Words by Martin Ditmann
An international-focused student group claiming to be Australia’s peak student body has been labelled fake by universities and government officials.
The Australian Student Association (ASA) has claimed it is “the national representative body for the Australian Student Community”, and has said it is “determined and prepared to play the vital role as the peak representative body”.
But the NSW government has condemned the ASA. “It is not supported or recognised by the NSW government, education providers, industry peak bodies, or international student organisations,” NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said. They have also condemned the ASA’s leader, known as Master Shang.
In a heated press release, senior ASA figure Sun Shuyang rejected these condemnations—accusing Stoner of supporting Pauline Hanson and “anti-Chinese” campaigns.
The ASA offers students a SAFETYCard program, which has caused further dispute.
It has claimed the SAFETYCard gives students better protection including police services. The association now claims to be working to increase the reach of the card and says it is police-backed.
However, some key police figures have rejected this claim.
A NSW Police document states that the SAFETYCard “does not deliver any immediate additional benefits for international students when dealing with NSW Police,” reads a NSW Police document.
The ASA has defended itself, claiming that the way student safety is conducted in Australia currently breaches human rights law.
The ASA has attracted past allegations of being aggressive and controversial, including allegedly bullying investigators from University of Technology Sydney’s (UTS) student magazine Vertigo.
When Farrago contacted the ASA, we too faced a barrage of aggressive questioning. The ASA constantly questioned our intentions and asked why we were running this story.
The ASA has a rough history with student groups. It began in 1986 as the National Liaison Committee (NLC), a peak international student body backed by the National Union of Students (NUS). In 2009, the NUS disaffiliated the NLC, claiming the group had gone rogue.
After a controversial few years, the group now calls itself the ASA. It continues to act under various pseudonyms, such as the Overseas Students Association (OSA) and NLC.
The group’s presence and actions are often unpredictable and veiled. Last year, it surprisingly appeared in the UTS student elections. Andy Zephyr, now UTS student body president, claims that Master Shang spent four hours trying to do a preference deal with him. Zephyr rejected these overtures. However the group proceeded to campaign—without much success.
The ASA now seems to be focusing on increasing its reach—potentially setting the stage for future battles.
The ASA has a weaker presence in Victoria than in New South Wales. Office bearers from the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) claim that the group has been inactive at Melbourne over the past few years.
Rival bodies such as the Australian Federation for International Students (AFIS) are prepared to take action should the ASA attempt to expand in Victoria. This might be done in with direct warnings about the ASA to students.
“AFIS has always tried to stop their behaviour in Victoria—and we are always going to try and stop them,” said Nam-Ho Kim, an AFIS spokesperson.
At present, the ASA has said it would engage in legal proceedings over safety issues and claims made against it.