Dear Friends of the Chaplaincy at La Trobe and RMIT,
I am forwarding along parts of a letter I received today from Sarah Wickam, current President of the La Trobe University Student Representative Council, asking that I help to gather some voices of protest and support for forthcoming action in Canberra on legislation impacting Student Unions at Australian Universities. Sarah has advised me that of the following:
"Earlier the reports out of Canberra and the coalition party room sounded like the VSU legislation would not get into the Senate before the end of the year, and that the legislation itself when passed would not be implimented until 2007.
"However, yesterday I received several phone calls from reliable sources including Jenny Macklin's education advisors that VSU is on the move, National Senator Joyce is as solid as he will ever be. In short, he is NOT voting for VSU. So this means that the Government needs one extra vote to get the legislation through. Their only option, the man they are looking at Steven Fielding, Family First.
"It seems that he has began to back down on his stance against VSU, although saying that he will support universities charging an amenities fee (Victorian style VSU) and that he will potentially move amendments to this affect. However he remain tight-lipped on what he will do if confronted with the full legislation or nothing. The Liberals are counting on him voting for the VSU legislation."
As a US citizen who is a permanent resident in Australia, I usually avoid commenting on national politics, but having finished my first year as a Chaplain at two Melbourne institutions, I am concerned that the prevailing mood favouring privatisation and fee for service may point to a future environment in tertiary education without adequate room or support for the unique culture of Universities. As I understand it, the proposed VSU legislation will severely restrict options for ancillary services and support that are crucial to a well informed and educated citizenry. My assumption is that the changes are designed to reduce left-wing political activism, but my fear is that it will be most hurtful and harmful in withdrawing necessary support services such as childcare, centrelink, clubs and societies and advocacy work etc. and will most negatively impact returning, mature age, and non-traditional students as well as those traditional students who have benefited from their association with student unions over the years.
I would not write to you if I did not see this as similar to a trend that has undercut Universities in the US for the last few decades, where the bottom line determines the value of the educational process. I would hate to see Australia follow the US lead in this sort of gutting of civil and social organizations. If you agree that this is a critical issue and one with deep moral, ethical and spiritual components that point to the importance of the whole community working together, I invite you to please write to Senator Fielding at the address noted below. The time is limited and your response may be crucial. Please consider writing as soon as possible.
As an American resident in Australia, I have found the idea of the "Fair Go" to be a noble foundation for a people seeking to live in community in a way that is both fair and good. It is one of the things I love and admire about this country. I fear that some of the forces behind the VSU campaign may be pushing against this in a way that could be extremely hurtful to the heart of this good land. I have seen where that road can lead in other places. I hope this land will not follow that path.
Robert Whalley, Chaplain,
La Trobe University
Steven Fielding’s contact details:
Tel: (02) 6277 3711?
Fax: (02) 6277 5713?
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ?
Address in Canberra:
Senator S. Fielding
Leader of the Family First Party
Canberra ACT 2600
PO Box 500?Box Hill VIC 3128 ?
Ph: 03 9897 3307
Fax: 03 9897 4578?
Toll Free: 1300 736 017?(Toll free number is only available Victoria)