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May 4, 2009 | by  | in News |
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ANZAC Episode II: Attack of the Moans

Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) President Jasmine Freemantle has defended her Executive’s decision to reject an invitation by Wellington City Council to lay a wreath at this year’s ANZAC Day commemorations.

The VUWSA Exec decided during a spirited meeting on 22 April not to lay a wreath, emphasising the lack of a mandate from students to do so.

“I think the decision made by the Exec was the appropriate one. We don’t have any official mandate from students concerning ANZAC Day,” Freemantle said.

“I would like to see some official mandate from students concerning ANZAC Day. This is something VUWSA will be doing later in the year.”

Freemantle, who received the council’s invitation on 21 April, a day before the weekly Exec meeting, stressed that the topic was broached immediately and discussed with urgency by the Executive.

“It was not intentional to leave things to the last minute. The first contact I had had with the city council was the day before the Exec meeting, and I took it straight to the Exec and put it on the agenda. It was a very open and transparent process. If anyone sees the fault lying with the VUWSA Executive, then I do apologise for that.” Freemantle said.

The positions of other university associations were mixed. Auckland University Students’ Association were not invited to participate in Auckland city’s commemorations, as was the University of Canterbury Students’ Association (UCSA).

“Anecdotally, many students took part in various ceremonies and the UCSA encouraged seeing its members participating. As such the UCSA did not officially commemorate ANZAC day. It has, in my understanding, never been invited to do so,” said UCSA President Steve Jukes.

However, Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) did participate in Dunedin’s dawn service. OUSA President Edwin Darlow said the association had always participated in ANZAC commemorations “for as long as [he could] remember.”

“As President I placed a wreath on behalf of OUSA at the dawn service. We lay a wreath in order to commemorate, acknowledge and pay our respects to the men and women who sacrificed so much,” Darlow said.

VUWSA’s decision received a surprising backing from the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association, who acknowledged that while the decision was peculiar, it was within the association’s rights.

“This is where the decision last week of the VUWSA seemed somewhat out of kilter with recent developments in the observance of Anzac Day,” said RSA Chief Executive Dr. Stephen Clarke.

“But then this goes to the core of Anzac Day: that the men and women we remember and the living veterans we recognise on the Anzac Day did so to ensure that New Zealanders have the freedom to remember, or not.”

Newly elected president of Ngai Tauira, Victoria’s Maori Students’ Association, Victor Manawatu, supported VUWSA’s cautious approach, and would have adopted a similar position.

“Acting as president, I would have gotten student approval, at least taken a quick straw poll via email a few days before. If students care about something, they respond,” Manawatu said.

The furore over the Exec’s decision has seen VUWSA’s email inundated with angry correspondence, while the website of Victoria student magazine Salient received over 200 comments.

One commentator, Matthew Cunningham, acknowledged the Executive’s approach to student consultation and transparency.

“In refusing to place a wreath at the memorial due to the lack of a student mandate, Jasmine and the exec were merely following through on her campaign promise of accountability and transparency to the student body. Whilst in this instance it has gone horribly wrong, I cannot fault them for their motives,” he said.

When questioned about the appropriateness of a small number of students making decisions on behalf of Victoria’s 21,000-strong population during a Student Representative Council or General Meeting, Freemantle acknowledged that that was the very crux of student democracy.

“The students who turn up and participate in those sorts of meetings are the ones who have chosen to be involved in the democratic process,” she said.

“If that decision is in such a way that VUWSA is directed to commemorate ANZAC Day services henceforth, or that VUWSA will abstain from being involved in ANZAC Day services, that will be the direction of the students, and I’m more than happy for that to happen.”

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Comments (2)

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  1. Ms Kat says:

    ARE YOU FOR REAL VICTOR!?!?!?!

    What the heck! You are supposed to be representing Māori students, and you AGREE with VUWSA cautious approach!…POOR JUDGEMENT BUDDY!
    May be you need to ask some of your Ngai Tauira buddies to give you a history lesson in what importance ANZAC day has with Māori, ESPECIALLY during the WAR!
    Caution was defintley NOT needed
    ….next thing you’ll be telling us that Ngai Tauira will be cautious about celebrating ‘Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori’!!!…

  2. Superior Mind says:

    Although I understand where VUWSA is coming from I do reckon that if it takes only 100 students to decide to spend $12 million on campus redevelopment then surely thirteen people is enough to decide whether to lay a wreath on ANZAC Day.

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