Thursday, 26 November 2009
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2009
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have contributed to this debate on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2009 for the second time within a matter of months within this House. Particularly I would like to acknowledge the contributions from this side of the House, which recognised that this is an incredibly important bill because it goes to protecting our universities and ensuring that they remain world-class institutions which are capable of delivering services and enabling representation of our students but which also are capable of attracting overseas students, something that we know is incredibly important.
We have had a number of speakers talk about the importance of this bill, but we have also seen that, whilst there is a rational and common-sense approach on this side of the House, it stands in stark contrast to some of the views and contributions of those opposite, who persist in arguing debates of the past along ideological fault lines which are long past. During this debate we have once again heard a barrage of ridiculous arguments against this bill which have absolutely no foundation in fact.
The conservative cheer squad come out in force at the mere mention of the term ‘student union’, let alone ‘student services’ or ‘looking after young people on campus’. They egg each other on as they cling onto their outdated debates of the past. Sitting up the front here we have the member for Indi who was on her feet the other night spruiking like we were in the middle of a war, mentioning gems like ‘standing up for freedom’ and spouting conspiracy theories galore about student media, propaganda and those alleged militant student unions. My favourite of this debate was actually the member for O’Connor. Once again the member for O’Connor has made a fine contribution to this chamber’s debate when he made some particularly insightful remarks criticising students for engaging in frivolous activities like, ‘Going off to counselling,’—frivolous to be sure. He also does not mind money going to, ‘The Woop Woop rowing club.’ Yes, indeed, member for O’Connor, we understand that.
In contrast this government is determined to deliver upon our election commitment to rebuild essential student services and amenities on university campuses. We made this commitment because, unlike those opposite, we understand the critical importance of ensuring that students have access to these vital services. We made this commitment because, unlike those opposite, we know that the previous government’s extreme and ideologically driven voluntary student unionism legislation is having a devastating impact on both our students and on our higher education sector. This government does not intend to return to the past. We are proposing in this bill a balanced, practical approach to funding campus services and amenities. It is not about returning to a system of compulsory student unionism. In fact we have not changed the clause in the act from the previous government’s legislation which prohibits a provider from requiring a student to be a member of a student organisation. We have left that entirely unchanged.
I could once more go through the piles and piles of evidence of the devastation that has occurred on our campuses since the previous government’s legislation. We have one university reporting an 83 per cent drop in the use of advocacy services. When it comes to sporting membership fees, we heard how the University of Sydney had increased their fees by 550 per cent. We heard at Townsville university of fees being increased by 800 per cent. This is causing a massive drop in the participation numbers of people playing sport.
That was a good one. It is so lovely when we can relive our finest moments together over and over again in this chamber, which is a little bit of what we are doing in this debate. We are very pleased to once more be having this discussion because we know this is vital legislation. We know that our higher education sector is reliant upon us passing this legislation. I would also like to note that, since the last time we had this discussion in the chamber, the National Party have changed their position and at their national conference advocated that they support the introduction of a fee for students in order to deliver these vital services on campus. Once again we call on the National Party not to just talk the talk when they are out in their communities but, when they have the chance, to stand up and deliver for their constituents and to vote accordingly in this House. I urge all members to support this bill.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
On indulgence: I am compelled to speak on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2009, because it is a broken promise. We had the former shadow minister for education just five months before the last election say in black and white that he was not considering a compulsory HECS style arrangement, that he was not contemplating a compulsory amenities fee. But what did we see in February 2008, just a few months after the Labor Party were elected to government? The Labor Party did what we knew they were always going to do: they set up a so-called ‘review’—a pretext to reintroduce compulsory student unionism by the backdoor. They wanted to say to tertiary students: ‘Do you know what? You’re adults. We think you’re smart enough to vote but you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, to decide which organisations to join and how to spend your money.’ Students know that, particularly those 130,000 external students who have no choice and very little opportunity to use the so-called services on campus. This is an attempt to breathe life back into unrepresentative, unaccountable student organisations.
We on this side of the House have nothing against any club or any association. If you think you are good enough and worthy enough of membership, make the argument for people to join you. Do not expect automatic membership and some sort of free ride. The government say that this bill is about freedom—the freedom of young adults to decide how to use their money—and that it is about accountability. We on this side of the House will continue to oppose these nefarious measures to bring back compulsory student unionism that uses compulsorily acquired funds to operate and to pay for the activities that they cannot convince the students are worthwhile. This legislation gives students no choice. It is a disgrace; it is a broken promise. We will continue to oppose these measures.