For far too long, left-wing student unions have shown a cavalier disregard for the interests of mainstream students on campus. Meanwhile, we continue to line their pockets.
In the last few weeks, the National Union of Students (NUS) led climate change marches around the country, urging university students and staff to walk out of lectures to encourage action on climate change. These largely white, privately educated, upper-middle-class students who live with their parents in leafy suburbs felt so strongly about this moral crisis that they decided to spend other students’ money on a whole lot of hullabaloo, preferring to dump the responsibility of meaningful action on “society” rather than take the lead themselves.
This isn’t the first time that the NUS, this cash-obese protest machine, has hit the headlines for failing to address ordinary students’ needs.
In December, it was revealed how the student services and amenities fee (SSAF) — a mandatory $303 tax slapped on students— was being used to fuel infighting within the organisation, whose factions range from centre-left to left-of-Karl Marx. At the NUS’ most recent annual conference, delegates debated motions including “Abolish Australia Day”, “Student Politics is Very White” and “Burn Down the Colleges” and a number of other left-wing lunacies — all paid for by mainstream students whom the NUS claims to represent.
The influence of student unions is, however, not being countered from the lecture platform and the classroom. A history student at the University of Melbourne recently revealed to The Australian “lecturers seem more concerned with approaching their analysis of history from Marxist perspectives [than with the facts]”. The widespread reliance on Marxist concepts of class, equality and power and the creeping influence of identity politics in the classroom shows that even the academic teaching material is so predisposed to left-wing bias.
Once bastions of free thought, universities are now asylums for lily-livered lefties who seek to censor those who shun their orthodoxy. Take the Melbourne University Student Union’s Radical Education Week, which whipped up a media storm a few months ago. Representatives of the student union, it was reported, suggested in one of these workshops that “white males” and “students who look like Liberal voters” should be banned from speaking in tutorials).
The censorship and demonisation of conservative students on campus is part and parcel of a culture of hate that festers in our universities, fostered by student unions.
Student unions claim to represent all fee-paying students without fear or favour. If this is the case, then why did the Melbourne University Student Union’s official magazine, Farrago, publish a kill list last year targeting conservative students? For all their talk, their readiness to publish such an article — using our SSAF money — promoting violence towards mainstream conservatives speaks volumes. If the left wish to print vitriol of this kind, let them do so on their own dime.
It is a sad indictment on the state of our universities that a small but vocal minority have been able to chip away at our fundamental freedoms on campus with little consequence. So it’s time we did something about the SSAF, that $303 student tax, which has helped cement the left’s stranglehold on campus freedom.
In twenty-first century Australia, compulsory unionism is illegal everywhere save for our universities. It is mind-boggling that students are forced to pay this fee if they want to complete their degree, regardless of their actual need for the provided services, or their income. It violates our basic freedom of association.
The argument for voluntary unionism is straightforward: students should be able to choose not to contribute to student organisations, particularly if those organisations — especially the far-left student unions — are aligned with political causes they do not support.
The wannabe student politicians who occupy our universities’ student unions argue that the SSAF provides value to students by funding a range of services on campus. This could not be further from the truth. The reality is that many of these services could be provided in a cost-effective way under a system of voluntary membership. Revenue for the student union is currently guaranteed regardless of the quality of services it provides. As a result, it is not responsive to demand given there is little incentive for improvement. Axing the student tax would empower us to exercise free choice in the goods and services we access, therefore delivering a responsive, high-quality and efficient mix of services on campus.
Promisingly, Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister, has vowed to reform the higher education sector to better protect free speech and academic freedom on campus. This must mean an end to compulsory unionism and the SSAF and the restoration of freedom of association for all students. The parliamentary arithmetic means this can now be a reality.
Compulsory unionism for students is unnatural, artificial, and fails to protect the interests of mainstream students. We must give students the tools they need to support themselves in this critical stage in life — not only financially, by abolishing the unfair student tax, but also intellectually, by promoting the free and fair exchange of views on campus. Only by engaging in the battle of ideas and discussing complex ideas with an open mind will students thrive and realise their potential.
The left have, for far too long, shut down debate and vilified mainstream students on campus. They have carried out a quiet assault on freedom while we continue to foot the bill. It is time to take their trough away and axe the SSAF.
Chris Kounelis is Chair of the Victorian Liberal Students’ Association.
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