When student union membership became voluntary, how many bailed out? Bloody near all, actually

The Labour and Green Parties have given us a strong argument for supporting Roger Douglas’s bill to get rid of compulsory membership of student unions.

It’s to be found in a story in the Herald today.

We learn that:

Parliament’s education and science committee is hearing submissions on the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill which would let tertiary students decide for themselves whether to join a student union.

The bill’s sponsor, Act list MP Sir Roger Douglas, argues that student unions are the only remaining area where the right to free association isn’t respected.

Individuals should be free to associate with any group they choose, he reasons, and the current law around students’ associations does not allow this choice.

Alf is attracted to this powerful point of principle. It’s called freedom of association.


Making it mandatory to become a member of a bloody union is an outrageous breach of that principle.

But here’s the clincher that compulsion must be scrapped:

Labour and the Green Party oppose the bill, since a significant number of past and present caucus members got their start in politics at that level.

In other words, students of all political stripes are financing unions which become spawning grounds for left-leaning agitators, pests and provocateurs.

Ban the unions, and we would get a better breed of politician.

The thinking of the Maori Party is just as objectionable.

National’s coalition partner, the Maori Party, has also opposed [the Douglas bill], citing support from students’ associations for issues such as the African American civil rights movement and the hikoi opposing the Foreshore and Seabed Bill five years ago.

So the Maori Party would have students compelled to pay money to outfits that squander it on fostering civil rights in the USA, on funding bloody hikoi and other such disagreeable antics.

Alf is bound to say he would be bloody pissed off if his dosh was being so mis-spent when there are many things needing attention in our universities.

The Herald says the bill’s likely effect on its key political adversary is bound to make Sir Roger’s measure appealing to National, which supported it at its first reading.

Indeed, and you can count on Alf being in there to kick things along.

National supported a similar private member’s bill from one of its own MPs in the late 1990s that was eventually softened.

National is arguably in a stronger political position this time around. Should it choose not to support the legislation all the way, it is likely to face questions from supporters, particularly the Young Nationals, about its commitment to its core values.

Although the official line from Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce and National MPs is that caucus will wait to see the report from the select committee before making a decision, the signs point to National backing the bill.

Big changes lie ahead for students and universities, by the looks of it.

The NZ Union of Students’ Associations opposes the bill, of course, because a voluntary regime would virtually guarantee its members a plunge in membership and a dramatic fall in income.

And no pig wants being dragged away from its trough.

That would lead to a reduction in services to students, including welfare and advocacy, representation, recreation and leisure, entertainment and social activities, and media and publications.

The NZUSA values those services at about $25 million a year.

It points to Australia, where association fee income fell 95 per cent after membership was made voluntary in 2007, forcing the Government to provide “transitional support” – to the tune of $120 million, according to the NZUSA – to maintain key services.

Key services are the critical words here.

If the unions pumped more money into services that benefit all students, and less into political activities such as hikoi, maybe they would have more support.

Moreover, they probably would not need to make membership compulsory.

Association membership at Auckland University, whose students opted for voluntary membership in 1999, went from about 33,000 members to just 3000 and only recovered to above 20,000 once the nominal membership fee was waived.

These are impressive figures in favour of voluntary membership.

Look again: just 3000 of 33,000 students thought they were getting value for money.

Compulsion, in other words, is a scandalous rip-off.

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