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Union slams ‘dishonest’ NUS textbook campaign

Eden Faithfull reports.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has slammed an anti-tariff campaign run by the National Union of Students (NUS) aimed at lowering the price of textbooks as “at best naive and at worst dishonest” in a fiery rebuke against the embattled organisation.

The national campaign that advocates the repeal of tariffs on textbooks sold in Australia – known as parallel import restrictions (PIRs) – has been spearheaded by the NUS since it adopted it as policy at its national conference in December.

Speaking to Honi Soit, AMWU campaign officer Joe McKenzie said the campaign was misguided and the repeal of PIRs would put Australian jobs at risk.

“Simply put, PIRs are not the reason textbooks are expensive,” he said.

“Not only would the repeal of PIRs devastate the Australian book industry, costing hundreds of jobs, the international evidence suggests that it would actually increase the price of textbooks.”

It’s been a difficult start to the year for NUS. In March, the organisation’s general secretary sought legal advice over the removal of president Sinéad Colee following a factional stoush.

NUS national welfare officer, Robby Magyar, defended the textbook campaign, saying it had already struck a chord with students.

“I have travelled the length and breadth of this country running the Fight for a Fair Price #CheaperTextbooksNow campaign, and have not only gained over 6,000 signatures, but have heard countless stories of how textbook prices are impacting students,” he said.

Magyar attributed NUS’s adoption of the position against PIRs to a 2009 report from the Productivity Commission that found the inflationary pressures produced by PIRs are the chief cause of high textbook prices.

The report further recommended the tariff be abolished.

“Removing PIRs will allow competition into the market, which will drive prices down, making the information contained in textbooks financially accessible for all students,” said Magyar.

Magyar rebuffed the claim that abolishing PIRs would lead to job losses, saying McKenzie’s argument “[defied] common sense”.

McKenzie said the AMWU nonetheless remained disenchanted with the NUS campaign.

“We would rather NUS office bearers spent their energy fighting the Turnbull government’s plans for tertiary education than each other,” he said. “We look forward to engaging constructively with NUS on the issues that actually matter.”