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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 851

Senator ELLISON (7.13 p.m.) —I rise to speak in relation to clause 15 of the States Grants (General Purposes) Bill 1994, which deals with the Commonwealth taking funds away from the states to pay student guilds, associations and unions directly. The question of voluntary association is one which is vital to Liberal philosophy, and it is one which I have been involved in since 1977 when I was on the University of Western Australia campus. In fact, I was a member of the Guild Council of the University of Western Australia and a president of the Public Affairs Council.

  I note today that a number of speakers have mentioned that making membership of these guilds and associations voluntary might result in the diminution of services to students. When I ran for that guild position I made it a platform to provide cheaper food and drink for students, but I can tell the Senate that I was not successful in my endeavours and during my time at university I really did not see any appreciable service or benefit afforded to students from that guild.

  I question very much the expenditure and accounting of the funds that are poured into these associations. In fact, I believe that if the government is serious about its obedience to the United Nations and its various declarations it should remember that the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights upholds the principle of voluntary association—the individual's right to choose whether or not to belong to an association. Belonging to an association includes not just the membership of the association but the payment of fees which would follow. Student unions and associations, which I believe are not representative of the vast mainstream student population, are receiving this windfall from the Commonwealth.

  I would like to provide an example of the activities which this government obviously endorses in relation to the payment of taxpayers' funds to student guilds, associations and unions. At the Murdoch University Guild of Students secretariat meeting held on 22 November 1990, the following motion was moved:

  "THAT the Murdoch University Guild of Students encourage Secretariat members to attend meetings under the influence of consciousness-raising drugs, intoxicating substances, nicotine induced inspiration and on-prescription ideology."

  Robert/Jan Paul.

That might all be terribly amusing. I, for one, would not deny that when I was at university I indulged in a great deal of fun and tongue-in-cheek activities, but this is a body which is supposed to be handling the funds paid by students to the membership of this organisation. It is a responsible position. I recall from my days in the guild that hundreds of thousands of dollars passed through that guild.

  I will cite another more recent example relating to the Guild of Undergraduates at the University of Western Australia. A person by the name of Geoff Baker, who is employed at the Guild of Undergraduates and who is also the Young Labor secretary, used his guild number in an advertisement in the Times 23 August 1994 as a contact for people who were interested in joining the Young Labor movement. The advertisement is headed, `Interested in politics? Are you under 26? Then join Young Labor.' One of the numbers is Geoff Baker's—3802211. If that is not indulging in politically biased activity whilst being paid by student funds—and in this case the student is employed by the Guild of Undergraduates—then I do not know what is. Taxpayers' money is being channelled into these guilds and student unions and the state government is powerless to do anything about it.

  People might say that students do not have to pay their guild fees. That is true but, then again, taxpayers' money is going to prop up student activities. It does not matter whether this is a Labor biased guild, a Liberal biased guild, or a Democrat or Green biased guild. What is happening is that there is political bias. Taxpayers' money is being used to prop up student political activities.

  I am not convinced that the guilds of undergraduates across the country provide the services that they should. I believe that if student unionism was voluntary, then the heat would be on the student guild to provide better services so that people would join it to experience those services. So they would go all out to direct those funds into vital services such as cheaper food, drink and housing, child minding and the like but not spent on politically biased activities.

  I experienced this in the 1970s. It has gone on in the 1980s and I have just given an example that there is that same bias in the 1990s. I have an article here from the Meteor, Volume 5, this year labelling Sir Charles Court as one of Western Australia's great authoritarian and racist ex-Premiers. I put it to honourable senators that this flier is not offering any objective analysis to the students of that campus but that it is entirely biased to one mind-set, one political mode of thought. That is where the taxpayers' money will be going, to prop up that sort of student activism and not to essential services that have been mentioned by previous speakers.

  Finally, they say that a politician is like an acrobat: he keeps his balance by saying one thing and doing another. Quite frankly, the government is doing this quite blatantly in that it pays lip-service to the United Nations and then does something completely different by circumscribing voluntary association. I think that is the most despicable part of this piece of legislation.

  Debate interrupted.