NZUSA wades into debate without mandate

Only Logan Cares

The New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations has thrown its 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.

On Thursday May 11 NZUSA Vice-President, and Auckland University Students’ Association President Arena Williams, spoke on behalf of NZUSA at the official launch of the campaign in Wellington, alongside representatives from several political parties, unions and Grey Power.

NZUSA’s mandate to oppose asset sales has been questioned, with NZUSA failing to consult the students associations it represents, who in turn were unable to consult their members on the issue.

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 Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association President Bridie Hood, or Massey Wellington Students’ Association President Ben Thorpe, who both sit on that Council, could recall the issue of state asset sales ever being discussed at a meeting.

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.

Otago University Students’ Association President Logan Edgar disagrees and has called on NZUSA to withdraw its support from the Keep Our Assets Campaign. “Regardless of intentions around opening up a political debate for students and providing information and a choice, we are now perceived to be a key backer of the ... largest and most controversial political issue of the year.”

Edgar said that until members instructed students’ associations to oppose asset sales, it was inappropriate for NZUSA to support the Keep Our Assets campaign because, “this is not an education issue. There is NZUSA policy that opposes privatisation, but we also know without needing to do any research that that isn’t something all students agree with, and we have no idea if it’s a majority. I would be happy to explore those questions.”

The citizens’-initiated referendum has reached Otago University, with a stall at last Thursday’s OUSA Market Day encouraging students to sign the petition. The Keep Our Assets supporter operating the stall told Critic that she had received a number of signatures, but equally, “there have been quite a few students not keen to sign.”

Edgar says this is proof that NZUSA should be “refocusing on major student issues”, telling Critic, “NZUSA has better things to be doing at the moment. It’s not a student issue, it’s a New Zealand issue and we cannot take sides when the country and, by degrees, our own students are so ideologically divided.”
This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2012.
Posted 7:58pm Sunday 20th May 2012 by Stella Blake-Kelly and Charlotte Greenfield .