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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 679

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs)(3.32) —in reply-The debate has been very wide-ranging. I appreciate the expressions of support that have been put forward for the Government's amendments. As the Bills cover several amendments to the Australian National University Act and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Act, it is important that I draw the distinction between those amendments which have been supported by all honourable senators in the debate and those which are opposed by Liberal senators. The main ground for opposition to aspects of this legislation revolves around the issue of voluntary membership. I remind honourable senators that we are seeking in this legislation to remove restrictions on the capacities of institutions and student unions to manage their own affairs. Senator Peter Baume and Senator Teague made comments about compulsory membership of student unions as if that were the central feature of the legislation. However, I believe that the point has rather been missed. The Government's amendment Bills are not directed against voluntary membership as such. The whole point of the legislation is to restore to the institutions themselves the right to deliberate on such matters. They are supposed to be autonomous and not have their internal student affairs dictated by governments.

A great deal has been said in this debate about democracy and the need to have democratic institutions. I remind honourable senators, particularly those Liberal senators who seem not to have acknowledged this, that the amendments that the Government has brought forward for the removal of the Fraser restrictions have been supported by the councils of both institutions. So we are acting not only in consonance with our commitment to democratic institutions by doing what is a long- standing commitment of this government in response to a long-standing campaign by students but also at the request of the councils of the institutions. I think that honourable senators who are opposing some of our amendments will seek to speak in the Committee stage and at that point I will be able to give the Government's response.

I just say in conclusion that the amendments moved by the Opposition are not acceptable and that it is the Government's intention to return to the councils of each of the institutions the obligation to ensure that discrimination does not occur against students in respect of such matters as admission, academic progress, conferring of awards, et cetera, as an aspect of their responsibility for the management of the institutions. I remind the chamber that the ANU has already adopted procedures based on the voluntary membership principle. All students are required to pay fees for amenities and services because all benefit from these services. Enrolling students can indicate whether they wish to become members of the student association, union or sports union and, of course, the great majority of them elect to do so. So the question of voluntary membership is accommodated in our legislation within the practices of the institution.

Senator Peter Baume —It puts no obligation on them; it takes obligations away.

Senator RYAN —Obviously there will not be agreement between the Opposition and the Government on this but it seems very clear to me that we are not attacking the principle of voluntary membership. We are handing back to the institutions and the student bodies the right to manage their own affairs. We are removing restrictions which we and many people in the community regarded as being a totally unwarranted interference in the affairs of institutions. I commend the legislation to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.