Fisking Jacinda

September 30th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Hansard of the first reading of the bill is now online. If I have the time, I want to respond to all the MPs who spoke out in favour of compulsory membership, but for now will just respond to ’s speech, as the version of history painted is now one I or my colleagues remember.

Jacinda said:

Unlike the member who is in charge of this bill, I can speak from some experience, having attended a university that looked at voluntary student union membership. I was at Waikato University in the 1990s. I was not a student politician—I want to make that clear—I was a student. I was an observer of what happened, and I voted in the election that eventually led to that university being the first in 70 years, I believe, to go voluntary. I inform members of this House that it was the first university to go back to universal membership, because it learnt that it was a disaster to move to a voluntary system.

Now Jacinda has one thing right. was voluntary, and now is compulsory. But far from VSM being a disaster that students rejected, the return to compulsory membership happened due to the machinations of the then Vice-Chancellor – former British Labour MP .

You see what Jacinda doesn’t tell you is that Waikato students voted to go voluntary in 1996 by 63% to 37% in a referendum . The supporters of compulsion tried to overturn that the following year with another referendum, which VSM also won easily.

Undeterred they tried again in 1999 in a referendum (triggered by the current law) and got thrashed. VSM won 78% of the vote, in a turnout of around 30%.

So what happened? In 2000 the University, headed by former British Labour MP Bryan Gould, scheduled a further referendum upon receiving a petition late in the year. They scheduled it for a short three day period at the beginning of study week for exams. And they only gave students one days notice of the vote. Their own staff advised against this, and said there should be two weeks notice.

Turnout fell from 30% to around 10%, and compulsion won on its fourth attempt in an election that Iran or Afghanistan would be proud of. I mean at least they get more than one days notice of a vote!

Jacinda’s claim that Waikato students rejected VSM, in fact reminds us of how flawed the referendum model is. Apart from the philosophical objections to having 51% being able to force 40% to join something, you can’t get a fair vote on most campuses. Even if your Labour mate the VC doesn’t schedule the vote to favour the forces of compulsion, you generally have the students association having 100 times the resources of those supporting VSM. More on that another day.

Anyway for those who want more info on what really happened at Waikato, a colleague of mine has put together a summary which is below:

One favourite myth of opponents of voluntary membership concerns the voluntary era at the Waikato Student Union (1998-2000) and the impact of three years of voluntary membership on the association. Labour MP Jacinda Ardern referred to WSU during her speech on the first reading of the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment bill last week. Let’s have a look at her claims.

But first some history and background.

Jacinda claims that Sir Roger’s bill follows previous voluntary membership bills from, in her order, Tony Steel, Donna Awatere-Huata, and then Michael Laws. She has the order wrong. Michael Laws introduced his members’ bill in 1994. It went to select committee in 1995 but lapsed in 1996. The Steel and Awatere-Huata bills were two separate members’ bills that were simultaneously drawn in May 1997. The Awatere-Huata bill did not receive a second reading. The Steel bill was passed in August 1998, but only after a compromise, promoted by some New Zealand First MPs, led to the introduction of referenda as the means to determine whether membership would be compulsory or voluntary.

WSU’s move to voluntary membership happened prior to the passage of the Steel bill. In September 1996, following two years of campaigning by voluntary supporters, WSU members voted 987 to 591 to make membership of WSU voluntary from 1 January 1998. In August 1997 compulsory supporters called another referendum in an attempt to overturn the 1996 decision. This was unsuccessful and students voted to confirm the introduction of voluntary membership. In 1999 there was another referendum, this one triggered by the Steel bill. This time 1984 students voted voluntary, 561 voted compulsory, from a total turnout of 3051. So much for NZUSA’s claim that students don’t want voluntary membership.

Voluntary membership at WSU ended in questionable circumstances. By 2000 WSU had a pro-compulsory president. His executive collected signatures for another referendum but waited until October and the final meeting of the academic year before presenting the petition to council. The referendum was held on 16-18 October. At the time, David Penney, a former president of APSU, the national polytechnic student association and then a university employee, pointed out the problems with the timing of the referendum saying,

the University will have less than one day to officially notify students of the vote, normal practice two weeks; maximum voter turnout may be undermined by the timing of the vote, which is recommended to take place on the first three days of study week when on-campus numbers are low; the integrity of the process may be undermined given the short lead-in time.

Jacinda also claimed that WSU’s return to compulsory membership “happened only after all of the services that (Waikato) students had benefitted from had collapsed.” According to Jacinda the collapsed “services” were foodbanks, emergency housing and a hardship fund. Trouble is WSU never provided any of these things. Waikato students paid (and still pay) separate levies for health and counseling, student buildings, and food, bars and the recreation centre. The university collected levies for these three areas and none of them were affected by voluntary membership.

WSU owned half a dozen rental properties but these weren’t emergency housing. Prior to 1996 they were, however, rented out at below market rates and often to executive members and their mates. In 1995 WSU attempted to justify the use of student money to buy houses by claiming that if they owned enough properties they could eventually force down Hamilton rental prices. I doubt if WSU members were aware they were funding a Waikato version of a Polish shipyard.

Jacinda’s in good company when it comes to making false claims about WSU. In 2000 Steve Maharey complained about the “million the voluntary purists at Waikato fiddled away”. However an examination of WSU’s balance sheets shows WSU’s equity during the three voluntary years fell by $4000; from $578,000 (1998) to $574,000 (2000). I hope Steve’s not using the same calculator at Massey.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at more of these myths.

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41 Responses to “Fisking Jacinda”

  1. IMF (5 comments) says:

    At some point can you respond to the comment made by various Labour people during the debate that the Bill will cost students money because services will be provided instead by the universities who will recover the funds from students with charges that are higher than existing student fees. I don’t know if that is true or even likely, but it seems to me to be one of the key issues in the debate.

    [DPF: It is not true. First of all note that never ever do they quote actual figures. They list all these services they claim get funded (and as shown they often lie about them) but they never state how much money they spend of facilities as oppossed to stuff like advocacy, grants, media, social events and admin. Generally no more than 25% of the fees get spent on facilities that you might expect the unis to pick up.

    Also note unis have increased facility fees this year hundreds of dollars, despite CSM]

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  2. RightNow (6,994 comments) says:

    Well at least Jacinda is following the party lead and not letting truth get in the way of her idealogy.

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  3. Jeff83 (745 comments) says:

    Why not actually ask the students, and have individual referndums at Uni’s, instead of forcing one or the other on them, both sides can campaign and those that care can vote?

    Is it because you are scared you will not get the answer you want?

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  4. Grizz (244 comments) says:

    I remember when Otago Uni had their referendum on VSM in 1999. 9% of the student population voted. on 6% of the student body voted for compulsory student membership. However this was more than the 3% who voted for VSM.

    Compulsory membership has promoted apathy amongst the student population. Student unions have been largely viewed as a joke, hijacked by radicals ho have little in common with the student population at large. VSM may help unions to refocus and be far more student friendly. They would be forced to attract less divisive candidates to regain student confidence.

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  5. Tim Ellis (251 comments) says:

    Mss Ardern claims to have been at Waikato when Waikato opted to move to voluntary student unionism. She must have been 16 at the time. Either she was very bright or she has a convenient view of history.

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  6. libertyscott (359 comments) says:

    The Labour Party is that scared of losing its compulsorily funded training grounds for future central and local candidates?

    It’s simple Jacinda, the freedom to choose whether to belong to any organisation should not be a matter for the majority. It is an individual choice.

    Your incapability of understanding this fundamental value in a free society demonstrates volumes about what a bully you and your colleagues are. If a student union can’t convince students of its value, then tough, it has no right to force them to belong and pay for it. Like the Labour Party, if it can’t attract members and supporters, then it can’t force people to support it.

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  7. beerguts (21 comments) says:

    What a laugh!

    As I said last week, if they think they provide so much value to students then they should have no problem attracting members if it becomes voluntary.

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  8. Bevan (3,924 comments) says:

    Completely in favour of VSM, but why has there not been a referendum on it at Waikato University since 2000? And if the vote in 2000 was as flawed as you have described, surely it can be ruled invalid.

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  9. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    @IMF: The argument that costs for services will go up is probably not that clear cut. My observation of student participation and usage of services, if we look at individual services, is that 100% of students are paying for a service that somewhat less than half the population are typically using. To make things easy, lets assume there are 10,000 students, the service costs $10,000 a year to run, and 50% of students use it.

    In the current arrangements, 50% of students are getting the service for $1 each. And 50% of students aren’t using a service that costs them $1.

    If we moved to voluntary unionism, let’s assume that the 50% of the students that don’t use the service all decide not to be members. So we are now in a situation where we have a service costing $10,000 a year to run, and 5,000 members. Each member is paying $2 for the service, so clearly the price has gone up. But you are forgetting that there are now 5,000 students who are paying nothing for a service that they never wanted – they got a $1 discount.

    This is the point where we do a complicated utility calculation, and I claim that the utility of keeping $1 that was previously wasted on a service you didn’t want is way more than the utility loss of asking someone to pay full price for a service that they clearly want to use – that this zero sum game has left the university with greater net utility. But that would obviously be a complex argument. My preferred argument would be the right to choose whether or not to associate with that particular group, a right that is currently being overridden.

    My example is very very simplified – clearly student associations offer a grab bag of services, some of which are heavily used, some of which are lightly used, and some of which are in the nature of an insurance policy – you hope to not use it and most students don’t use it, but if you needed to use it you might really really want it to be there. The thing is, there is no evidence that the particular grab bag of services that associations currently offer is the right one, or that there is any discipline on some of the services that unions offer that students might not want – for example, the service of offering cut-price flats to mates of the student association executive.

    If we had voluntary unionism, then student associations would need to offer much clearer value so as to attract members. Some of the wastage would likely go. That would be good. What would be even better is if universities could have multiple associations – you could choose to join the one that offered the services that you wanted. Competition would be great in this area.

    @Jeff83: It isn’t about getting the answer “we” want, or the answer any collective group wants. It is about letting individual students choose whether to join an association or not.

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  10. Sonny Blount (1,783 comments) says:

    IMF,

    I’m not so worried that students still have to pay elsewhere for things, so long as that money never goes through the hands of student politicians if a paying student so chooses.

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  11. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    Giving people choices is bad because they might make the wrong choices?

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  12. Chthoniid (2,047 comments) says:

    Why not actually ask the students, and have individual referndums at Uni’s, instead of forcing one or the other on them, both sides can campaign and those that care can vote?

    Is it because you are scared you will not get the answer you want?

    No, my right to freedom of association does not depend on a majority of people feeling they can vote it away at any point in time.

    Freedom of association is a fundamental, basic human right. Because it is fundamental and intrinsic, it cannot be contracted away- just like many other fundamental rights in a free society. It exists whether or not 50% or 99% of the students disagree with VSM. And in that sense, VSM gives that right of ‘freedom of association’ back to students.

    If you as an individual student wish to be ‘associated’ with a SA, you can do. That right will not go away under VSM. If you as an individual student do not wish to be associated, then you can do so. Choice here is good.

    If a student wishes to leave now, they have to ‘pay’ for that privilege. FFS, this is just like saying that slavery isn’t an abuse of human rights because slaves can always buy their freedom off their masters.

    Stripping people- even if they are a minority- of their human rights is an act of evil. We’ve got a chance to fix that now, and I’m both thrilled the chance exists and appalled at the contempt of human rights being manifested by the opposition.

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  13. peterwn (3,274 comments) says:

    Wonder if the last referendum was before or after Bryan Gould got shafted by Margaret Wilson (then law school dean) or reorganisation of faculties.

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  14. Elijah Lineberry (306 comments) says:

    Jacinta Ardern, a shallow ‘temporary’ MP [deleted by DPF and 20 demerits for personal remarks] certainly is not being honest when she claims voluntary membership was a disaster.

    A good question would be “A disaster for whom?” or perhaps “who lost out and therefore found it a disaster?”

    It is difficult enough these days for the parents of students from ‘good backgrounds’ – (decent, sensible, silent majority, law abiding white people) – to keep their children away from ‘bad influences’ in life – (working class children, troublemakers, foreigners, socialists) – that when these impressionable fellows get to University they should not have Labour/Green party politics thrust down their throats by self appointed University Student Association troublemakers and loudmouths.

    Furthermore they should not be required to pay for that nonsense.

    http://www.nightcitytrader.blogspot.com

    [DPF: I'm shaking my head at your comment about law abiding white people]

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  15. Chthoniid (2,047 comments) says:

    But far from VSM being a disaster that students rejected, the return to compulsory membership happened due to the machinations of the then Vice-Chancellor – former British Labour MP Bryan Gould.

    …and this being a reason why when my Alma mater sends me letters to ask for donations to the University, they get nothing.

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  16. themono (129 comments) says:

    “It is difficult enough these days for the parents of students from ‘good backgrounds’ – (decent, sensible, silent majority, law abiding white people) – to keep their children away from ‘bad influences’ in life – (working class children, troublemakers, foreigners, socialists)”

    LOL. That quote from Elijah is possibly the funniest thing I’ve read online for a while. I love that “working class children” are at the top of the list of bad influences. This can only be satire. Right?

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  17. david (2,557 comments) says:

    While I no longer are directly affected by this I will (hopefully) see my grandchildren go to University and spent 9 years as a Uni student so it is probably legit for people like me to express an interest.

    It seems that there is much too much opinion and very few facts in the public domain.

    For example there are differing views on just what services are provided by StudAss’s around the country. We hear differing stories on who funds student health, the cafes, the bars, the gyms, the clubs. We glean scraps by inference about the funding of the heirarchy of indigenous SU’s (presumably closed to many).

    By now I would have expected to see some audited accounts from the unions (both voluntary and compulsory) rather than just a list of convicted frauds by both salaried and elected union officials.

    Stangest of all, I have seen no calls for accountability of the compulsory unions by the proponents of compulsion, no evidence offered that by any measure their idealogy produces sufficiently superior results than VSM to warrant removing choice from 100% of the student body.

    So as much as I hate making decisions without a fact base to support them, one would have to say that compulsion should be removed.

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  18. Elijah Lineberry (306 comments) says:

    Themono – no satire, I am quite serious.

    DPF do demerits apply to everybody or just me? … will Redbaiter and Johnboy be getting some for comments about me in the last few days?

    [DPF: They apply to anyone who breaks the posting guidelines. Note I do not see all comments. If you think a comment is over the line (and I mean more than just flaming) e-mail me the link to the comment within 12 hours and I'll consider demerits if appropriate.]

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  19. helmet (807 comments) says:

    Jacinda’s being dishonest here. I was at Waikato when they went to VSM. It was awesome, and I was really f%$king angry when the voting process got hijacked by leftie scum who railroaded the change through back to compulsory membership.
    I didn’t hear about the vote until it was too late. Also, most of us thought we’d finally rid ourselves of the student union racket and had all but stopped paying attention to the student politician idiots and their nonsensical but predictable stunts/rants/campaigns.
    I hate student unions. They are the most useless of all unions, and that’s really saying something.

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  20. johnbt (90 comments) says:

    A Labour MP telling fibs or being misleading? I am shocked!

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  21. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    Elijah – no, demerits don’t apply to everybody. Only to people too stupid to obey the (very few) rules that DPF has.

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  22. Grizz (244 comments) says:

    Elijah, What country do you think this is? Everyone should have the opportunity to be able to qualify to go to a university. I rose up from a decile 2 secondary school and went to university. My views have never been based upon the circumstances of my upbringing or the background of others.

    Members of my family fought in wars to rid the world of fascists like yourself.

    DPF, you are being too kind. Ban this numb nut for a week!

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  23. Chthoniid (2,047 comments) says:

    @IMF

    I don’t know if that is true or even likely, but it seems to me to be one of the key issues in the debate.

    I disagree. This is not an issue of the most efficient delivery of student services. The key issue here is freedom of association.

    This makes it a human rights issue.

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  24. backster (2,174 comments) says:

    Seems to me that you are implying that Jacinda lies through her teeth.

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  25. jabba (280 comments) says:

    Jacinda seems to have learned the Labour way pretty quickly .. must want a promotion into one of what should be a few vacant spots.

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  26. Rakaia George (313 comments) says:

    @Chris_C. Can you explain how the S59 referendum was forcing all parents to smack their children? Muppet.

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  27. ernesto (257 comments) says:

    Elijah, you are a dyed in the wool Rhodesian racist. You don’t belong in this country, you should arse off back to where you came from and see how you like living in Rhodesia holding the views you do. You have already been sacked from the Libz for your racism, its just a pity we can’t turf you out of the country for your racism as well. New Zealand would be much better off without you. You make me sick.

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  28. Johnboy (16,651 comments) says:

    “DPF do demerits apply to everybody or just me? … will Redbaiter and Johnboy be getting some for comments about me in the last few days?”

    You sad little puke Elijah, running to the headmaster to pimp on the big boys. I guess when you were at school you were the horrid little spottie kid in the funny jumper, that your Mum knitted, that everybody hated cause you were no good at games and you smelled bad.

    No wonder even the loopy libzs kicked you out.

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  29. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Ahhh Bryan Gould, gerrymandering referenda from a position of privilege and power.

    I can recall when he landed here that much genuflecting went on in his direction because he’d come from the UK Labour and was thus held to be in some way superior to the local labouriyes (that and his fancy education).

    He was widely regarded as being somehow the epitome of the modern day Labour politician — a model to which the locals should aspire.

    Seems they were right, and they have.

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  30. gravedodger (1,566 comments) says:

    It is so simple.
    Someone or some people set up an organisation that delivers a service that students might need. If a demand results in uptake of that service it will be profitable and will continue, if not it will cease.. Some seed capital may need to be needed but if the promoters can not satisfy the potential finance provider that the service is viable then the finance will not be available. Compulsory levies from potential users of the service as a precaution is called insurance and in the world I have lived in should be optional. It is called risk management and if students can not work out the enormous connundrum that this raises then they should reconsider if they are mature enough to be there at all.

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  31. Luc Hansen (4,573 comments) says:

    DPF:

    Apart from the philosophical objections to having 51% being able to force 40% to join something

    Where’s the missing 9%? Are they the Disappeared?

    And it’s called the Tyranny of the Majority.

    @gravedigger:

    Using your model, why don’t we stop funding Parliament and MPs etc. If they deliver value, they can come around with cap in hand and we will fund according to our perception of their value.

    Referendum on that, anyone?

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  32. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    Luc, there is a large philosophical gap between funding a government, and funding a student union. Other than the government, what other example do you have of organisations that have compulsary membership, and that don’t have some regulatory purpose in that compulsion?

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  33. RossK (275 comments) says:

    Luc makes a good point though. The criticism of compulsory student unionism often conflates two separate issues; (1) the compulsion aspect; and (2) the value for money aspect. (It is ridiculous to characterise this debate as a human rights issue (as some have done)).

    PaulL – any number of professional bodies have elements of compulsion to them – if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, etc you have to register with the professional body and pay a levy.

    Councils are a good example of compulsory membership (perhaps I shouldn’t mention Councils – I suspect a great number of the Kiwiblog commentators would prefer to see Councils done away with and all service provisions left to market forces – all hail the market).

    Maybe, just maybe, having compulsory membership enables the union to deliver a better per capita service than would be possible if funding was limited by voluntary membership and reduced numbers.

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  34. Clint Heine (1,571 comments) says:

    No Rossk, Luc doesn’t make any good points at all. You cannot compare your student union – the legal equivilent of the local bowling club, except not run as well – with Parliament.

    This *is* a human rights issue, to ignore the NZ Bill of Rights is just silly. Why should I force you to join my club in any circumstance?

    I am sure I read somewhere that Labour made membership to either the law or medical body voluntary.. so you can throw that argument out the window! (DPF can you verify which one that was?) And you forget, OUSA/VUWSA/WSU are *not* professional bodies – not by any stretch of the imagination.

    And to then compare them to local councils? Did you actually read this post? If that is your idea of democracy then I suggest you book the first flight to Harare, because NO council would act in a way that a student union does on a regular basis. Comments like yours tend to make me believe that you are – a) have no experience of a student union or most likely b) you are well involved with one and are deliberately trying to weasel your fibs to everybody else in order to protect your little well funded club.

    Compulsory membership means that the union does NOT have to provide a good service. That’s because the union gets your money regardless.

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  35. Paul Williams (878 comments) says:

    Oh good god, how many myths abound about this shabby experience. Dress it up however you want David, voluntary membership was a disaster at Waikato (not least of all because of idiotic decisions to reliinquish ownership of student assets) and was sensibly rejected. Your analysis is hopelessly partial. I expect a few to rally in your support, but surprisingly they’ll only be those defending their pathetic record. Stick to the abstract arguments, they’re hardly relevent but they’re at least coherent.

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  36. Kimble (4,440 comments) says:

    That was piss poor, Paul.

    What was wrong about what DPF said?

    Sounds like a bunch of corrupt, arrogant, selfish lefties abandoned democracy to ensure they got to control other people.

    Rings true.

    The fact you havent countered any of what DPF said only strengthens his position.

    If you are going to post at 2.39am, at least make it something worth staying up for, rather than some pathetic dummy spit.

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  37. Chthoniid (2,047 comments) says:

    A student association is not the same as a local council. A student association is an association, akin to a club or professional organisation. Local councils or governments are not associations.

    Freedom of association applies to associations like trade unions, like student associations. Repeated and tiresome delcarations that freedom of association doesn’t not apply to student unions only reinforces how morally bankrupt supporters of compulsion are.

    Freedom of association is intrinsic and fundamental to members of a free society. Indeed, the UN Declaration on Human Rights states that even unfree societies, people have this right. If you want to strip people of this right, then I’m very much afraid your moral compass is very skewed.

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  38. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    “Maybe, just maybe, having compulsory membership enables the union to deliver a better per capita service than would be possible if funding was limited by voluntary membership and reduced numbers.”

    How do you even write something like this with a straight face? If students given a choice wouldn’t buy the services then compelling them to pay cannot possibly lead to “a better per capita service”.

    The dishonesty or delusionment which characterises the supporters of compulsion is mind boggling.

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  39. slightlyrighty (2,475 comments) says:

    Paul Williams, your 2:39am post left me gobsmacked. Voluntary membership was “sensibly rejected”?? Give me strength. What we had here was the WU political left usurping a democratic process to enable themselves to exercise their own self given right to access other peoples money. How else can you describe the process of the sham referendum that rejected voluntary membership?

    To call that result a rejection of voluntary membership is akin to hailing the re-election of Robert Mugabe a great day for the people of Zimbabwe.

    Your comment only proves that you are blinded by your own beliefs. If your comment is a display of intellectual honesty, then you fail on both fronts.

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  40. Tauhei Notts (1,721 comments) says:

    Rossk,
    You are so wrong, but like many leftists put in a lie hoping that nobody will comment upon your lack of honesty.
    If you want to be an accountant you do not have to belong to any body. You do not have to pay any levy, unlike university students. That is an irrefutable fact.
    If you want to be a chartered accountant then you must pay a levy to the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants. I would be disappointed if that Institute would accept a liar like Rossk as a member. I would be further disappointed if that Institute did not question the merits of anybody who proposed Rossk to membership of that Institute. Now maybe Rossk can see why there are so few Labour Party people who are chartered accountants. Okay, I will accept that many chartered accountants sucked up big to the Labour Party when they were in power; their craven behaviour while chasing lucrative consultancy work was demeaning.

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