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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2052

Senator ABETZ (1.36 p.m.) —I rise in this debate on matters of public interest to support the matters raised by my colleague Senator Ian Campbell, who has a very proud record in supporting matters of human rights and individual choice. My attention was drawn to an article in the West Australian newspaper by my colleague Senator Campbell, and I can indicate to the Senate that I am very concerned by the smorgasbord of elements who seem to have lined up behind compulsory student unionism. First of all, we have the president of the student union, or the student guild, who seems to make some cheap political point by parodying the Lord's Prayer, which is, in my view, tantamount to blasphemy. It is, I believe, just as offensive as remarks that were made at a Senate estimates committee yesterday by Senator Bolkus.

Senator Sherry —Or that Senator Macdonald made just a moment ago.

Senator ABETZ —No, Senator Macdonald's comments were seen as being quite proper, as Senator Sherry would be aware. Senator Bolkus was forced to withdraw his comments only after a certain note was slipped to him by his leader.

  The situation here is that we have a smorgasbord of interests, one being this student union leader, who clearly is concerned about his little empire being taken away from him because he realises that, if the students were given a choice, they would desert. It is a very poor confession by Mr Bandt that he acknowledges, in effect, that if students were given the choice the student union movement would collapse. What he is saying is, `There would be no way we could get the average student to sign up with the student union I lead if they were given a choice'. That really is a very sad reflection on him.

  We also have the Greens in Western Australia lining up behind compulsory student unionism and saying that the moves are leading the state towards fascism. How on earth can one assert logically that giving individuals the freedom of choice can be likened to fascism? Indeed, it is the exact opposite. What we in the Liberal Party believe in, and what the Western Australian government has clearly shown that it believes in, is the right of individuals to choose whether or not they belong to organisations. If that is somehow fascist, I really believe that I might be living in a different country or, indeed, on a different planet from the Green MLC referred to in the article.

  It also amazes me that the Greens, who believe in the right to protest and doing things of that nature, now appear to have moved so far to the left that I am sure that, if they continue with their public utterances, they will move so much further to the left that they will fall off the political stage.

Senator Sherry —You won't give them your preferences next time, ahead of us?

Senator ABETZ —It is well known that the Australian Labor Party and the Greens are in coalition, and I think it is quite improper for Senator Sherry to suggest that there is a relationship between this side of the House and the Greens. Indeed, there is in this House a coalition between the Democrats, the Greens and the Labor Party. The sooner the people of Australia realise that the Greens are just the extreme left wing of the Labor Party, the better it will be for Australia.

  The other matter that concerned me in this article was that the federal Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Crean) said that the federal government would continue to give money to student bodies in Western Australia and Victoria despite state government moves to make them voluntary. The federal minister, in effect, has asserted that he will penalise the states though the States Grants (General Purposes) Act and would in effect give the states less money. That, of course, is a complete affront to states' rights and the right of the states to determine their own social policy in this area.

  Of course, what this is really all about is the federal Labor government once again giving money to an organisation, such as a student union, knowing full well that that money will be spent on behalf of the Australian Labor Party come the next federal election. Clearly, what Simon Crean, the minister, is doing is ensuring that the mates that supported the Australian Labor Party at the last federal election continue to be protected and provided with funds in the event that there is another election. It really is a terrible indictment of the federal government that it is willing to deal with taxpayers' money in such an outrageous way.

  The Liberal Party, including Senator Ian Campbell and, indeed, the Western Australian Liberal government, has a very proud record of giving people the right to choose. The people of Australia ought be aware that, in the case of compulsory student unionism, the situation is that, if one does not pay the fee, results are withheld. In other words, the fruits of one's labour are withheld and one is denied the tertiary qualifications and results for which one has worked all year. Of course, that is a great blot on our tertiary institutions, which ought to be, after all, the very havens of free thought and individual expression.

  The government is saying that, no matter what the wish of the Western Australian people as expressed at the last election with regard to a policy clearly enunciated before the Western Australian election, it will go against the wishes of the people of Western Australia and cut back states grants, as a result, to support a student union which by its own admission, it would appear, will collapse because the students in the universities are no longer be willing to join the organisation because of the way it is run.

  It is a pleasure to have supported Senator Campbell in relation to this matter, and also to put on record my support for the Western Australian government in legislating to ensure that students are given freedom of choice as to whether or not they wish to belong to a political organisation.