Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010; In Committee

12:34 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) Share this | Hansard source

I remind the Senate that, on the last occasion, many questions such as this were canvassed before the Senate. I think the provisions in the clause about the health and welfare of students are fairly obvious as read. The suggestions put forward by the coalition about carbon tax and Work Choices are perhaps among some of their wilder claims about what this bill will do, such as force students into student organisations.

I take this opportunity to thank the senators who have made a contribution during this debate. The bill before the Senate amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to bring to an end to the damage that has been done to student services and amenities on university campuses. The bill is an important step in rebuilding key student services while retaining the government's commitment not to return—I stress that—to compulsory student unionism. The bill allows higher education providers to choose to charge a compulsory student services and amenities fee of up to $263 for 2012. Fees will be collected by higher education providers and the providers will be accountable for fee revenue. Contrary to some of the wilder claims that have been made by senators opposite, no student will be required to join a student organisation as a consequence of this bill, and the provisions in the clause that Senator Mason just referred to are pretty clear on accountability for fee revenue and its collection by higher education providers.

We heard from 17 coalition senators during the second reading stage of the bill. Further to that, six coalition senators have continued to make points during the committee stage. Some of those points have been valid; some have been wilder extensions seeking to make ideological points during the discussion. It is becoming increasingly clear that the coalition's intent is to frustrate and delay consideration of this bill. On each occasion this bill has been before the Senate, we have seen from the coalition its obstructionism aimed at delay. I hope that will not be the occasion this morning. This is not just a theoretical or ideological argument; universities will need time to get systems in place to introduce a fee in time for the 2012 academic year. They will need time to properly consult their student bodies on the proposed uses of the fee. To allow this to occur in a timely way, in a way that is consistent with the policy that the government has outlined and which the universities have relied on and supported, it is important that we bring this debate to a vote. The government's view is that students are entitled to better services when they start university next year.

Over the last fortnight the particular area of student services that was stressed to me was mental health support and counselling and the opportunity to get better support in place for the next student year. After years of ideological opposition by the Liberal Party, it is urgent that this bill be passed. I remind the chamber that on the last occasion that this was before the Senate we had eight hours and 23 minutes of debate on the second reading, including 23 speakers, and a committee discussion of seven speakers.


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