At the end of March, Togatus broke the news the Tasmania University Union (TUU) commissioned a review into its internal workings, which returned a scathing result. The $120,000 review ultimately concluded that the union is increasingly irrelevant to students. Further criticisms include a lack of transparency, and that their internal structure is “very cumbersome and inefficient”, even questioning the mandate of elected representatives off the back of low voter turnout.
To many UTas students, this is not news. Such accusations have been thrown at the TUU for years now, usually due to the way the union represents students to the greater public.
2017 produced two controversial TUU policies, which students only learned of through media coverage. The first was the announcement the TUU supported the reduction of penalty rates; a move broadly seen as contrary to university student values, especially as those very students would be disproportionately affected by the cuts.
Second was the TUU’s public support of the Turnbull Government’s policy to repeal section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act. TUU President, Clark Cooley, cited a case regarding Queensland University of Technology students in a press release entitled “Students Back Changes To Racial Discrimination Act”. The decision spawned a change.org petition from the UTas students who didn’t actually support these changes, which garnered 525 signatures. The issue made it to The Mercury and The Examiner.
Back in 2015, a petition by the UTas Women’s Collective calling for the resignation of James Ritchie from the role of TUU Women’s Officer managed 1054 signatures. Ultimately, it succeeded in Ritchie’s resignation from the role, despite the former Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks saying the appointment of a man to the Women’s Officer role was “potentially really exciting”.
Against this backdrop, it is perhaps no surprise that the review concluded, “At all levels, TUU’s communication with the student body is ineffective and seen as a serious problem.”
Despite these recent controversial calls, the review detailed an even bigger problem plaguing the union: a lot of the people it claims to represent not only don’t know who they are and what they’re supposed to do, but actively don’t care.
The authors of the review note elections are ignored by students and that the organisation appears irrelevant to distance and mature age students. Given only 3.9 per cent of UTas’ 35,328 students voted in the last election, this rings true. Over a thousand signatures on an online petition may sound like a lot, but it’s a tiny fraction of the possible engagement.
In a twisted way, have students brought this upon themselves? What’s the incentive to be transparent and informative when people just don’t care? Chances are, very few students will care much about this report either, effectively letting the status quo remain. In a few months time, it may well die down to nothing.
But it’s a chicken-or-the-egg debate. Maybe students became so disillusioned with the bureaucratic processes and questionable policy moves of the TUU that they began to block it out completely.
Either way, the solution is simple; start giving a damn about the TUU.
Easier said than done for many, but if more students become invested in the movements and actions of their union, there’s more pressure on the organisation to be effective, representative, and actually enact even some of the report’s recommendations.
Until such time, there is every likelihood this review will have no impact. That’s both $120,000 down the drain, and more importantly, a union free of anyone to hold them to account. As the review has shown, that’s a scenario that does nobody any favours.