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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 676

Senator TEAGUE(3.10) —I am glad to be able to continue my contribution to the debate on the Australian National University Amendment Bill and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Bill. Prior to Question Time and prior to the suspension of the sitting for lunch I was making the essential point that the 1979 legislation, in establishing guarantees for freedom of association and providing that membership of student associations was not compulsory, has been effective. It has achieved that situation in the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education and it has indirectly encouraged that situation in some other universities and colleges.

The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) maintains that this legislation is no longer necessary because of that de facto situation, it being upheld anyway by the University Council and by other administrative decisions of those higher education bodies. We maintain that such guarantees could well remain on the statute book to ensure that there is no relapse in the future. If there is a departure in the decisions of the Councils of the university and the college it would be a matter of review for this Opposition, on coming to government-indeed for the Senate at any time-to ensure that these fundamental guarantees of freedom of association are maintained. I hasten to add that whether we are dealing with the legislation of the last five years or the present regime of decisions in the university and college, there is still an offence which many students object to. We have enabled students not to be forced into becoming members of an association but nevertheless they are still levied a fee equivalent to that payable by other students. I will come back to the positive aspects of that matter a little later. One of the negative aspects is that when that fee is the full fee and it finances both the non-controversial aspects of student associations and student unions as well as the very controversial ones, those students dissenting or opting out would say that, in financial terms, their decision not to become a member has still led to a grant in their respect being paid to those controversial activities of the university or the college; that is, the political and social policy areas that are offensive or controversial to them in the activities of a student association.

I, like Senator Macklin, want to reflect on the nature of student unions in universities and colleges. I want to argue along lines similar to those put by Senator Macklin and other honorary senators in the past. Universities and colleges in Australia differentiate between, on the one hand, those uncontroversial and positive aspects of student union facilities and activities and, on the other hand, those controversial, contested, political and social policy activity areas of student unions and student associations. I happen to think both are important. But I believe that while universities rightly should provide for the former, the latter should be provided only on the basis of voluntary association linked with voluntary financial contribution-I emphasise the last words 'linked with voluntrary financial contribution'. This has not been the case and it has offended many students not only in the ANU and the CCAE but also in other institutions of higher education.

I would see student unions now and for many years into the future as having four activities, the first two of which I would put in the non-controversial area. I would like to see university budgets directly provide those two areas through moneys appropriated each year by this Parliament. I would like to see the other two areas provided for by way of direct voluntary membership linked only to direct voluntary financial contributions. The four areas are first of all, the commercial activities of a student union, university union or college union-for example, the provision of dining facilities. I believe that these activities ought to be self-supporting. As these services are located in a student union there may be some capital contribution towards the cost of the meals provided. However, the on-going annual costs should be covered fully by the consumers. I think that has become almost uncontroversial. Students of all kinds would now support a user pay principle for commercial activities carried out by unions. There are banks carried out in union buildings, shops, and various commercial and travel activities carried out. All of these directly commercial and indirectly commercial activities should pay their own way.

I regard the second area as the non-controversial and positive contribution of students; that is, the community, recreational, sporting and educational activities that are entirely bona fide.

Senator Peter Baume —But some students cannot use them for various reasons.

Senator TEAGUE —I agree with my colleague Senator Peter Baume that some students do not use them. However, by and large, someone who may not be active on the sporting field could well be fully participating in debating activities or, indeed, in other non-sporting activities such as drama. The provision of a theatre, for example, with all the technical equipment and back-up staff to maintain lights, sound and prepare sets, may be to their advantage. I am conservative to the extent that I believe these kinds of quite uncontroversial community, recreational and sporting activities can be funded by a direct and properly accounted for set of grants from a university or college. Nevertheless, the organisation of that activity would lie with a body such as a student union that is close to the users and is answerable to a union council and advisory committees on those activities. It is to this area that the Minister refers in the concluding remarks of her second reading speech when she said that the Bill:

. . . embraces a broad concept of the nature and value of a university education .

If we turn to the Canberra College of Advanced Education Bill we see a similar set of words:

. . . a broad concept of the nature and value of a college education.

I quarrel with that part of the Minister's statement because by omission she has not directly referred to the matters that offend in student union activities. I agree with the principle that she espouses there and I apply it to recreational, sporting, educational and community activities. The cost of the provision of these rooms, the cleaning of them, the power and lighting and the staff that are involved I believe ought to be properly funded by universities. I reiterate that students at colleges and universities ought to learn partly from staff and experience researchers, partly from their exploration of books and other resources and partly from other students. I do not think students in higher education should learn only from lecturers and tutors. They should genuinely be expected to learn from one another.

A lot of activity of enormous educational worth is carried out in club-like recreational areas, on the sporting field or in the preparation of a piece of drama or music in a theatre. It is in that context that we have in the past seen reference to rubbing shoulders-law students learning law in the context of medical students learning medicine, engineering students learning engineering and arts students learning politics, German or whatever. The associations, friendships and ideas that rub off from student to student are an essential part of higher education and, of course, the Minister has acknowledged that and referred to it. What she has done, though, is use that positive umbrella too widely and somehow by omission she has seemed to put these controversial activities into a positive light. These are the two activities which I think can look after themselves: Commercial activities financed by the user and the community, recreational, sporting and educational activities financed by the university. So far there would not need to be a student union fee. If those activities were funded from the direct budget of the university and college, they can be gained by appropriate adjustment through this Parliament from the grants made to universities and colleges.

We now come to the third and fourth areas of student unions that I believe ought to be fully funded by a student union fee or student association fee which is entirely voluntary. Not only do we have the de facto situation at the moment- whether by the former legislation or university council decisions-that students are not compulsorily to be members; they are not compulsorily to pay any levy in respect of the two activities. The first of these is what I would call student organisations. They ought to be entirely autonomous associations, full of self- expression, and not accountable to anybody except their members-those who subscribe the appropriate fee that is determined by that membership. Rightly, they should include associations that are entirely involved in political discussion and even political action.

I believe it is entirely appropriate at a university that students be involved in social change or in debate, discussion and action that relates to what they feel to be positive social change, but that they should do so on the basis of voluntary membership and voluntary subscription. The public would not be offended by this and I believe no one in this Parliament would be offended by this. If a particular association promoting a certain political view or a certain policy on social change wants to gain members, it should have to win them and it will be all the stronger for doing so by using its own resources. I think it is quite inappropriate for the compulsorily levied student union fee to be paying for these kinds of activities, and I would not have any grey area, such as a student union newspaper. I would make sure that that was a part of the provision that is made by voluntary membership.

The greyest area for me is the production of a student newspaper. I happen to think it is essential for any higher education student body to have an ongoing student newspaper which provides a mature, adventurous, even radical, forum for ideas about Australia, the world and all kinds of matters. But it should have a properly elected editorship and full and free democratic access to contribution and so on. It ought to be as far as possible funded by voluntary subscription. If the Minister or any other advocate of total funding of all student activities were to come back at me on this grey area, I might give way and say that one might be able to detect some non-controversial area of an establishment cost, such as the provision of a room for the editor and the press, but the actual cost of printing a paper and the distribution of it, I believe, ought to be in the hands of students paying its way.

The fourth area which I think in a similar way is entirely legitimate but which ought to be on the basis of voluntarism is the subscription to a national association of students. I believe it is greatly advantageous that there be a properly democratic and responsible national association of students. My criticism of the Australian Union of Students over the last 10 years has been on the basis that it has failed to live up to the importance of being responsible and democratic. Because I believe that it did not represent the broad mass of students, I have been saying for years that there need to be drastic reforms. The AUS has now been abolished at the hands of students themselves, and they will seek to replace the AUS with a body that is more soundly based and more responsive to meeting the needs of students. I wish the students of Australia well in formulating that new body.

I used to be a member of the National Union of Australian University Students and am proud of that membership. Senator Zakharov referred to certain reforms advocated by that national union of students, such as the abolition of the White Australia policy. I am not sure what was the other reform that she referred to, but I include the growing provision by Australia for the independence of Papua New Guinea, the encouragement of educational and cultural exchange between New Guinea and Australia, the development of Aboriginal scholarships and the encouragement of Aboriginal Australians to have more opportunities to complete secondary education and go on to tertiary education. Those were matters within the NUAUS with which I fully identified myself. I have no regret that they are activites that ought to be included in a national association of students. But I argue, because of the experience of the last 10 years, that that be on the basis of a national student association, on a voluntary membership basis and a voluntary subscription basis. I believe that it undermines the integrity of the advice that is given to the nation, the Government and this Parliament by such an association if it is formulated on the basis of dragooned money and universal membership of every student. Let it, by its own resources and with its own arguments, appeal to students to join a body that is seen to be democratic and responsible and to have positive goals.

In brief, my attitude to student unions, which I commend to the Senate, is similar to that which I heard today from Senator Macklin. Quite apart from this legislation, which the Government feels duty bound to enact to fulfil a political purpose of keeping faith with undertakings made to the radicals in the AUS, I urge the Government to see that this restructuring of student unions takes place and to make financial provision for the first two of those four functions through direct grants to universities and colleges.

I conclude by referring to those two matters in the Bills to which I object most and which I believe that the Senate ought to amend successfully this afternoon. The first relates to the non-retrospective aspect of the Bills. I am glad to see that the Government has agreed to do this and that there is an amendment on the table to ensure that the financial aspects are not backdated to 1 July this year but rather begin on 1 January 1985, and that the other provisions are not backdated to the beginning of the year but will also have effect, if they operate, from 1 January 1985.

As to my other objection, I believe we should retain section 32A of the Australian National University Act and section 23A of the Canberra College of Advanced Education Act. Regardless of the arguments that have been put by the Minister, she has not in any respect in the second reading speech referred to this and, I might add, neither has the Legislative Research Service of the Parliamentary Library. It is attempted in the Bills before us to remove these provisions which are totally inoffensive. They provide only for voluntary membership of students associations. Putting aside the other matters in the Bills, I urge the Government to accept our amendment to the effect that these sections be not removed.