Selective amnesia hits the student movement

October 23, 1996

By Jo Williams

MELBOURNE — Unfortunately, the last few months of hectic campaigning against the Liberals' education cuts has provided an opportunity for some to (conveniently) forget lessons learnt over the last decade of fighting Labor's attacks on education.

Not surprisingly, student members of the ALP are keen to obscure Labors record and restore its much damaged credibility among students. The latest attempt comes dressed as the recently released "Lobby Kit", produced by the Melbourne University Student Union and endorsed by the National Union of Students.

The Lobby Kit is based on the premise that if "students, with the support of their parents and the wider community, can convince enough senators ... students can win this campaign".

"There is no conflict between building a large student campaign against the budget cuts and lobbying senators for their support", it states. When you focus more on getting the support of politicians, of presenting a "reasoned argument" to win them over, rather than building the support and involvement of students, however, there clearly is a conflict.

At present, the main task should be to organise the 600,000 higher education students to fight for a public, accessible and free education, making it impossible for the government to do anything but back down on the cuts.

Unfortunately, the strategy of focusing primarily on senators has been gathering momentum in Melbourne, with an increasing emphasis on trips to Canberra and demonstrations aimed at pulling politicians on board.

The dynamic towards compromise is made explicit in the kit, especially in its section on "Just who do we need to convince?", which includes profiles on the ALP, Democrats, Greens and the two independent senators Harradine and Colston. The section on the ALP is particularly illustrative: "Many ALP parliamentarians are feeling a little betrayed by the student movement ... they believe their efforts to open up the higher education system to more Australians were not appreciated by student leaders ... it wouldnt do the cause any harm to mention a few positives on the record of the ALP in government. For example, Labor did more than any previous government to make mass participation in Higher Education a reality."

Hang on, who betrayed who? The ALP reintroduces tertiary fees, comes up with HECS, imposes increasing restrictions on Austudy, seeks to subordinate tertiary education to the needs of Australian business, and they feel betrayed by our ingratitude!

The kit's authors would have us forget the last 10 years and forget that central to fighting the Coalition is fighting the ideological project behind it, a project that the ALP is equally committed to.

Building mass student resistance is not a matter of convincing senators or of invoking nostalgia for the "good old days" of Hawke and Keating. Such selective amnesia will only "succeed" in demobilising and demoralising the current movement, and lead us back to an anti-student Labor government in three or six years time.

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