Resistance magazine spoke to Maurice Sibelle, coordinator of the Victorian TAFE Students and Apprentices Network (VTSAN), about how TAFE students plan to campaign against voluntary student unionism legislation (VSU).
Question: What has been the impact of VSU legislation in Victoria on TAFE student organisations?
TAFE student unions were only in the process of being set up in Victoria (there were roughly 17 TAFE student organisations) when the legislation was introduced in 1995.
As a result of VSU, three TAFE student organisations were totally destroyed and half a dozen have had serious cutbacks to their funding. So it has had a huge impact.
The thing to remember is that VSU legislation in Victoria did not make student organisations illegal. What it did was allow management to have a greater intervention into student organisations and compromise their independence.
We have run a significant campaign in Victorian TAFEs to maintain the independence of student organisations, and where we have run strong campaigns we have made some progress. We have now managed to set up two new student organisations under VSU.
Question: What is the intention of national VSU?
It is a political attack on student unions aimed at restricting their ability to defend student rights. The federal government obviously has plans to introduce up-front fees, restrict access to income support and so on. This is all part of its agenda of privatising education.
VSU would silence the organisations that would campaign against these changes.
Question: What alliances are possible between TAFE and university students in fighting this legislation?
From all accounts, the national VSU legislation is aimed more at university student organisations than TAFE student organisations. But this does not mean that VTSAN will go quiet on it; on the contrary, we will be campaigning against any restriction on any student union's right to organise.
We think an alliance between TAFE and university students is absolutely essential. This alliance is not just to fight VSU, but to fight the cutbacks and changes that the government is imposing on students in all areas of education.
Question: What are the important lessons for the national campaign to draw from the campaign against VSU in Victoria? What is the impact of the bailout money offered by the federal government?
The Student Organisation Support Scheme, which was introduced in 1995-96 by the ALP federal government, postponed the fight that needed to happen. It was a temporary fix which did not solve the real problem, which was that student organisations needed to get out there and defend students' rights.
It also did nothing for TAFE student organisations, because this money was not offered to us.
We need a broad strategy to fight the legislation: a series of mobilisations to oppose the legislation nationally, combined with a strong campaign at a campus level. To be successful, we need a participatory, democratically run campaign which can ensure that student organisations survive.