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Friday, 19 November 1993
Page: 3264

Senator WOODLEY (11.40 a.m.) —I indicate to Senator Campbell and other members of the coalition that the debate today is really about the right of the Commonwealth to replace the loss of revenue which is essential for the provision of services to students in Western Australia. That is what the debate is about. I suggest that it is not the Commonwealth which is blackmailing Western Australian voters but the other way around.

  This clause allows the government to recover funds from the states if those states have interfered with the autonomy of an institution—in this case it is a students' institution. It is states like Western Australia that are interfering with the autonomy of student institutions and not the other way around. If the Western Australian government begins to bleat because it has to pay for the consequences of its action, I will quote for its benefit a very wise saying, `If you sow the wind, then you will reap the whirlwind'.

  I remind the Senate what services the students fees provide. In the two universities which I have been involved in in the last 5 1/2 years those fees provided a welfare officer. Mr Moore's very capable researcher Marc Dale, who was a student of the QUT, was the welfare officer at QUT for some years while I was there. He was one of the best welfare officers we ever had. He was a very committed member of the Liberal Party and a very committed member of the student guild at QUT.

Senator Campbell —And voluntaryism.

Senator WOODLEY —Of course it is. He told me that on the many occasions he has rung me in the last few weeks. He is a very committed student and a very good friend of mine. However, I was not convinced by his arguments. The services which are provided by student guilds include such things as welfare officers, child care facilities, education officers, sporting facilities, and so on. If Senator Panizza really understood what Senator Bell was saying he would have realised that these facilities are also provided by many local governments. That is where the comparison is made. I do not think Senator Panizza understood what Senator Bell was saying at that point.

  We are arguing about the ability of students not only to be provided with these services but also to have some way of controlling and influencing the direction that these services take and which services should be provided. When I was involved in this debate some years ago I did some research. I talked to various vice chancellors and it was pointed out to me that if students do not pay these fees through their guild they will have to pay the fees in some other way because the services are essential in the mind of the universities.

  The membership of the guild is not compulsory; it is the payment of the fee that is. If the fee is not paid through the guild it will be paid to the university in some other way. The membership of the guild provides the students with some control over the way in which their fees are spent. That is the essential thing that membership of the student guild provides. The fee for these services will be paid either through the guild or through the university in some other way. That is where the compulsion comes in. The membership of a guild enables the students to have some control. In other words, it enshrines that principle of individualism which is so important to the coalition.

  I could have made a stronger argument than Senator Ellison did about the politicisation of guilds. This politicisation has come about not only through the interference of the Labor Party but also through the interference of the coalition in student politics. This is certainly the case in the two universities with which I have been involved—the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology.

  I would abhor that politicisation whether it came from the Labor Party or the coalition. I believe that is the one thing that cuts across the argument I am making about the fact that student guilds are there to provide representation and control over the services which are provided. I hear the argument Senator Ellison is making and I sympathise with it. The Democrats support what the Commonwealth is doing because it enables students to have representation and to have some control over the services which are provided.

  One of the problems we have within universities at the moment is the apathy of students. Again I hear what the opposition is saying in that respect. I will give the Senate an illustration. In 1991—a year in which I took quite a deal of interest in the elections at the Queensland University—only 4,000 out of 20,000 students voted in the election for the student guild. That was the highest vote they ever had. At QUT in another year, 800 out of 20,000 students voted.

  The problem is not whether students have to pay a fee: the problem really is that if students are not happy with the actions of their guilds they should exercise their democratic prerogative. Where democracy is falling down is not whether the payment of fees to student unions or student guilds are voluntary but where students are not voting and taking their places in the activities of the particular associations to which they belong.

  We want to support the continuation of these services and the continued funding of these services. The coalition needs to activate its own student movement, get it working and make sure that those students who support its particular opinions are able to make their presence felt within the student unions and student guilds to which they belong. They need to have a say in the way in which these services are provided because they are essential and must be funded.