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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 2845


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (13:34): In rising to address this bill, the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, I would like to focus as others have done on one particular schedule—schedule 1, items 1 to 9—and the amendments relating to the indexation of student services fees. The bill follows a previous amendment that has already come before us and passed the parliament, is already in operation and is already hurting Australian students. We knew that the previous amendment would hurt Australian students before it was passed because, like so many other bills that come before us, it was a traditional Labor-inspired attack on freedom. The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010 was delayed passage through this place until 2011. As a consequence, we are told we now have a problem with the indexation of student services fees.

The original amendment allowed higher education providers to charge students an annual, capped, compulsory student services and amenities fee of $250 plus indexation from 1 January 2011. Due to the delayed introduction of that bill, we now have another amendment bill before us to clarify the indexation rates and revise the maximum fee allowed to be charged. The maximum fee to be charged of students will rise from $250 to $263 with this bill. So the question is: why are we bothering to go to all the trouble of creating this amendment and pushing it through parliament for the sake of $13? I would suggest that it is because every dollar counts. Every dollar counts when it comes to the penny pinching of Labor and the unions, including student unions.

I said before that this was a Labor-inspired bill because it was an attack on freedom. The very last thing that a Labor government wants to see is somebody having a say in how they spend their own money. On that basis, Labor are sure to make sure that every dollar counts. It is in their DNA to make sure that every single dollar that they can possibly lay their hands on is extracted out of private individuals' pockets so that they can spend it somewhere else and say: 'Look at us. Aren't we nice? We are providing the people'—in this case, the student unions—'with something that is half as good as what could be provided and at twice the price. And here is the best bit: we are doing it all with your own money.' That is why every dollar counts when it comes to this government. Every dollar they can extract from an individual through taxes, fees, levies or whatever they want to call them is one more dollar that can be used inefficiently. The theft of individual freedom—that genetic predisposition to taxing and wasting on the other side—is what we see in this compulsory student services and amenities fee. Because it is compulsory, students do not have a choice in this. They do not have a choice in how their money is spent. They must be fleeced of $263 every year, basically to be a part of a student union. Let us not mince words here. This so-called student services and amenities fee is nothing more than a student union fee. It used to be called the student union fee, but now we have a student services fee because we do not want to make it obvious that we once had compulsory student unionism and that we are now going back to it and are going to be indoctrinating students into the student union movement so that they can go on and become compulsory lifelong supporters of and donors to the Labor Party.

If it is a pig, call it a pig. Do not put lipstick on it and call it Katie. If it looks like a pig, grunts like a pig and smells like a pig, let's just call it a pig. And this pig does smell. The smell is already wafting around university campuses across the country. We witnessed earlier this month what compulsory unionism does to university students when students from James Cook University in Townsville, in the electorate of my good friend the member for Herbert, voiced their disgust at being forced to pay for services they were not accessing. In the Townsville Bulletin on 8 March we had university student Rebecca Mottin saying that students were already struggling and that this tax was a 'useless' expense.

And that is right: students are struggling. Here is a news flash for the Labor Party: students are not rich. For students, as well, every dollar counts. Why are we bothering with creating legislation and pushing it through parliament for the sake of $13, when universities are already slugging students for that extra $13 anyway? That is quite serious. The same Townsville Bulletin article says that James Cook University students have until the end of this month to pay $263. Those bills are out there now, and this legislation is supposedly enacting that. There is no waiting to clarify how the indexation works for students, who now have to find money before the end of the month to pay that bill. To a student, $250—the original amount in the last bill—is alone a huge impost. To a student, that extra $13 can make all the difference. As I said, to a student every dollar counts; $13 means a student can feed himself for a day—or, given the penchant some students have for Maggi noodles, perhaps for a week!

If members in this place do not believe that it makes a difference to a student, they will be hard-pressed to explain how it is going to make a difference to a student union. We are told that these fees are going to be used in addition to the advocacy the student union provides—for services like sports clubs, accommodation support, infrastructure and campus amenities. All of those sound a lot like things universities should be providing as a matter of course. Let us not forget that students are already paying fees for their education. They are paying for textbooks and all their living expenses—rent, fuel, groceries, electricity, phone and internet—but they have a very limited income. This new tax on students—which is what it is—makes them pay for a sporting club or for a facility on campus whether they use it or not, and whether they are an internal student or a distance education student living thousands of kilometres away from the campus.

A third-year business student at James Cook University, Drew Alexion, says the compulsory student union fee is an 'unrealistic cost for students'. He says:

I can't imagine it is going to provide me with any real benefit and it is incredibly unfair for external students who will probably never use the amenities and for me as a-come-and-go student.

So on one hand we have students being indoctrinated with this compulsory unionism and acceptance of the old tax-and-waste regime of Labor, and on the other hand we have students learning a valuable lesson about the loss of freedom.

I asked students in my electorate what they thought about the fact that this is a compulsory fee, and the feedback was pretty convincing: compulsory student unionism or compulsory fees, especially for students, is a disgrace. Jessica Harris, who is going to CQ University in Mackay, said it is very difficult. This is what she told me: 'First of all, most of the scholarships that everyone offers here are for engineering or environmental studies. I'm doing education. And yes, I know that I will not be earning big money or working at the mines, but we're still worth helping out. By investing in teachers you're investing in children. This new student union fee is ridiculous. Not only do we have to pay for textbooks—and mine were $475 for a 12-week unit—or have to pay $500 to $800 per subject, but now we have to pay an extra $130 a half-year for the student association to do the exact job that they were doing beforehand.' That is a very good point. This is what another student, Brittany Power in Mackay, had to say: 'For uni students in Mackay, who have no other option than to complete their course through external subjects, what benefits do these amenity fees give? There are already enough expenses related to university.' She listed some. There are subject fees, textbooks and technology—all the courses require computers, and the internet. There are travel costs to residential schools, classes and placements. There are also the ramifications of the time restrictions with regard to paid work—this coming from a student who is studying full-time and has three part-time jobs. There is equipment required in the course of her studies and fieldwork, and costs relating to preclinical requirements, including a police check, blue card, immunisations and first aid and CPR courses. A student incurs all this. Brittany asks one simple question: 'How can the government justify adding to this list of expenses for students?'

So students are quickly learning the difference between Labor government policies and the policies of the Liberal-Nationals coalition. That is probably the one good thing that has come out of this—that they will learn a lesson about Labor. In light of the Gillard Labor government's performance, one of taxing and wasting on a gargantuan scale, students are learning how valuable economic freedom is—the freedom to have your own dollar and spend it in the most efficient way, as they did before the last bill was introduced—and how that freedom has evaporated. And it will evaporate even more with the passage of this bill, because once that dollar gets into the hands of a Labor government or their mates in the student unions there will be little or no benefit coming back to the actual student, and every student knows that every dollar counts.

This week Labor will vote for an extra 13 of those dollars—263 student dollars, to be taken out of their pockets and put into someone else's hand. We on this side will not stand for it. We will support students' retention of their own money and the defeat of this bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member for Dawson will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.