$25 refund of levy promised
Young National and ACT on Campus party members and pro-VSM students have begun a united campaign for the VUWSA General Election, including the promise of a $25 refund for each student from their annual VUWSA levy.
The group of 12, who call themselves ‘the A-Team’, are running one candidate for each exec portfolio except Queer Rights Officer.
The unashamedly right-leaning group includes Student Choice member Lukas Schroeter running for President, ACT on Campus President Mike Bridge for Education Vice President and Young Nat Anna Duggan for Welfare Vice President.
Current President Geoff Hayward and Education Vice President Joel Cosgrove are also running for the presidency.
Shroeter told Salient the group had two possible candidates for the Queer Rights Officer position, but had decided against running them as neither had “been able to quite meet the standards.”
Schroeter did not elaborate on these ‘standards’.
“We figured it was more respectful to not run someone for that position than to run someone who wasn’t queer,” says Environmental Officer candidate Cameron Cotter.
Salient understands none of the group has experience on a students’ association executive. Schroeter says many have been involved in other areas of student and national politics and does not believe the lack of VUWSA experience will inhibit the group’s ability to run the Association.
The A-Team’s campaign officially begins today with postering around the University, with poster slogans such as ‘Evict the Muppets’ targeting the 2007 exec’s antics.
According to Duggan, the ‘A’ in A-Team stands for advocacy and accountability – which the group believe the 2007 exec has lacked.
Last Monday, A-Team members handed out pamphlets on campus outlining the antics of the 2007 VUWSA exec. The booklets, titled ‘A Year In Your Rear’, state “it’s time to reflect on a year of antics, atrocities, and abuses from the 2007 Exec.”
VUWSA exec members have since complained that numerous details in the pamphlets were incorrect, including referring to Education Officer (Education) Stefan Tyler as ‘Stephanie’, and suggesting former Welfare Vice President Heleyni Pratley ‘modified’ $300,000 worth of artwork – when the one painting in question was worth around $5000. Clubs Officer Melissa Barnard has also expressed disappointment that Cosgrove and 2006 President Nick Kelly were credited with the attempted Trade Me sale of the University Games shield rather than her.
An A-Team insider told Salient last week that “this is the start of a big, well-financed and well-planned campaign.”
Whilst the campaign may be ‘well-financed’, the group says it will stick to the limit of $100 per candidate as prescribed in the VUWSA Constitution. The group has raised several hundred dollars through their own savings, by taking out overdrafts, and through a donation from Schroeter’s grandmother.
Hayward questions whether the group will stick within the funding limit, likening their campaign to the so-called dirty politics of National’s 2005 election campaign.
“While the pamphlet made me laugh, the question is not whether or not the points made in the article are correct or not, but whether this group of students, who have put their names to the leaflet are breaching the constitution by illegally funding a potential election campaign for themselves. As a VUWSA member, it would be prudent to inform the Returning Officer of these leaflets should these people nominate themselves in the VUWSA General Election,” says Hayward.
“If they are illegally funding their own campaigns, well, I guess that the Right are using the same tactics as the Exclusive Brethren in 2005.”
If elected, the group is also promising, all students would receive a $25 refund from their annual VUWSA levy.
The 2007 VUWSA levy was $120, raised from $99 in previous years. The levy will be adjusted by the Weekly Wage Index for next year to around $125 per year.
The A-Team says students at Vic are being over-charged for their membership of VUWSA, and that a better service can be provided to students at the lower price. The A-Team will manage VUWSA with sensible accounting not levy hikes.
The A-Team’s draft budget, as well as more information about their campaign, is available on their website, www.a-team.org.nz
VUWSA Treasurer Alexander Neilson says the A-Team would “have to budget down” to afford the refund, or they would “be looking at a $300,000 deficit for the Association”.
Former VUWSA Treasurer Graeme Edgeler suggests that removing the approximately $180,000 Building Levy from VUWSA expenses as the easiest way to cut costs.
“One thing that would make it a lot easier (and this is what I’d do if I was promising everyone $25) would be getting rid of the building levy.
Just under $17 from each student’s $120 levy goes straight to the VUWSA Trust, which it essentially banks until it can next decide what big project to spend it on. The last big project was the new top floor in the Union building, and since using the building levy to pay that off in the mid 90s, it’s just been storing up this money – it will have several million dollars basically just earning interest in a bank (and while you should check, it probably has few plans on spending it soon).”
“Without getting rid of the building fund, I just can’t see them doing it without completely screwing VUWSA over,” says Edgeler.
“If you were starting a students’ association from scratch then you could run it on $95 each a year, but with the fixed costs VUWSA’s already got, you can’t cut the budget by 20 percent in a few months – you’d need to spend at least a year, maybe longer, slimming down VUWSA’s operations before you could safely cut the levy. If they’re telling you anything else they either have no clue how VUWSA works, or they’re lying.”
He also says that the Personal Benefit clause of the Constitution means VUWSA, as an incorporated society, cannot simply give money back to students.
Edgeler says the refund is possible, but VUWSA “won’t be able to write every student a cheque – this would breach the Incorporated Societies Act (societies have to be non-profit, and can’t just divide their funds up between members like a company can).
“It will likely have to be an actual refund; that is, if the student paid their VUWSA levy through a student loan, the money will go back to the Government (of course, the student’s student loan will be lower).”
Cosgrove has also pointed out the difficulty of tracking down every student’s details to give them the refund, as this information is not kept by VUWSA, but by the University – which is eternally reluctant to give out any form of private information.
Cotter says that despite the Personal Benefits clause, “the A-Team’s policy of a $25 refund for every student is an interim measure until such time as the fee can be permanently reduced.”
Cotter says the Constitution is “poorly-written and lacking in many key areas”, and that the A-Team is looking to redevelop it if elected – “including a specific financial management policy…we will not condone a clause that stops students’ money going to students.”
Cosgrove later amused Salient with his grammatically-ironic comment on the A-Team’s campaign: “I’ll wait till I see some actual policy by them, I just hope it’s of better than the error laden leaflets put out so far this year.”
Nominations for the election opened last Thursday, and close on Wednesday at 4:30pm. Voting takes place from September 21-27.