Senate overturns voluntary student unionism

LA Trobe university students can expect new services – and fees – after the Senate overturned the Coalition’s controversial voluntary student unionism legislation. From 2012 full-time students will pay a compulsory fee of $250 for student services and amenities.La Trobe student union general manager Mark Willington welcomed the news and said the funding would return welfare services and sports clubs lost with the introduction of VSU in 2005.

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“It meant that there was a dramatic decrease in funding. A whole range of support services for students were dropped. Things like the university sport activities and a range of educational services,” he said.Less than 30 per cent of La Trobe Bendigo students have been paying the voluntary fees since the VSU was introduced by the Howard government.Among the services lost by La Trobe Bendigo were the annual student art exhibition, the university magazine and sport.“We provide admin support but we didn’t provide support for their activities,” Mr Willington said.But third-year photography student Jessi Muston isn’t convinced compulsory fees are needed.“I don’t think every student should have to pay. We’ve organised funding and sponsorship and I think that was a good experience,” she said.The student union lost an estimated $170 million from its budget nationwide and awareness of union services had dropped as a result, Mr Willington said.“We ran an employment program, a welfare officer. It was a range of things like that,” he said. “They’re aware of some of the things we do. You’re not aware of it until you need it.”VSU laws were introduced by then education Mmnister Brendan Nelson and led to the loss of thousands of student union jobs across the country.Last year the University of Ballarat student union collapsed due to a lack of funding.But the fight to return compulsory fees was continued by the Australasian Campus Union Managers Association and union sporting associations.Mr Willington said the new fees would go to the university, which would distribute funding to student services.

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