Thursday, 18 November 2010
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010
I was alluding to a recent profile piece that had reflected on former close political colleagues of the member for Melbourne who said that, at university, he was a well-known Trotskyist. I think it is important to always reflect on the full political experience of members in this House and to understand truly where their passions lie, to see and appreciate their political progression and development, and I was doing nothing other than that. We have in front of us a bill that will not only force students to pay for political activities which they, in all likelihood, will not agree with but also fund services that can be and have been provided by the private sector, such as food and beverage services. I remember from my time at university—it was always a joke—you would not go to the caff if you could avoid it. We all know that centrally provided, subsidised services do not provide the best sort of services for consumers, and students are consumers.
Other services have been outlined that have been pointed to as having suffered under voluntary student unionism. If a service is not going to be used by students and it is not needed and it is duplication, why do you believe that it should be funded? It should not be funded. Student life and university life is not static; it is dynamic. The needs and concerns of students change from generation to generation. Using compulsorily acquired student funds to entrench certain services is just an expensive way of maintaining certain jobs at university and certain structures, which is not necessarily catering to the needs and demands of students.
This legislation is also a concern because there is no monitoring or policing of the way in which funds are spent. We do not know whether there is compliance with the guidelines, but let us look at the political reality. In any case, can anyone honestly believe that a Labor minister—the relevant Labor minister at the time—would hold a Labor student union president to account if they had not spent the compulsorily acquired funds accordingly? I do not think that would be the case. They cannot even hold their own ministers to account. We just have to look at the New South Wales Labor Party and other state Labor parties in government to see the lack of accountability. But I should not go too much into detail on that because I will keep the House until dinner time tomorrow night and I will still only be halfway through.
The problem with a lack of reporting and a lack of accountability is only compounded by the fact that this is in fact a broken promise. This does disadvantage students who do not have ready access to funds, who do have to work hard to put themselves through university. Why should they be forced to incur an additional financial burden just because some people have this ideological position that student unions are great and students should be involved in all these activities and, ‘Isn’t it a wonderful life they can have on campus.’ Some people do not want that and you should not force it down their throats. It is probably a promise, it is probably part of the deal making that is all part and parcel of the Labor Party and perhaps it was one of those things that were part of the secret deal that sealed the Labor-Greens alliance. Perhaps one day we will know. What we do know is that it is unfair, it is inequitable and it is an insult to adult students to say to them: ‘We know what is best for you. We know how best to spend your money. We deem these sporting clubs appropriate to be supported.’
Until very recently, before we got voluntary student unionism, I remember that small groups of students would form a club and would benefit significantly financially from compulsory student unionism. They should be able to pursue skiing or football, but they should fund it. They should not expect that other student, who is working 20, 30 or 40 hours a week to put themselves through university, who may not want to or may not have the time to engage in these activities, to fund their social life. Let us face it: young people today are pretty mature, even in their early to mid-teens. I think they know how to run their own social life and their own activities. They do not need the formalised structure of compulsorily funded organisations to live their life and to have fun.
Our belief in voluntary student unionism is about freedom; it is about the freedom to allow students to choose. We do not have the arrogant attitude of thinking that students should live their life on campus in a particular way, that they should believe in certain things. We believe that there should be freedom of inquiry, freedom of movement, freedom of activities—that it is a wonderful time for university students. They have the privilege to engage in tertiary studies. They should have the privilege to pursue whatever other endeavours they choose and they should do it with their own money. They should not be forced and they should not be corralled through compulsory student unionism into a particular sort of support for political activities, sporting activities, social activities or any other commercial activities on campus. If the government were serious about the education revolution, surely the first step would be respect—respect for tertiary students as young adults who can decide what they can do with their own money. I would appeal to those on the other side to stop and think about that very basic fact. If students are smart enough to make their own decision about voting at a federal election then they are smart enough to decide how they can spend their $250.