Liberal senator has sights set on cutting SSAF

9 January 2019
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Queensland Liberal Senator James McGrath has announced plans to introduce a private member’s bill to abolish Student Service and Amenities Fees (SSAF) when parliament reconvenes in February, The Guardian reports.

This is not the first time the senator has pushed for the cutting of SSAF. In 2015, Senator McGrath told the senate that “SSAF represents an attack on the fundamental freedom of association.” McGrath criticised SSAF for taking away a students’ “right not to associate.”

At the University of Melbourne, full time students are charged a yearly fee of $303 which is collected by the university.  It is then distributed out to student unions, student representative bodies, welfare and counselling services and sports clubs.

In 2018, the University of Melbourne allocated almost $1.4 million (8%) of the SSAF budget to student support and welfare services. The largest allocation went towards ‘physical and administrative infrastructure’ comprising just over $4.2 million (25%).

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) President Molly Willmott said, “Any attack on SSAF will affect the entire campus, and our Union rejects McGrath’s proposed campaign against our funding.”

SSAF cuts would be an “unfounded attack on student wellbeing and campus culture. SSAF is [UMSU’s] main source of revenue,” Willmott said.

SSAF funds the University’s Legal and Advocacy service which UMSU’s Willmott says is “an extremely important service that supports students in significant academic, legal and financial stress.”

President of the National Union of Students (NUS) Desiree Cai said, “SSAF doesn’t all go directly to student unions. SSAF funds free access to university services, free breakfasts, supply packs and clubs and societies.”

“People from all over the political spectrum are not really supporting this [McGrath’s] SSAF bill,” Cai also pointed out.

McGrath’s proposed SSAF cuts have been strongly criticised by the university sector and Labor’s deputy leader and education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek.

McGrath’s bill doesn’t seem too high on the agenda for the then acting education minister, Simon Birmingham or the deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack. The two were both eager to stress the “proposed legislation is a private member’s bill.”

If successful, McGrath’s bill could spell the end for what’s left of compulsory student unionism. His proposal comes during an election year where higher education funding is already a controversial issue.

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