After two months of shadow boxing, federal education minister David Kemp has come clean and presented a bill to gut student unions' political activities.
The bill legislates for "voluntary student unionism", prohibits the levying of any compulsory non-academic fee by universities and threatens universities' recurring grants if they fail to comply.
The political aim of the legislation is clear in leaked Liberal Party briefing notes, which include the gems, "We must truncate the culture of compulsory unionism at student level before people enter the workforce" and "Part of the aim is to destroy NUS [the National Union of Students] because it is not seen as a conservative friend".
HOBART — A debate was held on February 25 at the University of Tasmania to discuss "voluntary student unionism". Both pro- and anti-VSU speakers contributed.
Anti-VSU speakers, including Nikki Ulasowski from Resistance and NUS national education officer Evelyn Loh, cut through the Liberals' standard arguments that "VSU is about choice".
Ulasowski highlighted the Liberals' true agenda: "Put plain and simply, VSU is an attack on students' democratic rights. The Liberals' agenda for education is very clear, and as part of carrying out this agenda they are trying to remove an opposition force."
The Hobart SRC has set up an Anti-VSU Committee which will meet regularly to organise the campaign. The committee is open to all students and will be organising teach-ins.
CANBERRA — On February 19, activists from the University of Canberra and the Australian National University, along with representatives from the NTEU representing university staff, agreed to hold a Canberra-wide action on March 31. After some debate about how to campaign against VSU, agreement was reached to highlight the attacks on higher education and on student organisations.
The meeting of the Canberra Cross-Campus Education Network also adopted a motion of solidarity with the NTEU, which is campaigning for a 19% wage increase over three years.
Resistance activist Jo Brown commented, "The discussion at the Canberra CCEN reflects the debate around the country. Some groups present argued for a focus on building a campaign around the education cuts or the GST first, then raising the issue of the government's attacks on student organisations later. Resistance argued for a campaign that seeks first and foremost to mobilise students in defence of their right to organise."
NATIONAL — More than 300 university students joined Resistance during university "Orientation Week", February 22 to 26.
Sydney University Resistance activist Aaron Benedek said, "There was considerable interest from students. Many had heard of us from our high school walkouts in 1998, and many wanted to get active and do something to fight injustice.
"Beyond basic interest in activism, there was also a high level of interest in socialist ideas and in our revolutionary politics, which was very encouraging", Benedek continued. More than eighty people joined Resistance at Sydney Uni in three days.