10 February 2015


In 2005 the Howard Government passed a Bill that abolished Compulsory Student Unionism. The law came into effect from 1 July 2006. Under the new regime, organisations such as ours were forced to sell membership directly to students, rather than receive compulsory contributions. Faced with ever-hiking cost of living pressures and confronted with rapidly increasing tuition debts, many students were forced to forgo membership. It was a major hit to student organisations. The USU was forced to radically reduce its workforce and curtail its activities. Across the country, student organisations folded. University campuses were deprived of important services, including caseworkers, psychologists, legal services, and childcare services, as well as the various other facilities that student organisations commonly provide, such as a wom*n's room, queer space and the like.

Of course, the USU survived. It was in no small part a consequence of the ACCESS card system of membership. By 2014, 16,500 people were enjoying the benefits of membership. Our organisation was one of the lucky ones. We nevertheless maintain our commitment to Universal Student Unionism, because it is the only model through which we, and organisations like ours, can provide the kinds of services that our constitution envisages and that all campuses deserve.

Disadvantaged and oppressed students are the most affected by diminished service provision. They are also less likely to purchase membership to enable them to access those services that do exist. In view of this, and without losing sight of our underlying, constitutional commitment to Universal Student Unionism, the USU has recently developed some positive initiatives.

From this semester, any student who receives an equity award, be it a scholarship or bursary, from the University will also receive free USU membership, in the form of a free ACCESS card. This comprises of about 380 students who may not have enjoyed the benefits of membership otherwise. In addition to this, the Board has approved the development of a scheme whereby any student in need can obtain subsidised membership. Details about the scheme will be announced later this year. At the same time, we are looking to a future where the USU can viably offer free membership to all, though it is difficult to predict when this will eventuate.

The Board is proud of these developments. Nevertheless, we should not become complacent. We are staring down the barrel of University Fee Deregulation 2.0, which has the potential to unleash even greater challenges for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, it is a policy that will prevent many such students from attending university at all, let alone enjoying good quality and equitable student services. An equitable ACCESS pricing and distribution scheme will help many students, but it will not address the problem of constant government attacks on the downtrodden.

As students, our greatest asset is our collective strength and learning. Let us not become trapped in a soulless Edufactory. Let us become the community of scholars and visionaries that we should be. Join the USU, become active with the SRC or SUPRA, and embrace student life. 

You can dream of making a difference through the job that your degree might one day get you, or you can strive to make a difference here and now.


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