House debates

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009

Second Reading

8:00 pm

Photo of Mike SymonMike Symon (Deakin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

We will get to the National Party a bit later. Some Liberals spoke out against it. One was quite close to my home base. In fact, it was the member for Warrandyte, the Deputy Leader of the Victorian Liberals, Phil Honeywood. Mr Honeywood knew the legislative ambitions of the former education minister, the member for Bradfield, and his government would be the end of student services and vibrant school communities in our universities. In fact, in an open letter to his fellow Liberals in the pages of the Melbourne Age, Mr Honeywood wrote:

There is a very real danger, however, that our universities and TAFE institutes stand to lose a great deal more than just revenue if the legislation now before Federal Parliament is enacted.

And, getting back to the Nationals, the now leader of the Nationals in the other place knew it too. Senator Joyce knew that families from rural and regional areas were greatly disadvantaged by the removal of student services on campus. That is why he proclaimed he would tell the then education minister to ‘stick VSU up his jumper’.

In selling the legislation to the Australian people, and to university communities in particular, the Howard government used a series of user pays examples. These examples generally involved a hardworking university student who was aggrieved at paying a general service fee that would in turn support the university abseiling, rowing or even a toga club. This was unfair to the many students who depended on the provision of support services at their university campus.

The reintroduction and strengthening of the provision of services is important to university campuses, but student social activities, sporting organisations, sporting facilities, groups and clubs, and communications media are just as important. As an example, I draw the House’s attention to the Student Youth Network radio station—also known as SYN FM—which was granted a community radio licence in 2001. The station serves a diverse cross-section of young people and students across metropolitan Melbourne and could not have commenced broadcasting without the support of student unions.

The station received $500,000 in start-up funding from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology student union and $175,000 of recurrent funding plus in-kind support, which represented around 25 per cent of the cost of running the station. La Trobe, Deakin and Melbourne university student unions also provided recurrent funds to ensure their students could access airtime on the station. Following the introduction of the VSU legislation, these student unions were no longer able to contribute financially to this service nor were they able to guarantee access to this service for their students.

Students utilising SYN would often augment their studies in media, journalism, and communications by working shifts and compiling programs for broadcast on the station. SYN has made an outstanding contribution to young people across Melbourne, enabling thousands of students to develop a broad range of skills that improve their employability once they complete their studies. Being involved in an extra-curricular activity such as SYN provides students and young people with communication, research and production skills and, of course, helps develop their self esteem.

The loss of funding from the introduction of the VSU legislation would have significantly impacted on the operation of SYN, if the RMIT had not stepped in to provide some support to the station. However, this arrangement is now a year-to-year contract, which is often—and particularly now—in jeopardy due to the financial constraints faced by the university. Rather than focusing on assisting students in broadening their education in broadcast media, SYN management now need to devote time to sourcing funding—a problem also experienced by many community radio stations.

The work of SYN FM has been documented by Ellie Rennie, a Swinburne Research Fellow, who found that SYN is making a significant contribution to advancing digital literacy. Ms Rennie found that over 5,000 young people had been members of SYN in only a few years of broadcasting, with even higher numbers if short half-day trainee school groups or term-long radio announcers are also included; and that between 2003 and 2006 over 80 members of SYN found media and media-related paid work. Ms Rennie also found that volunteer meetings regularly attract in excess of 70 people, and SYN’s internal online discussion forum receives an average of 20 posts a day, with 50 individuals logging in over the course of a week. This forum covers work related activities, as well as broader issues in media and society.

In 2006 the radio station, according to McNair Research, had an audience of 124,000 weekly listeners, and their daily television program was, at times, attracting up to 30,000 viewers. The majority of SYN members are under the age of 21. SYN functions as a media workplace and training ground for young people with disciplines, schedules, and technical demands—as you would expect in a production environment. SYN is not just a radio station or a radio station supported by student unions but a creative outlet and important incubator of skills for its many volunteers. The support of student organisations such as SYN is vital to the enrichment of the social and learning fabric of our universities.

This bill assists universities in turning around the years of neglect under the Howard government. This important funding will help universities rebuild campus facilities, including student amenities like child care. These are the same childcare services this bill will help universities staff, equip, and encourage students to use. With the passage of this bill, the Rudd government will right a significant wrong that was done under the Howard government. We will restore the sense of community to Australian universities. The Rudd government will encourage the re-emergence of student services, and we will support and encourage the tertiary sector through this measure and, of course, through the many other measures already passed through this parliament. I commend this bill to the House.


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