Funding the Party Line25 February 2016
The 2016 UMSU Students’ Council has met for the first time, discussing issues including the allocation of student funds and cuts to student department budgets.
The makeup of UMSU’s governing body mostly consists of the Grassroots Left, the Labor Left, the Labor Right and More Activities! (a grouping that prioritises to clubs and activities over representing students in the political sphere).
The political arrangement of last year’s general elections centered on an agreement More Activities! made with Stand Up!, outlining that they support More Activities’ presidential candidate, James Baker, in exchange for the Labor Left securing General Secretary, Education (Public), Welfare and Wom*ns offices.
A central point of division in UMSU politics is attitudes towards the National Union of Students, the chief representative body for Australian university students. The NUS are viewed as responsible for defending students against proposed changes by the federal government – fee hikes, cuts to tertiary education, the recent anti-SSAF motion – through lobbying, coordinating rallies and other forms of political organisation.
In 2015, UMSU’s NUS affiliation dropped from $106,000 to $55,500. The cut, which was proposed by President Rachel Withers from More Activities!, was justified on two grounds.
Firstly, supporters of the cut argued the savings could be used to increase funding for on campus events, clubs and student welfare services. Supporters of the cut also alleged that the NUS is hamstrung by factionalism and inaccessibility. Similar reservations towards the NUS were recently expressed by student media organisations who criticized the NUS’ ban on recording devices at their National Conference. For instance, Farrago and Honi Soit (University of Sydney) claimed the ban reflected poor standards of accountability and transparency.
For the 2016 budget, the Labor Left succeeded in increasing the NUS affiliation fee to $70,500, 16 per cent of total budget expenditure. Labor Left Councillor Millicent AustinAndrews defended funding the NUS.
“[NUS] does a lot to oppose fee deregulation, and will be needed to fight for SSAF – the lifeblood of this organisation – and is currently running a national survey into women’s safety on campuses,” she argued.
The budget also included a cut to the VCA Department from $35,000 (2015) to $15,000 (2016). Van Rudd, VCA Campus Coordinator and member of the Socialist Alternative, argued that the VCA was being “treated like it’s a committee when it’s an entire campus.”
“Students at the VCA are in their studios eight hours a day. They don’t have time to catch the halfanhour tram up to Parkville where all the services are concentrated…since the merger, there have been successive cuts to VCA, gradually diminishing the culture on campus!”
Rudd listed many services and utilities used by students at the VCA, which he claimed would not be able to continue under the new budget, such as yoga classes. It was when Van Rudd mentioned “printing infrastructure” that a number of handsonmouth giggles rippled through the Students’ Council, revealing the true reason behind the dramatic decrease in funding to the VCA Student Association.
During the UMSU general election last September, Socialist Alternative members were discovered to be using union funds to print their own election campaign material. When General Secretary James Bashford from the Labor Left defended the 2016 budget cuts to the VCA campus, he argued it was reasonable to be suspicious of VCA expenditure following the events of the 2015 election and that departments based in Parkville had tried to cooperate and organise events at VCA several times throughout the year but “been met with a brick wall”.
However, a compromise was reached when former Farrago co-editor, Martin Ditmann, successfully motioned that it become mandatory for all departments to run at least one event at a non-Parkville campus each semester.