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Friday, 19 November 1993
Page: 3260

Senator CHRIS EVANS (11.22 a.m.) —I intend to address a few remarks to clause 20 of the States Grants (General Purposes) Bill. Unfortunately, the debate has roamed widely since I first formed the intention to speak.

Senator Panizza —You are not going to use local government, are you?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —If Senator Panizza does not mind, I think I will avoid making any remarks about local government in the context of this debate. Otherwise, it could turn into a debate about the different ideologies that emanate from Western Australia. I think we ought to try to restrict that debate to another time.

   I think it is important that I address some remarks to some of the arguments used in relation to this clause because I think some of them need to be refuted. I will not touch on questions of mandate which have been used to support the Western Australian legislation. I think it is an interesting argument, given that it has been Liberal Party policy since the mid 1970s. The Liberal Party has lost a range of elections; now it has won one. The Labor Party has had its policy in place for the same period of time.

Senator Campbell —Wasn't that the big issue this time?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I would not have thought that it was the major issue. I am prepared to concede that issues such as WA Inc. and the royal commission were a bit more in people's minds than the question of student politics and guilds. I think the attitude of the Greens and whether or not they should be adopting state government policy was also a rather strange diversion. I think Senator McMullan made the appropriate point, that it suits senators opposite to support the state government. Recently, when there was a Labor state government, it was a less telling argument. I think we all have to accept the fact that senators come to this place with their own views, their own ideologies and their own platforms.

  I think Senator Bell has sufficiently canvassed the question of the voluntary student union debate and I do not wish to go over that ground again. It was a debate that people like Senator Ellison were involved in in the 1970s. It was fought and lost by the Liberal Party in the 1970s and it is a bit unfortunate that we are still having this debate some 20 years later.

  I personally stayed out of student politics when I was at university. I actually did most of my degree part-time while working and did not find the time for student politics, although I was active in Labor Party politics at the time. While I do not wish to ruin senator Ellison's political career, I actually voted for him on one occasion. I do not know whether that will ruin his career or my career. He was a very effective student politician at the same campus that I went to. I think I voted for him more for his support of the social aspect of student politics than the ideological perspective he brought to the debates. It was a very important part of the student life on campus.

  I want to address some remarks to the question of international obligations, which have been referred to in support of the Western Australian position. I was quite surprised by the remarks of Mr Norman Moore, the state education minister. He referred to international obligations as the basis for his state legislation. Given the well-known views of Senator Kemp and Senator Ellison on the question of UN declarations, their concerns about Geneva based bureaucrats, international bureaucracies and foreign committees, the general xenophobia that they show in relation to anything that arrives from an international body and their concern about Australia's sovereignty, I am very surprised to find that suddenly they are using this argument in support of their position. In fact, I think Ellison referred to it in his contribution today.

  But I think it is important, because they have raised the issue, that it be dealt with. I think it is important that it be put on the record that the European Court of Justice has held that universal membership of student organisations does not contravene internationally accepted principles; therefore the argument that the Liberal Party is using on this occasion does not hold water. Also in support of that proposition, I would like to refer senators to a legal opinion provided by Mr Ron Castan QC—

Senator Kemp —Are you quoting it in full? The last time you quoted something, it was not strictly accurate.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I am happy to provide Senator Kemp with a copy of the legal opinion. I am sure Senator Campbell already has it. I am sure that if Senator Kemp prefers to get it from him, he will provide it.

  In Mr Castan's view—and he is an eminent Queens Counsel with a long interest and expertise in human rights—

Senator Campbell —Paid by the NUS.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I happily concede that the opinion was requested by the National Union of Students.

Senator Campbell —Are they a union or a local government?

Senator CHRIS EVANS —That is an interesting question which I think we ought to address on another occasion. In Mr Castan's opinion:

. . . recourse to these international instruments as justification for criticism of the current regulatory framework of Student Guilds in Western Australia is misconceived.

Mr Castan thought it significant that students on tertiary campuses in Western Australia have the option of conscientiously objecting to becoming members of the student guild. He further said:

Given that under the existing system students who conscientiously object to paying the Student Guild fee nonetheless remain entitled to the benefits of membership of the Guild, it may reasonably be argued that offering the option of conscientious objection is sufficient compliance with the UDHR.

So I think that this sudden interest and support for international covenants by members of the Liberal Party is in fact misplaced. Those covenants do not support their arguments on this occasion. They have led no evidence in support of the assertion that they gain any support from those instruments. As I say, it is quite bizarre, given the attitude of senators opposite when we debated things like the UN declaration on religious beliefs and the UN declaration on children, that they now turn to those international organisations for support.

Senator Ellison —We only did that for the Democrats' benefit.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —I think the Democrats would also be aware of the evidence that, in fact, those assertions are not supported and that highly qualified legal opinion has concluded that there is no problem with the current arrangements.

  I do not really want to go through the whole debate about student unionism. I think it was well canvassed in Australian society in the 1970s. I think it is a shame that the student warriors who are now members of parliament have not been able to give up their ideological obsession with this issue. I understand that Mr Moore was also a well-known student politician on a tertiary campus in Western Australia. I think they are trying to fight the fights of the old days that were lost and have another go at them.

  While I know that Senator Campbell has an ideological and deep personal commitment to what he sees as a question of voluntary membership, I think he is also coloured in his views, as he indicated in a couple of the speeches he has made, about the question of the NUS supported candidate in the federal seat of Swan at the last election. Senator Campbell, like many Liberals, has been unable to accept the result of the election and the fact that Mr Beazley was returned in the seat of Swan, and Mr Gear in the seat of Canning. His contribution today again highlighted the concern that nags away at him.

  The reality is that the Labor Party won the federal seat of Swan in a close fought election. It was a seat that the Liberal Party expected to win; it did not. It is a very good result for the Australian parliament, as well as the Labor Party, that Mr Beazley was returned. I really do think it is time to move on. Senator Campbell has dealt with the arguments about voluntary student unionism. They really are not relevant. They do reflect an ideological obsession on behalf of the Liberal Party and some of its former student politicians. I think we ought to support the legislation.