Courtney Ruge, Melbourne
On August 11, a day after the national protest against voluntary student unionism (VSU), the women's room at Melbourne University was vandalised. The August 12 Age reported that "furniture was upturned, paperwork was scattered and plates were smashed".
Three men were seen running from the scene by Jim Round, editor of the student newspaper Farrago. Round identified one of the vandals as a prominent member of the Australian Liberal Students Federation. ALSF president Julian Barendse, however, claimed the accusations were part of a left-wing conspiracy. Round has made a statement to the police.
Liberal students are acting out what PM John Howard's government is trying to do — smash student unions. The VSU legislation is in line with proposed industrial relations reforms that attack workers' rights and trade unions.
Shasta Stevic, a women's officer at Melbourne University, said, "This attack on a women's-only space shows just how little they respect women students on this campus, and women and feminism more generally". The Toorak Young Liberals initiated a motion at the Young Liberals' council meeting in early August to overturn their policy supporting affirmative action within the party.
The introduction of VSU in Western Australia in 1997 led to women's departments being closed. Although the WA legislation was repealed last year, student unions are struggling to restore student services. Stevic also said the women's department played a key role in ensuring the protection and promotion of women's rights.
This incident should act as a wake-up call for students to get active in the anti-VSU campaign. We can clean up a wrecked room, but it's much harder to do something about losing the room altogether.
[Courtney Ruge is a member of the Melbourne University Student Unionists Network.]
From Green Left Weekly, August 24, 2005.
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