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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 6563


Senator RYAN (Victoria) (18:36): This amendment goes to the core of what the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010 is about and betrays the true agenda not only of the Greens but of the Labor Party. This amendment removes a very paper-thin protection for students—what, in essence, is almost a worthless protection for students. It removes it by saying that, as well as collecting a compulsory fee, as well as collecting a fee for services that students may not want to use or be able to use—if they are external students I do not know how they are going to get to Melbourne uni to use the pool, but they will pay the fee—we can go back to the bad old days when the universities were closed shops. We can go back to the days when the vice-chancellors would levy fees of hundreds and hundreds of dollars in poll tax form to subsidise preferred groups on campus.

I remember one vice-chancellor at Melbourne uni who had a particular thing for the debating society, which had a number of overseas trips per year. It was quite important that all the students who did not or could not participate in that had to subsidise it. I spoke last night about the ski lodges. It is obviously important that the university be able to pass over money to preferred sporting clubs or institutions in order to fund those facilities, according to the government. But this amendment from Senator Hanson-Young goes back to the bad old days when you had to pay it to a student union.

I am surprised we have not heard from Senator Hanson-Young. After all her interjections, we have not heard that old falsehood of universal membership, that newspeak concept. We do not talk about compulsory unionism; we talk about univerĀ­sal membership. Whatever you call it, it basically makes people join an organisation that is inherently political, regardless of their own personal views and regardless of their own rights of conscience. I say this because the proponents of compulsory unionism, or universal membership, have for many years said, 'But there was always a right of conscientious objection.' And there was in some constitutions.

I remember sitting on the student council of the then Melbourne University Student Union in 1992, and someone did apply for conscientious objection. They objected to various political activities of the student union. It was a guild structure. They objected to money being spent on various things. I think one of them was a Middle Eastern political activist campaign—clearly of relevance to most students at Melbourne uni! But do you know what the irony was, Madam Temporary Chairman? Upon application, the student council got to judge. If I recall correctly, there were 17 votes on the student council and I was one of fewer than five who voted for that person to be granted the right to conscientious objection. While the student union said that anyone could conscientiously object, this person tried. They came before the committee and various members of the Left Alliance—one of the various forebears of the Greens, who we see in this place now—would actually say: 'No, we don't believe that you should be able to exercise the right of conscientious objection. We don't believe you have a right not to join. We believe in universal membership.'

I tell you what: I have more respect for those people than I do for the proponents of this amendment, because they were honest. This amendment tries to hide what is compulsory student unionism in its most basic form—compulsory student unionism that the Supreme Court of Victoria threw out in Clark v University of Melbourne No. 1 and No. 2 in 1977 and 1978. As I mentioned last night, Robert Clark, who is now the Attorney-General of Victoria, fought that battle on behalf of students. For decades afterwards, the results of that case limited the political activities of student unions. This amendment attempts not only to remove many of the protections that developed under the previous government's policy of voluntary student unionism but also to remove the protections that came out of that case.

What is the rationale for this? We never hear a rationale. We heard from Senator Hanson-Young at one point in an interjection that we should have student control of student affairs. I can honestly say that we on this side of the chamber would all agree with you. We would love students to have control of student affairs. We just think individual students should be able to exercise the judgment that we expect of people at university, people who are adults in a legal sense—after all, they are enrolled at a university, sometimes in a professional degree. They can choose whether to join the Army and they can choose whatever else they want to do in society, but they cannot choose whether or not they join a student union. So this charade of a slogan, 'student control of student affairs', goes to the heart of what this Greens amendment is about.

We have heard the 'fourth level of government' argument so often from the proponents of universal membership, or compulsory student unionism, over many years. One thing I do not hear from the Greens is why on earth we do not have compulsory voting at universities. If you are going to make all the students pay and you are big supporters of compulsory voting in state, local and Commonwealth elections, why don't you support compulsory voting in student elections? What the Greens, the Labor Party and the proponents of this are afraid of is that the majority of students might exercise their right to determine how their money is spent. At the moment students are exercising their right to choose how their money is spent by keeping it in their pockets or joining up, as the case may be. But Senator Hanson-Young does not want that to continue.

She also does not like the idea that the great majority of students are disengaged from the affairs of student politicians. They are more concerned with their degrees and their social activities, which might not necessarily be on a university campus. It might be hard to believe. Senator Mason referred to himself as a former student politician. Senator Brandis outlined that I had been. Senator Mason, we might have had social lives off campus. We did not need the student union to tell us we had a social life. But, according to Senator Hanson-Young, the Labor Party and the proponents of this amendment, we have to have the student union tell us whether we have a social life. It is called a student organisation, but it is a student union.

What we also have in this amendment is yet another way to avoid the sham-like protections that exist in this flimsy bill. The government will claim that there is protection against political activity, but apparently you can print stickers that tell people not to vote for someone—you just cannot tell people to vote for someone. There can be political activity as long as it does not promote the election of someone to a state, territory or Commonwealth parliament or a local council. So we know the protections are not there, but this strips away even some of the basic ones.

Once you put the student political factions like those Senator Hanson-Young represents in this place in control of student union affairs, with the huge voter turnout that might be five per cent of students, that is when you get what I described last night. That is when you get services being subsidised like a cafeteria that might lose a quarter of a million dollars, as Melbourne uni did in the early 1990s. How you manage to lose a quarter of a million dollars on a closed campus like the University of Melbourne is unknown to most, but they managed to. The money would come out of the till and it would be used to pay the NUS affiliation fees. It would be used to pay student office-bearers' wages, which at the time were in the order of $20,000-plus, which was not an insignificant amount of money. This amendment will ensure that those people again seize control of student funds. The shop stewards of the universities, the vice-chancellors, have their interest in trying to buy peace, as they always have.

The logic of this does not stand up. The logic of this, which is that if you go to a university you have to pay for all the services, is the same logic that says that if you walk into a pub and someone has paid to play something on the jukebox you have to pay for your little share as well. After all, you are enjoying the music and you are in the pub, so there should be a juke box fee in every pub. The logic of the argument could actually be applied like that. We could also have the pool table levy, which would be very much like some of the sports union facilities that exist on our campus. But while you can at least listen to the juke box, if everyone at Melbourne uni tried to hit the pool hall or the ski lodge God knows they would not stand a chance of getting in. It is a bit like trying to play pool at the pub: you will pay, regardless of whether or not you actually get to use the facility, let alone whether or not you are interested. I am grateful that I live in the suburb next door to Collingwood. Otherwise the city of Yarra, commonly known as the People's Republic of Yarra where I come from, might charge us a fee to make us all support the Collingwood football club, just because we happen to live in the area.

There is no logic to the bill, and this amendment weakens the bill even further. It is nothing but pandering to the left-wing student base that the Greens draw their activists from. Any given issue that appears at university the Greens will jump on. We know that people join the Greens party, get disillusioned with the power games that happen and leave in their mid- to late-20s, unless they are one of the preferred few who get preselection. That is why the Greens are campaigning for this. It is the worst example of pandering to your base. It does them no credit, and this bill does the parliament no credit.