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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 649


Senator PETER BAUME(11.18) —The Australian National University Amendment Bill 1984 and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Amendment Bill 1984 amend the principal Acts under which these institutions operate. Both of the Bills contain a number of amendments which have been requested by the institutions and about which I think there is no disputation. I think there will be bipartisan agreement and acceptance of the majority of the amendments that the Bills propose. We can put to one side very quickly the bulk of those amendments and I do not wish to discuss them any further. They will, of course, be supported by the Opposition.

However, the main purpose of these Bills is really to delete provisions which were inserted into the Australian National University Act and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Act-the first Act having been amended in 1979 and 1981 and the second Act having been amended in 1979 only-to provide for voluntary membership of the student organisations at those institutions. The Opposition still supports strongly the principle of voluntary student unionism. It supports what was being sought in those amendments and will therefore oppose certain provisions of the Bills before us. Our support, is for a principle which does not apply only to the Australian Capital Territory. It is a consequence of our federal system of government that it is only in the consideration of the two Australian Capital Territory institutions that the wider principle of voluntary student unionism and voluntary membership of student organisations which is embodied in these two Bills can be dealt with. It is only in the context of considering the Australian Capital Territory situation that we can raise a problem which exists Australia-wide.

The Opposition will oppose those clauses of the Bills which will serve effectively to reintroduce or to allow for compulsory student unionism. Further, the Opposition will seek to amend the Bills to extend the operation of voluntary student unionism on these campuses, to extend the principle of voluntarism. We will seek to amend the Bills to ensure that the non-retribution provisions in the Acts remain. At present, membership of a student association is voluntary. In addition to that, no part of the compulsory fee collected from students may be used to support socio-political activities on campus. I will mention later some of the socio-political matters which have been supported in the past and which have brought no credit upon some campuses in the context of the way in which they have allowed compulsorily collected student moneys to be used. At present the funds generated by the compulsory fee must be used to provide amenities and services. We will seek to amend the Bills so that the payment of all student union fees becomes voluntary. That is, we are proposing that those who do not wish to belong and who do not wish to pay should not have access to the services which are provided on campus. I will mention that later.

The Opposition's support for voluntary unionism on campus is consistent with our commitment to voluntary membership of trade unions generally and associations generally but, more importantly, it rests upon our commitment to individual freedom, the individual liberty of free people in a free society. We believe that any move to coerce people to join or to belong, or to pay even if they do not join, infringes that principle. We believe that students, like other members of the community, should have the right to determine for themselves whether they wish to belong to and to contribute to a student association or union. The question which we really have to answer is: Why should it be compulsory for students to support social organisations, why should it be compulsory or necessary for students to support sporting organisations on campus and why should it be necessary for students to support political activities on campus, if it is not their desire so to do?

I must say that most of the arguments have not dealt with whether it is right in principle but have rested upon the fact that it is convenient and practical as a means of taxing, of raising revenue, to impose this compulsion. As I will develop a little later, it is not part of the essential scholarly function of Australian campuses for this compulsion to exist. It is not essential to the function of a university that it should have fine sporting ovals or that students should necessarily be forced to contribute to providing facilities.

I come back to our belief in people's right to determine for themselves how and where they associate. The freedom to associate or not to associate is one of the most fundamental rights in a democratic society. This right has to be a real one which people can exercise, not a right to which people give lip-service and then change for compulsion so that the students, while we may say they have the right , in fact have no freedom at all and must pay even for services which they do not wish to use and activities of which they disapprove.

There is no freedom of association if students who decide not to associate are discriminated against. There is no freedom of association if students who decide not to join are forced to contribute. That, in fact, represents compulsory membership and compulsory association, perhaps through the back door. If students are forced to join because sanctions are applied to those who do not and because there is a fear that sanctions will be imposed upon them, that action infringes a right to associate or not to associate.

Real voluntary membership on campus cannot be said to exist if a compulsory fee is levied, whether or not the students wish to belong to an organisation. That point is even more important if the funds that are collected by compulsion are given either directly or indirectly to organisations which a person not only does not support but finds morally or politically repugnant.

I refer honourable senators to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed on 10 December 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Article 20 of that document sets out these points in very simple terms. It states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

That declaration makes it clear that the principle of voluntary membership must be protected. The principle of voluntary membership counts for very little if there is compulsory collection of fees, if one is forced to pay into a student association whether or not one elects to be a member. It is like being told by some of the arrogant unions-I speak as a former trade union member-in my State: 'You cannot have a job unless you pay those dues'. It is a matter of whether those activities relating to students are consistent with that part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Australian National University Act, as presently contructed, seeks to preserve the right of students to belong or not to belong to an organisation. However, this Bill removes certain protections and seeks to leave that right in the hands of institutions. I put it to honourable senators that the only possible reason for making that change is the possibility that institutions will wish to adopt a different approach. The present legislation protects the rights of students not to belong to a union, and the Government seeks to remove that protection. This suggests that there must be a possibility that some institution will want to use its new capacity-if not now, then at some time in the future-to limit the right of students not to belong or not to participate in certain activities. We must address ourselves to the possibility of an institution wishing to act contrary to article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must acknowledge that, under the Bill now before us, that institution will have the capacity so to do.

The collection of student fees is, of course, big business. Much money in involved. In 1983 the Australian National University collected $755,647 from students. The university actually disbursed $739,266 to organisations on campus. Of that sum, the Australian National University Union received $399,810, the ANU Sports Union received $217,881, the ANU Students Association received $98,046, the ANU Research Students Association received $12,354, the ANU Law Society received $1,175 and the Arts Centre received $10,000. Most of the money went to the ANU Union and the ANU Sports Union, while lesser amounts went to the ANU Students Association. Individual students on campus had no capacity to determine which organisations received the money or how much they received. Students were forced to belong to organisations that provided facilities on campus-social and sporting facilities and socio-political activities.

The ANU Union operates at a loss. The fact is that it cannot, even with that subsidy, compete with the many clubs on the perimeter of the campus. Those clubs are, of course, unsubsidised and market responsive. This collection of money is inappropriate and ineffective. It is common knowledge that the organisations on the ANU campus are having difficulties in coping. Some students at ANU do not want to belong to those organisations. Some students at ANU do not want to use the facilities of the ANU Union and Sports Union. Those students go to the university for purposes which they perceive and which may be restricted to their scholarly activities. They do not want to have to pay for resources in which they are not interested, about which they do not care and which they will not use. To require payment by virtue of this type of disbursement policy is to require those students to contribute to things that they will not use and in which they have no interest.

There is ample historical evidence from the recent past showing that student organisations have used money collected under compulsion from students in ways that many students have found offensive. Compulsory fees have been used inter alia to support the Christmas Island Workers Union, the Australian Labor Party, the National Overseas Student Services organisation, which was supporting political movements overseas and Melbourne radio station 3CR. Those fees have been used also to set up a Nimbin commune.

Compulsory fees have been used to give money to striking power workers. What possible right is there to disburse money collected from students by compulsion to striking power workers? What a misuse of money it is to support the Asian Students Organisation and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. It is on record that at one stage money collected under compulsion was used to condemn world series cricket. What a great use of money collected under compulsion it is to give money to the Zimbabwe Liberation Front. When the AUS had a big budget 2 per cent of it was allocated to national affairs and 4 per cent to international affairs. There are many students on many Australian campuses who say: 'It is bad enough that money is being collected from us compulsorily but it is just too much when it is used for purposes like this'.

I am aware that one justification for raising the money is that student organisations do have debts. I do not think it is sufficient to say that that makes the levies essential, except that it is a convenient way of taxing and revenue raising to help meet those debts. The facilities which are provided by the ANU and the CCAE are desirable facilities. I do not deny the provision of sporting facilities. But it is a non sequitur, in logical terms to say therefore that they should be paid for by a levy on all students including those who, either by virtue of their work commitments or their geographical isolation, may never be able to use those facilities. To say that all students have to pay for them is to make a statement which has no basis in logic. The students may not be able to use the restaurants and bistros; they may not be able to use the theatres. It may not be an area in which they have an interest. They may not wish to use the club rooms, the ovals, the swimming pools or anything else that is provided.

The fact that the ANU Sports Union has a present loan balance of $308,253 is a matter between the Sports Union and the ANU but it is not a justification for requiring every student on that campus to help pay off that debt. There is a logical case for saying that those who wish to use these facilities should be prepared to play their part. There is no validity in saying that every student should have to pay. The same goes for the ANU Union's loan of $250,000 repayable over five years, up to 1987. That is fine. The debt is legitimate; it is the method of repayment which is not.

I ask: What communal obligations do we believe attach to any person who wishes to enter a college or university? Their eventual aim is to become a member of a world-wide community of scholars, but what obligations attach to them when they enter that college or university and embark upon their education and training at that level? Certainly there is a central obligation which relates to their association with the community of scholars and their scholarly commitments. Scholarship is the central feature; scholarship is the obligation they undertake , an obligation to pursue whatever course of learning they are undertaking and to do that with dedication and drive. But the obligations do not extend, and never have, to the use of a whole range of university facilities, to the support of those facilities or to the provision of those facilities, whether they are commercial, social or sporting. No matter how desirable those facilities might be, it does not provide reason to make them compulsory upon every student.

I am aware and I think honourable senators will be aware that the Australian National University Council has recently taken a decision in relation to compulsory student membership. In the short term it is a very desirable decision . It is a decision which was taken by the ANU Council on Friday, 11 May 1984 and says that the membership of various organisations will not be compulsory but the levying of the fee still will be compulsory. That decision, and a similar decision which I believe exists at the CCAE, will require the fees to be paid although it will waive compulsory membership. It is an extra educational tax and this Bill will provide for the organisations that the moneys collected from that tax can be used in wider ways than they can at present and without the protections which the amendments of 1979 and 1981 put into the Act. There is no justification in what is being proposed and there is no merit in it either. Not only is there no merit in this impost upon students but it is interesting to note the views of the Australian Labor Party. At a recent conference of the Australian Union of Students, before Labor came into office, the then spokesman on education, Mr John Dawkins, in speaking to the AUS, promised that Labor would work to have the AUS fee restored. Part of what Mr Dawkins said at the AUS annual conference in January 1982, indicating the way the Labor Party would proceed, was:

To the extent that funds are made available for the purposes of particular tertiary education institutions in States Grants legislation, conditions could be imposed that related the funds to the absence of control by the State over the conduct of student unions or organisations; and this sort of condition could be linked to the provision of funds for the institution generally, rather than only to the provision of funds for the purposes of the student unions or organisations.

He went on to state:

In all cases where States Grants legislation is used to provide funds for tertiary education in the States, section 96 would enable conditions about the autonomy of student unions or organisations as part of the provision of funds.

In other words he is saying that the Labor Party is quite prepared, unless it has changed its policy since this statement was made, to include as one of the conditions of the States Grants Act requirements about the ways in which universities allow student fees collected compulsorily to be used. Of course, that related to the capacity for the AUS to collect fees and to use them in any way it wanted. So there would be more support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, more support for Malaysian terrorist organisations and more support for the Christmas Island Workers Union, matters which have nothing to do with what goes on on campus, nothing to do with matters for which money is taken from students.

I come back to the point that though this legislation relates to the Australian Capital Territory we have the words of Mr Dawkins in January 1982-just a couple of years ago-indicating quite clearly that the Australian Labor Party has as its goal a disposition to move all campuses in Australia back to a position in which the funds can be collected under compulsion and then spent on matters which may or may not have the support of the body of students. I believe it is the intention of the Government to see that kind of compulsion nationwide, if I can believe what Mr Dawkins has said.

I return to my central point, the point I made earlier. This is a matter which goes to freedom of association, to liberty of individuals in one aspect of Australian communal life. It was Woodrow Wilson who observed that liberty has never come from government; liberty has always come from the subjects of government and the history of liberty is the history of resistance. Students across Australia have been resisting these levies and resisting this compulsion because they can see that they are unfair, that they limit their opportunities and that they require them to contribute to things in which they do not believe.

At the Committee stage of the debate the Opposition will move certain amendments. We will move amendments to extend to these two universities and colleges the principle of voluntarism in the collection of moneys for purposes which are not central to the pursuit of scholarship or the function of universities and colleges. We will seek to make both union membership and payment voluntary to a greater extent than they are at present. We will seek to have retained in the Act a non-retribution clause which requires universities not to punish or take action against students because of decisions they may take in relation to membership. I want the Government to explain why it wants that non-retribution clause taken out. One must presume that if that is to be taken out there is a possibility of retribution once again against individual students . I understand also that there is an agreed amendment that the commencement date of certain provisions of the Bill needs to be changed. I indicate now that the Opposition will support the new commencement date, but we will still be pressing our amendments which go to freedom, liberty, a fair go and a separation on campus of those activities which are central to scholarship from those activities which are optional and extra and about which this compulsion is quite inappropriate and unnecessary.