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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 867

Senator PETER BAUME(11.06) —Whenever Senator Ryan resorts to personal abuse, we can be quite sure it is because she either has not understood the argument or does not wish to address it. She has answered at some length the issue of voluntary membership or non-voluntary membership. It is interesting to note that the amendment has nothing to do with voluntary membership. She has failed to address the amendment, which is about the voluntary payment of fees. Senator Ryan has quite deliberately, or perhaps inadvertently because she cannot comprehend, failed to address the question that what we are seeking to amend is the requirement to pay fees. It is all very well for her to give us some messages of assurance from the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education that students will not have to belong to a union. She omitted to say that they will have to pay the money whether or not they choose to belong. In case she has not understood the matter, that is what we are concerned about. In case she has not read the amendment, it requires that the payment of fees should be voluntary.

She has totally failed to address that issue. I will not take very long, but that is what the amendment is about. It is about whether people should be forced to pay fees to the Australian Union of Students. Either that 10-minute tirade was deliberately to divert us or she did not comprehend. We are aware that the ANU has found ways to pay the AUS and that it has taken out corporate membership . We are aware that it has paid the Council for the 1983 conference and that it has listed the AUS as a sundry debtor and forgiven it all its debts. We are aware of the number of ways in which the University had decided to fund the AUS. All we are asking in the amendment is that the payment of the fees be voluntary. The argument of consistency between institutions of course does not go to the merits of the matter. On the basis of merit, it could be consistently good, bad or coercive. The argument of consistency has absolutely no bearing on whether the merit is there or whether it is lacking. It does not address the principle in any way. Talking about consistency between universities simply brings in a red herring.

Let me make it quite clear that what we are proposing here is a principle that we would like to see adopted and applied Australia-wide. Where we are talking about institutions which may be supra-campus, which may be national institutions , we believe students should have the option of electing whether to pay those fees. If they do not wish to pay them, they should be able to say so. It is one thing to have voluntary membership, but if the money is collected and disbursed on a complusory basis, it makes a mockery of the voluntary membership about which the Minister talks.