Last week, as a result of Senate deadlock, the Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF) Bill was lost, and students around Australia were asked to cop at least another year of sub-par services and representation. The Bill was set to collect up to $250 from all enrolled students for the funding of sporting, cultural and advocacy services on campus.
Here at Melbourne Uni, where I co-edit the student magazine Farrago, debate at Students’ Council often resembles that which took place on the Senate floor last week. It goes a little something like this:
Right: Stop stealing money for average students for your insane, radical and totally irrelevant campaigns, like … Youth Allowance.
Left: Why don’t you die in a freak yachting accident, ya sexist, queerphobic, racist law students. What’s an average student, anyway?
Right: The ones that like free beer and sausages. Those ones. They care not for your elitist and exclusive “National Union of Students” and your “action collectives”. Direct action is dead, people.
Obviously it’s not always that black and white — the Labor Right faction on our campus has strong links to the National Union of Students (NUS) and lobbied for our Union to pay well over $65,000 in affiliation fees to it, at the cost of department budgets. On the other hand, independent parties like those that operate the Media Department and Clubs & Societies Department here, as well as the “grassroots left”, are often stuck between a rock (siding with anti-Union groups) and a hard place (increasingly slashed budgets).
Opposition to the Bill (from Fielding and the Coalition) is, as I’ve mentioned, an aggregation of the arguments that Young Libs use against unionists generally — and stems from the misinformed notion that students don’t care about anything past their hip pocket.
It’s an insult to the thousands of students that participate in Clubs, read student papers and vote in union elections — not to mention a gross generalisation, which, as John Howard himself said recently on this campus, can only be “very bad”.
Opposition also came from Celebrity/Senator Barnaby Joyce, who decided that the Fee would only be appropriate if it were used solely for sporting activity. Truly, it is a distressing kind of fascism that privileges certain varieties of involvement over others — jocks over nerds, footballers over environment activists.
Joyce’s proposed amendments are particularly foul when considered in conjunction with the fact that students from rural backgrounds often require much support from Student Services to settle in.
The same can be said for international students. Protests by Indian students, statistics on housing strife, anecdotes about alienation, they all point to one thing — international students are seeking support and not finding it. By constantly belittling the efforts of student associations that are working to solve this, whilst simultaneously claiming that they care about the welfare of international students (and their export value), this is a Government sending mixed messages.
Senator Kroger said last week that the compulsory acquisition of student dollars for amenities reminded him of compulsory acquisition of land in the 1997 comedy, The Castle. “I am not suggesting that the coalition case is based on a vibe,” he quickly explained, “but on an innate sense of justice”.
Unfortunately for students, Kroger’s initial insinuation was right. Opposition to the SSAF is based on a vibe, a really sad bitter one based on the petty games some of these politicians have been playing since they were in uni (Kroger suggested that both Kate Ellis and Julia Gillard used compulsory student fees to fund their careers).
For her part, Ellis has said she has not ruled the Bill out, and it remains a part of Labor policy, but inside word indicates the Bill won’t return after the next election. As often in politics, pettiness abounds, and the electorate is paying for it.