UMSU’s 2015 budget has passed Students’ Council, including a controversial cut to payments to the National Union of Students.
The budget, drawn up by new UMSU president Rachel Withers and her independent More Activities! grouping, passed following heated debate over the readjusted NUS allocation.
The National Union of Students is the peak body for Australian students and student unions.
Withers was elected last year on a platform of increasing funding to clubs, entertainment and volunteering programs at the university. While the NUS did not emerge as an explicit issue during the 2014 UMSU elections, her grouping has a history of scepticism towards various approaches from the NUS. The budget included a cut to the UMSU-NUS allocation from $106,000 to $55,500. Withers argued that budgetary constraints played a part, as well as her desire to increase funding to other programs.
The budget also included a new $22,500 contingency fund. The fund was suggested by UMSU General Manager Justin Baré, following a series of serious miscalculations by UMSU’s accounting support and corporate services firm, MUSUL.
The budget motion also required that the NUS release a number of governing and financial documents, and explain what its goals were on autonomous issues, before receiving its allocation.
A motion moved by Students’ Councillor Ezgi Bridger and seconded by UMSU Welfare Officer James Bashford sought to have $14,000 moved from that fund to the NUS allocation. It also sought to increase the budget for UMSU’s department at the Victorian College of the Arts budget by $3,000.
Members of the NLS (Labor Left), Student Unity (Labor Right) and Socialist Alternative groupings supported Bridger’s amendment. Members of More Activities!, Grassroots Left, ShortCons (also Labor Right) and a number of additional councillors not aligned to national groupings opposed the amendment.
Those in support of the amendment argued that the NUS needed more funding to be able to fight for students’ rights, as well as expressing doubt around the need for a contingency fund and its governance. Those against argued that the contingency money was needed, as well as expressing scepticism in the NUS, particularly its treatment of Indigenous issues.
The budget passed, without Bridger’s amendment, in the last minute of council before quorum was lost.