Keith Locke on the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill – in committee stage

Universities, and students in particular, are often the conscience of society



The Green Party supports the amendment put forward by Grant Robertson, which is intended to make sure that details are provided to students associations of the people who might become members and people who are members. I think that is critical.

If we look at other associations such as unions and professional associations, we see that part of the standard arrangement—particularly in these days, when people are quite mobile and change addresses and all the rest of it—is that the employing agency often provides those details to the association or union. I think that is the appropriate thing. The Green Party will be supporting that amendment.

Heather Roy said that way back—and it would be interesting to know how far back—student unions were voluntary. Of course, tertiary institutions and universities have undergone a lot of changes. At one time they were very much elite organisations. I would imagine that the students associations would have had to battle for recognition, battle for rights, battle to get a more comprehensive membership, etc., and there has been a very positive evolution over the years.

The speeches given earlier prompted me to think back to when I went to the University of Canterbury, many years ago, and joined the students association, as I think everyone did at that stage. The services provided were not terribly wide ranging, if I recall correctly, compared with today when one goes to a university and there are all sorts of counselling services and a myriad of other services are available to students that were not previously available. That is a step forward, that is progress, and now it seems that after this bill we might be going backwards, where there would be less provision of services by student unions. Sometimes that slack will be taken up by the university administration as a whole, in a less adequate way, probably. As other speakers have pointed out, those services will not be under the control of the students association and will not be informed by the students association, which better understands the needs of the students in order to shape these particular services.

I think it is important, particularly for people who sometimes are a bit alienated, and might not necessarily join the student union first off, if it is a voluntary system. They might be a bit alienated, and only there for certain lectures or whatever, but they are often the very students who get into financial and emotional trouble, and need professional help, the student services, and the community of the students association to support them, and now they might be the very people who miss out.

To have a well-resourced students association will help enable everyone to be part of the students association, and to understand that they have access to the services, because they are being informed of them, perhaps all the time, with modern communications, emails, and all the rest of it. That will lead to a much better situation for individuals and the students association as a collective entity.

All around I cannot see why we are changing the status quo. I have not really heard an argument explaining why we need to make this move, except if there is a particular agenda to weaken the political heft of students that is currently in evidence through students associations. That is very important, because universities, and students in particular, are often the conscience of society. We see all the former students association officials around this room, and we see that they are very much making a contribution to our democracy. If we knock off that channel of people into public life and into Parliament by weakening the students associations, we will have a much less informed and vibrant society and, indeed, Parliament.

Thank you.