Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


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

12:38 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and Fair Competition) Share this | Hansard source

I have some questions for the parliamentary secretary, but before that I will address some of the points she just raised. The parliamentary secretary claimed that there are accountability measures in this bill. That is not a claim that is backed up with any evidence. It is not a claim that has been demonstrated. The truth is that students will not be able to withdraw their funding from the services nor the organisations that the government or the university are levying this fee for and which the university determines to pass this fee onto. The mere repetition of slogans about accountability, the repetition that this is somehow about student services, does not actually make it so. The government has failed to demonstrate this, and that is one of the reasons this debate has gone on. There have been many questions from coalition senators, led by Senator Mason, precisely because the government has failed to answer very basic questions about this legislation.

The government has not explained how this accountability is meant to take place. How on earth is a student going to make the university accountable? They may be a part-time or off-campus student who is not able to access the services that the university chooses to levy the fee for, whether that be the ski lodge at Mount Buller which I have been heckled occasionally for raising—it is an extreme example—whether it be the cafeteria that is closed when they come onto campus at night, or whether it be the sports facilities that are closed when this student is on campus. The truth is that without the ability to withdraw the funding, without the ability to choose the way you spend your money, that accountability does not exist at the student level. The student cannot withdraw the funding from the university or simply tick a box and say, 'I don't wish to fund those particular services because I can't access them.'

You may not agree with the ideological or philosophical commitment that we on this side have to a user-pays system, the commitment to the fact that we should not be taking money from people based upon a poll tax so that regardless of your ability to pay, regardless of your means, you should be forced to pay for these services equally. We do not levy any other tax in society on that basis, yet the only argument we hear from the government is that somehow these services are so important.

The other question that we have not had answered is about the example we just heard from the parliamentary secretary of mental health. How is this not a responsibility shared by society at large? We do not levy any other group of people involved in a particular activity with a poll tax to say, 'We are going to fund these services for you.' If the government is serious about addressing mental health—and the opposition would welcome the government being serious about this—then why on earth are students not able to access the mental health services that everyone else in the community should be able to access as well?


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