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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 653

Senator ZAKHAROV(11.46) —I do not intend to go into the various convoluted and often contradictory arguments put forward by Senator Peter Baume, as I think most of them are not relevant to the topic and I am surprised that some of them seem to be possible of extension to support for a system of voluntary taxation which may be something that those opposite agree with.

Senator Robert Ray —It is voluntary for them.

Senator ZAKHAROV —That is exactly what I mean. However, I want to comment on those parts of the legislation which remove the very controversial and objectionable provisions of the 1979 and 1981 legislation which placed restrictions on the activities of student organisations at the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education. These Bills, the Australian National University Amendment Bill 1984 and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Bill 1984, reverse one more of the shameful actions of the previous Government, an action which in this case did not get the public attention which I think it deserved at the time, probably because it constituted an attack on a group of people who are seen at least as relatively powerless to influence the actions of conservative governments. This group was the student body of the ANU and the Canberra CAE.

Yet at that time there was one group in that student body powerful out of all proportion to its members-those students were mainly members of campus Liberal organisations and other right wing groups. It should be noted that they were too few to muster the numbers for a petition to the ANU Council; yet they gained the ear of the then Liberal-National Party Government. That Government was clearly interested in having yet another piece of union bashing on the record, this time aimed at student unions, which have a record of campaigning on behalf of their members against the dismantling of Labor initiatives in education. It should be remembered that this repressive action was opposed at the time by the Council of the ANU, and university councils in my experience are not noted for their radical views.

The 1979 and 1981 amendments to the relevant Acts were not passed in isolation. They were part of an orchestrated campaign against student unions and organisations in States which then had conservative governments. Evidence that this was a concerted campaign is to be found in the Senate Hansard of 1 June 1978 where the then Senator Carrick, as Minister for Education, is reported as stating:

The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has now written to the State Premiers and has suggested similar legislation by those States which have not already acted along the lines proposed by the Commonwealth.

Happily those States now have more rational and democratically-minded governments, and I am pleased to say that this is the last piece of such repressive legislation to be repealed. Although the previous Government's legislation was dressed up by arguments about non-compulsory membership of student organisations-and of course we heard a lot of the same sort of rhetoric from Senator Baume today-this was not the real issue behind the then Government' s actions. Students already had, as they have now, provisions available for genuine conscientious objection to membership, as was pointed out frequently in debate in this place at the time. So clearly this was not the real reason for introducing these measures. Rather, the purpose of the anti-student association legislation was an attempt to prevent students engaging in activities critical of conservative governments, and at that unhappy time we had a lot of them in Australia. The then Senator John Carrick even dressed up this attack as saving the poor students from themselves. In a prime example of really patronising paternalism he referred in debate to 'payments made by student organisations for purposes which perhaps a majority of students and their parents would have opposed'-not only very paternalistic and patronising towards students who overwhelmingly are adults but also very speculative.

In particular, the 1979 and 1981 legislation was aimed at preventing student associations in the two Canberra tertiary institutions from maintaining affiliation with the Australian Union of Students which, in common with its predecessor, the National Union of Australian University Students, has a long history of achievement in defending and extending the rights of students. I remind the Senate that it was the National Union of Australian University Students which established the first tertiary scholarships for Aboriginals in Australia and campaigned for the abolition of the white Australia policy, both seen then as very radical policies but accepted today by all rational Australians.

Senator Teague —There is no problem with those two.

Senator ZAKHAROV —I was giving examples of what it has done. The Australian Union of Students and its constituent bodies throughout Australia have successfully campaigned on such issues as education funding; financial assistance for students; the reform of curriculum and assessment procedures; assistance for disadvantaged students; the provision of student services such as health, housing and legal advice, which were set up by student associations long before they were funded by anyone else; and student advocacy on campus issues, as well as providing student clubs and societies, student newspapers, food services, and so on. I wonder whether Senator Baume advocates that people be allowed to use these services who do not pay their fees to the student bodies.

During last session Senator Baume spoke in this place about a case of discrimination against a student at Canberra CAE, a case in which a student was failed on other than academic grounds. I am glad that such a case was brought to public attention in this way, but I was surprised that Senator Baume, a former Minister for Education, seemed to believe that such an occurrence was unusual. I mention that in the context of this legislation because student associations and unions have been very active on this issue in recent years. The Australian Union of Students has campaigned strongly against sexual harassment on campuses, particularly the not infrequent cases where assessment is made dependent on compliance with sexual demands. Officers of the AUS and its constituent bodies have given much needed support both to victims and potential victims of this abuse of power, as it does to other groups of disadvantaged students. But the Fraser Government was not interested in the value of student unions and associations to their members. The repressive measures repealed by these Bills were designed to weaken student associations by preventing them from being part of the Australia-wide organisation of students which was mobilising student and public opposition to the cuts in education spending which were initiated by the infamous Fraser razor gang. The present Government unfortunately cannot undo all the damage done in that slashing of support for education. It cannot, for example, unscramble the college campuses which were forcibly amalgamated. But our Government is taking this step to restore the rights of students to expend their funds in accordance with their own democratic decisions without outside interference. The repeal of these abhorrent provisions may seem like a very minor matter to some in this chamber but, apart from having an effect on those students, it is symbolic in putting an end to one more attack by the previous Government on the democratic rights of Australian citizens.