Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Questions without Notice
Voluntary Student Unionism
My question is to Senator Brandis, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Will the minister update the Senate on the government’s implementation of the landmark voluntary student unionism legislation and how it is guaranteeing freedom of association on Australia’s university campuses? Is the minister aware of any alternative views?
I thank Senator Fifield for his question. History will record the decisive role of Senator Fifield, and of the member for Indi, Mrs Mirabella, and the member for Casey, Mr Smith, along with many in this chamber, including Senator Abetz and Senator Mason among others, in freeing future generations of Australian students from the shackles of compulsory student unionism—one of the great recent battles in the history of freedom in Australia.
When university students across the country began their first semester this week, they did so unburdened by the debts to unrepresentative student unions which past generations had suffered.
They have been liberated from the obscenity of being forced, against their will, to spend their own money funding causes they find disgusting and political organisations they find offensive. Thanks to the likes of Senator Abetz, Senator Fifield, Senator Mason and others, no more 17-year-olds’ pocket money is going into the pockets of the PLO or the southern Iraqi oil workers union or the ragtag terrorist organisations which the Australian Labor Party—
At the time the VSU legislation was debated in this parliament, we heard all sorts of extraordinary claims. Senator Nettle, for example, in this place on 9 December 2005 said that students are ‘having their throats and voices ripped out’. Other senators opposite predicted that the experience of university life would be single-handedly destroyed. Notwithstanding those hysterical claims, today voluntary student activity is flourishing on campuses across the country, as I discovered last week when I visited O Week at the University of Melbourne.
One of the reasons why the introduction of VSU has proceeded so smoothly is the transitional funding provided by the government. Yesterday the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Ms Bishop, announced $58.2 million in funding for 37 projects under the Voluntary Student Unionism Transition Fund and the Support for Small Businesses on Regional University Campuses Program. Thirty-four of these projects are located on regional campuses. The projects supported by these grants provide students all around Australia with improved services and facilities which promote social interaction and good health. For instance, James Cook University will receive over $4.6 million for a new fitness facility at its Townsville campus, the University of New England will receive $5 million for a new multipurpose hall and to upgrade their gymnasium and swimming pool, Wollongong university will receive over $5 million for a multipurpose sports facility and a medical facility and the University of Southern Queensland will receive $5 million for sports facilities at its Wide Bay, Springfield and Toowoomba campuses. VSU has put $160 million into the pockets of Australian university students, who can now make choices about what services they support. Even more importantly, it has enabled them to live their student lives in conditions of freedom, not extortion—of choice, not compulsion.