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Tuesday, 24 May 2005
Page: 99

Ms OWENS (9:19 PM) —For decades Australian campuses have provided a rich environment for Australian youth. They have provided not only a place in which to study but also a place to explore their relationships with others through community and volunteer work in clubs of all types, the provision of student services, arts activities, campus papers and, yes, campus politics. Thousands of students have taken on broader roles, gaining skills that many have taken into later life. In many cases their campus activities led to jobs in fields that have no real career path—the kinds of jobs in which even if a degree is an advantage or even essential, work experience and a history of ‘just doing it’ speak louder than degrees. These are careers such as acting, music, journalism, activism of all kinds, community service and, of course, politics. For example, if you want to work in the field of music as an artist or an administrator, you will have worked somewhere before that, and very often the source of that early experience comes from our student associations.

Student unions have created a vibrant, creative environment for so many decades that symbiotic relations have now formed between campus life and the outside world. Student union activity is an incubator for the cultural sector as a whole. It provides a breeding ground for creative minds and allows students to develop their talents. Student union support through clubs and societies has helped some of our community’s most creative people to develop and enhance their talents. Our creative industries are populated with people who got their feet wet on their local campus or even made their reputations there. Quite frankly, there are not a lot of other breeding grounds for our future sports and arts administrators, our community writers, our actors and our musicians. I can only assume that most, perhaps all, on the other side of this House believe that this side of university life is not important and that the support that a campus gives to the surrounding creative scene is irrelevant. I can tell you that, in my area, it is not.

Yet this government are systematically setting out to weaken campus life and the contribution that our great universities make to the broader community. They are setting out not only to abolish compulsory student unionism but also to prohibit universities from collecting service fees for activities not directly related to a course of study. In other words, it is not just the word ‘union’ that they fear, but these very activities themselves. The effect of their bill will be to collapse the infrastructural support for community life on campus and for the broader creative sectors that gain so much of their development support from campus activity. Whether or not you agree with the unions’ position, that the unions should have had a role in this or that they should have one now—they have, they did and they do. We must all understand the position that history has put us in now and comprehend what we risk losing.

Like it or not, after 120 years of student associations, other industries are now woven into campus-union networks: alternative radio, music, theatre, film and even journalism, particularly at the development end, are all intrinsically linked to campus life, yet this government wants to kill off this support base. And the Nationals should have a good think too about the effect it will have in regional areas. It is hard to imagine a young band touring through Lismore without doing the free lunchtime concert hosted by the local campus union, not because uni lunchtime concerts are great fun but because it is a major part of the economics of touring for a young band. It is just not viable to tour regional areas without the support of the local campus unions. They are a major part of the infrastructure that supports developing bands. They create the regularity, the audience, the venue profile, the skilled back- and front-of-house staff and the local marketing knowledge.

Their influence extends beyond that. The RMIT union in Melbourne alone spawned three community broadcasters of great significance. In the seventies the student radio club lobbied and succeeded in getting an education licence for a station that grew into arguably one of the most influential, non-mainstream stations in the country: RRR. Only last year, it got another licence for the student youth network, and it is a major player in the relatively new field of community television with its station RMI-TV. These stations are not just the product of students having a good time. They, and particularly RRR, play a vital part in the discovery and breaking of new artists, and they are closely associated with RMIT’s radio and television courses. The degree, in the end, will not get the graduates the jobs; the experience on the ground will.

The government will win this one. But in taking aim at unions it is tearing away the cradle for future cultural and entrepreneurial contributors. There will be flow-on effects, just as there have already been in WA, where VSU has already ripped the guts out of the local music industry and impacted on the number of bands touring to the state. They may be aiming at unions but the fallout will extend far further. (Time expired)