News //

Education Minister threatens to penalise ‘political’ student unions

NUS President Zoe Ranganathan said that Tudge’s comments “show that the Minister won’t prioritise students over his own ideology.”

The Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge is considering ways to block student unions that “impede free speech” from collecting SSAF money, and has floated the imposition of a “free-speech code” on student unions. 

Tudge told The Australian that “I am going to look more carefully at how we prevent compulsory [sic] acquired student fees being used in an overtly political manner.”

The comments come after the Australian National University Students Association (ANUSA) barred the Australian Defence Force and pro-life groups from holding stalls at ANU’s ‘Market Day.’ 

National Union of Students (NUS) President Zoe Ranganathan told Honi that Tudge’s comments “show that the Minister won’t prioritise students over his own ideology.”

“Student unions are democratically elected in order to be a representation of the student body — and they have a mandate to do as they see fit to ensure the safety and welfare of those who have elected them.”

“This overreach is an irresponsible misallocation of resources during the biggest cuts to higher education in Australia’s history.”

University of Sydney Union President Prudence Wilkins-Wheat told Honi that “funding should not be contingent on the union’s alignment with the Federal Government’s political agenda.”

Swapnik Sanagavarapu, President of the USyd SRC, said “the Minister’s comments show how shallow his alleged commitment to free speech is. Student unions should be able to freely reflect the preferences of their members without undue influence or imposition from the government.”

Recent acts of ‘political interference’ within student unions have been arguably targeted more at left-wing groups than conservative organisations.

Three weeks ago, the University of Queensland Labor Left club was disaffiliated by a majority-Liberal committee on questionable procedural grounds over $24 in missing membership fees. A spokesperson for UQ Labor Left told Honi they believe they were denied procedural fairness and that their disaffiliation was “politically motivated.”

Last year, the Adelaide University Union refused to endorse a pro-choice club, despite granting funding to a pro-life club the year before.

In 2019, the AUU also rejected an application for affiliation from the University of Adelaide Women’s Collective on the grounds that “women are already represented enough by other clubs [such as] Women in STEM and Women in Space…their proposed activities such as advocacy/activism…[are] not unique or necessary.”

Tudge’s calls for a freedom of speech code for student unions echoes recent legislation in the UK under which student bodies may face fines and compensation claims if speakers or organisations are ‘no-platformed,’ with a ‘free speech champion’ to investigate and police instances in which free speech is perceived to be derogated.