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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 778


Senator ABETZ (11.47 a.m.) —I continue my remarks from yesterday when the basic thrust of my comments was that this bill, although named the States Grants (General Purposes) Bill, is further eroding the basis on which the states could use funds being supplied under this piece of legislation. What is so devastating about this bill is that its title belies the fact. The title, in effect, says that this bill is designed to give money to the states for their purposes and priorities, designated by the various state governments as they deem fit. Yet there are provisions in this bill which further erode the right of states to determine their own social policies and their own agendas.

  Clauses 10 and 11, to a certain extent, are an interesting development. I will be seeking to ask some questions about those clauses during the committee stage. It would appear that moneys previously paid as a specific grant under the Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988 are being replaced by a provision in this legislative vehicle. Whilst clause 11 purports to state that states are not bound to use this money for roads, the political pressure will clearly be there. The outcome will, of course, be very interesting to observe.

  However, the other aspect of this bill which is not so subtle is the treatment of tertiary education by this centralist government, which seems to have a guiding philosophy of `Canberra knows best'. Clause 14 makes the payment of financial assistance dependent on the states making a payment to the Commonwealth for their share of unfunded superannuation liabilities in relation to tertiary institutions within the state.

  Clause 15 of this bill is simply the most outrageous and, of course, objectionable part of this legislation. It is an affront to generally accepted principles of what is right and wrong. It denies people the choice of joining or not joining a student union. At the moment, if students do not join a student union they are denied their results or the right to re-enrolment. It is an admission that if students are given a choice they will refuse to join the union. What a terrible indictment on the leadership, policies and alleged services provided by the student unions around this country!

  Further, this clause is seeking to deny the states the right to implement policies which they deem appropriate. There will always be a divergence of opinion as to whether student unions ought be compulsory or voluntary. I accept that. Those who argue for compulsion, I believe, are grossly wrong, but the real issue is: who should determine whether or not student unions are voluntary or compulsory? If a state government has a policy for voluntary student unionism, then that state ought be allowed to have such legislation without the fear of financial penalties being imposed. Of course, that is what this legislation does.

  The Commonwealth is clearly abusing its tax and financing powers in order to impose its political will on the states. It seeks to enforce compulsory student unionism. It seeks to deny students the opportunity to make a considered decision as to whether or not they will join a student union. This clause unblushingly imposes a financial penalty on any state giving students the opportunity to choose as to membership of student unions.

  For a student union to enforce its compulsory nature, it needs to apply a sanction or impose a penalty for the non-joiners. Historically and shamefully, university administrations behaving like shop stewards have applied the sanction or penalty by withholding results or the opportunity to re-enrol for the following year. In other words, `no ticket, no education' is the Labor Party motto.

  The same Labor Party which so gratuitously lectured the states in Darwin recently on implementing the Hilmer report, getting rid of monopolies, introducing competition and getting rid of red tape is the same party that in an important piece of legislation such as this walks right away from any removal of monopoly power and removal of freedom of choice and competition by maintaining compulsory student unionism. Basically, Labor is saying to the people of Australia—it would be interesting to hear what the Democrats and Greens say on this—that compulsory student unionism is more important than an education. It is saying, `If you do not join the union, you will not get an education.'

  Of course, in my home state of Tasmania we had the shameful case of Daniel Muggeridge. He was a student—indeed, a prize winning student—who joined the student union in his first year. In his second year he decided not to join the union. He received the appropriate notification from the university saying that he was banned from using the library and would have his results withheld.

  This was a student who last year was placed on the dean's honour role of excellence. He won the Digby Fitzhardinge Memorial Prize. He achieved four high distinctions and two distinctions in the first year of his science degree. Despite such an excellent academic record, this man was to be denied a future career for the benefit of Australia because the Labor Party and the university administration put compulsory student unionism before Daniel Muggeridge's right to join or not join a student union. The Labor Party says, `That is okay. That is fine.' I find that to be reprehensible.

  Although I do not rely on international treaties to determine my social policy, the ALP clearly does, as witnessed by its treatment of Tasmania. So let us look at article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states:

1)Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

2)No-one shall be compelled to belong to an association.

What is it other than compulsion to say to a young man or woman in Australia, `If you want to have a tertiary education, you can only do so if you join the student union?'

  Where is the Labor Party on this? Its motivation clearly is not the implementation of an international treaty on this occasion. Its motivation is to ensure that it continues to get the financial benefit of the funds that are laundered through the student unions to the Labor Party. It is very interesting to see how this legislation will work itself out.

  The more outrageous, the more out of touch, the more extreme, the more undemocratic a student union is, the more the average Australian student will be turned away from that student union. In response, the Labor government says, `We will accordingly reward you'—that is the student union—`with all the lost income being returned to you out of taxpayers' funds.' On the other hand, a responsible student union with fair and proper elections with sensible policies which would achieve 100 per cent membership of students at the tertiary institution would not get a single red cent from this Labor government. So in other words, the Labor Party policy is: `We will reward the most extreme, the most outrageous student union and make up the funds that the student union loses because students do not want to join, yet those student organisations that have the capacity of attracting all students on the campus into their membership will not get funding.'

  The question has to be asked: what is the motivation of the Labor government in pursuing this course of action? It is not to ensure responsible student unions. It is not to ensure fairness or equity. None of those issues apply. The test is: `We need money for our party political campaigns. In the past we have had money laundered through the student unions for our benefit and we need that to continue, so we will continue with this outrageous approach.'

  There are legions of examples of the Australian Labor Party benefiting from compulsory student unionism. First of all, it creates the psyche in a lot of people at the very commencement of their careers that compulsion is okay. Also, in political terms the National Union of Students was of great assistance—financial, training, providing propaganda, providing personnel—during the last federal election campaign. I will be pursuing that aspect further during the committee stage.

  This bill is another convenient example for the opposition to expose Labor's priorities—that it would put compulsory student unionism before the rights of state governments to determine their priorities and funding. We all know that the funding of hospitals, schools and police—those important areas that states fund—are the province of the states. If the federal government goes ahead with its policy of taking money from the states, it is saying that it is more important to fund a compulsory student union than to ensure that states have sufficient funds in relation to policing, health and education. That is once again a reflection on this Labor government.

  This government, which had the audacity to lecture the states in Darwin about competition and about the Hilmer report, saying, `We've got to get rid of monopolies,' is the same government that will keep its monopoly on trade union power. We all know that if we want to talk about real micro-economic reform the labour markets need to be addressed, but the government will not address that because it involves its mates and that is the basic source of funding for the Australian Labor Party. So it will not interfere in that area.

  For a Commonwealth government to say to a state government, `It is more important that a student union be funded than police, health or education,' is an indictment of the politically perverse agenda that the Labor Party has established and is pursuing. It is an abuse of our federal system of government. It is an abuse of our constitution. Indeed, it is an abrogation by the Labor government of a fundamental human right which has been expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—a declaration that it believes ought to be imported everywhere into domestic law. It is the right of all students in this country to join or not to join a student union. To deny them the right of choice is in effect to deny some the right to an education. I will always put the right to education before some supposed need to compel students, like sheep, into the flock of a compulsory student union.

  This bill clearly shows that the Labor Party has no commitment to the states. It has no commitment to allowing the states to set their own agendas and be elected on policies which clearly the people of their states want them to implement for the good government of their states. The Labor Party will always say, `If we can wangle it, if we can abuse it, if we can somehow ensure that we can impose our political will over the states, we will. If it turns them into political eunuchs, so be it, because we believe that all wisdom resides in Canberra.' This bill is a very shameful piece of legislation because it once again undermines the rights of the states to determine their own priorities.

  Of course, as the state governments have been experiencing a cut in funding, the federal government has been increasing its own funding. Whilst we have a lot of money spent in Canberra and on Commonwealth projects, the states are losing money all the time and are having great difficulty financing such essential services as police, education and health, as I said before. This capacity to fund those essential services is being further undermined by this federal government because it is saying that it will put the funding of student unions before police, health and education. That is a very sick priority from a very sick government.