BY GRANT COLEMAN
PERTH — In February, just before it was elected to government in Western Australia, the state ALP promised it would repeal legislation enforcing voluntary student unionism (VSU) within 100 days of being elected.
Two months after the deadline passed, Alan Carpenter, the state education minister, told the August 25 West Australian that the Labor government would not fully repeal VSU.
The VSU legislation was introduced by the state Liberal government in 1993. It abolished universal student guild membership, severely restricting their activities and services.
Carpenter is looking at a model of student unionism similar to that introduced in Victoria by the state Coalition government in 1994. This would allow university administrations the right to determine how much of that fee flows to the student unions and thereby restrict the activities of the guilds.
The intention of the WA Liberals' VSU legislation was to undermine the political role of guilds and discourage graduates from joining trade unions. VSU has financially crippled student guilds; less than 20% of WA students are members of their guild.
Edith Cowan University (ECU) guild has virtually collapsed as a result of VSU; less than 10% of ECU students are guild members. ECU guild only exists due to subsidies from the National Union of Students (NUS).
The Curtin University guild has become little more than a business enterprise with a thin veneer of "representation". Often the guild has acted along with the administration to repress political activity. In 1999, student elections were cancelled.
On Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia, while political activities, clubs and departments still exist and are supported by the guild, the funding they receive is limited. The guild's political role is down-played in favour of providing services, advocacy and "campus life" roles. The number of students that vote in guild elections at Murdoch has dwindled to less than 1000.
On August 29, 80 students demonstrated outside the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs to demand free, publicly funded education and the repeal of VSU. The protest was called by the West Australian branch of the National Union of Students (NUS).
A Cross Campus Education Network has been formed to campaign for the end of VSU.