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Special Minister of State discusses why voluntary student unionism should be abolished.

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Thursday 22 September 2005

Special Minister of State discusses why voluntary student unionism should be abolished


TONY EASTLEY: Special Minister of State, Eric Abetz, who' s responsible for guiding the Voluntary Student Unionism Bill through the Senate, has spent a long time thinking about the issue. 


His campaign for Voluntary Student Unionism began as a student politician in Tasmania in 1978. 


Now, with the special job of riding shotgun on the legislation, he's not interested in accepting compromises. 


The National Party wants the Government to ensure that some other form of funding is available to maintain university services and facilities. 


But Senator Abetz says the establishment of an 'amenities fee' isn't on.  


Senator Abetz is speaking here with our Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath. 


ERIC ABETZ: It's something that I've believed in for a long time. 


Voluntary Student Unionism is about the principle that university students should be entitled to an education without being forced to join an organisation that they don't want to join. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: While Peter Costello and Tony Abbott are often seen as having started this issue, it was actually you and former New South Wales Liberal Michael Yabsley, back in 1978. 


ERIC ABETZ: There were a few others of us involved, like Michael Kroger as well, and the Australian Liberal Students Federation Executive of 1978 and the Australian Liberal Students Federation, generally, has kept the fire going over these years. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Now currently in Parliament you and the Costello forces are very much behind this VSU legislation, but there's a lot of talk about a compromise, the desire from the Prime Minister for a compromise. Is that what's going on? 


ERIC ABETZ: I'm not going to comment on that, that's not in my portfolio area. That's for Brendan Nelson to comment on. Suffice to say that I think everybody knows where I publicly have stood on this issue now for well over 25 years. And that is that I believe that any service that is worthy of student support will gain that student support without the threat of expulsion or results being withheld from the student. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The National Party Federal Council passed a resolution on the weekend calling for alternative funding mechanisms to replace student fees, or for student fees to be allowed. 


Now, do you think there's any room for a compromise? 


ERIC ABETZ: The National Party has said that compulsory student unionism is dead, so I very much welcome that announcement. 


In relation to the question of how student organisations are going to continue in the future, the important issue for all the student organisations is become relevant to the student body and then the funding will follow. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Well what about setting up an alternate funding mechanism though? That's what the National Party's asking for. 


ERIC ABETZ: Philosophically, I am opposed to a student having his or her results withheld because they object to paying a compulsory student union fee. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: So a compromise of a fee for amenities only would not be acceptable to you? 


ERIC ABETZ: From a personal point of view, no it wouldn't be, because at the end of the day, students should be entitled to a university degree without having to make contributions to extracurricular activities, in which they have absolutely no interest. 


TONY EASTLEY: Special Minister of State and minister responsible for the VSU legislation in the Senate, Eric Abetz.