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Thursday, 18 November 2010
Page: 2992

Mrs MIRABELLA (12:54 PM) —I rise, as I have on several other occasions, to oppose the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010 and similar measures that in effect introduce compulsory student unionism by stealth. It would be remiss of me not to make some remarks about the comments just put into the Hansard record by the member for Melbourne. All I can say, as a summary, is once a Trot, always a Trot—you can put a suit on, you can wear a nice, trendy silk tie, but once a Trot, always a Trot. My colleague the member for Melbourne Ports is smiling away because he knows that is the truth. They tried to do him over in the seat of Melbourne Ports and he was very fortunate with the recent redistribution to have kept all his good supporters—some would call them stacks—and to have kept all the Trots out of Melbourne Ports. That is another seat that the Greens will not be able to make headway in. I am sure we will see the member for Melbourne Ports challenged at the next election and probably be returned, unless there is a very good Liberal candidate who can give him a run for his money.

The member for Melbourne used some very Orwellian language, which is no surprise coming from a Trot, when he was talking about the democratic culture at university. We would all like to think that there was a democratic culture at university; that there was an opportunity for people to speak freely about their political beliefs. But talk to any student in a politics class, in a politics tutorial, and see how they are intimidated and not given the opportunity to debate political philosophy or ideas freely. It is not, as the member for Melbourne says, an environment of free inquiry and debate—and that does extend to the student political world which has benefited over many decades through the compulsory acquirement of student money to fund political activities and campaigns and salaries that the students themselves would not have chosen to fund if they had had the choice.

The member for Melbourne said students should be able to ‘control and direct their activities’. I would not disagree with that. That is why we on this side of the House want students, who by and large are adults, to be able to control and direct not just their activities but their money. The tricky and cunning language that the Greens use under the auspices of democracy always means the opposite. They know that to make their message easily consumable and perhaps attractive to the mainstream they must couch it in very cunning language.

The member for Melbourne said that universities should be about more than turning up for lectures and that time at university should be a time for reflection and a time for engagement. That is fine. That is his opinion. Why should he impose on all university students his opinion about what the university experience should be? If they just want to turn up and go to lectures and then go off to the footy club that they are a member of in their own community or go off and get a job or go off and engage in another social activity elsewhere, who is he to tell them what they should and should not be doing as part of their university experience? We now have the social police, the political police, saying that, if you are a university student, to be a complete human being you must be engaged in these activities. He can do it, and he did it—and so did I. So did my good friend the member for Casey. That was our choice. Why should we impose the way we ran our lives and our time at university on everyone else? We on this side of the House believe that tertiary students are adults who are intelligent enough to decide how their money should be allocated. That is why we strongly oppose this bill; that is why the Howard government treated students with respect and as adults and gave them the choice of how to allocate their hard-earned dollars.

We see in this bill, as we have seen before, a backdoor way of funding political activities. The guidelines in the bill do underpin the legislation. They effectively force a university to provide for representation and advocacy of students’ interests. In other words, universities will be forced to ensure that there is a political voice on campus—and you can bet your bottom dollar that that political voice is going to be the political voice of the Left. This provision really extends compulsory unionism beyond what it was before the 2005 legislation. It extends the obligations to formalise student politics.

We have seen provisions in this bill and in previous bills that purportedly are there to allay the concerns that money cannot be spent on political parties and candidates, but that in no way should fool us into thinking that money is not going to be spent on political campaigns, because money can still be directed to oppose certain political parties and candidates, as it has been in the past, and if I were a betting woman I would bet it will happen again in the future. It will go to fund issues campaigns, as has been outlined by previous speakers on this side of the House. Of course there is going to be political activity. That is why the member for Melbourne, self-confessed ‘Trot’, who is now wearing his comfortable green cloak—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—Order! I ask the honourable member to refer to the member for Melbourne as the member for Melbourne, and he is a member of the Greens party in the chamber—that is his recognition.

Mrs MIRABELLA —I was alluding to a recent profile piece that had reflected on former close political colleagues of the member for Melbourne who said that, at university, he was a well-known Trotskyist. I think it is important to always reflect on the full political experience of members in this House and to understand truly where their passions lie, to see and appreciate their political progression and development, and I was doing nothing other than that. We have in front of us a bill that will not only force students to pay for political activities which they, in all likelihood, will not agree with but also fund services that can be and have been provided by the private sector, such as food and beverage services. I remember from my time at university—it was always a joke—you would not go to the caff if you could avoid it. We all know that centrally provided, subsidised services do not provide the best sort of services for consumers, and students are consumers.

Other services have been outlined that have been pointed to as having suffered under voluntary student unionism. If a service is not going to be used by students and it is not needed and it is duplication, why do you believe that it should be funded? It should not be funded. Student life and university life is not static; it is dynamic. The needs and concerns of students change from generation to generation. Using compulsorily acquired student funds to entrench certain services is just an expensive way of maintaining certain jobs at university and certain structures, which is not necessarily catering to the needs and demands of students.

This legislation is also a concern because there is no monitoring or policing of the way in which funds are spent. We do not know whether there is compliance with the guidelines, but let us look at the political reality. In any case, can anyone honestly believe that a Labor minister—the relevant Labor minister at the time—would hold a Labor student union president to account if they had not spent the compulsorily acquired funds accordingly? I do not think that would be the case. They cannot even hold their own ministers to account. We just have to look at the New South Wales Labor Party and other state Labor parties in government to see the lack of accountability. But I should not go too much into detail on that because I will keep the House until dinner time tomorrow night and I will still only be halfway through.

The problem with a lack of reporting and a lack of accountability is only compounded by the fact that this is in fact a broken promise. This does disadvantage students who do not have ready access to funds, who do have to work hard to put themselves through university. Why should they be forced to incur an additional financial burden just because some people have this ideological position that student unions are great and students should be involved in all these activities and, ‘Isn’t it a wonderful life they can have on campus.’ Some people do not want that and you should not force it down their throats. It is probably a promise, it is probably part of the deal making that is all part and parcel of the Labor Party and perhaps it was one of those things that were part of the secret deal that sealed the Labor-Greens alliance. Perhaps one day we will know. What we do know is that it is unfair, it is inequitable and it is an insult to adult students to say to them: ‘We know what is best for you. We know how best to spend your money. We deem these sporting clubs appropriate to be supported.’

Until very recently, before we got voluntary student unionism, I remember that small groups of students would form a club and would benefit significantly financially from compulsory student unionism. They should be able to pursue skiing or football, but they should fund it. They should not expect that other student, who is working 20, 30 or 40 hours a week to put themselves through university, who may not want to or may not have the time to engage in these activities, to fund their social life. Let us face it: young people today are pretty mature, even in their early to mid-teens. I think they know how to run their own social life and their own activities. They do not need the formalised structure of compulsorily funded organisations to live their life and to have fun.

Our belief in voluntary student unionism is about freedom; it is about the freedom to allow students to choose. We do not have the arrogant attitude of thinking that students should live their life on campus in a particular way, that they should believe in certain things. We believe that there should be freedom of inquiry, freedom of movement, freedom of activities—that it is a wonderful time for university students. They have the privilege to engage in tertiary studies. They should have the privilege to pursue whatever other endeavours they choose and they should do it with their own money. They should not be forced and they should not be corralled through compulsory student unionism into a particular sort of support for political activities, sporting activities, social activities or any other commercial activities on campus. If the government were serious about the education revolution, surely the first step would be respect—respect for tertiary students as young adults who can decide what they can do with their own money. I would appeal to those on the other side to stop and think about that very basic fact. If students are smart enough to make their own decision about voting at a federal election then they are smart enough to decide how they can spend their $250.