Monday, 17 August 2009
Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
I table the supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to government amendment (1) to be moved to this bill. The memorandum was circulated in the chamber on 13 August 2009.
I move government amendment (1):
- Schedule 2, item 2, page 18 (line 16), after “debts”, insert “(incurred before, on or after the commencement of the amendment)”.
Question agreed to.
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (6) on sheet 5802.
(1) Schedule 1, item 4, page 3 (line 21), omit “not of an academic nature”, substitute “of the kind specified in subsection (7)”.
(2) Schedule 1, item 4, page 4 (line 6), omit “$125”, substitute “$75”.
(3) Schedule 1, item 4, page 4 (line 8), omit “$250”, substitute “$150”.
(4) Schedule 1, item 4, page 4 (line 13), omit “$250”, substitute “$150”.
(5) Schedule 1, item 4, page 4 (after line 26), after subsection 19-37(6), insert:
(7) The services and amenities specified by this subsection are services and amenities associated with sporting and recreational activities and facilities provided by, or on the campus of, the higher education provider.
(8) The Student Services and Amenities Fee Guidelines must not provide for the calculation or inclusion of a fee amount for the provision of services and amenities other than those of the kind specified in subsection (7).
(9) A higher education provider must not require a person enrolled, or seeking to enrol, with the provider to pay a student services and amenities fee if that person is a *distance education student, unless the person chooses to use the amenities or services for which the fee is charged.
(10) In this section, distance education student means a person who is not required to attend the campus of the higher education provider to meet the academic requirements of the course of study in which the person is enrolled, or is seeking to enrol.
(6) Schedule 1, item 5, page 4 (after line 30), before subsection 19-38(1), insert:
(1A) A higher education provider must not spend an amount paid to the provider as a *student services and amenities fee to support the provision to students of services and amenities other than those of the kind specified in subsection 19-37(7).
It is very interesting, of course, to note someone talking about ‘walking the walk’ when they have never actually walked it at all, and ‘talking the talk’ when they have never actually talked it at all—living on the laurels of having a ministerial position that reflects their ability to do exactly what they are told. I think you would find that there are a lot of people on this side who would disagree with you fervently that I am—however you want to term it.
However, putting that aside, this comes down to a core issue: without sporting facilities at regional universities, we will not have regional universities. Without regional universities we dislocate people from regional areas—from their chance of parity in their tertiary education. That is really the essence of it. We want to make sure that wherever you live in Australia you have the chance to get an education. We know full well that if we have a building surrounded by bindi-eye patches, it is not going to attract a student body, and if it does not attract a student body the people in that area have lost yet another semblance of something that keeps them attached to Australia.
As an example, my parents went to the University of Sydney—and good luck to them. When I last inquired, the University of Sydney had about $1 billion—$970 million or so—put aside in trusts and funds to support facilities. At the University of New England, we have nothing. There is a complete disparity, and the only way we can possibly maintain the facilities there is to have a fee. My colleagues and I are the last people to want politicisation in the administration of that. That is not what it is about. It is about the university administering a fee that it collects from the full-time students just like it administers the fee for the economics, botany, rural science or any other department. If they administer that fee fraudulently, they would go to jail for that. It does not require a student union in any way, shape or form. It just says to the business—the university—that it is allowed to charge for the facilities, which it quite obviously has to support.
We have a problem on the principle of how you deal with a business. We see universities as businesses. You cannot say to a business, ‘You can charge for that but you cannot charge for that.’ You cannot go into a McDonald’s and say, ‘We are going to let you charge for the hamburgers but we are not going to let you charge for the recreational area for the children.’ It is their business and it is their choice. We absolutely believe in choice. The choice is this: if you do not like that university, you can go somewhere else. If a university thinks that it is a virtue of their business plan to set aside certain fees or leave certain fees out then they will do that. It is not compulsory for the university to charge the fee; it just allows the university, as a business, the opportunity to charge the fee. That is a vitally important business principle from people who are from the conservative side of the political fence.
I would like to acknowledge one thing: it is great to see that the dignity of this debate is far greater than it was in the first instance. It is being conducted in a relatively good manner and it reflects that people do accept that, on some issues, there are differences. There always will be, and that is the way the Senate should work. It was going along quite well until Senator Carr gave his closing speech.
We have said that all the insinuation in the political side of this debate has been removed. It is just sport. There is nothing political about playing netball. There is nothing political about playing cricket. There is nothing political about playing water polo. There is nothing political about playing soccer. But it is a great mechanism for people to mix. When you get to a position of saying, ‘Barry, kick the ball to Mohammad; Mohammad, you kick the ball to Aziz; Aziz, you kick the ball back,’ you get the capacity to open up those communication channels between people who have never communicated before and you start to get a sense of going beyond where you naturally feel safe. You start to include other people in that community, which is a university. There is so much to be gathered from that community that is the university that will help you grow as a person.
Why don’t we go to other things? If you go beyond that, there is the capacity to go into the realms of politicising where the money goes. It is just so obvious and so simple to stick with sport, because you can look at a primary school and say: ‘There are the fields. Those fields are part of the school.’ If you go to a high school, you can say: ‘There are the fields. The fields are part of the high school.’ If there are no fields at a university then the university does not have to charge for them; it is their option. They are allowed to say, ‘Well, we don’t have any sporting facilities so we are not charging you for them.’ I have to ask the question: are you going to a university or are you just going to an academic institution? It may be warranted, but it is not a university.
We have to deal with the University of New England, the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, Charles Sturt University, Southern Cross University in Lismore, James Cook University and the University of Central Queensland. These are regional universities and we need to have the capacity to fund the facilities around them. We cannot just look at them and say, ‘Well, we know there will be big corporate sponsorships for the big universities in the metropolitan cities, but these smaller universities will just have to go without.’ It is not fair to do that.
Look around tonight. Let us be honest; the Australian people do not give a tinker’s cuss about this debate. There is no-one from the media watching it and there is no-one in the galleries; no-one has turned up to see this. It is right below something that just does not rate. We should remove a little bit of the emotion from this and try to get to a position of what we can do that is reasonable and fair.
I have heard Senator Fielding’s speech and I presume that, if the Labor Party does not support our amendment, this legislation will go down. I say to my own side: that also becomes a trigger for a double dissolution in the future, which is going to be a problem for all of us. The legislation is going to come back and we are then going to have to deal with it. This is an amendment that can move the agenda on. Hopefully everybody does not walk out feeling wounded or insulted. It is reasonable; it is nonpolitical; it creates real choice; it is not compulsory; and it is administered by the university. Being administered by the university takes away any semblance of politicisation. It deals with the fact of what a university is. It is historically correct in that virtually every other university throughout the world does exactly the same thing. The historical principle behind it is backed up by what other universities do, which is what our universities are formulated on: mens sana in corpore sano—a healthy mind in a healthy body. This is the principle behind these things; it is not just a healthy mind and a big fat wallet. Sport draws people together. I am not saying that sport is the be-all and end-all, but, gee, is a brilliant start to get that socialisation process—not in the left-hand side of the political format—going and to get people to talk to one another and do what we have to do in this community.
We have said before that this amendment is all about inspiring people not to be completely centred on themselves but to participate, of their own volition, in the wider community so that their participation in sport may encourage them, at a later time in their lives, to give back to our nation. There are two arguments here that are incorrect. One is that the fees that students pay completely cover the cost of their courses. They do not. They are a very minor part of the payment for the courses. The Australian people pay the vast majority of the cost of students’ courses. The Australian people, who do not go to university, pay the vast majority of the cost of the courses. The second is that the government pays for everything. They do not.
Yes, there is a little bit of a sacrifice to pay the fee. The fees that we are talking about are $75 and $150. I do not think that that will sink the bank! If that means that you have to do a few more hours packing shelves or, as I did, working at a pub and farm labouring, well, so be it. I do not feel slighted by the fact that I did not play netball but I was helping to pay for the netball courts. That never worried me. In fact, it is probably a good thing. It was part of that communal spirit, and it gave me something to see and to be proud of. I was proud of what surrounded my university. And I am sure that Senator Nash was.
Senator Williams is a classic case. Senator Williams did not go to university, but he sees the point of it. Why? Because he sees that sport is a great thing. It attaches Australian people to the Australian nation. Every time we see the Ashes—when we turn it on—we get a sense of pride. We watch it and go: ‘Yes, that’s us. That’s what we’re about!’ We get the same feeling when we watch the Wallabies run onto the paddock, when we watch the Opals play or when we watch our Olympians compete. One of the greatest mechanisms to get these sporting people into the wider realm which we all feel proud of is the sponsorship of university sport. We all have an attachment to sport.
I find it interesting that when I have invitations—here is a plug—to boxes to watch Australians play sport I am surrounded by politicians who have an absolute sense of pride and enjoyment in watching the green and gold playing in the middle of the field. That pride does not happen by accident. You have to build a culture that brings that out. Is it just the people on the paddock who get a benefit? Is it just the people playing the game? No, it is everybody. Everybody who watches it gets a benefit out of it. Everybody gets a sense of pride through being associated with it. That is why it is good and should be sponsored.
This debate is a totemic struggle that has existed since people’s university days—we acknowledge that—but we are trying to remove the emotion from it a little bit and give ourselves a piece of middle ground. It is not perfect but this amendment will allow the university to remove that bulk of costs which they have to pay for now. Unfortunately, now that money is coming from what should be going into research—medical research, research into veterinary issues, economic studies and a myriad of areas. Universities have to do it to prop up their own institutions—institutions which should have the user-pays principle. But the user is the person who desires a piece of paper that says that they went to that facility.
I went to university. I was very fortunate; I got sent away to a private school. But the school did not hand you the bill and say, ‘You can pay for this but you don’t have to pay for that.’ It was, ‘You pay for the lot or go.’ It was extremely important for me and for others that when I left that institution and I went up to university I did not think that the whole world consisted of people who went to the private school that I went to. I realised that there were other people who existed in the world and I should mix with them. There had to be a venue in which to do that, and I have to acknowledge—and this is supported by others—that sport is what did that more than anything else. Sport brought people out.
Sport breaks down the loneliness of so many people at universities, because they get the chance, especially if they are a little bit secluded and living in a personal sort of cave, to come out into a venue that allows them to participate with other people.
I hope that this amendment is given due consideration. Obviously we do not have the numbers; we are not going to divide on it. There is no point in doing that; that would just further antagonise those participating in the debate we are having here. But I do say, in closing, that like everything else this can later become a trigger. And when it does become a trigger we will be forced into deciding what to do. Surely, this is the most innocuous amendment that could get us out of this position.
I will be brief in speaking in support of Senator Joyce. My concern is for regional universities. I relate especially to the University of New England in Armidale, which I live close to. It was the National Party—it was then the Country Party—that established that university and it is a vital facility for people from regional areas as well as city areas. Having discussions with management at the University of New England I discovered that last year they spent $800,000 of their budget to maintain their sporting facilities. Frankly, that is money that they cannot afford.
So the situation is this: if they have a sporting levy they will have the money to maintain those facilities. If we do not have such a levy then the taxpayers will have to pay for it. When I say ‘the taxpayers’ I mean people like shearers or bricklayers who are bending their backs to carry out the hard work that people like Minister Carr have probably never done. They will be the ones paying—those people who have probably never set foot on the campus of a university. They will have to pay for it.
Those who go to university will enjoy the free sporting facilities so long as the university remains viable and does not close down. The big concern is that most of the people who will be paying for it will never set foot on a university campus. That, to me, is not fair.
The bill has some crazy ideas, especially in relation to funding for students. An example is the funding of legal fees for students. Why would you want to fund the legal fees of students when many in the university are studying law and could carry out the service free of charge? That is why I do not like many sections of the bill, but in support of Senator Joyce, I believe that a non political levy would provide urgent funding that is required to keep these facilities going, especially in the regional areas. That is why I support the amendment.
I rise to make a few remarks in support of my colleagues Senator Joyce and Senator Williams. This whole exercise takes me back to when, quite some time ago now, I attended Mitchell College, as it was then, in Bathurst. I attended that college for the whole experience, not just to get a piece of paper at the end of it that said I had been sitting in front of a computer, pretty well, for the last three years and now I had a degree. Attending university is very much about the whole experience. There has been some commentary about user pays programs and questions like, ‘What about all those students who do not actually use the sporting facilities?’ To an extent, that may be valid, and there may be just a small number of footballers running out onto the paddock or netballers running out onto the court, but from my memory—and I do not think it has changed—there were swarms of people watching those games and swarms of people celebrating with those teams afterwards in a social environment. So it is not just about the users of those sporting facilities; it is about the entire social environment, interaction and experience that that creates for those attending university.
And it is about balance. I have two teenage boys that one day may well decide to head off to university. It is not just about making sure that they get a piece of paper with some qualifications on it; it is about making sure that they have every opportunity to access the broadest experience possible. They are only two children, but I think that principle applies to all students who are attending university. It is not just about that piece of paper.
I particularly commend our Young Nationals in New South Wales, who have been very strongly supporting, for some time now, an amenities fee. They know it is about fairness and equity, particularly for regional universities and regional students. We know, when we look at the big metropolitan universities, that they have the economy of scale, they have got the capacity to provide services over and above those educational services that students need. We want them to grow up into fully-fledged, developed adults that have a broad view of the world. As my colleague Senator Joyce pointed out earlier, sport is one of the ways to ensure that. It is not just about scoring points and winning the game but about the interaction that that provides on the way through, and it is our regional universities who are least able to provide those facilities under the current arrangements. There is no doubt there is this tyranny of region aspect, where they simply have not got the economies of scale to provide the same services that are provided in metropolitan areas.
We need to make sure that our regional universities can provide the best possible opportunities for students and can attract students in every possible way. One of the main reasons for that is that, when we are looking at ensuring that we have sustainable regional communities, students who go through regional universities are seven times more likely to stay in those regional communities. So it is not just about an amenities fee for universities for playing fields. It is much bigger, much broader, than that—it is about providing universities that students want to attend, where they get every opportunity to strive and attain every possible achievement while they are there.
This is not a perfect amenities fee. There are probably some other areas that deserve consideration. But, for the purposes of this, if we have this amendment on the sporting facilities, this will free up a whole lot of funding for those universities to put into other areas that absolutely need funding, because this is such a significant cost to those universities. I am very pleased to be part of this amendment that has been moved by Senators Joyce and Williams and by me. It is about equity and it is about fairness.
I congratulate Senator Joyce, Senator Williams and Senator Nash on their, as always, eloquent and passionate contributions, particularly with respect to regional Australia. If there is a golden thread that combines the contributions of the opposition over the course of this debate today, it is not so much reliving the debates of the sixties, seventies or eighties; rather, it is that the nature of student life in 2009 is so very different from what it was in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Today’s students are older, they study part-time and they work. The student profile has changed enormously in the last 30 or 40 years.
I enjoyed playing cricket for the ANU when I was there. I was not very good, but I enjoyed it. But I no longer believe that it is appropriate that others subsidise my cricketing failures. I do not think anyone on the opposition believes that. So, while I enjoy the passion, as always, from Senator Joyce, Senator Williams and Senator Nash, the opposition cannot support this amendment.
Before I start, I indicate—I may have neglected to do this earlier—that Senator Xenophon has asked me to confirm that the details of the matters that he tabled earlier, regarding the monitoring compliance with proposed student services and amenities which were contained in a letter from Minister Kate Ellis, were in fact accurate reflections of commitments made by the government. Those were contained in a letter sent by Minister Ellis to Senator Xenophon. I trust that meets his concerns on that matter.
In regard to the specifics of the National Party amendments we have here before us, the government cannot support them. These amendments will first of all reduce the amount of money that a university can seek from a student—thereby undermining the revenue capacity of the universities—to far below the current compromise arrangements that the government has proposed, from $250 to $125. So it is actually a reduction substantially already being proposed by the government, and then there is a further reduction proposed by the National Party amendments which we cannot support.
The second issue goes to the purpose for which that expenditure can be made. The National Party’s proposition is that we should spend money on sports and recreation—that somehow or other sports and recreation expenditure is not political whereas anything else is political. It is a particularly perverse view of the concept of politics to my mind, particularly when we then hear about the importance of sports to the development of nationalism, national pride, community identity and a number of other measures which are traditionally identified as being very political.
You do not regard nationalism as being political? I think you know very, very little about history, Senator. I would have thought that this is a very simplistic view of the way in which resources are actually divided in this country.
Look, I am a very keen supporter of the Footscray Football Club in Melbourne and that is often a very political club, I assert to you. You have to sit in a stadium for a little while and understand what a great Labor tradition it is. I also ask you, though, given the proposition that Senator Mason puts that students are different today from the way they were in previous—
He says they are older, and their demographics are different. I might ask you to actually look at the equity distribution of the student population in this country over the last 30 years and you will note how little it has changed.
That will be another argument entirely. But to say that student populations are different, I think, needs to be looked at much more carefully. If you say that the students are actually older, then surely issues that go to the questions around legal services, child care, health care, housing, employment, financial services—all of these measures, which are outlined in the government’s student services and amenities fees guidelines, allow for expenditure in these areas—matter. Who is to say that the right of a person to have decent housing—
Senator Joyce, we cannot support your amendments. They are far too narrow and we will not be able to support them, given the propositions we have outlined in the student services and amenities fees guidelines.
That is sad, because this really just comes down to the simple proposition that allows you to take away from the universities the greatest cost. When you started wandering off into the myriad other issues, that is where conjecture does arise, but there is no conjecture held, even in this chamber, about what sport is about. If I use the analysis of the childcare centre, it is probably a great idea, but you will start to walk into areas where people say, ‘I didn’t have one of those at high school so why do I need them at university?’ Housing is another issue. What is the role of that? There are medical issues, of course, but a lot of people will say, ‘Well, there is a public hospital.’
The big thing about sport is that somebody has to pay for those facilities. They are in the grounds of the university. Somebody somewhere has to pay for them. Currently the university is not allowed to pay for them, and we are asking people who are only going to be there for three years to think of the holistic view of these facilities over 100 to 150 years. This is what creates the problem. People who are there for a short period of time initially think, ‘I would rather put that money in my pocket,’ and that is a natural belief people have, but the facilities remain and they remain within the confines of the university. This causes the problem. At the moment the university is allowed to pay for them but is not allowed to raise the fee to pay for them. This is a simple way to deal with the largest part of this problem and you can leave the debate on all the other smaller issues to a later time.
I agree with many things with Senator Joyce, but this is not one of them. If it was a choice between this bill being defeated completely and having these amendments through, I suppose that would be better than having nothing through, but my concern is that it is simply too narrow in its scope. I do not think it is reasonable that you should confine these fees to people who can play sport. For those who are hopeless at sport, such as me, I think you discriminate against people—
‘Chiropractic cricket,’ said Senator Joyce. I think you could say that you are talking to someone who in primary school trained all season to be in the under-12 footy team and got to be orange boy for a match. That is the nature of my sporting prowess.
If I could just say, I think it is unfair because it is too narrowly confined. For instance, if you want to participate in the debating society you would be excluded. Advocacy groups, Amnesty International or a film society are things that I think are quite reasonable for the fee. What the government has done is to contain a number of safeguards so we do not see a return to the bad old days that I think the coalition had some genuine concerns about. I just think it is too narrowly confined and it does discriminate against those of us who are absolutely hopeless at sports.
I acknowledge the concerns brought up by Senator Xenophon—and I will never talk to him again. I did debating in the debating society. What it requires is seven chairs, two tables and a bell. That is your debating society. The drama society requires you to get the keys to the theatrette. Amnesty International—
Yes, absolutely—until they changed a law on a social issue, which meant that I retired my membership. But, with Amnesty International, all you have to do is meet the hawker on the street corner. That is what I did. That is how I joined Amnesty International. Unfortunately, Amnesty International did start wandering into the political realm. All these things are there, but they are not the major cost. The major cost item that somehow has got to be covered—and if it is not passed it will be covered by the taxpayer—is the sporting facilities. Otherwise, they will just fall into disrepair.
Frankly, Senator Joyce’s proposition is fundamentally flawed. He is trying to be half pregnant. Really, it is a joke to stand here and say: sport is in, but not arts. Whatever argument you want to make, you are drawing a line arbitrarily—frankly, you are going to be half pregnant. You either want to raise a fee compulsorily for people who want to use something or you do not—
The Acting Deputy President:
It is a debating point, Senator Joyce. Senator Fielding has the right to use the term.
The Acting Deputy President:
Senator Fielding, if you could address your remarks through the chair.
There are a lot of people in Australia who do not play sport. There are a lot of people who are into the arts, who are into things other than sport. To argue the point that sports are worthy of a compulsory fee, I think, is frankly absurd. You should either argue for the whole lot to be in, like Labor are, or none at all. You cannot do this. Your principle is so ridiculous I am surprised you are not being laughed out of this thing. It is just ridiculous to think that you could say, ‘Sport is in because it’s the national thing.’ There are plenty of people who do not follow sport. There are plenty of people who think the arts are better than sport. You can argue the next case and the next case. It is fundamentally flawed, so I cannot support it.
The Greens cannot support this amendment either. The idea of collecting a fee compulsorily and just giving it to sporting associations and sporting clubs does not go to the heart of the problems we are seeing in university campuses across the country, whether they be in rural and regional areas or in the city. We know that the introduction of voluntary student unionism has had a devastating effect on student services, advocacy and representation. All you need to do is look at the international student sector. It is in an absolute mess. Why? Because international students have not had the representation that they need, the services they need, access to the information they need and the right to be able to organise themselves and advocate and have a voice. It is not just the sporting associations and the sporting clubs that have suffered under the voluntary student unionism regime that was brought in by the Howard government. It is important for us to be looking more broadly at the need for a holistic, all-round educational experience in university.
I take a lot of the points that Senators Nash, Joyce and Williams raised that going to university is not just about getting a piece of paper after three years, it is not just about sitting in front of a computer screen and hoping you get a pass average, or a high distinction or a credit; it is actually about getting an overall experience and getting some of that hands-on practical experience, whether that be through student media or elsewhere. Many of our top journalists in this country have come through the student media realms in their universities because they have got that hands-on experience. Whether it is debating clubs, film societies, theatre groups—or sporting associations—all of those things add to the overall experience of university life. What all of those different types of clubs do, whether you are involved in one or more of them, is enable students to develop the networks that stay with them for years to come and help them once they leave university in getting into the workforce and making the best of their university experience. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I completely agree that sporting associations need a hand through the student services fee, they are not the only sector of the student community that is in need and we need to be looking at the issue much more broadly.
I will just make a few remarks about Senator Fielding’s contribution. He obviously spent some time studying the arts when he was at university. Given his attire this evening, it has obviously stayed with him! But he may not have been listening while we were making our remarks earlier. While I understand the obvious enthusiasm and passion in his comments earlier, it is quite simple. I think if Senator Fielding had been listening he would have heard the three Nationals senators make the point that the amendment does not cover all of those fields and is not perfect. But, quite interestingly—and simplistically—if you take the burden of funding off the university in a particular area that is creating the most funding difficulty, it stands to reason that that funding is going to be freed up for those other areas. So we are not saying those other areas should not be accounted for—of course they are very important areas. We recognise that this amendment is not across the whole lot, but we have considered all of those areas and we believe that on balance this is the best way forward.
I take on board Senator Hanson-Young’s remarks. This attitude of, ‘Well, it’s only going to sporting facilities, and not everyone plays sport’, is interesting. Look at local council areas in regional communities. We all get hit with rates for specific things. We are not all using all of those specific things, but those rates are charged for the good of the whole community.
I will finish up with some comments that the minister made earlier about the $250 and reducing the amount. I think a very quick look at the issues that we are talking about, and some very simple mathematics, would show that of course you would not charge $250 simply for the area of sporting facilities—and on a pro rata basis, it certainly does make more sense.
I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 5736:
(1) Schedule 1, item 6, page 6 (lines 14 to 16), omit subsection 19-67(3).
This amendment goes right to the heart of the Greens’ concerns around this legislation. We do not believe that if a student is going to be charged $250 they should not have the right to advocate as to how that money should be spent. We believe that student services should be run and funded by student organisations. That is the crux of this issue. We believe that in order to have true representation on university campuses there needs to be a return to effective, well-resourced advocacy and representation structures to handle the essential student services. We need to make sure that the money that is collected from each individual student around the country on an annual basis is put towards the services and the representation that students want, and that they have control of it. If students are going to be paying for it they should have a say in how it will be spent.
Since VSU was introduced in 2005, funding has been slashed from crisis support, child care, counselling, sport, advocacy and lots more services. Student fees were used to pay for student facilities, services, welfare and a host of other programs that made university a richer and more diverse experience. Since the VSU legislation has been in place we have seen the detrimental effects it has had on those services and facilities. We have just spent the last 40 minutes talking about the run-down of sporting facilities. We know that some of the money would need to go towards that, if that is what the student groups actually wanted to spend the money on. We have talked about other types of services and activities that students may want to fund through their student services fees.
Ultimately, if we want students to advocate for themselves and have a voice, that voice needs to be independent. They cannot be under the thumb of their university administration or management or under the thumb of their parliaments, where they do not feel that they have the ability, or the right, or the access or the resources to advocate for what they need. For students to participate in the democratic process and advocate for their needs, which are specific to students—whether it be the whole student populace, or international students, or postgraduate students or first-year students wanting to get more information about how to start their university career—we need to ensure that student services that are funded by students are also run by students and that they have the ultimate say in how their money is going to be spent. We cannot simply tax students without representation. We would not accept this at a local council level and we would not accept it at a state government level so why would we accept it on a university campus. When students are being charged money simply because they are enrolled, they must have a say and through the representation of their elected members they must be able to administer how that money is spent. They should be able to decide where their money goes, how much money they should be paying and what types of services they want from it. That is simply what this amendment seeks to do.
I move Greens amendment (2) on sheet 5736:
(2) Schedule 1, item 5, page 5 (after line 16), after subsection (3), insert:
(3A) A higher education provider must consult its *student representative body and must not spend an amount paid to the provider as a *student services and amenities fee other than in accordance with a decision of that body.
(3B) For the purposes of this section, student representative body means the body of students elected by students to represent their interests to the higher education provider.
I assumed that my first amendment would not be supported. I assumed that the government did not want to allow students to administer their own money and I understand that has been their position for some time. Although I am disappointed and disagree with that, as do many student groups around the country, my second amendment, however, suggests that the institutions need to at least actively engage with their student bodies to consult with them about how the money would be spent. Again, why should students be paying $250 and not have a guaranteed say in how this money will be spent. It is simply left up to the goodwill of the universities to engage with their student bodies on how this money should be spent. In some universities that is going to work really well. In other universities it is not going to work so well. Numerous student groups from around the country have contacted us and said: ‘Our university has already said to us that we are not going to have a say in how this fee is spent when we start collecting it. We will be administering the fee and you will just have to cop it.’ That is not the way to treat students who are going to be forking out $250 of their own money to fund services that they need and that they know other people need. They need to be actively involved in deciding where that money will go. The universities should be compelled to discuss with their students how the money they are putting up will be spent.
The opposition does not support this amendment either. While I congratulate Senator Hanson-Young for her advocacy of student participation and student democracy, for the opposition freedom of association means not taking money compulsorily from students for services they will not or cannot use.
I move Greens amendment (3) on sheet 5736:
(3) Schedule 1, item 5, page 5 (after line 28), at the end of section 19-38, add:
Accountability of expenditure
(6) Each higher education provider must include in each report it prepares for the purposes of section 19-10 the following information in relation to the period covered by the report:
(a) details of amounts collected as student services and amenities fees during that period;
(b) details of the expenditure of such amounts paid to the provider.
(7) Each higher education provider must provide a copy of that information to the department in the form approved by the Minister.
(8) The department must publish on its website the information it receives under subsection (7).
This amendment relates directly to the issues of compliance and monitoring. I mentioned numerous times throughout my speech on the second reading, as did Senator Xenophon and others, that, now that the other two Greens amendments have been unsuccessful, if students are not going to be directly involved in how that money they have put forward is being spent, there needs to be some kind of transparency in how universities will spend this money. This amendment is important for ensuring that. There needs to be some mechanism for allowing the student populace, other universities and the government to know how this money is being spent.
For students, $250 from their pockets at the beginning of the year is a lot of money. We completely acknowledge that. We also believe that we need to fund these student services. We need to ensure that there are good quality services and facilities as well as opportunities for students to be represented effectively. To do that we need to ensure that universities are putting money in the right places—that there is some compliance and there is transparency. I think this is an amendment that the coalition could support because of their concerns about not knowing where the money is being spent and that it may perhaps be spent in areas where it should not be.
This is about building transparency into this legislation—not just allowing universities to simply do what they want and not just allowing student groups, to whom perhaps some of the universities give some of that money, to do their activities just as they want to. There would be some mechanism of compliance here and a bit of accounting of how the money is spent on an annual basis. We would like to see that as part of the compliance mechanisms under the Higher Education Act, which already require elements of the university to comply. In order to ensure that the money collected from students is put in the right places, we want to make it explicit that this legislation is part of the compliance mechanisms that universities have to comply with. If it is not, there is transparency so that students, people within the university, the government or the opposition could pick up the phone and say, ‘Hang on a minute, what’s going on here? Why is this money being funnelled into this area?’ I do not think it will happen, but I think it is a good mechanism. We cannot just take money from students without giving them any guarantee of how it is going to be spent and ensuring transparency and compliance. I think it is something that the coalition really should be supporting.
I would like to briefly reply to Senator Hanson-Young’s valuable contribution. Senator Hanson-Young, I have received a copy of a note to Senator Xenophon from the Minister for Youth and Minister for Sport, Ms Ellis, which touches on some of these issues. While I am not satisfied with respect to the entire document, I am satisfied with respect to that issue and so the opposition will not be supporting your amendment.
Could I get some clarification? The Greens amendment seeks to ensure that there is compliance, that there is transparency and that it is not just referring to the compliance mechanisms that are already listed in the act and which are a given. We are trying to ensure that there is an explicit reference. These things need to be transparent and how the money is spent needs to be published as part of the end-of-year financial reporting mechanisms. Can you explain the coalition’s concerns? I understand that Senator Xenophon has a letter from the government, which I do not have. My understanding is that they were simply referencing some compliance mechanisms that are already in the act, but my understanding is that we need to be a bit more explicit if we are to say that these that there are new fees and new things the universities have to do—let’s make it explicit; we need this transparency.