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Friday, 7 September 1984
Page: 654

Senator MACKLIN(11.54) —The Bills before us today, the Australian National University Amendment Bill 1984 and the Canberra College of Advanced Education Bill 1984, deal essentially with the repeal of certain sections inserted in the legislation covering the tertiary institutions directly under the control of this Parliament. The issues alluded to by Senator Baume and Senator Zakharov have probably exercised the minds of people over a considerable number of years, and I am not sure whether it is useful any longer to engage in an extensive debate in this area. The hidden curriculum on this issue is related to the Australian Union of Students. The union has ceased to function as an organisation representing students in Australia and tertiary students are now seeking to establish a more representative body and, it is hoped, a more effective body to represent them at national level.

I would have thought that it would have the support of every group in this Parliament that students would have such a body to represent them. It is important that the Government should be able to receive views from authoritative organisations when it is deliberating on legislation in this area. I believe any government, whether Liberal-National Party or Labor, would welcome the views of students in putting together legislation or seeking to amend it. Hence, everyone in this chamber will hope that the current events taking place in the tertiary student area will result in an effective, democratic and useful body to put forcefully to governments the needs and aspirations of tertiary students in Australia. There probably is not much point in going back over old history as to whether the AUS was or was not a useful body in that regard, or whether it was directing its funds to other than legitimate student interest purposes and the like. It might now be useful to direct our minds to the future in this regard.

Senator Peter Baume —Except to the extent that we do not want it to be repeated.

Senator MACKLIN —I take the point raised by Senator Baume. It is important to point out that regardless of what we do or do not do in legislation, presumably what students do or do not do in their association is up to them. The important thing for us to look forward to is that that association reflects the views of its constituents. In a democratic society this Parliament promotes the voluntary coming together of people to further the ends that are useful for the society. This chamber has always done that and I hope will continue to do so in the future.

The point revolves around whether this legislation will or will not compel people to be part of the various student organisations. There are some problems in discussing this piece of legislation in the Federal Parliament. One is that there is not a homogeneity of student organisations in tertiary institutions throughout Australia. They tend to vary both in name and in activities. In some places student unions are the bodies which provide the representative function and the service function. In other tertiary campuses those functions are split. For example, at the ANU we have an ANU union, a sports union, a students association and a research students association. Each of those bodies performs functions that are not necessarily performed by appropriately and comparably named bodies in other campuses. The remarks I shall make are specifically directed to the organisations as they are represented in the Australian Capital Territory and not other organisations from other campuses throughout Australia.

In terms of both the ANU and the Canberra College of Advanced Education, I think it is important to realise that there is support for the current Bills that are now before this chamber in the form in which the Government introduced them. The amendments foreshadowed by the Government certainly will be supported by us. Indeed, we indicated when these Bills were last before the chamber that we would be unwilling to pass them so that they would be applicable from the beginning of this calendar year. We felt it more appropriate that they start at the beginning of next calendar year, and the Government has acceded to that request. There are not only ideological reasons for that, but a pretty good accounting reason. Neither of the campuses was particularly fussed about going back to the beginning of this year. When the Government asked the bodies for their views, it discovered the correct position. It is not useful from an accounting point of view to change the rules backwards after the set of accounts has been operating for six months. The Government did not include in the legislation any additional funds to enable the bodies to do all of the books. I think it is better that it should start at the beginning of next year. There was also a mild retrospective element in that it would create certain contexts backwards for six months. Some students may have felt that would put them at a disadvantage.

I refer specifically to the voluntary aspect because that is the hub of this discussion on these Bills. The Australian Democrats strongly support the notion of voluntary organisation. We believe that it is a fundamental aspect of any society that membership of any organisation, whether it be a union or political party or whatever, be on a voluntary basis. We believe that is a fundamental human right and a right to which the Australian Government subscribes in connection with the United Nations Charter. However, we also have as part of our policy a further concept which envisages fees for service. We have discussed this matter with the various unions and union bodies in Australia. We believe it is an important aspect of organisation of many groups in Australia that they provide services to their members. We believe that these services cannot simply be provided to their members but are, by the organisation of various Acts of this Parliament, provided to all people who work or who operate within certain contexts.

To spell that out, unions are recognised before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. They are required to appear before the Commission in cases dealing with pay and conditions. This Parliament has legislated for those bodies to appear. For example, one sees the importance of having deregistration proceedings operating against the Builders Labourers Federation. If the fact that they were registered or not was of no moment, there would not be so much concern about the BLF deregistration proceedings. It is important that we have these bodies and that they provide certain benefits to their members but also to others working in the industry. It follows, the Democrats believe, that all those working in the area who receive benefits from the operation of those various organisations should be expected to pay their fair share.

I do not think anybody in this country is happy with bludgers and those who do not contribute are bludging on their fellow workmates or fellow participants in whatever area it involves. If services are provided-and distinct services are provided in putting a good case before an Arbitration Commission-it is fair to expect those people who benefit from the pay and conditions to contribute. However, we do not agree that those contributions should then be used for a political purpose. In our discussions with the trades and labour councils in various States and with their peak bodies we have always put the proposition that if a fee for service is established it will not be used in any way for a political purpose. Therefore, the money should be paid into a separate fund and it should be accountable in a public way so that everyone knows that the money is being spent only on those services and only on providing them. I say that in general, because that is the general philosophical and political context of the Australian Democrats. I wish now to apply that to the Bills.

It has become somewhat difficult to do that because of the difficulty in finding information as to what actually is going on at the Australian National University and the Canberra College of Advanced Education. I must admit I have some concern that the types of propositions I would have hoped to see written into various statutes and regulations are not. I believe they ought to be. I believe it is a deficiency on the part of those organisations that they have not done that. However, on inquiry of both those groups and their peak policy bodies I have been assured on a personal basis by the responsible officers that there is no obligation to belong to those bodies. In other words, there is voluntary membership of those bodies. However, both the ANU and CCAE intend having compulsory general service fees if the legislation is passed.

The point the university and college people have made to me in fact is totally in keeping with the policy of my Party. They say that people to whom they have provided services should be expected to pay their fair share for the provision of those services. I readily admit that not everyone attending one of those campuses will be using all of those services. I attended a campus and paid fees for a long time but I do not think I ever used the sports union-I suppose I should have, but I did not. I see that Mr Acting Deputy President is nodding his head in agreement. These types of provisions are made but one does not always take advantage of them. Nevertheless, they are put there for the use of all students and are generally accepted within the community as a reasonable provision of recreational facilities for students. In fact, I remember often exhorting my students to take recreation-although I was not doing it myself- because it is very useful that in a period of study people look after their health.

Senator Watson —So should parliamentarians.

Senator MACKLIN —That is true indeed. I hope that in the new Parliament House there is greater provision of those types of services than we have here. Over and above the provision of sporting facilities there is, for example, the provision of a refectory. I was lucky enough to be at a university at a time when one could take refectory honours. At that time one did not have to worry about continual assessment and could spend a fair amount of time discussing the state of the world. Unfortunately, those rather balmy times when we had to study only in the last term are long since past. That no longer is the case because students now have to study all year round. However, students still need to eat. I draw an analogy by saying that the dining room here is an extremely important part of this establishment; it manages to keep us going. I think we would feel it very odd if there were not such provisions in this place. I point out to honourable senators who will be voting on these Bills that such services here are provided from Consolidated Revenue and not from our pockets. Although we pay for our meals I do not think we pay anywhere near as much as the meals cost. It is obvious when one looks at the Estimates that Consolidated Revenue picks up a part of the tab.

Senator Peter Baume —I think we should pay cost.

Senator MACKLIN —I agree. I think that when we discuss these matters we should not draw up one rule for other people and one for ourselves. In the case of the university and college I think the provision of these services is important and a provision which the community expects on the campuses because of their size. I do not believe there is a case for saying that people attending those campuses should be exempt from paying fees. I point out that there are staggered fees for part time and external students and full time campus students. I think that is fair and reasonable. I quote from the Australian National University Council minutes of a resolution. The minutes state:

The Vice-Chancellor reported that the Second Reading Speech of the Bill to amend the Australian National University Act by removing restrictions on the use by students of General Services Fee moneys was introduced into the House of Representatives on 9 May 1984, and he suggested that Council consider how it wished to proceed, on the assumption that the Bill would be passed some time this year.

Having considered the advice of the Finance Committee, Council resolved that:

(a) the provision in the Fees Rules for the levying of an annual compulsory general services fee for all enrolled students should continue;

(b) it should not be compulsory for students enrolled or seeking to enrol in the University to become and remain members of any organisation of students as a condition of enrolment.

I think that is a principle that one could accept.

Senator Peter Baume —How does the repeal of section 32A fit in because that concerns non-retribution for people who decide not to join? Why should the Bill seek to repeal that particular provision?

Senator MACKLIN —I accept that repealing the various sections of the Act involved probably goes further than is necessary. However, if one is looking at the wider context-my Party strongly supports the notion of autonomy of the institutions-I believe it is a matter for the institution itself to determine.

Senator Peter Baume —Even retribution for non-membership?

Senator MACKLIN —There will not be retribution. I think that it is very clear from the responsible officers of both the ANU and the CCAE that there will be no retribution and that there will be no compulsory element in the operation of these rules.

Senator Peter Baume —Then the repeals are not necessary?

Senator MACKLIN —I said that I think the repeals go further than is necessary. In the broader context, the point I am putting is that we would have a preference for the organisations themselves to determine the policy rules in relation to people within the institutions. Officers of those institutions have assured me that it is their continuing policy that there will always be those types of provisions and that there will be no compulsory payment as a condition of enrolment. To me that seems a reasonable stance on the part of those institutions. Indeed, without that assurance the Australian Democrats would not have agreed to vote for the Bills. I think that assurance is important. It puts on the institution itself the responsibility for its own rules and for conducting itself in a fair and reasonable way. I for one-certainly it has been my Party's policy consistently-would prefer that the institutions make those rules and enforce them themselves.

I think that if there are no problems arising out of that we should desist from putting legislative encumbrances of whatever kind on tertiary institutions. I can think of many things that could happen to tertiary institutions in the future that I would not like to happen. I believe if such things did happen this Parliament would be forced to legislate to prevent them. However, I believe it is a fundamental principle to leave tertiary institutions as autonomous as possible until such time as we find they digress in a way that is not acceptable to the community. I do not see that in this case. I do not think the Parliament proposes to do it in this case. Hence, I believe, following that principle, that one should leave to the tertiary institutions the capacity to make their own rules in this area. After all, the governing bodies of these institutions are made up not simply of academics and some students; they are made up of eminent representatives of this Parliament and of this community. Those people cannot be said to be a radical bunch. They are--

Senator Peter Baume —How would that go down in a logic class? An appeal to authority?

Senator MACKLIN —Quite frankly, they are a pretty conservative bunch. Indeed, it has been one of the geniuses of the organisation of tertiary institutions in this country to interpose between the community and the running of the institution a relatively conservative community-oriented body. This could be held up to many other countries which have tried similar operations. I think Australia has hit on a pretty good model. On the one hand it regulates the tertiary institution internally fairly well by keeping an eye on the community outside. On the other hand, it protects the community inside from the community outside in areas where the tertiary institutions tend-and they do tend on occasions-to move well beyond the accepted community norms of practice and discussion. It is important to look back at some of the history. Indeed, if one looks back at history-Senator Teague will be better on this than I-certainly in terms of the history of ideas, one only has to go back 300 years to discover that there were places where if a person stood up and argued for democracy he would have his head cut off.

Senator Peter Baume —There still are. They still exist.

Senator MACKLIN —There still are, yes, but not in our tradition. There are still parts of the world where, if a person tried that, he would get shot. But well within the western tradition and the university tradition there are places where , if a person stood up and said 'Democracy is the best way of running the country', he would have been beheaded for it. We need to make sure that people in our tertiary institutions are capable of expressing and fomenting ideas in the community. One of the reasons we fund them out of Consolidated Revenue is to provide us not only with our lawyers, doctors, teachers, pharmacists and agricultural scientists and whatever else, but also to provide us with ideas and to make us constantly look towards the future.

I believe it is a very important principle that we do not impede tertiary autonomy unless it is absolutely and vitally necessary. I do not believe it is vitally necessary in this case. I believe that both of those institutions have publicly stated that they will not be requiring, as a condition of enrolment, any compulsory element, and that they will seek to abide by what is now accepted as the community norms-that conscientious object must be protected at all times. In other words, these intitutions are allowing voluntary membership. I believe that is vitally important. On the other hand, I do not believe that it is an encumbrance on students to have to pay part of the cost of services provided in those institutions for their well being. Indeed to use a phrase from another government, I would have thought it is a case of the user paying. The user is not paying a great deal, but the user is paying a little. I am not quite sure why we would be worried about that. I indicated that the Australian Democrats will support the Government on this legislation with the proviso that we support it only because those institutions have indicated that they will not be requiring compulsory membership.