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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 4990


Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (1:45 PM) —This issue was one of the first issues that was brought to me when I entered politics. I totally agree that there should not be politics involved in student bodies. I was never a member of any political party at university. What is a university about? A university is more than just the lecture theatre and the library; a university is more than just a nine-to-five job. A university is about the development of the person as a whole. I will be honest: when I went to university, I was a private school boy from Sydney and I expected everybody there to be private school boys from Sydney. That was my view of the world. Over a period of time, I had the opportunity to mix with a wider group of people and I realised that I was just part of a very small segment of my nation. What was the mechanism that brought about that mixing? The mechanism that brought about that mixing was the sport that I played. There was the incredible ability to talk to people—or to be forced to mix with people—who you otherwise probably would not have talked to or mixed with. That is what a university is supposed to do: bring you out of your shell. It is not just about developing you academically but about developing you socially as well.

The biggest overhead for universities at this point in time is sport and the coverage of sport. I see sport as being a fundamental section of any educational institution. When I went to Woolbrook Public School, the sporting facilities were there. The government paid for them and we all utilised them. When I went to Riverview, the sporting facilities were there. You did not have the option of not paying for them. Or you had an option: if you did not want to pay for the sporting facilities, you went to another high school—that was your option.

I am always a bit perturbed when we come up with pieces of legislation that say, ‘You can charge for this and you cannot charge for that,’ within a business. A university is a business. You cannot prescribe to a business that they are allowed to charge for this but not allowed to charge for that. You must believe in the marketplace, and the marketplace means that they can charge for whatever they like. If people do not like it, they have the option to go to another university. That is the option that is before us. In regional areas, it is very prevalent.

At the University of New England, for instance, which is where I went, we were not very political; in fact, we were completely apolitical. What we recognised, though, was that we had a small student body and about $14.5 million—at that point in time—of sporting facilities. If there was not the capacity to pay for those sporting facilities, those sporting facilities would fall into disrepair and, as they fell into disrepair, the university would lose its attraction, the university would lose its status and the regional people would lose a tertiary institution. Once more, you would have got that disenfranchising of regional people from the expectations that people in metropolitan areas have.

Sport costs money. It costs a lot of money to build a gym; it costs a lot of money to have a netball court; it costs a lot of money to run the cricket pitch; it costs a lot of money to have the rugby grounds. But the chess club does not cost a lot of money. All you need are two chairs, a table and chess pieces. If you want a debating club, you get yourself seven chairs, two tables and a bell. Sport is the big drain on funds.

If you go to other universities around the world—if you go to Cambridge, Oxford, Yale or Harvard—you will find they have a compulsory amenities fee to cover those things. It is the expectation. When this legislation came forward, there was only one other nation on earth that had legislation like this, and that was the communist People’s Republic of China, which I thought was peculiar.

I have never sat on the edge of a netball court—netball being what my wife played—and been able to determine the political allegiances of the players. They were just playing netball. When I played water polo, the people were just other water polo players. When I played rugby, they were just other rugby players. When I ran the four by 400, they were just other runners. It was just a mechanism that got us to communicate. I spoke to people from other nationalities, from other religions and from other socioeconomic groups, and I hope that in some small way I developed as a person.

People say, ‘What about the cost?’ When I was at university, I also had to go to work. I worked as a farm labourer. I did a bit of fencing and I did a little bit of crutching—not as well as Senator Williams, but a bit of it. Later on, I worked in a pub. That was the ticket that I bought. I decided to go to university and there were things that I was expected to pay for.

I always noted that Cambridge had the greatest number of Nobel laureates of any tertiary institution in the world. They have done studies as to why Cambridge has the greatest number of Nobel laureates. It has the greatest number of Nobel laureates—so the Nobel laureates say—not so much because of the facilities that are there, though of course they are prominent, but rather because of the collegiate atmosphere among the student body and the ability to bounce ideas back and forth to develop them.

What we have developed in Australia is an idea that as long as I get a piece of paper with the word ‘university’ on it then it came from a university. No. In some instances, it might have just been an academic institution. I have no problems at all with someone offering a course online. When you finish it, you can get a piece of paper. But do not call it a university degree. It might get you into what you want to get into. It might make you an accountant like me, a journalist, a doctor or a solicitor. But acknowledge that you have not been to university; you have just acquired academic knowledge in a certain specific field. You have not developed much beyond that.

Maybe we have too many universities; maybe that is the issue. Once upon a time, only about five per cent of Australians went to university. Maybe we now have too many people going to university. What I have a problem with is this juxtaposition where we want everybody to go to university but we do not acknowledge what a university is about and the historical premise that a university is built on.

Senator Williams, Senator Nash and I will move an amendment that allows sporting facilities to be covered by an amenities fee—but sporting facilities alone; that’s it. Why? Sporting facilities are part of any university and, if the university cannot cover the costs of those facilities, then who should? Where will that money come from? Obviously the cost of this biggest drain on universities—we have seen it working its way into research projects and other academic areas—has to be covered. The universities are not going to sit idly by and let the facilities run down, but they are being drained of their capacity to fund other areas. If we take sport out of the equation then people can make their minds up about the rest. This is, I think, a reasonable position. The argument that sport should not be part of university life has to be sustained against any argument that sport should therefore not be part of high school or primary school or that we should not have a playground at the kindergarten.

You have to have a mechanism that encourages people, in a non-discriminatory way, to be participants in wider social development. It is not about being champion or representing Australia; it is just about dragging people out from the corner of the library, where we all know a lot of them sit, and saying, ‘You have to engage in a broader context than just sitting there.’ When you become a doctor we expect you not only to be proficient academically but also to be proficient socially or to have the capacity to mix in a broader social context. We have to hope that the development of that person’s desire to mix in a broader social environment becomes the benefaction that they give back to the nation at a later stage of their careers. Whether they become a member of their Rotary club or Apex club or St Vincent de Paul or they join the Army Reserve—whatever they do—we hope that we can encourage that person when they come out of university to be more fully engaged in society. We do not want universities to just be home to a form of parasitic self-indulgence—that it is all just about me, what I can get out of this and how much money I can make later on. No, it is about the great benefaction the nation gives to you, because a huge amount of the cost of universities is, of course, borne by the taxpayer. As a student you benefit from the labours of people outside the university. People who will probably never get the chance to go to university are sponsoring you to become a doctor, an architect or an engineer. There is an expectation that, whilst you are at that university, you will develop a wider engagement which will take you to a place—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Troeth)—Order! Senator Joyce has the floor!


Senator JOYCE —where, hopefully, when you return to society you reinvest back into the community and the nation of Australia that which has been invested in you at university.

So my colleagues and I have come up with a very reasonable amendment. Everybody will say that we should have included this, that or something else, but everybody acknowledges that the largest cost factor for a university at this point is sporting facilities. Everybody acknowledges that sporting facilities are intrinsically part of an academic institution. And I hope that most people acknowledge that what we hope to achieve at university is the greater development of the individual beyond the academic.

We have proposed a mechanism which, if accepted by the parliament, would give some recognition to university as a business, being able to cover what it ultimately has to pay out of its own pocket. It seems strange that at the moment we are in a position where, because the university cannot pay for the sporting facilities, the taxpayer must. We have the taxpayer, who is already sponsoring the university’s courses and overall structure, having to reach into their pocket again to pay for its sporting facilities. Surely, in a user pays system where people have made the choice, they have not been forced, to attend that institution they must acknowledge that they should cover—in a very small way, mind you—the costs associated with the running of that institution.

I am concerned for regional universities such as Charles Sturt University, Central Queensland University, the University of New England, the University of Southern Queensland and James Cook University if we do not manage to create some mechanism to cover the cost of their sporting facilities. You have to remember that the University of New England is one of the older universities in Australia, but the costs faced by that university for such things as trying to support the gymnasium and having to replace the roof just cannot be covered out of its ordinary budget. There are only about 4½ thousand students there. Our amendment clearly provides that, if you live in a remote region and are studying at university by correspondence, it is not expected that you pay. But if you attend university as a full-time student there is an expectation that you pay.

It is going to be interesting to see how the vote goes. I am a realist—I think this will fall over—but we have offered an opportunity. I acknowledge that there are differing views, but we have offered the opportunity for some method of progression. If that method is not accepted, it is no fault of ours. We tried as hard as we possibly could. We think that our amendment recognises what university is about. It recognises the principle that a business should be allowed to cover its own costs. It recognises that a university is more than just an academic institution; it promotes social interaction, which is absolutely critical to the development of a student who will later invest in our nation. I hope it is supported by the chamber.

Debate interrupted.