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Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Page: 3174

Dr JENSEN (10:01 AM) —I rise to speak on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009, which could possibly be referred to as the repeal of voluntary student unionism bill. Here we are talking about heartland Labor dogma. Here we see a Prime Minister doing his best imitation of Marty McFly, leaping into his ideological DeLorean and taking us screaming back to the days of compulsory funding for all sorts of non-core activities, many of which were merely fronts for pro-Labor activism. If Labor really cared about our university students they would concentrate on ensuring that taxpayer dollars spent on tertiary education went to the highest quality of core university responsibility—that is, providing a first-class education. However, instead of education, Labor is revisiting the old chestnut of non-core services, many of which are provided in the general community anyway, such as dentists, child care and sporting and other clubs. Why should university students be able to pay less for playing sport than other members of society?

The member for Wills mentioned a second-hand bookshop. In a captive market for these items, such as on a university campus, surely there could be some enterprising students who could run the bookshop. Maybe they could even—shock, horror!—make a profit. If not, perhaps some students who proclaim so loudly their desire to serve their fellow students could actually organise volunteers to man such a facility for just a few weeks at the beginning of each semester instead of demanding more money to do so. As for campus magazines, once again, where is the spirit of volunteering? Where are the groups of committed student activists who claim to care so much about the various causes they espouse? Can they not use their own time to write student papers, perhaps even getting advertising and then charging for these magazines so that people who are interested can buy the magazines and those who are not interested are not forced to pay for something they do not want? Oh, dear, we are back to that troublesome word again—choice.

Using Labor’s logic, female taxpayers should have to support Woman’s Day and the Australian Women’s Weekly. The member for Wills also seems to have difficulty with the definition of ‘compulsory’. Referring to the Howard government’s legislation, he makes the logically incomprehensible statement that it was compulsory to be voluntary. That just shows what a bind Labor is in with the concept of choice: ‘voluntary’ is the antonym of ‘compulsory’. Our argument is that students should have a choice as to whether they pay for these services, many of which they do not want and will never use. The excuse often floated is that many taxpayers pay for things they will not use or benefit from—people with no children helping to fund child care, for example. That is precisely the reason why many students also work, plus all students who contribute to the federal government coffers by way of GST should not have to pay twice for services, many of which they do not want and will not use.

The member for Wills also sententiously states that the Labor Party supports student organisations and their criticism of government, saying that student unions have been critical of HECS. It would be interesting to see how many issues of the Left were supported by student unions and how many of the Right, like voluntary student unionism, for example. I suggest that any research would illustrate that Labor’s policy comes, as usual, from self-interest rather than some phoney concern about the rights of students to self-expression.

The member for Wills then digs himself even further into an ideological hole of his party’s making by accusing the Liberal Party of paternalism. He claims that we are saying: ‘We know what’s best for you. You cannot manage your own affairs.’ That is like Courtney Love accusing Olivia Newton-John of being a bit trashy. It is of course the Labor Party which is telling students that they must contribute. It is Labor which is denying the right of students who want the choice of whether or not to contribute. On the other hand, it is the coalition which is saying to students, ‘You should have the choice.’ The justice and appropriateness of that policy was borne out by those darn pesky students who, when given choice, actually exercised it, and they left student guilds in droves.

In the face of this mass exodus, it would have been intelligent for those organisations to take a good hard look at themselves, to wonder, ‘If so many students leave or refuse to join, maybe, just maybe, we’re not giving them what they want.’ But, no, such introspection is not in the nature of these people. Clearly these organisations are just as paternalistic—or perhaps I should say dictatorial—as their parent body, the ALP. Instead of serving their clientele like any organisation worth its salt, they demand that the clientele pay them for services they clearly do not want. That is another classic characteristic of the Labor Party. Not only is the concept of choice beyond them; so is the concept of supply and demand.

The other big mistake the member for Wills makes is confusing paternalism, which is at least well intentioned, with coercion and dictatorship. When it involves money, it is verging on extortion. If the member for Wills and his colleagues had the slightest intention of even giving honesty a passing nod, they would admit that, as so many on this side of the House have stated, the Labor Party want to force all university students to pay for cosy little greenhouses where the next generation of Labor MPs will be nurtured and trained.

This legislation bears all the hallmarks of discredited and toxic socialist dogma, now resurfacing, masquerading as economically conservative Labor. We have already seen what a total fraud that claim was, and this was yet another wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing exercise by the Fabians opposite. The attack on students comes after the initial classic class-envy spite of banning Australian full-fee-paying students from Australian universities while still permitting overseas full-fee-paying students—once again, an example of this coercive, dictatorial, antichoice government actively attacking just one section of our society, those who wish to get an education and are prepared to pay for it.

In truth, as columnist Paul Sheehan said recently, this government is merely a pale version of Labor in the 1970s, ‘Whitlam-lite’. Government members clearly long for the heady days when student unions, just like trade unions, could force unwilling and in many cases Liberal-voting students and workers to fund left-wing campaigns. Those campaigns had nothing to do with freedom of expression or fair political discourse and everything to do with getting as many groups as possible, via forced funding, to push Labor ideology. The government longs for the return of the glory days when millions of taxpayers’ dollars went via left-wing militant student unions straight to the Labor cause, the halcyon era of bussing students to protests against coalition governments, the happier times of student unions’ hard-Left political campaigns when anti-logging, anti-US, anti-Liberal, anti-family, anti-Israel, pro-drugs posters and propaganda adorned every campus.

The member for Werriwa speaks about supporting various amenities and services essential to students. He lists many services which have been cut but omits to mention that many of these services are available elsewhere—health, employment, child care et cetera. I reiterate: why should students have to pay twice for services which all Australians, including the Prime Minister’s frequently evoked working families, should have access to, paid for via the taxation system? The answer is that these services are a smokescreen for the real reason for Labor’s bill: the revitalisation of the militant activism seen in the seventies and eighties. The member for Werriwa invites members on his side of the House to relate their own experiences of university.

Mr Hayes —No, your side of the House.

Dr JENSEN —I am quite happy to relate my experiences. There were services that I was quite happy to pay for, such as the gym and the tennis court. Incidentally, for example, you had to pay for those services anyway at Melbourne university. You had to pay $4 an hour for the use of the tennis court—that was nearly 20 years ago. But I was not happy about paying fees for student newspapers and the various societies and so on that I had no interest whatsoever in joining. My wife was a student at Deakin University. However, she was a student at Deakin University in Perth, and it is an awfully long way to fly from Perth to Geelong to get access to student services and the various guild organisations and so on, yet she had to pay for it.

Mr Perrett —Have a look at the legislation.

Dr JENSEN —I am just relating what has happened in the past; these are experiences that we had. I also found it interesting that a member of parliament would admit that virtually all members in this House are university educated, thereby acknowledging that the good old days, when the Labor Party genuinely represented blue-collar workers, are long gone. The corollary of Labor’s relentless drive for more and more young people to consider a university education as their right, no matter what their abilities were, is the implication that blue-collar workers were somehow failures because they were not good enough or chose not to attend university. That is a large part of the reason we are seeing a trade shortage in this country. Young people were brainwashed into thinking that they should all go on to university no matter whether it was suitable for their abilities or whether there was a need for those graduates. The universities were happy to go along with the sentiment because it meant more students and more funding.

If Labor really cared about universities, students and the standard of education, they would be more interested in quality rather than quantity. Members on this side have no hesitation in supporting extra funding for universities when it ensures a better quality of education—better libraries, better staff and better laboratories and other resources. Despite the member for Werriwa’s assertions, university sporting activity is not, as he puts it, essential for university life unless you are doing a sports related degree. Many students that are active in sports never join a university sporting club. That is their choice—and there is that word again: ‘choice’, which presents so many problems for Labor. Getting a Labor member to freely and willingly enunciate the word ‘choice’ in this context is as hard as getting the Fonz from Happy Days to say the word ‘wrong’. The member for Werriwa also said that food and beverage services were essential to university life. I would have thought that anyone with the slightest degree of business acumen having a captive clientele of the order quoted by the member in his speech, many of whom have time between lectures and tutorials to meet and have something to eat or drink, ought to be able to make a profit from a business selling food and drinks. He reaches the apogee of his argument with a startling claim that money creates diversity. It certainly did not create a diversity of opinion, because, as I have already said, in the heyday of forced funding for student organisations, all the political produce of student union magazines et cetera was of the Left, if not the extreme Left.

However, if the government genuinely believes in supporting these services—counselling, employment et cetera—let them specify funding for these purposes as the Howard government did. That would prove the government is genuine in its intentions and not just interested in taxing students to fund left-wing activism. Sadly, I think anyone holding their breath waiting for that burst of honesty would expire long before it eventuated.

The member for Kingston goes even further with the essential services line of argument, stating that, at some regional and rural campuses, students have no alternative place to go for basic services such as health services. If that is truly the case, surely a competent and caring government would ensure the broader community, not just students, had all the services they needed.

In summary, this bill is all about using the mainly peripheral activities adjunct to the universities core raison d’etre as a backdoor way of re-establishing the slush funds to fund left-wing organisations. In doing this, Labor shows that it has no interest in ordinary students, many of whom struggle to meet the cost of educating themselves, especially in this economic climate. Labor claims this bill is to help students. It is funny how help from the Labor Party usually ends up costing everyone so much more money. That has been the track record of Labor over the past several decades. The only difference now is the amount of money Labor policies are costing taxpayers, or, in this case, students.