan Eggleston, the governmentís Deputy Whip in the Senate, are opposed to the bill."
The government is effectively blackmailing the management of universities by threatening to withhold funding if they do not do what the government wants.
The VSU is part of a combined attack on university and TAFE staff and students by the Howard government which are linked to its changes to the Workplace Relations legislation. It includes:
Withholding up to $280 million in university funding if universities do not comply with government-controlled management and staffing policies;
Forcing universities to offer non-union Australian Workplace Agreements on terms inferior to current enterprise agreements;
Undermining the role of staff membersí unions in being able to negotiate collective agreements on behalf of all staff.
Like VSUís affect on students, these changes aim to limit the ability of university staff, from cleaners to academics, to have a collective voice. The National Union of Students points out that it is all part of the governmentís agenda to privatise education in all its forms.