By Wendy Robertson
Within days of leaking its proposal, the Coalition has introduced voluntary student unionism legislation into parliament. The move provoked widespread anger amongst students, who overwhelmingly reject VSU.
In response, the minister for education, David Kemp, said that he expected protests from "a tiny proportion" of students but that the majority supported VSU. Friday's editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that the political aspects of student organisations have "nothing to do with the general interests of the students they are supposed to represent".
Resistance club members report that stalls and spot actions on many campuses provoked an overwhelming opposition to VSU. All up, about 1000 students joined protests on the day the legislation was introduced into parliament. Aaron Benedek, Resistance activist and education officer at Sydney University, stated, "The response from students makes a mockery of Kemp's assertion that most students don't support their student union".
The legislation will be passed by the lower house within the next week, and is expected to go to the Senate in May. In the short term, the progress of the legislation is dependent on Senators Brian Harradine and Mal Colston. If the legislation is delayed until the new Senate sits in July, those parliamentary forces that have publicly stated opposition to VSU — the Greens, the Democrats and the Labor Party — will have the numbers to defeat the bill.
But students should be wary of trusting these forces. Harradine has supported many key Liberal policies in return for a few minor concessions. The Democrats supported the Liberals' industrial relations bill.
Michael Lee, Labor's shadow education minister, refused to hand over leaked information about the VSU legislation to the National Union of Students (NUS) until he had time to do media work on it, illustrating that Labor's re-election ambitions lead them to restrict non-parliamentary opposition.
"The only way to truly defeat VSU is for students to take to the streets in opposition. Students' passive opposition to VSU needs to be galvanised into action. The first opportunity is the March 31 national day of action", commented Alison Dellit, Resistance organiser and member of the Newcastle University Education Action Group.