Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010; Second Reading
Senator Feeney, we are all about having a fair taxation system, not one that looks back at the past and tries to solve the problems for the future.
Under this bill, Australian students will be forced to pay $250 per year regardless of their ability to pay or their ability or willingness to use the services that these fees will be financing. Over a standard three-year degree, this equates to $750—a large sum of money for a student, which could be better spent by the students themselves on course materials, textbooks and transport to and from university.
In total, this tax will amount to $250 million. It is essentially a new tax on students, who are already struggling under tough economic conditions, having to pay for textbooks, course materials, transport, food, accommodation and so on. Also lurking in there, if the Labor Party and the Greens have their way, is the carbon tax. So all this while paying for course materials and living off two-minute noodles and cereal. Having to fork out another $250 seems somewhat bizarre. This is another broken promise by the Labor Party, which said before the 2007 election that it would not reintroduce compulsory student fees—another policy backflip. This is just another way for Labor to force up the cost of living for Australians.
University life is no longer what it was back in the seventies. Students no longer have the time, inclination or opportunity to use the services provided. So under the guise of a student amenities fee, all students will be helping to fund student services that only a few may use and some of it will be used to support budding student politicians.
Many students now study part time while working full time and study full time while working part time. Students can also study externally or online. There are many different ways to study. Students today go to university to get a degree to improve their skills and qualifications to improve their job prospects. Students do not have time to lounge around on campus like they had in the past. They have jobs to go to and, for mature-age students, quite often families to look after. I declare an interest here. My wife is studying commerce part time at Adelaide university and works full time. While she is looking after the children and me part time there is not a lot of time to get active in a student union movement. My daughter, also at Adelaide university, is following in her father's footsteps and studying a degree in wine marketing, all this while working part time. They are just not interested in joining a student union.
We have moved on, though Labor appears to be stuck. Students today want choice. They do not want to be forced to pay for services they do not want and did not ask for. They want the choice to spend their hard-earned money as they see fit. Freedom of association, including freedom not to join an association, remains one of the core beliefs of the coalition. We allow workers to exercise freedom in the workforce. You no longer have to belong to a union and, as such, workforce union participation is down to 18 per cent around Australia. Australians have moved on from compulsion and we should continue to allow Australian students to do so.
We must not forget that for many young students gaining a tertiary education is a delicate balancing act. I know many students who study full time and work long hours in order to support themselves. They work in supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, cafes and service stations. They are working hard to gain a tertiary qualification, something which we have been encouraging young Australians to do for many years. So instead of penalising them we should give them a choice.
There are 130,000 students who study externally. They will never have an opportunity to use the services Labor are going to force them to pay for. And the services that are offered are often better delivered by other businesses. In Adelaide, two of our three biggest university campuses are located in the city. Why would students want to use the services offered at the university when there is such a wide range of choice offered by businesses in the local vicinity? The cafes, shops and eateries offer a greater range of foods which are usually higher quality at lower prices. Who would want to eat some week-old, stale sandwich at the uni cafe when you can get something freshly made just across the road? Similarly, printing services like copying and binding can be done cheaper at other commercial premises and the services look professionally done.
In providing services and amenities, one example in the past has been child care, yet most uni students are young. The main beneficiary of childcare services are older, mature-age students—yet another instance of young students just out of school not benefitting from a service but subsidising it for a minority with more clout on campus.
Let's look at what Adelaide University Union membership currently gets you. There are discounts for eating out—10 per cent off at a flash restaurant that also serves gelati—