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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 865


Senator RYAN (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs)(10.55) —The Opposition's amendment is not acceptable to the Government and the reasons for this have been given during previous stages of the debate when the Opposition sought to amend the Government's intentions in a similar way and for similar reasons. Let me remind the Committee that the restrictions on the activities of the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education which this legislation is designed to remove do not exist in any other university throughout Australia. The Opposition and Senator Harradine are seeking to maintain restrictions on the life of the national institutions- the CCAE and the ANU-which are not imposed on any institutions in the States which those senators represent. I think this is totally unreasonable and shows the contradictory nature of what the Opposition is trying to do. The Government' s amending legislation will give to those two institutions the same freedom to manage their own affairs enjoyed by all other institutions throughout Australia. That is a perfectly reasonable and consistent approach to this issue.

We have heard a lot from the Opposition and Senator Harradine about the principles of voluntary associations and the need to prevent students in these institutions supporting causes which Opposition senators do not support. But all of those points, when cast in terms of freedom of association and so on, are quite contradictory and do not stand up to examination. I remind the Committee that the Government's amendments have not only been proposed because they concur with our view about the properly autonomous functions of these institutions and of the student organisations within them-as they certainly do-but they have also been proposed at the request of the governing bodies of both of those institutions. We have the spectacle of Opposition senators seeking to oppose the expressed wishes of the properly constituted governing bodies of the institutions in the name of some sort of principle of freedom of association. It is totally contradictory and quite intolerable.

I also remind the Committee, because some time has elapsed since we were last in Committee on this issue, that the principle of voluntary membership is being retained at both of the institutions in question. Both of the institutions in a voluntary manner have decided on certain procedures which will protect the conscientious objections of any students within them. That is the way in which these matters should be managed; not by the heavy handed approach of a Federal government ordering institutions and organisations within them to behave in a certain fashion, but by those institutions developing properly democratic procedures to protect the conscience of students within those institutions. Both of those institutions have done so.

I referred in some details last time the Committee met to the arrangements within the ANU which give an absolute guarantee of freedom of conscience and conscientious objection to students within that institution. I have here a letter from the Registrar of the CCAE-I will read it, because it is brief-which states:

I am writing to confirm that if the Canberra College of Advanced Education Amendment Bill 1984 is passed as drafted, it is the intention of the College to ensure that appropriate administrative procedures will continue to allow a student to seek, on conscientious grounds, exemption from membership of the Students' Association and the College Union.

Such procedures exist within the current administrative procedures of the College, and the enactment of the Amendment Bill will in no way adversely affect them.

I seek leave to have the full text of this letter incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Dr Alan Thomas

Private Secretary to the Minister

for Education and Youth Affairs

Room M153

Parliament House

Canberra, ACT 2600

Dear Dr Thomas,

I am writing to confirm that if the Canberra College of Advanced Education Amendment Bill 1984 is passed as drafted, it is the intention of the College to ensure that appropriate administrative procedures will continue to allow a student to seek, on conscientious grounds, exemption from membership of the Students' Association and the College Union.

Such procedures exist within the current administrative procedures of the College, and the enactment of the Amendment Bill will in no way adversely affect them.

Yours sincerely R. L. JORY Registrar Senator Peter Baume-You have just read it.


Senator RYAN —Of course, Senator Baume is muttering and mumbling because he does not like the exposure of the contradictory position he has adopted throughout this debate. He is pretending to be the great champion of freedom of associainto and autonomy of institutions and so forth-a pose he often likes to adopt on many issues-but when it comes to the point, he is actually demanding that the Federal Parliament interfere with, regulate and control the affairs of autonomous institutions and interfere with, control and regulate the activities of student organisations. So his pose of freedom of choice and freedom of association is exposed as being as thin on this issue as it is on any other issue when he poses in that fashion. The fact is that both of the institutions in question have established democratically proper procedures for the protection of conscience.

The other matter, of course, that aroused comment from Senator Baume and Senator Harradine was that in the past student organisations have spent money on political causes or social causes which neither of those senators support. Yet again we have this contradictory attitude. They say: 'We are prepared to have voluntary membership and participation and people making up their own minds about things only as long as they make decisions that we support'. That is a mockery of the democratic and participatory principles. They say: 'We will have democracy as long as you agree with it'. There is a name for that attitude but I will not risk violating the Standing Orders by mentioning it. But it is absolutely contradictory.

Senator Harradine said that student organisations are not the same as registered industrial bodies. No one is saying that they are the same as registered industrial unions. But they are organisations that can be properly constituted and make decisions about the welfare and views of their members in the same way as can other proper organisations. They are not set up to be industrial bodies. But that does not mean that they do not have the rights to have their own policies and to expend their moneys as they wish. Senator Harradine also said that they should be looking after the welfare of students. Who is to decide what is the welfare of students? We are, after all, talking about adults. We are not talking about children over whom we should exercise some sort of paternalistic control. If students in an organisation decide to support a particular cause, I believe it is not for Senator Harradine to say: ' It is not in the welfare of students to support that cause'. I may not agree with some of the causes that student organisations have supported in the past; in fact, I do not. But it is not for me to say in this authoritarian fashion: ' You will only have freedom so long as you spend your money on causes which I consider to be in your welfare'. What a travesty of the rights of organisations to pursue their own policies! We live in a democracy and our Government seeks to ensure that the democratic principle is in force in all of the organisations within our society. If student unions have policies with which our Government or Senator Harradine disagrees, we should wear it, because that is the price that we pay when we are dealing with democratic institutions.

Senator Harradine implied some criticisms of student leadership in the past. I am not sure whether he also referred to the present. We may all have those criticisms. Senator Harradine suggested there should be more active involvement of students in their organisations. I heartily concur with that view. But even if we had total active participation in students' organisations, my bet is that those organisations would still develop policies which Senator Harradine might not like at a certain point in time or which perhaps I might not like at a certain point in time. That is the way in which democratic organisations work. I do not see that Senator Harradine's criticism or Senator Baume's criticism of certain decisions made by student organisations in the past in any way justifies the kinds of restrictions they are attempting to maintain on student bodies- restrictions which, I remind the Committee, do not exist in student organisations in institutions in any other part of Australia.

Senator Teague similarly raised points about conscience and so forth. I simply point out to Senator Teague the same contradictions in which he is tangled up in proposing those points as I have pointed out to Senator Baume and Senator Harradine. Both of the institutions involved in this legislation have established proper procedures for the protection of conscientious objection to membership of organisations. They have done so voluntarily, within the properly constituted decision making processes within those institutions. We do not need Senator Teague saying that in order to protect the conscience of students within these institutions we will have this unduly restrictive and undemocratic intrusion into their affairs. The amendment is not accepted by the Government.