The Guardian 14 December, 2005

VSU: dark days for higher education

The Federal Government, with Family First Senator Steven Fielding, condemned universities to a barren, lifeless existence last Friday following the passage of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) legislation through the Senate. Sydney University Student Representative Council President Nicholas Wood stated that the legislation means the end of student services, representation and sport at universities.

"The coalition has adopted a slash and burn strategy with universities. There has been no consultation, no consideration and no debate. Australian universities will now become an international joke", Mr Wood said.

University of Technology Sydney Student Association President Michael Nguyen described the passing of the legislation as "a black day in higher education". Mr Nguyen described Senator Fielding's deal with the Government as a disgrace. "Senator Fielding claims that he stands for a number of principles but in voting for this legislation he shows he stands for nothing. He has sold out current students and students of the future including his constituents and supporters."

Mr Nguyen added, "This legislation will mean the end of essential services for thousands of students including subsidised childcare, welfare, advocacy and financial support. The Liberal Party whose Ministers all benefited from universal service provision, now have no interest in maintaining these services they are only interested in settling scores from their University days. Universities will not be able to cover the shortfall of these services and students will suffer. There are no winners in this and life on campus will only get worse from now on."

Thirty police with security guards evicted six students from the Monash University Student Bar the morning after the passage of the Voluntary Student Unionism legislation.

The Student Bar was occupied by students at the end of July and has since been student-run and controlled, and has provided a home for homeless students of Monash University.

The police action came without warning to students who had been given permission to stay there by Monyx, the commercial services company at Monash University and previous owners of the bar. Monyx claim students were evicted because they accessed the roof of the building.

However, the students believe the eviction and invasion of student-controlled spaces was in response to the passage of VSU, and the $2 million budget reduction Monyx will face. The company is funded by student amenities fees and is seizing student-controlled spaces to make money off the bar on campus.

Monash student, Lucy Watson says: This police action comes as no surprise to students of Monash University who continuously face police repression used to aid University and government agencies of control."

"The passing of VSU and the forced closure of the Monash Student Bar are attacks on students, supported by the police and government, to reduce universities to nothing more than profitable business at the expense of students."

Students are already responding to attacks on their right to collectively organise, such as action at Senator Fielding's office on Friday.

Students will continue to take collective action against the politicians who supported the legislation, police on campus, and university administrations, with expanded ferocity when students return to campus in 2006, the students warned.

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