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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 869


Senator TEAGUE(11.14) —I wish to make three brief rejoinders to the statement made by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) in this debate on the Australian National University Amendment Bill 1984. The matter at issue is one of philosophic and policy differences between the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party-the Government and the Opposition. The Labor Party, as a socialist party, wishes to place compulsion upon membership of and payment to student organisations, and the Liberal Party wishes to enshrine freedom of association and a voluntary principle. The Minister tried not to address that clear and, I think, uncontested difference of policy between the political philosophies of the Government and the Opposition by saying that it was requested by the Australian National University Council. Senator Peter Rae is a member of the ANU Council. He contested the point and the Minister was not able to demonstrate other than concurrence. That was the word in the letter of Professor Karmel, the Vice-Chancellor, which she read. The University Council has concurred with the Minister's proposal. The initiative was with the Minister . Indeed, the undertaking to do this was with the Labor Party and with the Labor education spokesman prior to the last election.

The initiative for this amendment before the Senate today is a promise, an undertaking, to left wing students in universities and colleges of Australia that the Government would take away the barriers and restrictions to that compulsion, that gravy trail, that existed prior to the Fraser Government's enactment of 1979. This will enable compulsory funding of a national association of students irrespective of the wishes of the students of Australia who are dissatisfied, who believe that that body is not acting democratically and so on.

This is not being done at the direct request, the direct initiative, of the ANU Council. The University Council did not take the initiative to ask the Government to remove this section in the Act. It noted this Government's undertaking to left wing students that it would be removed and it concurred. It concurred on the principle on which the Minister has tried to stand, that is, the high ground of university autonomy which I mentioned earlier.

That brings me to the second point to which I want to refer, the distinction that we on the Opposition side are making in this debate. We do seek to overcome democracy, and the free expression and determination of policy by students in the University and the University Council. The Minister said that we of the Opposition want, in an authoritarian way, to tell the students at the ANU and the University Council that we do not approve of certain political activities or social policies that they have been promoting in some of the student associations and that therefore we are taking this stand on voluntarism and voluntary payment. I assure the Minister that that is not the case. I state again plainly that, irrespective of the controversial political activities, even if all the students at the ANU wished to promote Liberal policies, wished to have Liberal social policies, I would still urge they they do so on the basis of voluntary association and voluntary payment of membership fees. That is the issue.

We are not seeking to be authoritarian in the Senate. I believe there is a very real distinction to be made between democratic and compulsory on the one hand and democratic and voluntary on the other. If a body is democratic, all its members can elect the officers and determine the policy of that association. But if they have to be a member of it-and every student on campus is a member even if 80 per cent of them are not interested or are opposed to their association with that body-that is a different atmosphere entirely from a democratic body or a democratic association based upon voluntary membership and voluntary payment. As Senator Georges is interested in this matter, I ask him: Is it not the case that a voluntarily democratic body is likely to have much more integrity than one that operates on the dragooning of democratic principle?

I say to the Minister that there is a very real difference between a democratic compulsory body on the one hand and a democratic voluntary body on the other. I am not in any way seeking to argue for this amendment put by the Opposition on the basis of the particularity of the social policies or the political activities of some groups. The Minister, in her response just now, revealed no credibility when she said that it was requested by the University. It is Labor Party policy with which the University happened to concur.

Secondly, I ask honourable senators please to note that the Opposition does not want to be authoritarian about social policy or political activities in universities. It wants only to ensure that the students determine whether they become members and pay fees to those controversial associations. Therefore, I urge the Senate to accept the Opposition's amendment.