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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 6477

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:31): Unfortunately, the bells last night interrupted my contribution to this debate on, effectively, voluntary student unionism. Last night, I was making, and continue to make, the point that things are tough enough for students at the present time. The cost of living, particularly in my home state of Queensland, continues to rise, principally but not entirely because of the cost of fuel and energy in Queensland. Through the mismanagement of the current state government in Queensland, electricity prices have continued to rise over recent years and the Bligh Labor government seems incapable of doing anything about it. For too many years the Bligh government has ripped profits out of the electricity utilities to prop up its budgets, with the result that the electricity utilities have not had sufficient money to contribute towards new infrastructure, maintenance and upgrading of their networks. Hence there have been outages, and it is forecast there will be more outages in Queensland, and the costs keep rising.

These increased costs of living are hurting all Queenslanders. They particularly hurt students, people who take an extra job to help with the costs of attending university and the costs of accommodation. On top of those increasing costs in Queensland at the present time, and I assume it is the same around the rest of Australia, we have this carbon tax coming up and, on even the most benign view of the world, the cost of living for all Queenslanders, including students, will again increase. Ms Gillard, the Labor Party leader who is currently, at least for a little while, Prime Minister of Australia, promised before the last election that there would not be a carbon tax. On the basis of that, her party scraped back into power. According to newspaper reports, that carbon tax will happen. The Labor and Greens alliance, the Labor-Greens coalition, in this place has determined that those 18 bills will be guillotined through this parliament and that we will have a carbon tax.

For students in Queensland that will mean further increases in the cost of living. On top of that, do they want to be lumbered with a compulsory levy that, for many of them, will not in any way contribute to their studies, wellbeing or health at university? I appreciate that the Labor Party are saying that this is for services, but we only have to look back to the days when the Left groups of Australian politics controlled all the student unions. They compulsorily gained money from students, and students had no choice. When the Left groups were in charge of the universities, they clearly used those funds to campaign for left-wing, usually Labor Party, causes. That has always distressed me.

I made the point last night that, in two universities in Queensland that I know of and have had direct experience with, the Left no longer controls the student union. Again I give credit to the members of the Young Liberal National Party in Queensland who, through their corporate group called Fresh, took over something like 59 of the 64 positions on the University of Queensland Union, but do not quote me on the figures, and a marvellous job they did. So perhaps I should be voting for this bill so that it gives that university union a bit more money that they might be able to use in a very sensible campaign on the carbon tax.

But, I only joke there. I do not think that students should be required to contribute money to any group that then uses their money to promote political causes. All too often we see that members of the union movement, many of whose members are actually members of the Liberal and National parties around Australia, are compelled to pay their union fees and then the union simply uses them to support the Gillard government and this carbon tax proposal that is going to put many of those unionists out of work.

So, for the reasons I mentioned last night, and perhaps more importantly for the reasons that my colleagues on this side used to forensically demolish the argument of the government and the Greens on this bill, I urge all senators to oppose this bill and leave it to students to have the choice of who they support and how they support their benefits at university.