A major divide between ANUSA representatives over the issue of re-affiliating with the National Union of Students (NUS) came to light in last week’s SRC meeting. After hearing from the National President, National General-Secretary and the National Educational Officer of the NUS, SRC members debated whether the defunding of certain Office Bearers, NUS financial mismanagement and upsetting behaviour during NUS conferences should result in disaffiliation.
According to NUS National General-Secretary Tom Nock, the NUS is a “confederation of student associations around Australia”.
The NUS recently faced criticism after it was revealed during the 2014 NUS National Conference that the organisation had accumulated approximately $300,000 in deficits over three years, despite reports from consecutive NUS General-Secretaries that the budget was in surplus.
“The reasons for that were poor record keeping and poor management by Office Bearers, but also we did have a difficulty with auditors during those years… the auditors did not give the Office Bearers the tools to interpret the information and the Office Bearers misinterpreted the report of the auditors,” said Nock.
Changes to NUS service providers, the halving of the NUS National Office in Melbourne, and cuts to travel and discretionary expenses made available to NUS National Officers, have resulted in over $150,000 in savings. The original travel budget is now around $50,000, down from the previous amount of $70,000.
Nonetheless, lack of stability and the unpredictable revenue generated by affiliation fees paid by student associations nationwide is still a concern for the NUS.
“The fees from [the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF)] go directly to the university and then the university can decide exactly how much it gives to the student association… So we see really uneven amounts of SSAF distribution around the country,” said Nock.
The National General-Secretary is constitutionally mandated to send a full affiliation invoice to student associations, but it is not expected that these associations pay the specified amount in full. Instead, the NUS and the student association enter a “fee review process”, during which the association outlines the amount it is capable of paying and the reasons why.
“In the past ANUSA’s affiliation amount has varied… last year ANUSA did not get its SSAF allocation so was running on a skeleton budget, and NUS accepted the special circumstance and ANUSA [was] accredited for $3000,” said Nock.
Furthermore, the report from a structural audit of the NUS commissioned last year recommended that the NUS “blend” the specific departments within the organisation in order to focus more on campaigning and take less money from Office Bearers.
“We were paying a part time honoraria of about $15,000 to individual Office Bearers but they only had about $1500 to work with. We want to reverse that dynamic so that there is a lot more money going into the campaigns…” said Nock.
It was decided by delegates at the 2014 Conference that funding for the Disability, International and Indigenous Office Bearers was to be cut, while Women’s and Queer Office Bearers would remain paid part-time at minimum wage.
NUS National President, Rose Steele, said: “I would like to see NUS in the financial position where it can have really effective campaigns that are being run that are fully funded and honoraria is equal… that can happen if we have higher funding and higher affiliation fees from universities across Australia.”
ANUSA Treasurer, Sophia Woo, denounced the NUS as being “financially irresponsible.”
“There are a lot of instances, and this is just from a quick Google, where I think possibly your organisation isn’t financially sustainable or hasn’t been for a very long time. [The NUS’] ABN was only registered in 2000 [yet the organisation] started in 1987, so that is at least 13 years that [NUS] hasn’t actually been a business entity,” said Woo.
Towards the end of the SRC meeting, ANUSA President, Ben Gill, put forward a new motion without notice that ANUSA does not re-affiliate with NUS, stating concerns regarding the cuts to autonomous departments and poor financial governance.
“It is quite evident on what ANUSA could do for NUS but not necessarily clear on what NUS can do for ANUSA,” said Gill.
The motion was seconded by ANUSA Vice-President, James Waugh: “what we are considering doing is really serious because Australian students do need a strong national body, but it is evidently clear from what has been conceded by NUS today, that the NUS isn’t that strong national body… especially when we compare it to what our departments could do with $5000…”
ANUSA Women’s Officer, Loren Ovens, criticised the NUS Women’s Officer due to an absence of communication and a lack of focus on the issues directly affecting female students.
“In the past two years there has been no contact; in my meeting this year, the only topic we spoke about was fee deregulation, and I have had one email since… I think that there are issues relating to specific departments that deserve attention and can’t be addressed through blended campaigns,” said Ovens.
However, ANUSA General-Secretary, ANU Union Chair and NUS ACT Women’s Officer, Megan Lane, said, “deregulation disproportionately affects women because women will spend twice as long paying off their HECs… so as far as I am concerned, in the year when deregulation is being debated, that is the thing I want to see my women’s officers talking about…”
ANUSA Queer Officer, Kat Reed, came out in favour of Gill’s motion, stating, “I cannot support an organisation that silences minority groups.”
ANUSA Disability Officer, Ana Stuart, said, “The NUS have removed certain honoraria but they haven’t increased any of the budget that the officers have to work with. For disabilities in particular, the campaign that NUS ran was disgusting; it has a very victimising mentality. The quote is ‘Having a disability is already expensive enough’.”
Jock Webb, ANUSA Education Officer, spoke of his experience attending the 2014 Conference as a delegate affiliated with the National Independents.
“The National Office Bearers need to seriously think about how everyone conducts themselves on conference floor in terms of the mental health effects that it has had on people, in [the National Independents] particularly,” said Webb.
Yet Lane maintained that every delegate experience is different. She also attended the Conference last year but as a member of Labor Right’s Student Unity.
“What Jock experienced in the harassment and the mental health space, I can’t say that I personally experienced [it]… people don’t run around with pitchforks and nail people to walls…If you respect other delegates, you’re less likely to be disrespected,” said Lane.
Those against Gill’s motion cited the benefit of being represented by a national advocacy body when at present the future of tertiary education is unstable.
“When you’re talking about what you’re paying for when you’re affiliating, you can’t measure it in terms of materials that you receive, it’s measured in terms of political lobbying power that represents all students across the country… this is the peak representative body for us across the nation,” said Webb.
ANUSA Social Officer, Jack Gaudie, said, “We are a fortunate campus that gets a large amount of SSAF and I think that we have a responsibility to those who don’t, to contribute on their behalf. But more so, I think that we have a responsibility on behalf of ANU students, who are the people we represent, who will be the people put out in the cold, by not re-affiliating.”
It was decided that voting on Gill’s motion would be delayed until the next SRC Meeting, which is set to be held on the 26th of May 2015. Students are encouraged to email Ben Gill and/or Megan Lane if they wish to find out more about NUS affiliation.
A full detailed SRC Report will be published in due course.