BIG NEWS: 10/01/2010 - 11/01/2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teachers strike extends to school prizegiving?

The Bay of Plenty Times reports
Secondary teachers are refusing to take an active part in end-of-year prizegivings as part of their pay dispute...The ongoing battle between secondary school teachers and the Ministry of Education has seen bans by the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) on teachers attending meetings and events after 5pm.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said this meant he took "total responsibility" at last night's Creative Arts Awards ceremony.
Well, according to the Ministry of Education
A ban on PPTA members attending meetings and events before 8.30am or after 5pm.... includes a refusal to attend events like parent/teacher meetings and departmental meetings, but will not include formal prize giving ceremonies.
Just putting aside that creative arts awards are not end of year prizgivings, but are formal prizegiving ceremonies, the Ministry's website implies all prize giving ceremonies, including creative arts awards, are able to be attended by teachers in their teaching capacity.

But, unlike this journalist, I actually spoke with the PPTA. I was told the PPTA position exempts "academic prizegivings", even though that's not what the Ministry indicates. It would have been really nice of a journalist to contact the PPTA to clarify that end of year prizegivings are to be attended by teachers as they are exempt from the pay dispute, rather than write an inflammatory and incorrect article based on ignorance.

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Māori Party has a new president

The Māori Party has a new president. He is Pem Bird and was elected at the Māori Party conference. Bird beat Mereana Pitman, a former contender of the party's Ikaroa Rawhiti candidacy last election. Before the vote, Pitman told the conference that one of the reasons she was standing was to support Hone Harawira - who is campaigning against his colleague's deal on the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

She also said she did not trust Prime Minister John Key and did not support the Maori Party's coalition with National but that she would meet with and work with Key for the sake of the party.

Bird supports the replacement legislation of the Foreshore and Seabed.

The party now has to elect a vice president to replace Heta Kingston,. Kingston is a retired judge whose decision on the Ngati Apa foreshore and seabed claim in the Maori Land Court led to the Court of Appeal decision which led to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which led to the Maori Party.

It will be interesting to see how the new leaders handle the Iwi Leaders Group.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Urgency

Standing order 54
(1) A Minister may move, without notice, a motion to accord urgency for certain business
(2) A motion for urgency must not be moved until completion of general business
(3) There is no amendment or debate on the question, but the Minister must, on moving the motion, inform the House with some particularity why the motion is being moved.

The House has gone into urgency today. Why?
Leader of the House Gerry Brownlee then moved that the House should go into Urgency for two bills. One on employment laws issues relating to the film industry and the second on a "legal" matter.
Mr Brownlee said the need for Urgency on the second item would be apparent once the bill was introduced
What is this "legal" matter? How is that informing the House with some particularity as to why the motion has been moved to go to urgency on the second bill?

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More on Mana

The Alliance candidate Kelly Buchanan has effectively withrawn from the Mana by election. Although her name will be on the ballot paper because she couldn't withdraw in time, the Alliance is encouraging supporters to back McCarten. McCarten is also backed by the UNITE union.

The by-election will be held on November 20. Also, if high profile by-election candidates are going to send media releases criticising National Standards, you'd think at least they'd spell every word correctly and put commas in the correct places.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

McCarten to stand in Mana

So former political party leader and former Labour member Matt McCarten is standing against Labour in the Mana by-election. It looks like Winnie Laban is going to have a dent in her majority. Hekia Parata may even win.

Winnie Laban got a 6155 majority in 2008. So what - two thirds of electorate MPs have an even higher majority. Many of these voters cast their party vote for someone other than Labour. And it is the party vote we should be looking at here, actually. Some voters of the left may decide to vote for McCarten.

Green voters are primarily from the far north of the electorate, which is why Jan Logie was campaigning in Paraparaumu during he weekend. In addition National gets a lot of votes from this area, whereas Labour tends to get its votes from Porirua East (especially Cannons Creek) and Titahi Bay. Three quarters of voters in these areas party- voted Labour in 2008, meaning that a good proportion in the north who voted for Winnie Laban cast their party vote for National or the Greens.

However Labour has a greater strength in the Porirua East compared to National strength in the North of the electorate, which is why Laban won in 2008. That’s not to say that Labour will win in 2010 as many Labour voters may back Hekia Parata for a candidate – and a byelection – vote in November.

In 2005 Labour got half the party vote, in 2008 it got 43%. A similar drop will see Faafoi get 36%, which is what Hekia Parata got in 2008, increasing National's 2005 vote. Of course this is a byelection so its a different dynamic. Independants have won by-elections - Winston Peters and Tariana Turia have; and Matiu Rata polled well when he contested a by election as an independant. All three started political parties that entered Parliament. Perhaps McCarten will be the next one to do that? Actually, wasn't McCarten Tariana Turia's by-election campaign manager?

The full list of contenders are : Kelly Buchanan for the Alliance, Julian Crawford for Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, Colin Du Plessis for ACT, Kris Faafoi for Labour, Libertarianz candidate Sean Fitzpatrick, Jan Logie for the Greens, Hekia Parata for National, and Unite union member Matt McCarten as an independent.

UPDATE Bryce Edwards, as always, has a good post up, discussing McCarten's candidacy. Edwards claims that if McCarten does well it will almost certainly be the launching pad for a new left political party.

I`m really looking forward to the candidate meetings now. Can someone tell me when the next one is?

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The weekend road toll

Eight people died on the roads this weekend. Not one of them passed a cop on the side of the road , set to catch speeding motorists driving a few kilometres above the speed limit. Not one of those police on the side of the road were targeting motorists for dangerous driving, such as crossing the centre line or drinking too much before driving.

Not one of these deaths were prevented by all the many police on the roads this weekend. But there may have been a few near misses as motorists had their eyes glued to the speedo for fear of going over the limit and getting pinged by speed cameras out of view. Much was made of the low road toll on Queen’s Birthday weekend and the credit police took for it. Much will be made of the higher road toll this weekend, with the police saying “ it’s not out fault”.

But, you know, the police have no influence on the road toll. The weather during Queens Birthday was lousy and everyone stayed home, This weekend was fine and there were more cars on the road. More cars mean more crashes mean more deaths and more people going over 100k – and more people driving at 90k in fear of being fined. Its that simple. I wonder how much revenue was gained by the speed cameras?

I did notice that several accidents were in rural areas. Police don’t put speed cameras on gravel roads or rural roads - they don’t get enough revenue. But perhaps it will make some roads safer if they did. Even better, instead of enforcing the speed limit, do some driver training.

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How many people in these cases have been criminalised for smacking?

On 16 May 2007, the anti-smacking law was passed through parliament. Ever since, Family First’s Bob McCoskrie has been trying very hard to get information of people who have been criminalised for smacking. That is because John Key has said that if anyone is criminalised for smacking, he`d change the law.

By criminalised, I assume he means landed with a criminal conviction.

McCoskrie has taken out another full page ad in today’s daily papers, with “compelling evidence” that people have been criminalised for smacking their kids.

Now, I’m no fan of the anti-smacking law, but some of these examples trolleyed out by McCoskrie are not even smacking cases. None have gained a criminal conviction. Granted , some of the cases went to court, but the defence would not have been a smacking defence. In other words, had the Section 59 defence been available, it would most likely not have been used as a defence, let alone succeeded. Therefore police discretion to prosecute was not discretion under Section 59, it was badly used discretion irrelevant to Section 59. The case of a of a 70-year old bus driver taken to court for “ grabbing the arm of a rowdy boy” is not a smacking case, neither is a case where an uncle threw a cushion at his nephew. Yet these cases are claimed to be smacking cases by McCoskrie.

Some are not Section 59, and McCoskrie is wasting his supporters money in leading a misinformation campaign claiming that they are – and claiming that because they are criminalised for smacking (but without a criminal conviction), that John Key should change the law.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rod Oram on Labour’s game plan

A while back I commented on Phil Goffs speech at the Labour Conference. Now Labour has attempted to be a lot more proactive recently, e.g OpenLabour, but one of the things Goff said in his speech was:
John Key has no game plan for our cities and our farms so that we can compete and win in the global economy.

I do.
Can any one tell me what that game plan is? Can anyone tell Rod Oram, because he doesn’t believe Labour has got a game plan.

National has a six point economic plan: regulation, taxation, infrastructure, science and innovation, skills and public service are the elements in the order it lists them. What’s Labour’s plan, apart from modifying monetary policy ( somehow), create (somehow) government involvement in economic strategy (unspecified), and removal of GST on fresh fruits and vegetables?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Parliament Today

A new website dedicated to the timely and accurate coverage of the New Zealand Parliament was launched today by Scoop Media Limited. It is “dedicated to the timely and accurate coverage of the New Zealand Parliament.

The new Parliament Today website will provide a useful complement to the radio and television broadcasts of Parliament as it will allow interested people to nearly instantaneously find out where parliamentary debates are up to, voting numbers on bills, whether bills have been passed or sent back to select committee or otherwise dealt with.

You can also look up the day’s Order paper.

While most of this information is presently available via Hansard after the event it is not immediately available as it happens, and this is the main niche that this new site will serve. You can also follow the site on Twitter.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Northern Courier on GST

An interesting article in the Northern Courier by outgoing editor Frank Neill. This paper circulates in the Mana and Ohariu electorates. I saw it when it came out last week and have been meaning to post it.
GST is becoming more and more of an issue for more and more people. At least that’s what I hear when I’m out newsgathering.
Maybe one reason it is a focus now is that GST went up to 15% on October 1. Many people remember National leader John Key promising, before the last general election, that it would not rise.
My impression is that people seriously don’t like broken promises. A great many people take the view that it’s better not to make a promise you can’t keep.
Around six years ago, I remember seeing billboards up around the Ohariu electorate. They featured the picture of electorate MP Peter Dunne and the words “No GST on rates”.
Mr Dunne was not the only one saying “no GST on rates” back then.
Three years later, though, I wasn’t really hearing that any more. Not very much anyway.
Today it is different. I am hearing more and more people questioning why we are paying GST on rates. Many of these people say they think it is wrong for the government to charge a tax on this tax.
I have heard words such as “immoral” and “iniquitous” used to describe the fact that GST is collected on rates.
There is merit in the argument that government is morally wrong to tax rates. In our democracies, we citizens have decided to divide the public provision of services between central government agencies (paid for by taxes collected by Inland Revenue) and local government (paid for by rates collected by local authorities).
Why, then, should we have to pay extra to central government for this division of public service?
The argument that rates provide goods and services and should attract a goods and services tax is spurious. So do taxes. Taking this argument, government could then charge GST on our income tax.
The other issue discussed is GST on food.
Labour leader Phil Goff has announced that his party now has a policy of removing the GST on fresh fruit and vegetables.
He made the announcement is Porirua and it immediately drew a response from Ohariu MP Peter Dunne and Ohariu-based list MP Katrina Shanks.
Mr Dunne slammed the proposal. In fact, he labeled it “irresponsible”.
After years of arguing for the simple GST system we have, Labour’s about-face is more about the main opposition party polling at 30% than the health of New Zealanders, Mr Dunne said.
"This isn't a conversion on the road to Damascus. It is principle-free panic on the road to electoral defeat.
"There is no other explanation for a total reversal of a long-held policy that makes sense. We have a GST system that works well and is simple.

The whole article is here

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Labour Party conference: Goff has a game plan – but won’t tell us what it is

Occasionally, on Big News we like to praise both Labour, and National. Both parties have done great things in previous years –and both parties have done terrible things.

Phil Goff wants to do great things. But he needs to tell us how he wants to go about it. In his speech at the Labour Party conference, he did the former, but not the latter. He said
John Key has no game plan for our cities and our farms so that we can compete and win in the global economy.

I do.
In business, game plans are only effective if the CEO is a leader. If Goff wants the country to believe him, he is going to have to lead, and state what that game plan is, otherwise voters will conclude that he does not have a game plan – but a dream.
National won’t bring unemployment down. But Labour did.
I’d like to know how Labour is going to bring unemployment down to record lows, without pushing the sickness benefit up to record highs.
We will work with people who keep ownership and jobs onshore in New Zealand rather than exporting jobs overseas.
I’d like to know how Labour will work with people before they export jobs overseas, not just those who want to keep jobs onshore.
Labour is fighting to put government back on the side of hardworking New Zealanders, so that we don’t have two New Zealands any more.
How?
We must be the party of "We can do this."
How about being the party of 'We will do this'?

Or don’t you know how, just yet?

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It’s the electoral system’s fault we have a new Mayor: Kerry

The good thing about the STV electoral system is that you can vote for people, but you can also vote against people. In other words if you really want someone to win, you`ll rank them first, and if you really want them to lose, you`ll rank them last.

But the news that Kerry Prendergast is blaming the democratically chosen electoral system for her loss even before the result was announced was a little preemptive and rather bitter. STV is more democratic and fairer than FPP, but of course if you are likely to win with as few votes as possible you would pine for FPP.

It was Wellingtonians who wanted STV, it wasn’t thrust on them. And it was Wellingtonians who appeared to understand STV enough to rank Kerry Prendergast near the bottom and many of them did. One thing that stopped her from dropping out earlier is that 3300 more ranked her at the top of the list than any other candidate. She got more top rankings, and a higher percentage, than she did in 2007. But of course there we five more candidates in 2007 so that would have had some bearing.

In the end it was a 176 vote margin to Celia Wade-Brown.

According to the results, Mansell dropped out first with 535 votes with twice as many going to Celia than Kerry. Then Bernard dropped out second with 1161 votes – twice as many gong to Celia than Kerry. Brian dropped out third with 5891 votes with Celia getting nearly three times the number of votes than Kerry. Jack Yan dropped out fourth with 7,341 votes. Celia got nearly twice as many votes as Kerry.

There were 2,140 people who voted for Jack Yan but did not give either Kerry or Celia a preference. Celia won, so it means that more people support her than Kerry, including those who supported other candidates but would not have also been able to rank Kerry or Celia under FPP.

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Government announces removal of cap on tuition fees

The Government has endorsed a report and practically announced that there will be no cap on university tuition fees, allowing universities to charge double what they currently receive and lead to higher interest rates on student loans. The winners, on the whole, are universities and the losers are students.

Now before you students all take a collective gasp, we are talking about the UK.

This announcement follows a Government review on the future of fees, and their approval of the policy. But one review proposed that universities that charge a certain amount in fees per year would lose a proportion of the fee to help cover the cost of student borrowing. This means that the cap may be removed, but not the restrictions, thus minimising the incentive for universities to ratchet up fees. What this means is that some universities will be able to charge more fees but may be worse off. The average undergradualte degree costs about £3,000.

The executive summary of that report is here. [PDF]

The main principles of the report are

1. More investment should be made available for higher education
2. Student Choice should be increased
3. Everyone who has the potential should benefit from higher education
4. No one should have to pay until they start to work
5. Payments should be affordable
6. Part time students should be treated the same as full time students for the cost of learning

The LibDems have signed pre-election promises to oppose increases in fees, campaigning to phase fees out. That’s not going to happen, so students are planning a big demonstration next month.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Principals get together to campaign against National Standards

The Principals Federation campaign on National Standards is now starting to see light of day. They have a website paid for by New Zealand primary and intermediate school principals out of their own pockets to help parents understand the dangers and limitations of National Standards and why the system won’t deliver what was promised.

During the weekend New Zealand Principals’ Federation President Ernie Buutveld posted Why parents should be worried. Why the system won’t deliver.
The way the National Standards system has been designed, there is a range of different answers a teacher can give about whether a child is ‘at’, ‘working towards’ or ‘above’ the standard. The Standards have room for different interpretations thus making them subjective. One teacher’s ‘at the standard’ is another’s ‘working towards’, and so on.

Because the National Standards are interpreted differently in every school, they won’t give parents an accurate picture about how their school is doing, when compared with others.
.In its simplest terms the National Standards are not ‘national’ standards at all. Rather, they are subjective and individual benchmarks for where a specific child is placed, at a specific school, based upon a specific teacher’s professional judgment of that child, determined after the teacher has used his or her own personal selection of available assessments and indicators.

In addition, the extra money being promised in National Standards is not targeted to the kids who need it most.

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High pitched covert dog-whistling politics

Next year we are voting on the electoral system. Jon Key has further commented that recent difficulties with ACT and the Māori Party may have undermined confidence in MMP.

That implies that Key wants people to think that MMP has something to do with the state of the Māori Party and ACT, particularly relations between these smaller parties and National. Furthermore, a change to another system would go some way into restoring confidence in our electoral; system. Key says:
My instincts have been that when you see issues around smaller parties it tends to undermine the confidence in MMP as a system

It’s dogwhistling, as every single Maori Party, United Future and Progressive Party MP is an electorate MP, whereas MMP is list-based. It appears Key would prefer to see fewer parties represented in parliament. The only way to ensure this happens is to change the electoral system. That's because If the electoral system was changed to either FPP, Supplementary Member, STV, or Preferential voting, there is no gurantee that the party with the most votes will get the most seats, as with MMP.

If John Key wants that, he should say so. If he doesn't, he should direct his comments accordingly and suggest that changes should be made to the system, not the system itself. But I suspect Key still wants a change to Supplementary Member because it is a nicer way of reverting back to FPP. That's because in most cases since 1996, Supplementary Member would have produced the same government outcome as FPP, although minor parties would have had fewer MPs.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chris Carter admits he wasn't sick after all

Chris Carter appeared on The Nation today. He admitted he wasn’t sick when he took sick leave – at least, and I quote, “no more than normal”. He was asked who should lead the Labour Party to victory. I think I know who he’d like to lead Labour in the 2011 election, She’s not even in the country because she couldn’t win the last election, but Carter believes the one they’ve got can’t win the next election either. And he hates Goff and won’t be loyal to him, not because of his leadership skills, but because, quote, “he hung me out to dry over travel”.

So he is bitter. Bitter because he was demoted because of the furore over his excessive travel.

Carter wants to be a journalist. But he admits he annoys journalists on purpose. He’d make a useless journalist – he’d get stressed too much and miss deadlines. Perhaps he could get a job as Paul Henry’s co-host.[ update well, perhaps not, given his resignation this afternoon] That`ll lift the ratings and lead to another Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint along the lines of this one

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Will Kerry be Wellington’s mayor?

While Porirua and the Hutt have new mayors, Nick Leggatt and Ray Wallace respectively - the biggest question on everybody’s lips is will Celia Wade-Brown be Wellington’s new mayor. Currently she is trailing Kerry Prendergast by just 40 votes, and the Council tells me that nearly 1000 special votes will be counted on Monday.

The announcement of the results was woeful.Apparently Dunedin City Council had an announcement on its website that Wellington would not be announcing preliminary results before 6pm, but noone in Wellington knew about this until candidates were phoned this afternoon. The media reported the results before the Council even had the results on its website. Perhaps the council was trying to work out what to say. Under s85 of the Local Electoral Act it had to say something – in fact it had to make announcement of preliminary results. Trouble was, that announcement said that based on preliminary results, Prendergast had been elected.

She hadn’t been elected. She was in the lead, with Wade-Brown equally in the running due to a slim margin. And if Celia Wade-Brown wins about 52% of the specials – under STV – Prendergast won’t be elected. If the margin holds she will be elected.

It was good to see Justin Lester top the Northern Ward, getting more votes than Ngaire Best and Helene Ritchie and ousting Hayley Wain, who will now have to apply for a job. Paul Eagle and Swampy Marsh also got elected, and Rob Goulden got the boot.

Had to laugh when I saw Thomas Morgan’s result. He specialises in coming last in his ward, but he got the lowest vote of everyone in all wards - just 96 votes.

Scoop’s Alastair Thompson thinks that Celia Wade-Brown should demand a full recount of all votes to check the redistribution of mayoral votes.

Finally just a note about STV. It is important to have ranked everyone, particularly candidates you don’t like. Say, in a six candidate ticket with four getting elected, you ranked a candidate a 6 because you couldn’t stand them – and others did that too , but only ranked three other candidates as 1,2, and 3, - and many other did the same thing too with the same candidates - it could well be that the candidates you would have ranked 4th and 5th may well have got fewer votes than your most hated candidate, and therefore may have been eliminated earlier- purely because they weren’t ranked at all and the redistributed votes were primarily among the candidates most ranked in the top three. And if you wanted Kerry Prendergast for Mayor, you would have done well to rank all candidates, putting Celia Wade Brown at the bottom. If you ranked Prendergast at 1 and Wade Brown at 2 instead, with no other rankings, you have merely given the latter more of a chance of being mayor.

And due to the above workings of STV, this is one reason why Celia Wade-Brown may well be mayor after special votes have been counted. In the 2007 election, Kerry Prendergast got 34.9% of first preference votes overall, but only 25.8% of first preference votes on the specials.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Student leaders: Govt support for bill puts tertiary education in jeopardy

(initially published inNZ Herald)
Student leaders outline what is wrong with Act's bid to make association membership voluntary

The decision of National members of a parliamentary select committee to ignore tertiary institutions, students and the public by supporting an Act bill to impose voluntary student membership on students' associations is disgraceful.

It will put students' services, representation and their education at major risk. Should it be passed, Act's Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill will jeopardise the quality of the education environment and the student experience by removing the very mechanism that exists to provide these services.

It will end accountable and effective representation and destroy the student support, independent advocacy and welfare standards that students have. Every student will bear the brunt of this. Our politicians don't seem to care that there will be a huge reduction in services and a loss of a student voice in universities and polytechnics throughout the country.

Institutions will receive diverse messages from students and without clear signals will look to the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) for funding priorities.

Students, the key stakeholders, will be sidelined because their voice will not be clear and strong. Future tertiary services will be driven by the minority funder, exactly the behaviour the proponents of this bill oppose.

Students don't want this. Tertiary institutions don't want this. The committee received 4837 submissions on the bill, with an overwhelming 98 per cent opposed.

Some National representatives on the select committee appeared to have made up their minds to endorse the bill before submissions were even considered.

If it is a decision made on the principle of freedom of association, it is flawed. Students have less choice; they will no longer be able to come together as a universal collective.

There are ways of changing the membership rules that will allow students real choice but National members have chosen to ignore these solutions. It would appear that their intent is to silence the collective voice of students and drive student services towards a model where the TEC has primary influence.

Students' associations nationwide work hard for students. They provide vital services such as welfare, representation and advocacy for students who cannot make ends meet, have problems with a landlord or need help resolving a grievance.

The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations provides training and support to assist students' associations in improving their operations.

As a direct result of the passage of this legislation, students will see an increase in costs as tertiary institutions scramble to introduce services that all stakeholders consider essential.

The Government will be removing services that help with success just as they begin to penalise institutions for poor success and completion results. Meanwhile, students will be bearing the brunt as they will be paying more than ever to get a degree.

Universities will further increase levies for student services as a direct result of this legislation but students will have no say on how high the fee is set or where the money goes.

Some universities have increased this levy by more than 300 per cent in the past couple of years. On top of this, performance measures and capped student numbers are also driving fee rises.

We have seen universities closing their doors unexpectedly because of threats of penalties by the Tertiary Commission for going over their student cap.

So we will have a tertiary system that cannot contain its rising fees, fails to offer students services that respond to their needs and cannot provide some of the courses it advertises.

The current law is flexible and inclusive. It does not breach freedom of association, as students have a choice whether to join their associations, both on a collective level through a referendum and an individual level through opt-out provisions. Therefore, it allows for a variety of forms of membership, which most students are happy with.

Students deserve to retain the quality advocacy and representation that students' associations provide.

* Signed by Dave Crampton, vice-president, Massey Extramural Students' Society; David Do, co-president, New Zealand Union of Students' Associations; Ralph Springett, president, Massey Extramural Students' Society; Elliot Blade, president, Auckland University Students' Association; Rawa Karetai, president, Albany Students' Association.
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