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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 661


Senator TEAGUE(12.37) —In the second reading speeches of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) on the Australian National University Amendment Bill 1984 and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Bill 1984 she noted rightly that these occasions facilitate useful amendments that are in the interests of the university and the college. The Opposition is glad to see the facilitation of these improvements to the Acts to meet the proper requests of the University Council and the College Council. Apart from these so-called minor amendments, the core of the Bills is the Government's proposal to remove the 1979 guarantees of voluntarism in membership of student associations and guarantees that moneys compulsorily raised will not be used or distributed to offensive organisations. They will not be offensively used, but will be used only for bona fide student educational organisations and organisations with like purposes.

Much of the debate that has already taken place in the Senate has been to the effect that the purpose of placing those guarantees in the legislation in 1979 has been achieved in any event because the University Council and the College Council have, in an administrative set of decisions, agreed to the purport of the legislation anyway. By removing the 1979 guarantees, there will not be any grand offence to the high principles of freedom of association and non- compulsion, because the University Council and the College Council are entirely accommodative of those principles. Senator Baume rightly noted that it is the Opposition's argument that they should nevertheless be retained because they do not contradict any administrative practice of the university or the college, but that they do have the benefit of making it impossible in the future for any regression, for the University Council or the College Council to be pressured by members of the university or college to change their tack away from the present practice.

The Minister in her second reading speech spoke of the 1979 guarantees being an unwarranted intrusion into the internal affairs of the university. Very largely, I agree with her. At the time we acknowledged that that was so. We said: 'We do not prefer to gain these principles-freedom of association and the right use of public and compulsorily raised money-by legislation in these chambers'. We gave every opportunity for the University Council and College Council of the day to enact those decisions themselves. But the sorry story was that in 1979 and subsequently, they were not decisions taken within the autonomy of the university and the college. I see that the Minister is in the chamber. I acknowledge that I have always maintained that it was a disappointing intrusion to have added those amendments five years ago. However, we supported the amendments then because it was the only way, unhappily, that we could guarantee freedom of association for the students in the university and college.

I am on record on many occasions as saying that I would like to see maximum autonomy for higher education institutions in Australia. I certainly welcome that within the bounds of that autonomy they have adopted the principles of the 1979 guarantees in any event. Long may they remain so, because universities and colleges are about free association, freedom to explore ideas, freedom to express ideas, freedom to study, freedom to teach, freedom to associate not only in lecture theatres and libraries but also in the recreational and more relaxed atmosphere where students can genuinely learn from other students any where an enormous amount of the purposes of a university are fulfilled.

The Minister also referred to the University Council having been consulted about the present amendments that are before the Senate and to the fact that it has indicated that it welcomes the Government's undertaking. I understand that, and I acknowledge it. I can only add that the 1979 amendments have in their five -year life achieved their primary purpose, and that was to win these freedoms not only in the Australian National University and Canberra College of Advanced Education, but also by inference give signals to the other universities and colleges in Australia and the relevant State governments within their powers to take parallel action. I note that our legislation in 1979, which was amended in a minor way in 1981, has largely been effective. I prefer the legislation to continue, particularly section 32A in the ANU Act and section 23A in the CCAE Act, which provide the guarantee of freedom of association-that is, they expressly present compulsion in the membership of an association, and I will continue to argue that case in this chamber. I welcome what Senator Macklin has said on behalf of the Australian Democrats, and I hope that our amendment to retain those sections will be upheld by the Senate today.

Whilst I prefer the retention of the guarantees in the legislation, I notice that the university has agreed to membership not being compulsory and that it has by its own authority agreed to continue the safeguards that we have urged and which were gained in the earlier legislation. However, if there is any regression, it is a fact of life that there remains the power in this Senate in the future-and, in particular in the Opposition when it comes to government-to review practices in the universities and colleges and in particular, of course, the ANU and the CCAE and, if necessary, to re-enact the 1979 guarantees.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.