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Thursday, 13 October 2005
Page: 6

Mr HAYES (9:21 AM) —Before the interruption of yesterday’s debate on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2005 Measures No. 4) Bill 2005 and the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment Bill 2005, I was speaking about two young women who represented New South Wales at the recent international university games, they being Belinda Battistel and Ali Hudson. This was the first team that Australia had sent to the games in almost 20 years. If the Minister for Education, Science and Training continues with his destructive approach to VSU legislation, this could well have been our last effort at the international university games.

Recently two young female hockey players were photographed near the minister, holding signs indicating that their sporting teams would no longer be able to compete because of the minister’s issues about VSU. I think that was pretty widely circulated via email communications. I am quite certain that the skills of our young basketballers, like Belinda Battistel and Ali Hudson, will suffer the same fate. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate both Belinda and Ali on their successes and I would like to assure them that federal Labor will continue to fight for their right to participate in sporting events like the university games into the future. We will strongly oppose the introduction of VSU.

I am proud to stand in this place today and support the continued existence of student services, particularly the student services provided by the University of Western Sydney through its student association. As the member for Chifley said yesterday, Western Sydney Labor MPs are very proud of the university and very proud of the level of services that it provides. It goes without saying that we are very proud of the students that we produce through the University of Western Sydney.

I hope that the member for Macarthur, in whose electorate the Campbelltown campus of the University of Western Sydney resides, can tear himself away from toeing the party line long enough to come out in support of the university and its campus in his electorate. I hope that he is willing to stand up to his minister and say no to VSU. I know that local students in south-west Sydney do not want VSU and I am sure that, like me, the member for Macarthur has received many approaches from students in the electorate, and probably from the student association itself, to discuss their concerns over VSU. If the member for Macarthur votes in support of VSU, I hope that he will at least be willing to meet with the representatives of the students association and tell them why VSU will be better for them and why it will be better for students studying at the Campbelltown campus.

The minister has failed to convince the party room of the merits of VSU and he has failed to convince the public. Delaying this bill is not going to fix it and it is not going to make the issues go away. Despite the minister’s best efforts to defend the decision in question time, we all know—and the public knows—that the VSU legislation cannot be passed, because it is lousy legislation and it is very poor public policy. No matter how long the minister decides to delay, the VSU legislation will not be passed. According to the minister, VSU legislation is off the agenda until 2007. Waiting until 2007 is not going to change the fact that it is bad policy.

The attack on universities in the outer metropolitan and regional areas—universities like the Campbelltown campus of the University of Western Sydney—is now delayed, but I call on the minister to go further and abandon the legislation completely. I call on members opposite who claim to have a commitment to higher education, and who are more than willing to visit university campuses in their electorates for photo opportunities, to support Labor’s amendment. Do not dodge the issue; throw the legislation out and keep it out. Do not come into this place and vote down Labor’s amendment to support services to local students and follow it up by voting in support of changing conditions for charging international students for those very same services. At least members opposite should have the courage to vote consistently.

There are some members opposite who have privately expressed concerns about the VSU legislation to the minister. That must be the case. It cannot just be those coalition senators. There must be concerns about this. I encourage those members to use their vote later today to express those private concerns in a very public manner and have their vote recorded as supporting services for all students, not just international students. They should vote for a rational approach to the provision of student services for all students, not just selected ones.

I call on the government to drop the VSU legislation. If they did that, they would not even have to amend the Education Services for Overseas Students Act. I know that many international students need these services, and I support their provision. In addition to the normal trials and tribulations of students during their time at university, international students have the added challenge of living in another country far away from their personal support network. They should have appropriate support services in place. That is not contested. I cannot help but wonder why, if these services are so valuable and important to international students, we would consider them to be any less valued and less important to local students. I also have to wonder why the minister believes that such services will be able to adequately operate for international students after the infrastructure and networks that have been established for local students are torn down.

Any business operator will tell you that if you have something up and running for one group of customers there are economies of scale to be achieved by using the same set-up to service a new set of customers. Today is a victory for all those student groups that have actively campaigned against VSU. It is a victory for the student organisations, regional communities, university staff, vice-chancellors, campus activists and sporting organisations, and for all the other people who lent their support to the anti-VSU campaign. It is certainly a victory for the estimated 4,200 people employed by service providers at Australian universities who were set up, quite frankly, to lose their jobs as a result of VSU.

But let’s have a full victory. Let’s do away with the prospect of VSU once and for all. I would like nothing more than for the minister to come into the chamber today and announce the removal of the VSU legislation. The minister should admit that he has been defeated and stop clinging to the faint hope that, if he delays the passage of the legislation until 2007, those much needed extra votes might suddenly emerge.

I will not be opposing the legislation before us today, because I believe that it is important that all students be given the same opportunity to maintain the support services provided by student organisations. I will be supporting Labor’s second reading amendment calling on the government to withdraw the VSU bill, and I encourage all members opposite to do the same.