No end to the sense of entitlement

May 13th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reported in 2010:

A police investigation has begun after more than $750,000 was drained from Whitireia Polytechnic students’ association funds over a year.

An audit report shows huge cash payments were made to former association executive members, including almost $12,000 to former president Loretta Ryder. Ms Ryder – the sister of former Black Power spokesman Eugene Ryder – also claimed expenses of $3000 in one month. Almost $700 was spent on an iPod and dock.

The funds also paid for $18,200 of accommodation for Ms Ryder, her family and vice-president Tai Te Karu. It is understood they are cousins and live together.

A large amount of money is also unaccounted for.

About $17,000 was spent through excessive use of mobile broadband modems to surf the internet, the report said. Mobile phone bills of five members of the executive averaged $700 a month. …

Angry students – who learned their funds had dwindled to just $6000 – demanded the executive step down during the tense meeting. After heated discussions, one committee member broke down in tears as she told students to “have faith” in the new executive, which, except for one member, was elected after the misappropriation took place.

Fulltime students must have $135 deducted automatically from their student loans to pay subs for the Whitireia Independent Students Association. There are about 6000 students at the polytech, half of whom are fulltime.

The good thing is that as membership is now voluntary, students are no longer forced to fund such wasteful behaviour.

But imagine my shock when I read this week this article in the NZ Herald:

The former president of a financially troubled student association has been denied compensation from the Wellington polytech it represented.

The Employment Relations Authority was told that Loretta Ryder was owed $53,013.70 in unpaid wages from her time as de facto president of the Whitireia Independent Students’ Association (WISA), which had previously been determined in March 2013.

In her original application, Ms Ryder sought funds from WISA and/or the polytech, but in her final submission, orders were directed against Whitireia as the association was practically defunct.

So she presides over the near bankruptcy of the student association, and then has the cheek to try and get money out of the Polytech on the basis there is no money left in the student association!

WISA’s vice president, who the Dominion Post reported to be Ms Ryder’s cousin Tai Te Karu, admitted to defrauding the association and was sentenced to jail as a result.

Accountant’s audits of the association found that it was in poor shape financially and tens of thousands of dollars of WISA funds still remain unaccounted for.

Ms Ryder was one of three signatories who signed incorrectly completed cheques. As she was never charged with any offences, she remained entitled to the pay she was owed.


By incorrectly completed cheques, do they mean blank cheques?

Auckland University funding NZUSA

October 29th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

There is a very interesting Employment Relations Authority determination just published between AUSA and its former general manager.

The determination itself is basically about how AUSA almost went bankrupt, and the General Manager didn’t keep the Executive well enough informed. They were deemed justified in sacking him for this. They will be pleased their actions were justified by the ruling. In fact they seem to have followed better process than many other employers.

But what really struck me from the determination was this extract:

The Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) informed that in order to assist AUSA to be “a progressive and sustainable student organisation that delivers high quality services to students”, it was prepared to amend the 2012 Services Agreement to include funding of the NZUSA and SJS levies.

That is beyond outrageous. NZUSA is a political lobby group that gets involves with highly contentious non-core student issues such as asset sales. To have Auckland University agree to fund NZUSA is nuts. I can only presume that Auckland University has so much money it can spend some on funding lobby groups. well the Government should remember that the next time the university claims it needs more taxpayer funding.

Even worse, the Parliament of New Zealand passed a law mandating that membership of student associations must be voluntary. Having the university fund AUSA for its membership of NZUSA is a clear subversion of the law.

As I said, the easy thing for the Government to do is use this as an example every time the tertiary sector claims it has not enough money. What next – will Auckland University also start funding Greypower on behalf of its mature students?

The EXMSS scandal

August 12th, 2013 at 2:45 pm by David Farrar

Massive Magazine reports:

MASSIVE has seen a copy of the yet-to-be-released society budget that estimates the student president, Jeanette “JV” Chapman, is earning more than $53,000 for her part-time position, more than any other staff member in the society except for the student services manager, who also works as the society’s advocate.On top of the $23,000 honorarium Chapman receives for her services as president, she had a newly co-opted executive approve $10,000 for media and communication, $10,479 for group advocacy, and $9521 for office operations service delivery.

 Chapman has responded that she is not an employee of the society and that any additional costs going to her above the honorarium is an “allegation”. She also said she is not a staff member of the society, but the “duly-elected president of EXMSS and that gives me the authority to take on the role”.

According to the current society constitution, the president shall be paid, on a quarterly basis, an honorarium set by the executive committee at the beginning of her/his period of office.

An affiliate of the society approached by MASSIVE, who did not want to be named, said Chapman “shoulder-tapped” people she knew to join a co-opted executive board, after she removed the majority of the original executive members, including the vice-president, earlier this year.

That removal was covered here.

Chapman would not answer whether or not she was taking money from the media grant from the university. Asked whether media grant money from the university had been accessed for other purposes, she said, “an allegation is not a fact”. She would not disclose who wrote the reports to the university regarding the expenditure of the grant.

In regards to receiving wages for other roles within the society, Chapman said: “I daresay I have more expertise in the area of business and management than the other student presidents.”

Massey University Students’ Association president Steven Christodoulou, however, said this was hard to believe. “The presidents from Albany Students’ Association, Massey Wellington Students’ Association and Palmerston North Massey University Students’ Association all have the ethic to work together as a team for a better outcome. We do this for the students.”

Christodoulou, who is paid a $22,500 honorarium, said he saw no reason why Chapman should be earning more than her honorarium payments.

“In my view, unless the president’s wages are fully disclosed, there should be no additional payments other than those approved by the students.

“The president should be there for the students and the honorarium payment is not a wage.”

Acting ASA President Arlene Frost agreed. “As I do not receive an honorarium or a wage, I do not think that $53,000 is appropriate for a student president.

This is pretty simple. It is outrageous for the President to get paid additional payments on top of their honorarium.

MASSIVE put multiple questions through to the university about their responsibilities in ensuring the grant money is spent for its allocated responses.

The response from Massey was simply “Massey University takes its responsibility for delivery of students’ services seriously. We carefully monitor all our contracts and agreements for performance and compliance. The students associations are independent entities. The university is always happy to provide advice and support but the students associations are independent entities.”

That is not good enough from Massey University. They are the ones who decided to hand over great wads of student cash to EXMSS. They have a fiduciary duty on behalf of their students to put a stop to this. They can, at a minimum put a clause in the contract that no office will receive income beyond that approved by EXMSS members at a general meeting.

Of course if the university had not subverted the VSM Bill, and EXMSS had to convince students to find EXMSS, I’m damn sure a situation like this would not occur.



May 14th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader writes:

Because of the new VSM legislation, the WSU is no longer allowed to force students to join their union. Because the union no longer represents all students, as some students choose not to join (64% have not joined despite membership being free) the university no longer sees them as being representative of all students.

This has resulted in the WSU losing its default seat on the university council, and the university holding its own elections. The WSU has elected to stand a candidate in this election. There are three other candidates. Voting is done online, and the university has done a terrible job regulating and enforcing the election.

The WSU has found a way to get around the VSM legislation which stopped them forcing students to pay their fee’s by simply becoming a “service provider” for the university. This allows their fee to be charged to students via the student services levy, regardless of whether they join the union or not. As part of this agreement the WSU is funded to provide services such as student media – Nexus Magazine.

The student union clearly decided that the biggest election on campus was not news worthy and failed to run profiles etc of the candidates to inform students of their options, however, felt it was appropriate to have their candidate, Sapphire Gillard (the WSU President), promoted in the magazine with a full page. No other candidates were advertised.

The WSU also felt it was appropriate to have paid WSU staff campaigning throughout the election, with laptops set up, and posters advertising the WSU candidate plastered behind on a backdrop, offering cake (which the president apparently paid for herself) and tea, coffee, and hot chocolate (which the WSU paid for) to students who voted. This raises questions of fairness in the campaign, given some of the other candidates are WSU members.

What value to students get from this campaign?

Clearly this is not a service the university funds them for?

This is not the first time the WSU and Waikato University have acted unethically.

Students at Waikato voted three times to be voluntary in the 1990s. Then one year the university (when former UK Labour MP Bryan Gould was Vice-Chancellor) scheduled a fresh vote on whether to have WSU voluntary or compulsory. They gave only around three working days notice of the vote and scheduled it for study week when almost no students are on campus. Hence a small number of compulsion touts managed to make WSU compulsory again.

It is outrageous for WSU to use money granted to it from the university, to support their own candidate in an election, rather than allow a fair election.

My view is that if universities have enough money to help fund partisan election campaigns, then they need no more funding from the taxpayer.

Another reason why we needed VSM

May 11th, 2012 at 2:11 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

An unlikely partnership has formed to fight the Government’s partial asset sales, with Grey Power and the New Zealand University Students Association launching a petition aimed at getting a referendum on the issue. …

Association Vice-President Arena Williams said it was her generation that would have to mop up the consequences of the sales and they deserved a say on it.

This is unbelievable. NZUSA (actually now the NZ Union of Student Associations) has no mandate on this issue. It is not an issue that student have a common view on. It is not an issue in any way to do with tertiary education. This just reinforces that all too often, NZUSA is the student wing of the Labour Party.

I understand that NZUSA did not even consult its member student associations on this issue of supporting the referendum. Both VUWSA and MAWSA Presidents have said that if they had been asked, they would have said that the issue is out of scope for NZUSA.

If I was a member of a students association that was a member of NZUSA, I’d be demanding to know why NZUSA is throwing away any chance it has of being seen as a professional advocacy body for students.

UPDATE: I understand LUSA is also aghast that NZUSA has decided to campaign on the issue of asset sales.

Another SA fraud case

May 7th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The former president of the Waikato Students’ Union, Denis John Tokunai, appeared in Hamilton District Court earlier this week facing a charge of theft from December.

It is alleged he stole a laptop worth $400, a smartphone worth $700, as well as keys and a swipecard worth $55 – all the property of the students’ union.

Tokunai is being considered for diversion and will reappear in court in July.

He was ordered to surrender his passport.

Noting the charges have not been proven yet (but talk of diversion suggests they are not contested), I point out Mr Tokunai submitted against the VSM bill, citing all the things which will be lost if there is no WSU. I guess that includes a laptop and a smartphone!


Clinging onto compulsion

March 27th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I guess it was too much to hope for that most student politicians would see VSM as an opportunity to refocus their organisations into student-focused bodies which actually provide goods and services that students value.

The vast majority of student associations have done deals with their universities, where the university will fund them, so they can have a zero membership fee. This means that effectively taxpayers and students are being forced to fund everything a student association does.

There is a case for a university to agree to fund certain discrete services such as a class rep system. But the universities it seem have so much surplus cash, that they are funding the student associations to do everything they used to do. In fact some like OUSA are boasting they will have more income than in the past.  If I was advising Steven Joyce, I’d be pointing out that the universities have just made his job a lot easier. If they have so much surplus money, that they can afford to fund social activities, clubs, political advocacy, student politician salaries, student media etc etc, then they obviously do not need any extra funding.

The rorting doesn’t stop there though. Never mind that Parliament passed a law saying no student should be forced to join a student association. by having the university take over their funding, some student associations such as OUSA have put a clause in their constitution declaring every single student at Otago is automatically a member of OUSA, unless they explicitly opt out. This I suspect is illegal, and would not survive a legal challenge. They do it to maintain the myth that they somehow have a mandate to speak on behalf of all students.

It is disappointing that so many student politicians have sold out for the money. By agreeing to be reliant on the universities for their funding, they have become like the trade unions in the former USSR. Those unions did not represent their members, but were in fact there to further the roles of the Government. By choosing to have the university fund them, instead of students, they will naturally over time put the interests of the university over the students they claim to represent.

A brave association would have said we’ll have a (for example) $40 membership fee, and we are confident we can persuade at least half the student on campus that we provide benefits worth more than $1 a week.

VUWLSS and VSM: Working With Voluntary Student Membership

March 26th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

This is a guest post by Ben Land-Maycock, the President of the Vic Uni Law Students’ Society. Unlike some of the other student associations who are trying to rort VSM, VUWLSS has done exactly what all the student associations should do do – make sure you are providing value to your members. Ben’s post:

The Victoria University of Wellington Law Students’ Society (VUWLSS) exists to support and enhance the legal education of our members. We do this through a number of channels – representation and advocacy, organising educational and social activities, and running legal competitions.

The introduction of voluntary student membership (VSM) posed a significant challenge for our organisation – one that took weeks of thought to properly deconstruct, analyse and solve. We had to restructure our operations to ensure that we could continue to exist as a going-concern. But, despite the intensive workload, I believe VSM has been a good thing for our organisation.

Our pre-VSM structure leaned heavily on the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA). In fact, 30% of our total revenue in 2011 was a grant from VUWSA from their membership levies. The remainder of our revenue comprised ticket sales (50%) and sponsorship (20%).

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this structure. It isn’t evil in and of itself. It certainly made life easier for Executives – as any large, guaranteed annual revenue stream would do. However, in my opinion, it didn’t incentivise accountability nor innovation – two factors I consider very important to all organisations.

Having an accountable organisation under this structure relied only on individual Executives agreeing to run the organisation accountably and responsibly. If they failed to, members had little recourse. They could choose not to come to our events, but their money would still finance our operations, through the VUWSA grant, as long as they remained at University.

Additionally, though I am incredibly proud of the achievements of past Executives, innovation relied solely on individual motivation. As an organisation, we didn’t have to innovate – revenue would flow in regardless.

Innovation and accountability should be incentivised. They should be necessary. For all its ease and security, our pre-VSM structure didn’t incentivise accountability to our members and innovation in our operations and opportunities to the extent that a proper structure should.

In 2012, by virtue of the introduction of VSM, VUWSA no longer charges a membership fee. For our purposes, this meant that the grant that formerly made up 30% of our total revenue was gone. We could apply for club funding through the University, but this was capped at $3,500.

We were now at a juncture. We could spend our time railing against the lost funding and not seize the opportunity to change our organisation for the better, or we could get busy coming up with a viable model for operating in the new environment. We chose the latter.

After considering a number of options, we moved to a tiered membership model. We will continue to, and should always, represent and advocate on behalf of all law students at Victoria University of Wellington. But we have also sliced out a tier of membership that if our members see real value in, they can choose to purchase. In 2012, $20 entitles you to a membership card that gets you discounts at business around the law school, cheaper entry into our events, and preferential ticket purchasing.

There is nothing revolutionary in how we have restructured. I’m no visionary and these are all very simple ideas and standard models of how other organisations currently function. But, the real change has been that our new model incentivises accountability and innovation where our previous one did not.

Our projected revenue for 2012 comprises: membership fees (40%), ticket sales (40%), and sponsorship (20%).

Importantly, our members now directly control 80% of our revenue. If the organisation is not run accountably, members can punish us – as they should be able to. It’s their money we’re spending after all. VUWLSS now either spends our members’ funds responsibly and valuably, or it dies. We exist to support and enhance the legal education of our members, and now they can actually properly hold us to account for that.

Finally, the post-VSM structure encourages us to be innovative as an organisation. We have to demonstrate real value to our members to earn their funds. Re-inventing the wheel annually isn’t going to cut it. This year alone we have launched a new website where we can retain institutional knowledge for our members, and expanded our activities in both the educational and social rubric. These were ideas that the new environment forced out of us, and not something it should apologise for. Innovative ideas and individuals will always exist in organisations. Our new structure, though, means that we are encouraged to find and support them.

VSM meant a summer of hard work. It took us out of our comfort zone. But VSM also provided the impetus for us to move to a model that extracted more out of us as an organisation. We have better empowered our members with control over our future and we will have to continue to offer them real value in supporting and enhancing their legal education. I think that is a reality to be welcomed.

VUWSA itself, and other student associations, should follow the lead of VUWLSS. By going for a zero fee, and scrounging off VUW, they are saying we do not wish our income to be linked to the quality of the services we provide to students.

I hope VUWLSS is successful, and that many law students join up as members if they do a good job.

UPDATE: One negative for VUWLSS though. A law student tells me that their constitution claims all law students are members, regardless of whether they pay to be “full” members. This is wrong, and I suspect illegal. I have another post coming on this practice. But still kudos on everything else they are doing.

VUWSA not learning

December 5th, 2011 at 10:56 am by David Farrar

VUWSA is voluntary from next year. The idea is that they focus less on being a branch of the Labour Party, and more on actually doing good stuff for students.

However they have struck a dirty deal with the university, where VUW will fund them using taxpayer and student money so they can function even if no students wish to join them. This is obviously a sign that VUW is awash in surplus funds and doesn’t need any further taxpayer contributions.

For let’s have a look at how the 2012 VUWSA President plans to use VUWSA assets funded by taxpayers and students:

Now you can’t blame the VUWSA flunkies entirely for this. They have had years of a culture of entitlement where they see VUWSA assets as being available for their personal political activites.

Whom I blame is the Council and Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University. The whole idea behind VSM is to give bodies like VUWSA an incentive to provide better representation and services to students. Handing over a large cheque every year with next to no accountability, means they are unlikely to change.

If I was the new Minister of Tertiary Education, I’d be thanking the Council and VC of VUW for making their job much much easier. If at anytime in the next four years before the Govt gets the books back into surplus VUW asks for more money, then it is an easy “No” as they obviously have lots to spare. Of course some of the academic staff may get upset that they’ll go four years without a payrise, just so VUWSA gets to keep its van for trips to Young Labour conferences.

UPDATE: VUWSA President-Elect Bridie Hood has e-mailed to clarify:

I just wanted to clarify a few of the issues mentioned in your blog post this morning entitled ‘VUWSA Not Learning’.

As has been mentioned in the comments section, all VUWSA Affiliated Clubs are able to access the VUWSA Van for use. Most of the youth political groups are affiliated VUWSA clubs (including VicLabour, VicNats, Greens@Vic, Act on Campus etc), and those which are not have the opportunity to become so. The process is transparent and fair. VUWSA does not privilege any particular groups simply by dint of their political affiliation. 

 As stated on the VUWSA website ( there is a $90 per day fee to use the Van and clubs must also pay for petrol.This is not a service fully funded by the University and/or VUWSA. It is, however, offered at a cheaper rate than other companies such as Hertz and Rent-a-Dent to allow clubs to participate in events.

Regarding my comment on the Young Labour Summer School event page, I was suggesting that VicLabour could hire out the VUWSA van (if it was available) so they could travel to the event at a lower cost than flying.

I’m disappointed to see that a personal facebook post has been interpreted in such a way.Anyone who knows me and knows my work at VUWSA knows that I would never use a VUWSA resource, such as the van, for my own personal gain.

Please let me know if you have any questions on this issue and I am happy to discuss VUWSA policy with you if the need arises. I hope you find the time next year to come and visit us, I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the changes that have been made over the last few years.

A fair response by Bridie, and I accept there was no intention of private gain. I do think there is a wider issue about using income gained through compulsory means to benefit the small minority who are involved in clubs and socs. I’d have no problem with that, if there was a voluntary membership fee and that was one of the “perks” of joining. But the whole idea with VSM is that compulsory sources of income should be used only for essential student services such as a class rep system, a union building.

But full marks to Bridie for the tone of her response.

Students get choice

September 29th, 2011 at 4:25 pm by David Farrar

I’ve blogged at Stuff on the passing of the VSM Bill/Act. Some interesting feedback and discussion from readers there on their experiences.

Jones on VSM

September 29th, 2011 at 9:21 am by David Farrar

On Backbenches last night, Wallace Chapman asked all the MPs whether they supported VSM, including Labour MP Shane Jones. A transcript:

Wallace: Should we have VSM for student unions?

Shane: Yeah, yeah we should

It’s great to have one Labour MP speak out in favour of VSM, despite his party having an ideological stance against it.

But it does also point to the crumbling discipline within Labour. On Tuesday a Labour MP reveals the entire Maori caucus wants Goff gone, and on Wednesday another MP reveals he disagrees with his party on an issue which they have spent all year fighting tooth and nail.

VSM at last

September 28th, 2011 at 2:05 pm by David Farrar

Today the VSM Bill, or more formally the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill should have its third reading and effectively pass into law to take effect on 1 January 2012.

For those who want to see the debate, this is my rough estimate of timing:

  1. Question Time 2 pm – 3.15 pm (there are three questions to committee chairs)
  2. General Debate 3.15 pm – 4.15 pm
  3. Royal Society of NZ Amendment Bill. I presume Heather Roy will move it reports progress within the first hour. This means it would finish somewhere between 4.30 pm and 5.15 pm
  4. Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill. Should start between 4.30 pm and 5.15 pm.
  5. Valedictory statements from Keith Locke and Mita Ririnui from 5.30 pm to 6 .00 pm
  6. Dinner Break 6.00 pm – 7.30 pm
  7. Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill continues at 7.30 pm for a total of two hours so should conclude somewhere between I estimate 8.30 pm and 9.15 pm

Hundreds of thousands of students are going to gain the ability to choose whether or not they wish to join a students’ association. Over time this will impact millions of people, albeit it in a minor way. Heather Roy will have achieved a lot more than many MPs do in their time.

Labour will want to repeal the law in future and force students once again to fund their apprentices. However I think they will find that in a few years doing so will be immensely unpopular.

I note TV3 reported Labour Party activist and NZUSA President David Do as saying:

“[Students] oppose ACT’s bill, that’s why they are protesting, and they feel increasingly frustrated and appalled that the Government is continuing to ignore their voice on this issue,” he says.

This sums up all that is wrong with compulsory membership. David Do does not speak for all students, or even for a majority of students. NZUSA have never asked students if they want student association membership to be voluntary or compulsory. The only scientific poll done amongst students (during the last VSM bill) on this issue showed a majority support voluntary membership.

Student Associations and their benefactors in Labour have no-one to blame for VSM than themselves. They have had massive opportunities to reform, and to provide safeguards that should go with compulsion. But they granted the power of compulsion with none of the safeguards such as you see with local government (not that I am accepting the validity of the comparison, just pointing out the safeguards).

They also made some huge tactical blunders during the VSM Bill progress. As far as I know they never once asked to meet with Student Choice representatives, who are primarily with Act on Campus and Young Nationals.  They failed to grasp that those two groups have considerable influence with their MPs, and are the ones who have pushed their caucuses to support the law change.

Some of the amendments proposed by Grant Robertson I supported (and said so in my submission to the select committee), specifically mandating that tertiary institutes should be required to offer student association membership as part of online enrolment (on an opt in tick basis).  If Labour had gone to Student Choice and said “Look we disagree on the law, but here are some amendments that you guys might support so that student associations do well under a voluntary regime, then it is quite possible Student Choice would have lobbied National and ACT MPs to agree to some of the amendments which didn’t dilute the principle of voluntary and opt in. By neglecting to engage with Student Choice, the student associations have actually made things much harder for themselves.

I was at the Aotearoa Student Press Association Awards on Saturday evening, and did reflect that it was a bit sad that some student media will struggle under VSM, due to the lack of compulsory funding. I am a huge fan of student media and enjoy reading much of their work. That does not mean I do not support VSM though. Just because I personally think student media is a good thing, is not sufficient reason that all students should be forced to fund it.

Hopefully VSM may act as a catalyst for some student newspapers to transform more into the digital age. As even large multi-national struggle with the economics of print publications, the medium may be somewhat historic. There is an opportunity for student newspapers to possibly dispense with a print edition and produce websites and e-papers which will become important hubs of student life. You may even be able to develop a subscription model. If I could get Salient on my iPad for $10 a year, I’d pay for that.

Likewise VSM does provide some opportunities for student associations, as well as considerable challenge. Student associations historically have been pretty lousy at communicating and consulting with the student body, let alone asking them what they want. Student associations need to spent some time and money asking what do students want from us, and what will they pay for.  They should consider innovations such as differing levels of membership fees. Maybe you can join the association for $10 just to have them represent you, but for say $50 you also get discounts in the cafe, free entry to orientation events and the weekly e-newspaper.

Some associations may try to undermine the law, as Auckland and Canterbury do, and have a zero membership fee and get the university to fund them. Apart from the fact that the University may be in breach of new regulations around student services levies, any association that does this will be missing the point of voluntary membership. Being dependent on members wanting to join can actually improve you, because it focuses a lot of your efforts on making sure you are providing the services students want, rather than the services you want to deliver. Even a $5 membership fee would provide that incentive. A $0 fee means that you have no idea if members see any value or not as there is no cost in joining.

There are some good student associations out there. It will be tougher under VSM, but good ones can raise to the challenge. But student associations in many many countries operate well with voluntary membership. Even in NZ, there are many voluntary student associations – the faculty student associations. Many of these operate with small budgets but have dedicated officers.

Finally I hope the universities and other tertiary institutions do their part to make voluntary membership work for student associations. By this I don’t mean backdoor funding deals which fatally undermine their own advocacy that universities are under-funded, but by allowing people to opt into membership through the enrolment process. In fact there is the potential to offer membership not just to the central student association but also the faculty students associations (to those studying the appropriate courses) and even the Maori students association (to those of Maori decent).  One could even offer membership/forwarding of contact details to registered clubs and societies. If you tick the box next to club or soc, they will be given your name and e-mail address.

Each university probably has its own online enrolment software, but NZUSA could play a useful role in developing specs for what changes would be needed to allow some of what I have advocated above. I think it would be great if as people enrol, they get offered the chance to join all relevant student associations, and indicate which clubs and societies they wish to have contact them.

Smart student associations would have been talking to their universities and institutes since November 2010, when the Government made it clear they would vote in favour of this law progressing. They’ve had 14 months to make changes, and prepare. If they put all their faith in Labour’s boasting that they could stop the law from passing before the election, then they were very foolish. However it is still better to be late than never. Within reason, I’m happy to donate my time to helping any student association with preparing for VSM (so long as it is after 26 November).

Anyway as someone who has been a proponent of VSM since I  joined OUSA in 1986, I’m delighted to see this law change finally occur. Students will finally be free to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to join a students’ association, and have the same rights of non-association as pretty much every other member of society.

Treaty claim lodged to stop VSM

September 8th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour have failed with their year of filibustering the VSM bill. It completed the committee stages last night and is set down for third and final reading on Wed 28 September.

Hilarious to hear Labour MPs use 1984 speak in claiming the bill removes democratic rights from students. They would have you think our soldiers fought in WWII to defend the right for students to be forced against their will to fund a incorporated society that advocates for things they don’t support.

Having failed in the House, NZUSA have come up with a new strategy:

Maori student representatives have formally lodged a claim into the Waitangi Tribunal seeking an urgent Tribunal hearing into the impacts of ACT’s bill to end universal membership of students’ associations. The Tribunal has acknowledged receipt of the claim and is currently being considered as a single new claim. …

The claim seeks the Tribunal’s recommendation that the Bill is:
(a) abolished and
(b) that provision be made to protect tauira Māori, their local roopu, and their national representation.

“NZUSA supports this claim. The government does not seem to care about the real impacts this will have on the ground. The disgraceful fact remains that the government has done no analysis or real consideration of what impact this Bill will have on student services, student representation, and the quality of education for students as a whole,” says NZUSA co-President David Do.

Mr Do is of course a former chair of Princess St Labour.  NZUSA at times resembles the tertiary education wing of the Labour Party.

I have to say it was very forward-looking of Governor Hobson to have inserted the secret fourth article:


Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals that if it establishes any tertiary educational institutes in New Zealand, it shall require all students thereof to become a member of an association of students, and pay whatever fee is demanded by said association, so the association can pay for taonga such as psychic hotlines.

I guess the next step after this will be for NZUSA to ask the United Nations to intervene.

Armstrong on Labour’s day of shame

August 6th, 2011 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes in the NZ Herald:

The Labour Party does not have very much cause to feel grateful for anything right now. But it should get down on bended knee and thank the Almighty that hardly anybody would have been watching Parliament late on Wednesday afternoon.

Anyone doing so would have witnessed a spectacle which would immediately have brought several words to mind – words such as pitiful, pathetic, embarrassing and disgraceful.

You can watch for yourself at In the House.

What matters now is that last Wednesday things shifted from straight filibuster to pure farce. The only characters needed to make this Trevor Mallard-orchestrated protest a complete pantomime were Chuckles the Clown and Dorothy the Dinosaur.

Labour not only demeaned itself, again – something it is perfectly at liberty to do – it also demeaned Parliament, and that is unacceptable.

For the best part of an hour, Labour MPs raised timewasting points of order and forced a series of pointless votes to try to stop debate on Roy’s bill from even starting.

Labour made repeated demands that Speaker Lockwood Smith be recalled to the chamber to rule on decisions made by National’s Eric Roy, who was chairing the House.

This went beyond the ridiculous by including decisions from Roy (no relation to Heather Roy) granting those very Labour MPs the call to speak in the debate – a perverse case of deliberately biting the hand that feeds.

Next time Labour protests the use of urgency, they should be reminded of this.

Some of the Labour MPs caught up in this episode must now surely regret it.

One such MP, Wellington Central’s Grant Robertson, felt obliged to post a lengthy explanation on Red Alert, the Labour MPs’ blog.

He made no apology for the ways in which Labour was trying to stop Roy’s bill. He admitted it was “unedifying” – surely the understatement of the week – but claimed it was all part and parcel of parliamentary practice.

Well, no. A clear line can be drawn between trying to delay a measure’s progress through Parliament by filibuster and trying to find and exploit gaps, loopholes and apparent anomalies in Parliament’s rules to subvert the will of the majority. Labour crossed that line.

On top of that, Labour’s filibustering has denied other parties’ MPs the opportunity to get their own private member’s bills – some of which are worthy measures deserving of enactment – on to the order paper.

That is unfair. But it is symptomatic of Labour’s lingering arrogance from its years in power.

Incredibly, it continues to try to pull the wool over voters’ eyes by promising to bring in private member’s bills to block things such as National’s plans for partial state asset sales. Such talk is poppycock. Such bills would first have to be lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot which determines which bills get on to the order paper.

In the last ballot, 24 bills were vying for a lone spot.

Furthermore, there has not been a ballot since November last year. No prizes for guessing who is responsible for that.

This has been the delicious irony. Labour have blocked every single Labour and Green private members bill from progressing, in their desire to ensure their mates retain compulsory funding. And it has all been for nothing.

The OUSA protest

August 6th, 2011 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Enraged by the fact they will not be able to compel people to join OUSA next year, some of the OUSA people protested against John Key in Dunedin.

This photo from James Meager again illustrates why voluntary membership is such a necessary reform.

And if you need further convincing, read how OUSA also protested by ripping up photos of Heather Roy. Having seen the photo Heather asked them to use, I suspect quite a few students probably took one home instead 🙂

From the OUSA President

August 4th, 2011 at 5:08 pm by David Farrar

Logan Edgar, the President of the (compulsory) Otago University Students’ Association left this message at 8.42 pm last night on the Facebook wall of Sir Roger Douglas:

Get fucked you dinosaur…just trying to give yourself a legacy because you know you’re getting too old. You should actually debate the Bill with Pete or Grant… you’d get torn to shreds. Cunt

He has since deleted it, but a copy was automatically e-mailed to the page admin.

What better example can you find of why student associations should be voluntary. Every student at Otago is forced to fund Mr Edgar’s salary. This is what Labour are fighting so hard to preserve. I bet you no President of a voluntary society would ever act like that – they’d lose all their members in minutes.

Meanwhile Otago students may want to consider whether they wish Mr Edgar to continue to represent them.

On the substance of VSM

August 4th, 2011 at 3:14 pm by David Farrar

Grant Robertson blogs:

For me student associations are like local government. Enrolling as a student makes you part of a community, and the student association is the organisation that helps govern that community.

I am amused by how the justifications for compulsory membership of these incorporated societies has changed over the years. Initially the compulsion supporters said that they are student unions, which are like trade unions, and should be compulsory as trade unions were.

Then trade unions lost their compulsion. So the next argument was that student associations are like the Medical Association or Federated Farmers. But over the last 20 years almost every professional industry has separated out its advocacy side from its regulatory side. Hence the Medical Council regulates doctors, while the NZ Medical Association is voluntary. The comparison was of course never valid anyway, as student associations are the exact opposite of a professional association.

Then their next false comparison was to local government. Grant would have you believe that VUWSA is just like the Wellington City Council. I’ll return to this argument later, but for now quote Graeme Edgeler from the Red Alert comments:

I’ve never liked this analogy.

If a university student is like a resident of a community then the local council is the University Administration, and the Students’ Association is a local residents’ association.

If you want to live in an area then you have to pay (directly or indirectly) rates to the local council.

If you want to attend university, you have to pay fees for tuition and services to the university.

In either case you can, you can choose to belong to an association that will fight for your rights with the local government/institution, and may, if the issue is important enough, even address the government(/government).

As I said I will return to the weaknesses in Grant’s arguments shortly. First the most recent false comparison that compulsion defenders are making. They are saying that as KiwiSaver is opt out, so should student associations be. So now they are comparing an incorporated society to retirement investment funds. The analogy is pitiful enough as it is, but also consider that you have a choice of 30+ KiwiSaver funds, while at a campus you get no choice of compulsory student association.

Anyway Grant’s comparison to local government is complete nonsense, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say we accept that student associations are like local Councils, and should have the power to take money off people against their will.

Let us look at the safeguards the Government and Parliament has put around local Councils. They include:

  1. A Local Electoral Act to ensure Councils are democratically elected. There is no requirement for a students association to be democratic.
  2. A Local Government Commission to set wards, maximum pay rates etc.
  3. Statutory requirements for Councils to regularly consult their ratepayers on annual plans etc
  4. Over-view from the Office of the Auditor-General
  5. Subject to the Official Information Act
  6. Ability for the Minister to sack a dysfunctional Council and appoint Commissioners

Student Associations have none of these safeguards. Parliament has terribly let students down by granting student associations the powers of compulsory fees, but not putting any safeguards in place.

I said to the select committee, and have said for over a decade that if you wish to keep compulsory student associations, then as a minimum Parliament should act to put in place some safeguards for students. Grant and Labour never ever did anything about this during their last nine years in office. If they had, then some of the pressure for VSM would have subsided. They only have themselves to blame – they gave their mates a legislative power to have compulsory fees, and refused to put in lace any safeguards for students, as we have for ratepayers and their Councils.

If Grant was sincere about his analogy, then he would agree to some or all of the safeguards above. But never once has Labour shown any concern for those students who have been forced to fund incompetent and even corrupt student associations, against their will. VSM is one answer to the problem, but there were others. I’m not saying I’d prefer the other options to VSM, but Labour has refused to meaningfully engage with Student Choice on any of their concerns.

Freedom moves closer

August 4th, 2011 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Labour have spent all year blocking every single private members bill in an attempt to stop students from gaining freedom of association.

Last night they were dumbfounded (check the video out here) when Heather Roy put an end to it by using the procedural motion that the Committee report progress to the House on the Royal Society bill which had been fillibustered to prevent the VSM bill from being debated.

The House voted to report progress, which meant that they automatically proceed to the next item of business – the VSM bill.

Trevor Mallard looked even more manic than normal, while Grant Robertson was so distraught, he looked like someone who had just been told their beloved pet cat had been run over by a car. This gives you some idea of how desperate they are to stop students being able to decide to stop funding their political mates. It is the last vestige of compulsory unionism.

Labour continued with an extended temper tantrum for an hour or so. Probably because they had been boasting to NZUSA and the student associations that they were so clever they had guaranteed the bill would not pass before the election.

It still is not guaranteed of course, but only one clause remains for the committee stage of the VSM bill, and then the third reading. That will require two more members days, but there are three scheduled before the House rises so I rate the chances as pretty reasonable.

If so, it means from 1 January 2012 finally students will have the ability to decide whether or not they personally wish to belong to a students association, and as importantly no longer be forced to fund partisan political advocacy which they disagree with.

Another reason for VSM

July 18th, 2011 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

An Otago student is to spend two nights locked in a cage in freezing Dunedin to protest a proposed law that would make student union membership voluntary.

The Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill, which is sponsored by ACT’s Heather Roy, is currently awaiting its final reading before Parliament,

Supporters say student unions are the only ones left that have compulsory membership, and end up being controlled by political activists who run partisan campaigns that do not represent members.

Opponents argue the bill will destroy valuable associations that provide services at universities and polytechs because most students are hard up and would not voluntarily pay fees.

Otago University Students’ Association student president Logan Edgar is today preparing to lock himself in a cage, on the university’s Union Lawn from 7pm, to protest the bill.

Sadly all Otago students are forced to pay Mr Edgar’s salary. Yep, they get no choice about it Hopefully in the not too distant future they will have the choice of saying you embarrass us with your idiot stunts, and we are not going to pay you to be a idiot any more.

Remember that Labour have made their top parliamentary priority stopping students from being able to stop funding dickheads. They want it to remain compulsory.

Radio One

July 5th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Musicians and media have hit out at plans to sell student radio station Radio One as an attack on the cultural heart of Dunedin.

Otago University Students Association (OUSA) has confirmed it is looking at selling Radio One to save money ahead of legislation ending compulsory membership of student bodies.

The station is broadcasting nothing but ambient noise and explanatory public service announcements this week to protest the proposal.

Manager Sean Norling said Radio One was Dunedin’s most established independent radio station and was crucial to making the city a viable option for touring artists.

There is an assumption here that if Radio One is sold, and no longer subsidised, it would not exist.

This is not the case. In Wellington we have Radio Active. It used to be owned by VUWSA but as is often the case when you have easy compulsory money, became a black hole and almost bankrupted VUWSA. So VUWSA sold it to existing management, and for over two decades it has continued on stronger than ever. It still has a strong following, is non-commercial, and no longer funded by students against their will.

A student survey last year also revealed Radio One as one of the least valued OUSA assets, Mr Edgar said.

So why should students be forced to fund it?

The proposal would now go through a submissions phase and Radio One staff would have the opportunity to have their say. A decision was likely to be made before the end of the year.

Because the station had a non-profit licence, Norling said he believed it would have “little commercial appeal” and a sale was unlikely.

Radio Active has managed fine for 20 years without VUWSA funding. bFM in Auckland does very well without compulsory AUSA funding.

Norling would be better placed working on a business plan which does not involve OUSA funding, than going on an effective strike.

Labour’s priorities

June 20th, 2011 at 12:24 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins at Stuff reports:

Labour will introduce a bill preventing the sale of key strategic assets without a clear public mandate, says Labour leader Phil Goff.

Goff said the bill would require any future proposal to partly or wholly privatise a State-owned enterprise or Crown entity to gain support from 75 per cent of Parliament, or from a majority of voters in a referendum.

This is hilarious, because Labour is ensuring such a bill will never get drawn from the members’ ballot because they are filibustering the VSM bill.

A journalist should ask Labour if they will stop filbustering the VSM bill, in order to allow more bills to be drawn in a ballot, and giving their anti-privatisation bill a chance to be drawn.

I bet you the answer is no.

So what does that mean? It means that Labour value protecting compulsory student associations from voluntary membership more than they value stopping asset sales. Their number one parliamentary priority is stopping VSM at all costs.

Incidentially turning to the substance of their silly bill, I’ll support a law which requires a referendum to sell any asset, so long one also needs a referendum for teh Government to buy any asset (over a non trivial value).

Labour’s $400,000 an hour filibuster

June 3rd, 2011 at 4:03 pm by David Farrar

Danya Levy at Stuff reports:

The ACT Party says moves by Labour to delay the passing of its volunteer student membership bill is costing taxpayers more than $453,000 every hour Parliament sits.

The member’s Bill sponsored by ACT MP Heather Roy ends compulsory student association membership, and passed its second reading last December.

Labour opposes the Bill and has stopped Parliament reaching the next stage of debate on it by putting up spurious amendments to other non-controversial legislation.

Roy said the delay tactics, known as filibustering, denied backbench MPs the right to have their issues debated and cost taxpayers the same amount an hour as Hone Harawira’s Te Tai Tokerau by-election.

”Hone Harawira has been rightly condemned for costing the taxpayer half a million dollars by forcing the Te Tai Tokerau by-election, yet Labour’s filibustering is costing taxpayers the equivalent of one such by-election every hour.

The staggering thing is that Labour have not just fillibustered this once or twice – they have filbustered it all year, so desperate are they to protect their future caucus intakes. As someone said, there is no limit to what a mother will do to protect her young.

Heather said:

“I’m not opposed to any party delaying a Bill they strongly disagree with but Labour MPs are delaying Bills they already support.  If Labour continue to debate each of the Royal Society Bill’s 23 clauses – which they openly support – in their entirety this could take 23 hours of the House’s time and cost taxpayers over $10 million.  It is this sort of churlish behaviour that demeans our nation’s Parliament.

This is a key difference. I will absolutely defend the right of a party to filibuster a bill they strongly oppose. Such filibusters normally last a few days. But here Labour is filbustering every single local, private and members bill there is, in a year long filibuster. This is I think literally without precedent in New Zealand. They are for example going to spend two dozen hours of time, on a totally non controversial bill about the Royal Society of NZ.

Trevor Mallard has blogged that the marginal cost is zero, as they are not forcing any extra costs onto Parliament. This misses the point as it ignores the fact that during all this time, Parliament is not passing laws as it is meant to be – it is having Labour MPs stand up and talk screeds of nonsense for hours on end.  An analogy would be having staff members in a retailer refuse to actually sell any goods, yet claim they are not costing any money as they haven’t imposed extra costs on the shop.

I have pinged the Government on their use of urgency this year – something which pissed off quite a few people within National. But filibustering is the flip side of urgency. If an Opposition continues with mindless sustained filbustering, then they can expect no-one to take them seriously if they complain about use of urgency in the future. If you turn yourself into a roadblock, don’t be surpised when a bulldozer is used.

Labour is also being incredibly selfish. Backbench Mps get only one day a fortnight to have their bills heard. Dozens of MPs from the Greens, Maori and National parties have members bills they would like to have debated. Labour has decided that no other members bill can be allowed to pass this year, just so they can try and allow their future MPs to keep forcing students to fund their political activism.

So next time a Labour MP complains about urgency, the response should be to buy themselves a mirror so they can find someone to blame.

Another non tax paying union

May 4th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

An inquiry is under way at the troubled students’ association at the centre of fraud allegations over concerns that it owes up to $200,000 in unpaid tax.

Police are investigating after up to $1 million was drained from the bank accounts of the Porirua-based Whitireia Independent Students Association.

So WISA is acting just like UNITE – illegally keeping the PAYE from their employees. I imagine WISA has also campaigned on higher taxes to fund more student support. The irony.

It will be a great day when the VSM legislation is passed. Compulsory membership doesn’t provide any incentives for responsible management.

Parliament at its best and worst

March 10th, 2011 at 2:39 pm by David Farrar

Just returned from making my third and fourth submission in the last fortnight to the Justice & Electoral Select Committee. As with the previous times, there was good questioning and discussion on the issue. Ths time it was about the name suppression clauses of the Criminal Procedure Bill.

As I was observing other submissions, I reflected it is a pity more people don’t get to see MPs at work like this. Unless the bill is a highly partisan one, they are genuinely engaging with submitters and looking for ways to improve the draft laws, before they are finalised. It’s an important part of our democracry, and one of the parts that works very very well. The absence of an upper house makes their role even more vital.

I hope that someday Parliament will broadcast (even just over the Internet) all public sessions of select committees, as well as the House itself.

Sadly this week we also saw Parliament at its worst. Labour wasted four hours of the House’s time filibustering the Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land and Vesting Bill. This is a non controversial bill that is supported by all parties in Parliament and passed its 1st and 2nd readings without dissent.

Now I’m not against the Opposition being able to fillibuster. I blogged in 2009:

I do support the rights of the Opposition to filibuster – within reason. In fact I was the primary staffer who helped National delay the Employment Relations Act by a week in 2000.

But a filbuster is a blunt weapon for an Opposition to use, and if you get it wrong, it can hurt you.

I tend to think an Opposition should do a full filibuster only once per parliamentary term – it should be used against the piece of legislation that you think is most harmful to the country.

This was the test National used in 2000 with the then ERB. It gave all sorts of special favours to unions, and National decided it was the law they were most against.

Now some will say why filibuster at all? Well an Opposition can not defeat a law, so all they can do when it is a really really bad law, is delay it to show how bad they think it is.

But here Labour is filibustering a totally non-controversial bill. They wasted the entire four to four and a half hours allocated to local and private members bills on talking about how they like to go to the park.

Why? Well their real target is the next bill on the order paper – the VSM bill.

It is interesting that Labour have decided that the VSM bill is so bad, thet they are going to try and oppose it with ore vigour than any other issue before Parliament – even more so than tax cuts, privatisation etc.

Why are Labour willing to risk a public backlash with their fillbuster, in the hope they can stop VSM (voluntary membership of student associations) occuring? Someone on Twitter provided the best answer – because there are no limits to what a parent will do to protect their young!

Compulsory membership student associations have been a major source of training and employment for future Labour Party MPs. So there are no big issues of principle involved.

What is even rarer is that Labour is willing to fillibuster private members day. Only one in six sitting days is given over to private member bills. And the vast majority of those sitting in line are from Labour or the Greens. They’re willing to stop all of those being debate, so long as they can delay VSM.

Of course they will fail. Even with fillibusters the VSM bill should pass into law in April or May. And the Government could always adopt it, and pass it as a Government measure. There is no way it won’t pass before the election.

Ironically the longer they delay it, the less time universities will have time to prepare their enrolment software.

It will be interesting to see how many weeks or months of fillibustering will Labour inflict on private members day, in their fight against VSM. It would be good to see on TV some of the inane filibustering speeches that were made yesterday on the Hamilton City Council (Parana Park) Land and Vesting Bill.

Will NZUSA survive?

January 30th, 2011 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

If I was running NZUSA, I’d be focused on what changes are needed for student associations (and NZUSA) need to make, to prosper under VSM – rather than still fighting a battle which has been lost.

NZUSA has just had their January conference, and a number of people have been kind enough to send me their documents. Act on Campus have already blogged on these, including the $77,000 lost NZUSA made in 2009.

New Zealand has eight universities and 20 polytechnics/technology institutes.

Currently 14 of those 28 institutions have a student association that is a member of NZUSA, of which only 12 are full members. Those 12 full members represent only 84,000 EFTS. But even that low level, may get smaller.

No fewer than nine student associations have gien notice of withdrawal – they are OPSA, AS@U, SAWIT, WITSA, WSA, OUSA, ASA, EXMSS and MUSA. They represent almost 50,000 ETS, which would leave NZUSA representing – well basically Victoria, Lincoln and Waikato only (plus a couple of minors).

I hope NZUSA do survive, but if they do not, then it would create an opportunity for alternate representation to emerge nationally.

It occurs to me that a professionally run organisation that focused purely on lobbying the Government on behalf of students on core education and welfare issues, and communicated directly with students about its advocacy on their behalf could well get say 30% of students willing to tick a box at enrolment to join it for $5. That should be enough to have a budget of $300,000 or so. Rather than have the lobbying done by a succession of Labour student politicians, you’d actually have a professional executive director who could work with all Governments, and over time could build up a very high regard.