Freedom of association under threat in Australia

Those who like me have followed the VSM (voluntary student membership) issue closely, may know that Australian students, unlike students here (except in Auckland University) have a real choice about whether or not to join a students association.

This however was not always the case. Although VSU (voluntary student unionism, the Australian name for VSM) was implemented in Western Australia from 1994 to 2002, and Victoria from 1994 to 2000, it was only in 2006 that membership of student unions became voluntary, thanks to legislation passed by the Howard Government the previous year.

Overall, Australian Labor has been more conservative than NZ Labour here, as shown by its support for strong defence forces, big tax cuts, and previously VSU (despite initial opposition). Aussie Labor also hasn’t shown the same nanny state streak Helen has.

However, there is no doubt Labor is a left wing party, and there are signs that it might U-turn again on VSU. The new Labor Government has released a disscussion paper on the issue, and Youth Minister Kate Ellis, who has called the policy a “disaster” is visiting universities to see what the effects are. And the student unions want their free money supply back. The National Union of Students (their NZUSA) has made the main issue for a meeting with Government ministers not student debt, high fees or low living standard, but surprise, surprise … repealing VSU.

We don’t need to worry too much. The latest position on VSU is the possibility of a form of compulsory membership, but capping the fee at $100 and banning from being spent on political representation (an interesting compromise, which means no misrepresentation, but still forces students to fund services they do not use). And half the Senate is controlled by the Coalition and family First who supported the VSU legislation, meaning it could be blocked there.

With the prospect of a National government sympathetic to VSM here, this will be an issue to watch.

Explore posts in the same categories: Australia

One Comment on “Freedom of association under threat in Australia”

  1. This Devil's Workday Says:

    At least if they do bring back VSU to Australia I should hopefully be done with uni by then!

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