Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University of Wellington Students Association. Vol 40 No. 11. May 23 1977
May in Dunedin
May in Dunedin
It was good to get back to Dunedin. Such a beautiful city — especially in autumn. Although most of the students had pissed off for the holidays, the Otago University setting was ideal for what turned out to be a very mixed NZUSA Council.
A word of explanation. Councils, two of which are held each year, are the highest authority of NZUSA where all policy is mulled over and finally decided upon.
Councils usually start amicably enough; chief delegates sitting around the ring of tables exchanging pleasantries, their delegations huddled behind them ready to rise in defence when necessary.
After bumbling through meeting procedure and an abortive attempt to discuss arrangements with the media, the reports of the National Officers, eight in all, were discussed.
The President, Lisa Sacksen, presented and spoke briefly to a report which rambled through areas both far and wide. When speaking to her report, Ms Sacksen commented on things which were not contained in it. This, I am led to believe, is common practice and in fact, all other officers did likewise. It does, however, demonstrate clearly that the writing of a report cannot achieve more than a brief dealing with the randomly selected activities of the officers concerned.
Although the President in speaking to her report covered the Royal Commission on C.S. & A, Arts Council (perhaps for the last time) and the International Students' Congress, her main thrust was the structure of NZUSA and its relationships with its members.
She described NZUSA as resembling "a pregnant elephant reclining in a deck chair" meaning that the eight person national office was performing tasks at the request of the constituent campuses and councils without having much in the way of a direct link with, what Bruce Gully the Auckland President
Lisa's solution is stronger constituent Associations such as full-time Vice-President as well as Presidents for each Students' Association. Whether this would actually strengthen grass-root participation is doubtful and would probably just transfer the pregnant elephant effect to the campus level. The most progressive trend in this area is that the idea of an "open SRC", similar to that which V.U.W.S. A. has got, is growing in popularity. Auckland have just set up such a structure and one or two other campuses were making noises about an open SRC at Council.
Basically, if you don't have campus democracy, then you don't get campus involvement.
Mike Shaskey, Education Vice-President gave his report — a lengthy but entertaining document which dwelled on the relationship of the NZUSA National Office to its constituent campuses. He placed importance on the solving of the "us and them" problem i.e. the distrust of the National office by the various student associations. Certainly there is evidence of this phenomena; for example the motion from Auckland to decrease the voting power of the National Officers on the National Executive. It was also Auckland who attempted to rap National Office over the knuckles for the resignation of the International Vice-President, Paul Watson. But more on that later.
David Tripe, the General Vice-President gave his report which included a moan about the wide varieties of areas that the GVP is supposed to action. These include student welfare and accommodation, women's rights and national affairs such as energy policy, foreign control of New Zealand and keeping an eye on legislation being passed in Parliament. So far David Tripe has handled these areas reasonably well and apart from women's rights, has provoked little complaint from constituents.
International Vice-President, Paul Watson was the last political officer to give his report. Before he rose to speak to it, Lindy Cassidy, Victoria chief delegate moved that the report be not accepted. The reasons were that the report did not accurately reflect his work since his coming into office at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, several of the other delegations were upset at Vic's brash tactics and a motion was carried that the report be tabled till final Plenary. Throughout the four days, three emergency meetings of the seven constituent presidents were held to discuss the matter and the way it should be handled. The report was eventually received at final plenary, but soon after, Paul Watson resigned.
After an enthralling and lucid report from Peter Franks the NZUSA Research Officer and reports from the Managing Directors of STB, Students Services Moldings Ltd and the Chairperson of NZSAC, Council broke into Commissions to discuss the various remits.
After bashing out policy in the commissions (finance and Administration, International, National, Education, Welfare and Accommodation and Women's) all delegates gather to battle it out for the overall research and action priorities for the Association.
For this year, NZUSA's priorities are:
|2.||Cutbacks in Overseas Students.|
|1.||Overseas Students in New Zealand.|
|5.||Status of Women.|
This is the grand finale of Councils. The entire Council goes through all the policy passed and tosses out motions that somehow slipped through commissions without anybody noticing. These can last anything up to 12 hours at a single sitting being only interrupted by cups of coffee and fish and chips from the shop over the road.
On this particular occasion the final plenary barely lasted 4 hours — an indication that the entire Council had gone very smoothly. Policy was amended, lapsed and adopted no end.
At this stage, AUSA put forward their motion to alter the balance of power of the National Executive. It consisted of raising the voting power of the constituent Presidents to two votes and retaining one vote for each of the four political officers What was the reason for the motion?
Mr Gulley doesn't really think much of the National Officers — or so it seemed. There seems to be this mysterious distrust of anyone or anything that comes from Wellington present in AUSA which infects even the most progressive student politicians up there. The distrust is based on the presumption on the part of AUSA that they could get along quite okay without the burden of the rest of NZUSA.
What Mr Gulley failed to realise in his ploy to attack National Office hegemony was that the National Executive is a management committee for the Association. It is unable to make policy of any sort. That can only be done at Council and SGMs. AUSA's motion eventually failed to find a seconder and lapsed after a small amount of discussion.
It was also at the final plenary that the International Vice-President announced that he was resigning from the position. Next to nothing was said about the affair (yet) and the resignation was received without fuss.page 10
After grinding through the National and Women's Commission remits the fireworks began proper. It seemed as if the resignation of Paul Watson had crystalised the mistrust and antagonism between National office and some of the constituent Presidents. Yet again the AUSA President led the attack by moving:
"That the Education VP, General VP and President be reminded that the National Office should work together co-operatively and when differences arise these should be referred to National Executive."
Speaking to the motion he proceeded to hack the entire National Office to pieces, saying that the axing of the IVP was in his own words "a set up." The only one he did not attack were Peter Franks and the secretarial and accounting staff. He reminded David Tripe (GVP) and Mike Shaskey (EVP) especially that they were "not God's gift to constituents," and accused others of rudeness and making snide remarks about Mr Watson.
On top of all this, he reiterated his time-old threat of pulling out of NZUSA.
The following speakers paled in comparison perhaps lacking the killer instinct which Gulley Seemingly possesses. Speaking for National Office, Lisa Sacksen, Peter MacLeod and Peter Franks defended their actions and pointed out that they were placed in a very difficult position regarding the International Vice President. At this point, Gulley began to fade slightly and placed a large part of his argument on the details of a meeting which had apparently taken place after the Council dinner between the national officers which the IVP had, according to Gulley's sources, not been invited to.
This was a major tactical error on the part of the AUSA President, because Paul Watson had attended the meeting — therefore acquitting the national office of this serious charge. At this stage of the meeting, Peter MacLeod (NZUSA Accountant), being an astute man, launched a counter-attack at Gulley. Obviously, many of the constituent Presidents were getting worried at the prospect of having to vote on the motion.
Gulley then announced that he would rather lapse the motion but then turned around and said that the motion was just a warning to the National Office to behave themselves in future. Sighs of relief echoed round the room, methinks mainly from constituent Presidents, who did not want to commit themselves to the vote.
The affair, although having the positive effect of getting things out in the open, left a slightly nasty taste in everyone's mouth. Although it will give National Office something to think about when they sit at their desks at 32 Blair St, it certainly did nothing to resolve the alienation from the student masses that the National Office must feel.
The "Us and Them" syndrome was bandied around a lot at Council. Certainly there is a healthy tension between the National Office and constituents, but the main point which came out of May Council is that the constituents must elect officers who they have full confidence in and then get behind them 100%. It is unrealistic to suggest that National Office should transmute details of all problems which arise in the course of their work.
In relation to National Office; the campus profile is needed now more than ever. The campaigns NZUSA are waging now are more vital than they ever have been. More than that, they are close to home -fighting the assault on civil liberties and educating New Zealanders about fascism.
In order for the political officers to have good student meetings and get and backing of New Zealand students, campus organisation is essential. This should be a directive to constituents of NZUSA. Democratise decision making in student affairs and above all "Get Organised."
Although there were squabbles, 1977's May Council went smoothly and there was a greater feeling of unity than there normally is in NZUSA Council. Otago University Students' Association organised Council well and our thanks go to them.
One thing we noticed in Dunedin was that everything (almost without exception) is cheaper than here in Wellington. Any student who is finding the going a bit tough financially and who wouldn't mind ripping into a bit of a medical qualification should get their tickets for Dunedin now.
P.S. NZUSA has now got a second research officer after a decision by the National Executive. He is David MacPherson, a New Zealander who has been in Australia for the last few years. He starts his job on May 31.