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May 14, 2012 | by  | in News |
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NZUSA Relapses

Returns to party-hack roots, forgets to consult anyone. Except Grey Power.

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations has thrown their support behind the citizens initiated referendum campaign against state asset sales without consulting or informing members. Confusion has arisen after the national union presented justifications for the decisions in private correspondence that markedly differed to those aired in public.

Last Thursday NZUSA Vice-President, and Auckland University Students’ Association President Arena Williams, spoke on behalf of NZUSA at the official launch of the campaign. Along with representatives from several political parties, unions and Grey Power.

However an invitation to the event—sent out just days prior—was the first both VUWSA and Massey Wellington Students’ Association (MAWSA) had heard of NZUSA’s involvement with the campaign.

Williams was adamant that the issue had been discussed with the University Sector Council of students’ association presidents—of which she is the chair, and subsequently a member of NZUSA’s governing board. She said that involvement with the campaign was NZUSA policy, and had “been through the NZUSA policy processes.”

“We have talked about it at a Board level and at a sector council level. And it’s been NZUSA policy last year, and this year,” she said.

But neither VUWSA President Bridie Hood, or MAWSA President Ben Thorpe, who both sit on that Council, could recall the issue of state asset sales ever being discussed at a meeting. Both said that had they been asked whether NZUSA should support the referendum, they would have said no, unless students had directed them to do so. Neither thought it was justifiable for their respective associations to get involved as it was outside their scope, and that they had no stance on the matter.

“We have not received a mandate from students to support or oppose the sale of state assets, therefore VUWSA has no stance on the issue,” Hood said.

“However, VUWSA will always support students having a say in issues that affect them.”

Thorpe said they were taking a non-partisan approach to state asset sales, as he didn’t think it was appropriate for them to get involved.

“[MAWSA] tend to take a take a fairly apolitical stance on most matters, unless they do directly relate to students. So, if I was to speak on behalf of MAWSA, then I’d say that I don’t think that it is our position to take a stance on these matters at all,” Thorpe said.

Despite NZUSA’s claim it is not about outcome rather than debate and promoting student involvement in the political process, Thorpe considered supporting the referendum amounted to taking a political stance.

“It certainly expresses that NZUSA are not for these changes.”

NZUSA claimed the justification for supporting the campaign was because they saw it as a way of re-connecting young people with political processes, as they were concerned with falling levels of political participation by young people, particularly in the 2011 election.

“We want to give students a chance to get politically involved in an issue where a decision is being made now, but the consequences of which it is our generation who [are] going to have to live with,” Williams said.

However when the VUWSA and MAWSA presidents queried the justification, NZUSA informed them that the decision to support the campaign was based on the union’s longstanding policy against “privatisation”.

This is the first year of NZUSA’s new governance structure—which moved from a federation of executive members made up of all member students’ association presidents to a board which includes a couple of presidents and other sector representatives

Though the presidents Salient spoke to expressed concern at the internal process taken for NZUSA to support the referendum campaign, they both conceded it was the first year with the new structure, so may have been just an issue with untested processes.

“I think it’s quite early days in regard to this new structure, and again we’re all going through some pretty big changes… so it’s going to need to be fleshed out… it just needs more time,” Thorpe said.

“We would be concerned if it were to happen again, and have expressed concern to the board and the sector council.”

The referendum launch follows a hikoi in Wellington last Friday, which went through the CBD before descending on Parliament with a crowd of around 5,000 people. About 150 of which were part of a protest organised by We Are the University, who left Kelburn and marched down to join the hikoi.

One student who saw the merge said it was reminiscent of the momentous entrance of Gandalf and Eomer’s forces into war at the Battle of Helm’s Deep in Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, an entrance that lead to the eventual defeat of Saruman’s 10,000 strong army.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    Sigh. When will students associations learn. #facepalm

  2. Gerald says:

    NZUSA should not be taking a political stance on an issue that does not pertain to students, and which we have not been consulted on. Good on VUWSA for refusing to get involved. I implore them to force NZUSA to retract their statements.

  3. Adam says:

    Oh my god is that Peter Manglethwaite

    GUYS PETER MANGLETHWAITE’S BACK

    Not that he ever left our hearts

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