Last Wednesday was Cultural Clubs Day. You may have seen me hovering around with a camcorder, capturing the spirit of the day. Everyone I spoke to was upbeat and full of enthusiasm for the year ahead. A good day was had by all.
I also took the opportunity to meet all the clubs on campus, particularly the branches of the political parties. As student president, I believe it is important that I am not only politically neutral, but that I have a good working relationship with each of the parties on campus. National, Labour, the Greens, United Future, ACT, Campus Left (formerly the Alliance) and the Libertarianz were all out in force at clubs day – Victoria was living up to its reputation as the most political campus in the country.
In case you have had your head stuck in the sand for the last few months, there is a general election this year. Many of the parties will be vying for the student vote with “an offer you can’t refuse”.
Labour will be trying to do what they have never done before – serve three consecutive terms in Government. On current polling, it would be understandable to assume that this election is really theirs for the losing; however, there is a long time until polling day. Almost as soon as Labour came to office, they froze tuition fees and removed interest on student loans while studying, and last year’s budget saw an increase in the parental threshold of allowances. However, student debt has continued to rise under Labour, by about a $1 billion a year; in 2003 the fee freeze was replaced with a fee maxima, which saw fees at Victoria rise by 3% and 4.5% in 2004 and 2005 respectively; and in 2005 Labour abolished the 96-week, independent circumstances rule, cutting some 6,000 students off the student allowance. According to Tertiary Education Minister Trevor Mallard there won’t be any great changes for students before the election.
After six years in opposition, National will be chomping at the bit to get back into power. They will have learned their lesson from the 2002 21% trouncing, and will be back in 2005 with a renewed campaign strategy and policy. When 2004 VUWSA President Amanda Hill and I met with National Education Spokesperson Bill English last year, he said that they would not be using the “You Stay, We Pay” policy of 2002, and instead will be focusing on the living costs of students. Earlier this year, English said that National would be re-introducing the 96-week rule, to “encourage students to be independent”.
The Greens are the most likely coalition partners for Labour after the election (should the numbers add up), but on current polling won’t even be back in Parliament (unless they were to win an electorate, which is unlikely). They are one of the only parties in Parliament who are proclaiming free tertiary education as a policy point. The Greens have positioned themselves as a party for youth, with Nandor Tanczos as their Tertiary Education spokesperson – hate to break it to you kids, but Nandor turns 40 next year, and he stood me up last Monday.
United Future rode into Parliament on the back of the worm in 2002, giving lone ranger leader Peter Dunne some friends in the house. On Tuesday, they released a ten-point plan for tertiary education, including increased access to allowances, accommodation support and a voluntary saving scheme. There is also provision for students (and former students) who wish to start a family. Dunne claims that all the good things Labour have done for students are due to pressure from United Future (who have a confidence and supply agreement with the government) – naturally, Mallard refuted this when I brought it up with him.
ACT are proclaiming that the best way for students to pay off their student debt is through tax cuts (actually, almost all of their policies come back to tax cuts), and bonding for students who stay in New Zealand. There will be significant encouragement of high achievers through bursaries and scholarships. ACT will be keen to become the first minor party to successfully change leaders, although they would need an electorate seat to stay by which to stay in Parliament.
The Progressives will be lucky to get two seats after the election, and are almost guaranteed to go into coalition with Labour. They also proclaim free tertiary education, but, at NZUSA’s January conference, Jim Anderton also stated that 72% tax rate would not be out of the question – even my most socialist tendencies had to baulk at that one.
The only mention of Tertiary Education on the Maori Party’s website is in regards to Te Wananga o Aotearoa.
So, who’s going to win? Who’s going to be in Government? Who’s going to disappear? Who should you vote for? The “best” party for students? The “best” party for New Zealand? That’s up to you, but make sure your vote is an educated decision, and you take everything into consideration, not just the tertiary education policy.
But, most importantly, make sure you enroll and vote.