We came, we spoke, Spence didn’t listen

Last week’s town hall meeting was nothing but a consultation fig leaf, argues Caitlin Doyle-Markwick.

The “Town Hall-style” meeting about fee deregulation organised by Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence and the Senior Executive Group last Monday night was nothing but a public relations stunt.

Spence’s plan, however, flew back in his face. Outside students held a speakout, and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members leafleted against the changes. Inside speaker after speaker came out against fee deregulation. Only a tiny minority, including a Liberal SUPRA councillor and a wealthy member of the alumni, spoke in favour of the changes.

Spence was never interested in true consultation. He was only willing to hold this meeting in the first place because of pressure from the NTEU and Senate members. He tried to limit representation and dissent by making people register to the event. Speakers were pre-chosen and given only 3 minutes to speak (while Spence got 10!).

We came, we spoke, and Spence ticked the consultation box, while continuing to lobby for fee deregulation. Any illusions that Spence was serious about consultation were further smashed when the following day he went to Canberra to continue lobbying Christopher Pyne for deregulation.

Spence has never been interested in consultation. Where was the “consultation” when Spence joined the other Go8 VCs and started lobbying the government to uncap fees four years ago? What about when he tried to cut courses and fire 340 staff in 2012? Or when he decided to fire 156 library staff and do away with thousands of books and study spaces? Spence cares only about further corporatising our university and raking in ever bigger profits from student fees. What Abbott does in parliament, Spence does on campus.

But the government is on the back foot and feeling the pressure from below. The only reason Pyne is negotiating to drop the HECS increases is as a bargaining chip to try and get deregulation through – but he’s having a hard time of it, resorting to threats of making cuts to research funding instead.

An escalating fightback, which combines student struggle with union power, has the power to beat the budget now. It was the Your Rights at Work campaign that stopped Howard. It was a staff and student campaign in 2012 that stopped job cuts at Sydney Uni. We can do it again.

The government’s determination to implement these changes is such that they are willing to virtually destroy the university system until they get their way – it is imperative that we meet this determination in our own fight against the corporatisation of our universities.

But while we continue to fight the government’s changes, we must also remember that Michael Spence is not our ally in defending a good quality, equitable education – he is but the face of this hated government on campus, and must be fought just as hard.

Come along to the next Bust the Budget student meeting- Thursdays 2pm Merewether Seminar Room 7- to discuss where to next in the campaign.

On behalf of Bust the Budget Students.

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