Voluntary Student Membership and freedom of associationupdated
As the Government is not going into urgency today, it is members day, and the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill to allow for voluntary membership of student unions will have its first reading. I am in two minds about the bill. I see merits in both arguments.
Many have argued that people should not be compelled to belong to any union. In fact no-one is compelled to belong to a student union. Those who don't want to belong to a student union don't have to study. Those who must study don't have to take part in the services provided by student unions if they are opposed, in principle to membership. I don't see any reason why students can't pay the fee and campaign to opt out of membership.Opting in means having a choice to pay a fee for membership in most cases, opting out means having a choice whether to be a member, thus exercising freedom of association.
But despite the bill's title, VSM proponents -many of who are not students - are not focused on freedom of association nor are they opposed to student union membership per se. It's the fact that students must pay a membership fee that they are opposed to, and it is this that the bill would remove, by amending Section 229 of the Education Act.
6. New section 229 substitutedSo this debate is not about membership, it is not about provision of services, it is about being forced to pay money for the membership that provides those services, and the bill frames this in the context of student union membership, not its financial component.
Section 229 is repealed and the following section substituted:Section 229 is repealed and the following section substituted:
229 Voluntary membership of students’ associations
1) No person, including any tertiary institution or any association of students, may require any student or exert undue influence on any student—
(a) to become or not become a member of any association of students; or
(b) to pay any money to any association of students, or to any other person in lieu of such fees.
If section 6 (1)b of the bill was deleted, it would not restrict freedom of association - but the same freedom would not apply to payment of student union fees. So this freedom of association argument is a bit of a red herring when the real issue is the freedom to pay a student union fee. The bill also conflates ACT's concern with freedom of association with student service provision and membership of the university community.
What I find ironic in this debate is the very people who support VSM, predominately students, will read the fully funded student media -Salient, Critic etc, utilise Student Job Search, which is
Before you pro VSM debaters get a little horrified, I'll declare that I have bit of time for the Victoria University Debating Society - I took part in a recent debate it organised. So I'm most pleased to advise that their next public debate is going to be on this very issue of VSM on Monday 6.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1, Old Government Buildings in Pipitea Campus.Entry is free - and you can choose whether you want to be there or not.Political party representatives will be Peter McCaffrey (affirmative - supports VSM) and Max Hardy (negative). Student debaters are Stephen Whittington (affirmative)and Seb Templeton (negative). MPs are David Garrett and one other to be confirmed.