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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 682


Senator RYAN (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs)(3.58) —The amendment is not acceptable to the Government. I think all of the arguments have been rehearsed because this is the fundamental area of disagreement between the Opposition and the Government. However, I should say a couple of things for the record. It is the case that our Government is committed to and will support the autonomous management by universities of their own affairs and this legislation is in line with that important principle. At this stage I do not want to enter into a wide-ranging debate on the meaning of university autonomy. Perhaps it is a debate we could usefully have in this place on some other occasion rather than at 4 o'clock on an afternoon when we are about to adjourn. Quite clearly, from the Government's point of view, to have policies about the role that universities can play within our society, the economic and social implications of the existence of institutions and people's access to them, is in no way in conflict with our view that in their internal management universities and colleges ought to be autonomous.

Senator Teague referred to this legislation being a pay-off for left wing students. That is a rather extraordinary way to describe our fulfilment of an existing commitment. I remind Senator Teague-I think he acknowledges this-that the councils of the institutions involved want this provision. So the Government is acting in consonance with the democratic governing bodies of these institutions.

Another thing I should point out for the benefit of those honourable senators and perhaps members of the public who might not be aware of this is that only in the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education do such restrictions now exist that Senator Baume and his colleague are seeking to maintain. They do not exist in any other university throughout Australia. There were similar restrictions for a period in Western Australia, introduced by the former Liberal-National Party Government; but they have been withdrawn by the Burke Labor Government. We are seeking here to give our institutions in the Australian Capital Territory, our national institutions, the same freedom from these restrictions that all other institutions enjoy. There does not seem to me to be any justification at all for this Parliament, this Government, to restrict our national institutions in the way in which institutions in the States are not restricted. I remind the Committee also of the remarks I made about the arrangements which the ANU has already instituted to ensure voluntary membership of clubs and associations and to ensure that there will be no discrimination against students who do not wish to join. The question of the fee, however, is one on which we disagree, and the amendment is unacceptable to the Government.