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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 905

Senator ELLISON (4.27 p.m.) —I wish to conclude my remarks on clause 15 of the States Grants (General Purposes) Bill 1994. I wish to address the question of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights which upholds the principle of voluntary association, that is, the individual's right to choose whether to belong to an association or a body. I wanted to reiterate the point that the government and those who sympathise with the government so often rely on United Nations' conventions and declarations of this sort when it suits them; but in this case, where it does not suit them, they choose not to.

  This declaration, specifically, would support voluntary student associations, the voluntary membership of a student organisation or union. I wish to make it abundantly clear that there is a discrepancy here, and one could almost question the motives of those people behind it. I do not seek to rely on that declaration because I believe that the principles of liberalism going back to 1688 and thereabouts have always enshrined the freedom of the individual and freedom of association which are essential tenets of Australian society. So I do not believe that we have to go beyond the shores of this country to look for any principles other than fairness and freedom as that is what it all boils down to.

  The other point I wished to address was the question of providing services to students. During the course of this debate it has not been demonstrated where student services would be improved by levying students compulsorily in relation to their membership of a student association or union. No study has been undertaken to show this, and I challenge those people who say that services to students would be improved to give us the evidence.

  Would it not be reasonable to assume that, if one had competition on the campuses by those people who provide the services, such as food, beverages and other sorts of supportive services akin to that, one might even get a more efficient service delivered to the students rather than one which relied on a dollar which was provided by the government, a dollar which was certain, and a dollar which did not have to be worked for? That is the question I pose in relation to those who say that this is so essential to student services.

  But at the end of the day it really is a question of how free we want Australia to be. Do we want students to have a choice whether to belong to their associations or not? Do we want students to have a choice to judge whether their associations are worth joining or not? If those associations were doing the job, the students would join them; it is as simple as that. But this seeks to circumvent that whole aspect of choice by taking the money from the states and giving it straight to the student associations involved. This bill seeks to give taxpayers' money without any qualms whatsoever to these student associations to then apply as they think fit. That, really, is the nub of the question: the question of freedom of association.