Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010; Second Reading

5:19 pm

Photo of Sean EdwardsSean Edwards (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Well, there were 59 per cent of them—and polls, as we know, do have some relevance in this place.

Clearly, the overwhelming majority of Australian students do not want to pay student fees. Why won't the government listen to the majority of students, who do not want to pay compulsory fees, rather than the vocal minority of Labor and Greens student activists?

In a letter from Jack Batty, the President of Liberals on Campus, Adelaide, I received a message that they too oppose this bill. They, unlike what is being proposed, have voluntary entry. They stand for a principle and look to attract people in the battle of ideas and ideals. That is how they seek their membership. Senator Birmingham has already spoken of this letter, but I think it is important to reiterate it. It is important that the voice of an actual representative student body is heard in the debate in this place. They do not want compulsory unionism. They said:

Liberals on Campus has serious concerns about how this money will be spent. Services provided by student unions are largely superfluous and open to political abuse. This bill provides little by way of enforcement mechanisms to prevent the misuse of our money.

'Superfluous and open to political abuse'—the system proposed in this bill is open to political abuse and lacks real enforcement mechanisms. While the bill prohibits universities or any third parties that might receive money from spending it in support of political parties or political candidates, there is nothing to prevent that money being spent on political campaigns, political causes or quasi-political organisations per se, whether or not students whose money is being spent agree with those causes or purposes. This is what we on this side of the chamber are concerned about.

Even though the bill may prohibit direct support for political parties and candidates, how will this be policed and enforced? Neither the bill nor the guidelines provide any credible enforcement or sanction mechanism. It is all very well for the government to maintain that this bill is about student services and amenities. That is what the title of the bill might state, but its thrust is more about Labor, backed by the Greens, empowering student union power brokers to indulge in their pet political campaigns. Student unions have been a fertile training ground for Labor and the Greens, but at the expense of students who are at university to study for their degrees. The money from their fees should not be diverted to Left frolics that are of no concern to them. If the Lefties want to protest then they should pay for it themselves, not siphon off the money contributed in student fees to finance their activities.

This is desperate legislation from Labor in a sad attempt to restore their flagging fortunes. Like the carbon tax, this student services and amenities bill is another broken pre-election promise by Labor not to do any such thing. The broken promises of the 2010 election ring in this chamber all the time. Either the new paradigm is being used as an excuse to trash Labor's own promises, or the Greens' tail has control of the Labor dog—and the wider electorate can see it wagging to the detriment of good public policy.

Labor has had a long history of grooming its young activists by supporting them to gain key positions in student unions—although in South Australia both the Greens and the Australian Democrats have also used this technique to their own advantage. So many senators, and members in the other place, started their political careers by learning how to do the numbers in a student union before graduating to the trade unions or becoming staffers and then moving on to a federal career. Natasha Stott Despoja, our very own Sarah Hanson-Young in this chamber, and Kate Ellis in the other place are just three student union activists who come to mind as having built their political careers through their student union activities.


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