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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1523

Senator WOODLEY (4.52 p.m.) —I am rather bemused by this debate and by the twistings and turnings of the opposition. I certainly cast no aspersions on my colleague Senator Watson because his intelligence and honesty in many debates in this place have been noted more than once by senators from all sides of the chamber. I really am pained to see him squirming, as he is in this debate. I wonder whether or not his heart is quite in what he is saying because I have never seen him as uncertain as he is at the moment. I am still appealing to him to maybe do something different from what he is at the moment projecting.

  The problems that the Democrats have with this legislation, as we have said all along—and we agree with Senator Watson on this point—relate to its complexity and the inconsistencies involving the discussion of the changes to this year's and last year's budget. I cannot break 100 yards in 10 seconds anymore, and that is about what one would have to do to keep up with the changes. However, we keep on trying.

Senator Crowley —Did you do 10 seconds?

Senator WOODLEY —I perhaps never did it in 10 seconds, but I was an athlete, and I used to do the hurdles over 110 yards in a reasonable amount of time. But I could not have beaten these changes.

  The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator McKiernan)—Senator Woodley, perhaps you should not create hurdles for yourself and the committee. Perhaps you might stick to the point of the debate, that is, the bill that is before the chamber.

Senator WOODLEY —I appreciate the chair's assistance. The problem is that the issues have become confused and have merged. It is understandable that NUS and other groups have been confused when establishing their positions on the changes. Let me say this: some people may have taken the advice of the leadership of the NUS at this point, but we have been listening to individual students and some of the other student bodies who have not agreed with the position of NUS. They have said to us to hold the line, because even if all the questions are answered to the satisfaction of those students in the end, they are certainly not satisfied at the moment.

  Some students have received letters from the tax commissioner informing them of their expected compliance with new taxation rules by 1 July this year. These students are concerned, and we have acted on their concerns. As a minimum, these students would like to see a delay in the starting date of the PAYE changes so that proper consultation can take place and they can be assured about the many questions they have.

  The NUS, like all of us, was forced to make decisions in hurried circumstances—it had to jump a few hurdles itself—with limited time to consult its members, who have real concerns. So we question the position it has taken. We have remained committed to addressing the concerns of those individual students who have been in contact with us. NUS has a responsibility to its members, the students of Australia, to assess legislation and, uncompromisingly, negotiate a position that is in the best interests of students. It seems to us that, despite the concerns of these students, NUS has failed to do this. What we now have is NUS's endorsement of and blessing for a government move when, clearly, so many questions surrounding these changes remain.

  I have to ask whether a politically aligned leadership of the National Union of Students is making its decision on the best advice available, bearing in mind what will best benefit the students it represents, or whether it has taken more note of the alignment which it has.