ANUSA: The Cheap Date

The National Union of Students (NUS) always garners discussion at ANU. It is the peak student representative body in Australia. Whether it be candidacies of fellow students, the merits of respective campaigns, or seemingly, the loudest of all, affiliation fees – everyone always has an opinion. Affiliation fees to NUS are determined by two key factors: student population and the ability of ANUSA to pay. Not all students’ associations are equally able to pay which is why, per student, wealthier student associations are expected to and should, pay more than poorer student associations.

The current debate centres around what NUS wants ANUSA to pay ($6.25 per student) and what ANUSA wants to pay (41c per student). ANUSA’s proposal is this: $5,000 for affiliation from a budget of $1.4 million. The University of Sydney, with a student population three times greater and yet only a budget of $1.6 million pays $1.93 per student, for a total of $72,000. The University of New South Wales SRC has a budget one fifth the size of ANUSA’s, totalling $300,000, yet three times as many students and it pays 61c per student for a total of $20,000. Nearly 7% of its budget. A stark comparison to the 0.003% ANUSA seeks to pay.

NUS has done an amazing job with the resources available to it – I’m happy for you to disagree with me on that point because that’s not what this is about. What I refuse to accept in our campus dialogue is that students are better served by not having a national student voice and that letting non-ANU students bear the weight of ANU students is fair.

On the former; following the Australian Union of Students collapse in 1984, Australian students were left to contend with no national representation for the first time since 1937. It took the Hawke Government less than two years from that day to abolish free education. In the fallout from these new fees, students reorganised and NUS was born. It is well within the realms of possibility that should NUS fail, deregulation would all too quickly be realised.

Reports from SRC 2 show the flawed logic some proponents of lower affiliation fees to NUS have put. If you want the disabilities officer paid rather than volunteering, and engagement in Queer Collaborations, as I do, then you have to pay higher affiliation fees, not lower. You don’t get more out of an organisation by giving it less operating revenue. NUS took the hard decision to defund certain departments last year because campuses like ANU persist in their campaigns to lowball NUS every year.

It pains me that ANUSA has continually reaped the benefits of NUS affiliation (in the form of thousands of dollars worth of campaign material, constant engagement by office bearers and office bearers themselves) and accrued the rights of NUS affiliation (ability to vote in the AGM) but has contributed only a miniscule amount to their provision.

If ANUSA wants a strong national union with well-funded departments and campaigns, it should pay appropriate affiliation fees. If ANUSA wants to reform NUS, it should pay proper affiliation fees and vote for change. If ANUSA wishes to destroy NUS, like a young Tony Abbott did to AUS, then it should pay no affiliation fees. The fence sitting and indecision of ANUSA is not remaining impartial, it is complicity in NUS’ demise.

Ultimately, what I can’t stand to see at ANU is hypocrisy; a body that reaps the benefits of what is effectively compulsory student unionism on campus (in the form of SSAF) should not be a voice against it nationally. Imagine if ANUSA had to contend with individual students attempting to negotiate their SSAF payments – a nightmare for all involved with some sanctimonious chest beating from those who managed to pay the least.

The fact is that ANUSA has, for my entire time at ANU, been relegated to a state of freeloading and I fear that it will continue in this vein for the foreseeable future.

Michael Pettersson was the NUS National Welfare Officer 2012. He is the current President of ACT Young Labor