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March 8, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

The VSM Bill: wut?

Daa-dee-daah! Here you have in your hot, sweaty, little hands is the VSM issue of Salient. So, what is VSM and why do we care? I’ll talk you through it.

I must declare: I am indeed the same Freya as was Freya the Vice President of VUWSA in 2009. So I think it’s important to declare my situated perspective in this way. However, this is not an opinion piece, and in no way am I saying ‘yay’ or ‘neigh’ (whinny) to the VSM bill, or the concept of VSM. But y’know, just so we all know where we’re at.

The Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill was drawn from the ballot on 20 August 2009. It passed its first reading on 23 September. It has now been referred to the Education and Science Select Committee, for which submissions close on the 31 March. So not far away!

Yeah. But. Why. Do. We. Care?

Orright, we care because this bill would change the way we subscribe to our students’ associations.

The bill would stop the tertiary educations at which we are enrolled (in this case, Victoria University) from automatically deducting our students’ association (again, VUWSA, in this case) levy from our fees. We would no longer be members of VUWSA just by virtue of being enrolled at Vic. We would have to ‘opt-in’ (that means, sign up and pay up-front) to VUWSA at the beginning of every year.

Currently, the system we have is ‘opt-out’. It’s called Universal Student Membership (USM) or Compulsory Student Membership (CSM).

Should you not be so cool with being a member of VUWSA—well, in the words of El Presidente, Max Hardy:

“To opt-out, students just need to write the president (in this case, me) an email or letter explaining that they wish to be exempt for reasons of conscientious objection and explaining, briefly, why they conscientiously object to membership of VUWSA. They should then stipulate a reputable charity that they wish their money to be paid to. Quite a simple process.

To opt-out on the grounds of financial hardship they need to explain, briefly, their financial situation and explain, briefly, why they are in a situation of hardship (e.g. high rent etc).

It used to be that an external party (VUW Council) decided applications for exemption, and VUWSA would be more than happy to return to this process if students wanted that.”

So, we are automatically members, but we can opt out on an individual basis by means of conscientious objection or financial hardship.

We can also change our system to become ‘opt-in’, as a collective—that is, all students at Victoria University. For this to occur, there needs to be a petition, signed by 10 per cent of the enrolled students at Victoria (we have about 22,000 students, so that would mean 2200 of us), which calls for a referendum. If, in that case, it is voted that Victoria students would prefer to ‘opt-in’ to VUWSA, then—wowser—VUWSA would have ‘opt-in’ membership. This is the case at Auckland University Students’ Association (AUSA).

This opt-in/opt-out business is all relatively new. In 1999, parliament passed an amendment to the Education Act to allow this element of choice. Previously every enrolled student at a tertiary education was a member of their students’ association, and this bill allowed for people to opt-out.

If the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill gets through the third reading and becomes law, it would mean that every students’ association in New Zealand would be ‘opt-in’.

This is an important thing. It’s a big deal. It will affect how your studies go. It is up to you whether you want this or not. There are two very vocal sides to the debate about whether this is a good thing or not. So—hear what other people have to say. Go to the anti-USM/pro-VSM website ( and Facebook: Free Me). Go to the pro-USM/anti-VSM site, ‘Save Our Services’ ( and Facebook: Save Our Services).

Go on. Read the bill for yourself—just google the title, “Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill”, and it should come up, along with a whole lot more information on it. Have your say, make a submission to the Select Committee.

This bill matters, so make sure you are involved in the debate.


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Comments (52)

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  1. peteremcc says:

    The pro-vsm website is

    It’s not affiliated with ACT.

  2. Freya Eng says:

    Thanks, Peter.

    I did try to see if there was a site already set up for ‘Free Me’ – but all that came up in Google was this:

    Not quite on topic, I figured!

  3. peteremcc says:

    Yeah, it takes time for Google to pick up on new sites.

    It is listed on the Facebook page though!

  4. Alpha says:

    Solution: reform the opt-out process so it does not take an ideological objection to leave the union. Make it easier to leave, but leave automatic membership. You see, if people are presented with a choice that they do not care strongly about (which, as most students are paying the VUWSA subscription via the Student Loan Scheme, applies to membership in VUWSA + traditional student apathy), they are far more likely to accept the default option. If we have an opt-in system, very few students will opt-in. The majority simply do not care either way, and would have to care to go out of their way to opt-in. Now, if we implemented a (better) opt-out system, the few students who actually cared about their ‘freedom being trampled on’ and whatnot could leave. The result would be that the students who felt strongly would get their wish to leave, while the vast majority of students would remain in the status quo – leaving vital student services only marginally affected.

    [/common sense]

  5. peteremcc says:

    If the services are so vital, then people will join.

    If they don’t join, then they’re obviously not vital.

    You can’t have it both ways Alpha.

  6. Electrum Stardust says:

    IF students are effectively excluded from “joining” because they cannot afford to pay, say, $923 (or whatever), instead of the current $123 (or whatever), that has got nothing to do with the “vitalness” of the services you currently enjoy under USM.

    Think about this in another way. If, say, one does not “join” (for whatever reason) in the effort to fine-tune the current MMP system (e.g. by removing the ‘win-one-seat-and-take-everyone-else-with-you’ exemption from the 5% threshold etc.), that does NOT mean that fine-tuning MMP is not “vital”.

    Similarly, the fact that one does not “join” (for whatever reason) in the effort to tell your fellow students (for probably the first time in their lives) about the importance of having a student association that represents the entire student body (rather than the interests of only a few rich student politicians who can—and will—pay), that does not mean that having a fully representative student association is not vital for all students.

    Or, if one does not “join” (for whatever reason) in the effort to find a cure for cancer / dealing with climate change (whoever/whatever is responsible) etc. etc., that says nothing about the “vitalness” of the issues in question.

    The point is this: Don’t let others tell you how many “choices” you have, and that you can only “choose” from those and nothing else. Very often, many things (especially important values that cannot be quantified in money terms) are deliberately / inadvertently left out. Don’t be fooled by these false dichotomies / ‘trichotomies’ etc. that are presented to you as “choices”.

    Think outside the box. Think freely.

  7. peteremcc says:

    How does a student association represent *everyone* when *everyone* has different views?

    Student associations represent the majority of students (actually the majority of the students who bother voting – so about 2%) and misrepresent the minority. That’s why we protect Freedom of Association and allow people to choose who they pay to represent them.

  8. Raptor says:

    How does ACT represent anyone by forcing the legislation onto students. Shouldn’t they be the ones chosing? Not Dodger Rugless and Hop-a-Long.

    That’s not even mentioning that the reason why Dodger, Roy, Boscawen and Garrot are in parliament is because of a widely disliked quirk of our electoral system. Not even 5% of NZ has faith in the ideals that ACT proselytize.

  9. peteremcc says:

    We’re not forcing a law on anyone, we’re removing an existing law.

    I assume you think that when the US banned slavery, they were forcing Voluntary Paid Work on to all the blacks in the south, right?

  10. Raptor says:

    Ergo: I assume you think that when the Nazis revoked crime laws agains jews they were liberating the German people to express what they truely thought about Jews.

  11. peteremcc says:

    My two comments were not intrinsically linked, only related.

    Governments are there to protect the freedoms of the people.

    Sometimes that freedom is at threat because the government isn’t protecting it. That involves passing a law (ie: it’s illegal to kill someone).

    Sometimes that freedom is at threat because the government has already pass a law that takes it away. That means removing a law (ie: Compulsory Trade Unionism)

    Get it yet?

  12. Student student says:

    @Raptor: The ideals which Act proselytize also happen to be enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights and the Universial Declaration of Human Rights. Its not a matter of Act forcing anything on anyone its about each student having rights for themselves, regardless of what the majority want to do to them

    In fact Nazi Germany is a perfect illustration of that point. Just because the majority of Germans supported a racist government didnt make racist more acceptable

  13. Wednesday says:

    The Nazi party didn’t have the majority of German votes.Off topic but I felt the need to say that.
    Also I love how Godwin as already reared its head.

  14. John Cena says:


  15. Wednesday says:

    *Has not as.

  16. Dougal Scott says:

    This Bill removes students’ ability to ever go back to being universal association. It imposes voluntary membership on every campus regardless of what the students at each want. So much for student choice.

    So what happened at Waikato or UniTech can never be repeated. Once students realise what they have lost, they cannot chose to go back. That is what this Bill is about.

    As Jordan pointed out in the Head to Head, the Douglas BIll is “not designed to free you from the chains you never knew you had, but rather it is an attempt to silence the student voice and take collective decision making out of student hands”.

  17. Student student says:

    Yep, it removes the ability of some students to force others to join unions, regardless of what the majority thinks. Thats a good thing.

    What it doesnt remove is the ability of any student who wants to join a union to do so. If the unions really are any good people will join them.

    As for representation: If students want to be represented by unions they can *shock horror* join the union voluntarily. At the moment you simply force individuals who dont want to be represented fund such representation.

  18. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson says:

    Hey, John, you still coming to mine for dinner tonight? I’m making Long Island Roasted Duck, and Shawn and Batista are coming over too. The aromas are delicious. It’s at 7, so don’t be late! :)

  19. John Cena says:

    Back off, jackoff. Raaaapppioddooo!

  20. Felicia Jollygoodfellow says:

    If VSM is about choice then Douglas and co. should propose a National Referendum on the issue, rather than a private member’s bill that prevents Students Associations with voluntary membership from returning to ‘compulsary’? I don’t know of any Students Association that prevents a student from opting out if they have strong reasons for doing so. Also, with some Associations that have become voluntary, the institutions have taken over many of their services, at higher costs to students and with a reduction of the ability of students to dissent if those services are not what the students want. Lastly, can you really trust motives of the politicians who were behind the privatisation of state owned assets in the late ’80s and early ’90s? Remember, we have Douglas and co. to thank for why telephone and electricity bills are so high, and why our railways are in such a mess.

  21. peteremcc says:


    You still don’t understand Freedom of Association at all.

    It is an individual right. Just because a majority (at university, at a national referendum, wherever) think you should be forced to join, doesn’t mean you should be.

    Should we have a national referendum on whether we should kill everyone over the age of 80? There would be huge financial benefits for the country, and surely a majority in a referendum say its ok, then it is?

    The right to not be killed is an individual right, the majority can’t vote it away – same with Freedom of Association.

    As to ‘opting out’ – there is no opt-out rule, have you even read the legislation?

    You may conscientiously object based on religious or ethical grounds. I can’t do that, my objections are political, and I would be unethical to say i objected on ethical grounds.

    Even then, universities have only made it really easy to opt-out since the bill got drawn in Parliament. When VSM wasn’t an issue in Parliament, student associations made it as difficult as possible. You had to appear in front of a panel to explain why you object, the student association can decline your application and they don’t even have to tell you why.

    But all that is a side issue – Freedom of Association says they can’t force you to join in the first place, so questions about the opt-out process are irrelevent.

  22. peteremcc says:

    Sorry, ‘students’ associations have only made it…’ not universities.

  23. smackdown says:

    you must get laid all the time

  24. Raptor says:

    Hey smackdown, wanna get laid later? I was going to ask peteremcc. But you so dream.

  25. smackdown says:

    i’m in love with a turtle named cabana i’m sorry :(

  26. Raptor says:

    That’s okay. I didn’t want to anyway. I heard you dress in spandex.

  27. smackdown says:

    winter is coming

  28. Alpha says:

    I still don’t get it, Milkshakes. Choose.

    Now. If, by default, you are put into the Union, but can easily withdraw, and can keep your money (not given to charity), then would you do it? Well, that’s good for you. And for a minority of students who would also do that.

    Now. If, by default, you were not put into the Union, but could join if you wanted (and had the financial means, which is weird in itself, as these services benefit poor students more – but I digress), then would you do it? You wouldn’t, would you? And neither would the majority of students.

    In NO WAY does this reflect the vitality of the services, but rather just the effort one has to go to leave/join (depending on reformed-CSM or VSM).

    Reform CSM to make it easier to leave. Choose the middle road. The sensible road.

  29. peteremcc says:

    Just because something is a compromise doesn’t make it automatically good.

    Take my example of killing everyone over 80 from before.

    If we compromise and make it that we only kill people over 85, would that be ok then?

  30. Hank Scorpio says:

    Ahahaha Roger Douglas has a column in Craccum. Anyone read Craccum? Anyone in Auckland even bother to read Craccum?

  31. smackdown says:

    i cant read im too busy being rude 2 read

  32. What’s a Craccum?

  33. “Take my example of killing everyone over 80 from before” – Like your style Peter, maybe we should meet over mead to discuss this ‘cleansing’.

    Also I looked up Craccum: Why is there so much Avatar? why have they stopped the porn? and why do I now have a new found respect for Salient?

  34. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    “why do I now have a new found respect for Salient?”

    ‘Coz Salient 2010 is at least seven differnt kinds of awesome, that’s why!

  35. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Especially considering I mis-spelt ‘different’.

  36. Frisky says:

    “why do I now have a new found respect for Salient?” I have a question for you ‘Karl’, why are you such a self righteous prick?

    Each magazine has it’s own distinctive personality and it’s unfair to compare the two. The expectations and demands of the Auckland Uni student body is vastly different to that of Vic students.

    I hope one day you will understand that you are gigantic douche… and you will shoot yourself.

  37. peteremcc says:

    Wait, different students have different needs?

    Wow, who knew?

  38. Apparently I didn’t, though I’m not sure I will have time to learn these valuable lessons before I “shoot myself”.

    You’re a class act Frisky

  39. Student student says:

    Alpha how many other organisations would you apply that model to? The local football club? Various lobby groups?

    And if you think that people are capable of joining those types of clubs on an opt in rather than opt out basis, why cant student associations be the same?

  40. Alpha says:

    Student student: None. No. No. Because student associations are not hobbies. The decision we* make regarding this will intimately affect a lot of students. Poor students. Who probably couldn’t afford to pay the higher and up-front cost of the subscription under CSM.

    *OR Roger Douglas, OR that Party elected by a silly quirk of the electoral system, OR the residents of Epsom. Take your pick.

    And Pete, you’re not even considering my compromise, and you’re comparing it to the most ridiculous situation imaginable to get past the fact that you can’t confront it reasonably. My suggestion is really neither CSM or VSM. It’s default membership, and you’re free to leave whenever you want. I guarantee you that it would result in a higher degree of membership than opt-in and up-front pay. That way, your precious freedom is maintained, and student services won’t have to suffer to the same extent. How many more times do I have to explain this before anybody else sees the sense?

  41. peteremcc says:

    Again, if you were a member of ACT on Campus by default and give us $150 a year, but are allowed to opt out – is that fair?

  42. rony says:

    there’s a pretty big difference between a students association and ACT on Campus, peteremcc.
    students associations are run democratically, have constitutions which set out their purposes etc.

    gaahhh you’re so annoying

  43. peteremcc says:

    ACT on Campus is run democratically and has a constitution that sets out our purpose.

    Care to list any of these differences…

  44. Milkshakes says:

    Ayn Rand’s estate won’t answer my emails.

  45. Electrum Stardust says:

    The main difference is that a Student Association is supposed to provide services for all students, while something like ACT on Campus exists primarily to propagate ACT agendas, just as the ACT Party pushes ACT ideology in parliament. In fact, the Student Association is the one fully representative body in the university that serves all students as equals, regardless of whether they also sign up for, say, the Victoria Pole Dancing Fitness Club, the VUW Buddhist Society, or even ACT on Campus (though in reality many of these aspiring ACTors are probably rich enough to not care— many of them are also likely to envisage an ACT-utopia where taxation is similarly “voluntary” for rich folks).

    It is also likely that VSM, if passed into legislation over our heads, would result in a far less representative and more exclusive ‘club’ where rich “members” have disproportionately more say and power than they now possess. Perhaps that is an additional reason why these young ACTors are so enthusiastic.

  46. Alpha says:

    @Peter. As has been stated, you’re not comparing apples with apples, but it would be fairer than not being able to opt out (CSM), and far more practical than having to pay up-front and go out of one’s way to opt in (VSM).

  47. Student student says:

    @Alpha: Ultimatly your argument comes down to “Student associations should be opt out unlike anyone else because theyr really important”. The importance of a service is a subjective thing. I might think that the political representation provided to me by Act On Campus is far more important to me than any service i recieve from VUWSA. So why is your assessment of the importance of student associations to students the most valid? Peter thinks its really important that everyone joins Act on Campus, but thats a subjective thing. Why cant we allow every student the individual choice to decide the importance of the services which they recieve from a students association, like we do with every other good or service which people buy?

  48. smackdown says:

    so the big beatles argument here is that if csm goes, students won’t give enough of a ringo to join up. well idk but maybe if vuwsa and student associations in general did more than send out flaky press releases nobody but the guy who runs media darlings will read, and actively meet the student population ON THEIR LEVEL, then, fuck, students will prob think “hey this vuwsa thing is worthwhile sweet i’ll join”

    but no they’re dumb and boring and attract nicompoops and don’t do their job properly and just plain sux

    this makes smackdown :(

  49. Alpha says:

    @Student student: I am all for choice. I think the current level of choice is too restrictive, so I think that aspect should be reformed… i.e. opt-out.

    Yes, importance is subjective, but only to an extent. VUWSA helps a number of students practically. Not me, but I’d like to know that the freedom to use those services is there. Exactly how does ACT On Campus do anything like this? You may see it as important in the sense that you find it a really engaging and worthwhile organisation, but VUWSA is far more important in the sense that it exists to serve students, regardless of political or other persuasion. More people find VUWSA useful than ACT On Campus. If one were to hedge a bet to which one was more important, it’d be the former.

    Even if (ridiculously hypothetically) we were, by default, drafted into ACT On Campus, I would exercise my freedom to leave. And one should be able to do so with VUWSA. But if we were to have VSM, then people would stick to the default option (non-membership), whether or not VUWSA’s action/inaction warranted such.

    Have a look at this:

  50. Alpha says:

    *But if we were to have VSM, then people would (by and large) stick to the default option (non-membership), whether or not VUWSA’s action/inaction warranted such.

  51. Hey.

    Hey everyone.


  52. Armstrong says:

    They taught apostrophes and this and that in the third grade or whatever. I didn’t like using them and Ms Jennings got well vexed, man.

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