VUWSA has voted to rejoin the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations by a comfortable margin.
In the referendum, held alongside the VUWSA Executive elections, 1251 students (72 per cent) voted to retain VUWSA’s membership of NZUSA, while 476 students (28 per cent) voted to withdraw.
VUWSA gave 12-month notice of its withdrawal from NZUSA on 23 September 2014, citing a lack of value for its $45,000 membership levy. As a result, VUWSA’s membership of NZUSA had ceased last Wednesday, the day before the referendum result was announced.
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The result means that VUWSA will rejoin NZUSA with immediate effect.
The margin was greater than VUWSA’s last referendum on its NZUSA membership. In the 2013 referendum, 63 per cent voted to stay in NZUSA only if the national body implemented nebulous “reforms”, which the 2014 Executive claimed hadn’t occurred.
Despite the comfortable margin, questions will remain around NZUSA’s legitimacy given the low turnout. Fewer than 10 per cent of VUWSA’s members voted to stay.
VUWSA Clubs and Activities Officer Rory McNamara, the most strident critic of NZUSA on this year’s Executive, described the referendum result as “shit”, although he also conceded he had “just had three shots” and was “fucking wasted”.
McNamara had been unable to express his views publicly in the lead-up to the referendum, as the current Executive were required to follow a strict code of omerta to avoid tainting the results.
The campaign to leave NZUSA was largely devoid of leaders, while the “stay in NZUSA” campaign had strong backing from Labour Party figures and a sizeable (by student politics standards) war chest.
NZUSA President Rory McCourt has been actively campaigning at Victoria for the “stay in NZUSA” vote, along with a group of mostly Young Labour volunteers.
The referendum result could be called into question after numerous complaints were laid with the VUWSA Returning Officer.
The complaints relate to Facebook posts by NZUSA, McCourt, and MPs Grant Robertson and Jan Logie, urging Victoria students to vote to stay.
Because the posts were published last Tuesday and Wednesday, after voting had already opened, they ran afoul of VUWSA’s election rules, which ban any actions during the voting period that could potentially influence students’ votes.
The complaints also relate to NZUSA’s campaign spending in the run-up to the referendum. Candidates for VUWSA Executive are limited to a maximum spend of $250; if this spending limit also applies to referenda, NZUSA is likely to have overspent significantly.
VUWSA will need to appoint an independent arbitrator to judge the complaints. If the arbitrator upholds a complaint, they could potentially declare the referendum result invalid.
Given the margin of victory, however, it would seem unlikely that NZUSA’s transgressions would have had a material impact on the outcome of the vote.