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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2451

Mr BRIGGS (9:17 AM) —I rise to very strongly oppose this piece of Labor Party legislation, the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009, which, of course, is a piece of legislation for its true believers, because most of them have come through this training school. Truth be told, that is what this is about—this is part of the Labor Party training school, and we will walk through that in a little bit more detail.

We just heard the member for Wills, who is a longstanding member of this House, talk about how the previous government’s legislation was not about choice—it was authoritarianism, apparently, gone mad. Well, it seems to me that forcing someone to pay a tax or to be a member of the union would be closer to that than giving them a choice would be. We know what this is all about—this is about funding the next generation of Labor MPs and Labor activists. That is what it is about, and I refer to my home state of South Australia in that respect: I see the next speaker on the list is the member for Kingston, and a good member she is too, but she is a product of the Australian school. She, of course, was the president of the Flinders University students union; the member for Adelaide, who is the Minister for Youth, was the president of the student association for, I think, about six years. So this is all part of Labor Inc.

What they do is have the compulsory union fee and get the next group of numbers into their faction and into their group. In South Australia that group is the SDA, run by Senator Don Farrell or, as the Advertiser dubbed him earlier this week, the ‘godfather’ of the Right in South Australia. They get their next group of people in so they can control the Labor Party—we saw last week the benefits of that for Mr Koutsantonis, who is now a minister in the state Labor government after many years of undermining the Premier of South Australia. He got rewarded because he is part of the faction that runs the state government; it is the same with the Minister for Youth and the member for Kingston. They have all been part of this training school. They started off at university in the student union—funded through compulsory fees—and had the activist training. It is all part of Labor Inc. So that is the motive of this bill: Labor Inc. need this bill because they need the next group of activists to be forced through their training school, and that is what it is all about—it is as simple as that. This is a bill to keep Labor Inc. going and to keep Labor Inc. moving forward, and we will see that in the future years. That is all the Labor members care about, and that is what this bill is about.

Here are some facts about the voluntary student unionism legislation that was moved by the previous government. In 2004, $160 million was collected around Australia in compulsory student union fees. At the time, Labor claimed that over 4,000 jobs would go with the introduction of VSU, but that is a claim that just has not been substantiated. Labor has run a desperate scare campaign on this about services and amenities. You see the name of this bill: the student services and amenities and other measures bill. Of course, that is not what it is about; it is about a compulsory union fee to drag more people into their faction in the Labor Party so that they have got more control and so that they can dish out seats going forward. That is what it is all about and that is how they have operated for many years, particularly in my state of South Australia. They have the numbers in certain seats—the member for Adelaide, the Minister for Youth, benefited from that in the past and the member for Kingston is the same. So this is what this bill is all about—it is part of the Labor Inc. system of training the next group of activists.

I wish to make five points in particular on this bill. The first point is that this is clearly a broken promise of Labor. Labor told the public before the last election that they were not considering an amenities fee. At a doorstop interview in May 2007 the now Minister for Foreign Affairs, the then education spokesman, said:

… I am not considering a HECS style arrangement, I’m not considering a compulsory HECS style arrangement and the whole basis of the approach is one of a voluntary approach. So I am not contemplating a compulsory amenities fee.

I repeat: ‘So I am not contemplating a compulsory amenities fee.’ What do we see with this bill? We see the very thing that the now Minister for Foreign Affairs, the then shadow spokesman on education, said they were not contemplating. The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the member for Melbourne, during a debate on the Higher Education Support Bill on 14 October 2003, said:

The reality is that Australian students and Australian families have pretty much reached the limit of their capacity to contribute to their own education or their children’s education.

The minister for finance was saying that we do not need more fees; we do not need more expense on young people going into university because it is hard enough as it is. The obligation on education providers to support student unions goes beyond what existed before the previous government legislated against compulsory fees and compulsory unionism. It was just another case of Labor misleading leading into the last election. We have seen a lot of that. We have seen it over the last couple of days with a promise, which has been broken, to the Christian Lobby regarding the funding of international abortions. We are now seeing the same with this bill. It is just another broken promise from Labor. We saw it with the great ads for the economic conservative who now is the great social democrat. It is a consistent approach. That is the first point: it is a clear broken promise, a clear breach of Labor’s undertaking.

The second point is about unionism. The bill will effectively see the return of compulsory student unionism. The only political activities expressly prohibited by the legislation are support for political parties and support for election to a government body. This leaves out a whole range of political activities including funding campaigns against legislation and policy, potentially against political parties or for direct support of trade unions or any other organisation not registered as a political party. This fee is used for activists’ training, to boost the extra numbers at protests et cetera. This is an attempt to reintroduce a compulsory fee that will in effect fund the activities of student unions again. We hear much about the childcare services and so forth that this legislation is allegedly there to fund. That is simply not true. It is there to fund the student union slush fund, all part of the training of the next group of activists for Labor Inc. That is what this bill is all about. Student unions are not councils. Student organisations often argue that such a fee is equivalent to a local government charging property owners rates for the provision of services such as garbage collection and libraries. Student organisations are in fact more like a sporting club where members pay a voluntary fee in order to participate in recreational activities. So people will join if they wish to join, if they see a benefit in the service, rather than being forced into paying a fee which is then used for all sorts of activities, which people do not realise or indeed do not agree to. Rather than making a case for why people would want to join student associations, this legislation is about forcing them to. Labor know that, when people look at the options or the range of activities, most people choose not to join because it does not give them any benefit, so they have to force them. It is the lazy approach to unionism that the government are supportive of, because it boosts numbers and, as I said before, increases revenue for all parts of the training for Labor Inc.

The third point is the financial burden on young people and students going to university. This fee of up to $250 slugs students at a time when the economy is already in decline, when people are finding it more difficult to meet their obligations. We heard Labor for 11 years carp on about the costs of going to university, the high cost of up-front courses and so forth. Now we see Labor adding another up-front fee that people have no choice about, with no option about whether they wish to use these services. They are forced to contribute to a whole range of political activities, all based on the Labor Inc. theory.

The bill will impose a regressive tax on students which is indexed to inflation. The fee will therefore become higher each year. It is $250 now, but of course it will increase. It will increase the obligations on the next group of students coming through. Students often work in a number of jobs to pay for rent and other cost-of-living pressures, which of course is becoming more difficult as time goes on. We see a report today in the Australian in relation to my home state of South Australia, where the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association is predicting that wage costs will increase by 15 per cent. That will increase the pressure on the ability of those restaurants to employ young people. Many young people who go to university work part time in restaurants and catering organisations and if wage costs increase by 15 per cent, through Labor’s changes to industrial relations law, then we will see a substantial reduction in the number of young people who are taken on. That is a bad thing for students. At the same time, Labor is imposing a new tax, a $250 compulsory student union fee, on these same university students. So they are reducing employment options and imposing additional costs all for the purpose of the Labor Inc. organisation.

In the case of part-time students and the 130,000 external students around Australia, many of them will never have the opportunity to use the services but they will be charged the fee. It is outrageous that students studying by correspondence should be forced to pay this fee, particularly if they never set foot on campuses. What about mature age students who work full time and attend night sessions or indeed study across the internet? It is simply a new tax to fund activities which people are not choosing to fund themselves, so they have to be compulsory to give the student unions the amount of money that they need to run the activities to train the next group of activists for Labor Inc.

Students living on minimal budgets, who will have fewer chances for employment under this government’s approach to industrial relations law and the economy, will now be slugged another fee just to add to those pressures. This is bad policy, but it is designed wholly and solely for the political benefit of those on the other side. This is their training school. We have seen it in South Australia, where the Minister for Youth and the member for Kingston have come through the Labor training school and have been rewarded with their seats in the parliament for doing the right thing by the faction in South Australia. It is all part of the Labor Inc. system that brings them through.

We have seen it in a whole range of activities in South Australia. Yesterday, there was a great spread in the Advertiser about the secretary of the SDA, the key union in the Right faction, with his love life posted all over the Advertiser—all part of the management of the faction, of course. This student union fee is designed to benefit that group of people. This is a bad piece of legislation. It is bad law. It is a new tax. That is simply what it is: it is a new tax benefiting those on the other side to help train their next group of activists.

The fourth point is that this removes choice. The very basis of the VSU legislation was to give students choice about whether they wanted to use the services or not. What this fee, this tax, this compulsory unionism, is designed to do is to force people to pay this fee for the benefit of those on the other side. Students should not be forced to pay for services they do not want to use or have no intention of using. It should be a choice. It should be that if you need a service you pay for it to be delivered, rather than this approach from Labor, which is compulsory unionism. It is a new tax.

Once again, this highlights a stark difference between those on this side of the House and those on the other. We believe very strongly in choice. We believe that, if students are given their right to choose what services they use, they will, and indeed they have been doing so over the last couple of years, since the beginning of the VSU legislation. But what Labor want—what those on the other side want—is a compulsory fee because it boosts the coffers of these union organisations to train the next group of activists for the future.

We have seen a range of policies. We are starting to see a range of hard-headed Labor policies that they wish to implement, and this is one of them. We have seen already the flagging of the return to the old school hit list, which the Deputy Prime Minister is so enamoured of. She was a numbers person for Mark Latham, and that was a policy that Mark Latham pursued very heavily. Those on the other side do not understand the word ‘choice’; what they understand is ‘compulsory’, because it is for their political benefit, and that is what they are doing this piece of legislation for.

In my fifth point I wish to make some remarks in relation to VSU, the legislation that the Howard government moved through about choice in universities. The VSU legislation is working. Student services are still going strong, and voluntary student unionism is clearly working. People who choose to join the union, who are activists already, do so. Those who do not choose to, the majority, are not forced to. That is the big difference, of course, between those of us on this side and those on the other side. The lazy approach to student unions is to force people to do so.

The Howard government’s VSU legislation of 2005 has enabled students to save, on average, about $250 per annum, a real saving for someone who lives on a shoestring budget and who is now finding it harder and harder to get work because of the policies of those on the other side. They are now going to be slugged with an extra tax. There were real savings from policies implemented by the Howard government. It is a substantial amount of money. It would go towards their living costs—and this will take away from students’ abilities to fund entertainment and basics like electricity bills and rent. This is a bad piece of policy. It is a bad piece of policy designed for the benefit of those on the other side.

Why? The motive is clear. Student unions provide the training ground for the next group of Labor activists. We have seen it in South Australia constantly, as I have referred to already. What the Labor Party want to do here is bring back the compulsory aspect of this fee because it increases substantially the amount of money that is used for a range of political activities; it is not used for what those on the other side purport that it is. I pay tribute to the Young Liberal student association for the information that they have sent out to members. It has been very well written and well researched. They are a group of young people who believe in choice. They do not want to be forced to be slugged with a $250 Labor tax each year. There are reduced employment opportunities for those young people in this current economic circumstance because of policies of those on the other side, and at the same time they will be forced to pay a new tax, a new tax designed to help the betterment of those on the other side in their political careers and to increase the size of their factions and the ability of their factions to have the numbers to control their state organisation and therefore the seats that they get to choose.

We have seen it in South Australia. We see the great employment slush fund that occurs with ministers’ offices. The brother of the SDA secretary in South Australia is employed by the Treasurer, who is on the Right, and of course we have the member for Adelaide, who is part of that faction, the member for Wakefield and the member for Kingston. Then we have those on the other side who are part of the Left, run by the member for Port Adelaide. That is how the South Australian Labor Party work. They employ their own, and it is all through the training school of the student unions in the first place that gives them these numbers and that helps train them.

That is what this is about. That is the motive of this bill. It is not for the benefit of the vast bulk of young people who go to university to seek to improve themselves for a future career and to get the education they require. It is about increasing the ability of the Labor Party to train the next group, to keep the numbers in their relevant factions so they have the ability to control their party. So it is a sad piece of legislation.

It is true Labor legislation, of course. It will be sold in all sorts of positive terms and Orwellian speak about how important it is and how outrageous it was that the Howard government took away all sorts of services like child care, which of course is simply not true. This bill is about compulsory student unionism for the benefit of those on the other side, not for the students that they purport to represent. It is forcing people to dig into the limited resources they currently have to pay for activities they do not want. The only way those activities can be funded is by a compulsory fee. It is a bad piece of legislation. I urge the government to reconsider it. It is a broken promise. It will hurt young Australians, and I urge the government to reconsider.