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Friday, 19 November 1993
Page: 3268

Senator CAMPBELL (12.07 p.m.) —There were some points that I wanted to address but which I did not get time to in my first contribution. The first one is in response to the interjection of Senator McMullan that we did not support the state government this time last year because we chose to support state governments that are Liberal governments. Clearly, had we wanted to use the tactics this government is using to bribe or induce the Western Australian government not to do what it is doing in relation to voluntarism on campus, we would have moved an amendment this time last year to penalise a state government to in fact ensure that there was compulsion on campus. Of course, we did not do that.

  Senator McMullan would know that it certainly would not be our policy to create a similar form of bribery in relation to a state government to cause it to adopt some other form of policy. Our action here is intended to ensure that any government across Australia that seeks to take any action in relation to compulsion or voluntarism in relation to student membership is not penalised either way. That is the principle.  I think Senator O'Chee actually hit the nail on the head. This is the first time that I know of in my experience, which is only brief, that the government is actually using an untied general purpose grant and saying that it is going to tie it; that is, if a state does not do this particular action the government will take money away from it.

  I think the Democrats are going along with a very dangerous precedent. I understand, even though I do not agree with them, their views about unions on campus. Of course, they are arguments I have heard for many years. They are in fact arguments we have within the Liberal Party. We have had some very bitter battles with what were known as the `guildies' within the party—some of the people who had become involved in the guild. Michael Leishman, who was a guild president, if I remember correctly—I hope I do not hurt him—used to speak at our state conferences very much in favour of the very arguments Senator Robert Bell has used. He said that it is not a union; it is more of a local government-type situation. We used to have very good debates at our state conferences and Young Liberals conferences and so forth. We usually won by about 500 votes to 4, but we always had good debates.

  I have heard those arguments before and I do not agree with them. As I said earlier, that is really not the point of the debate here. As Senator McMullan said by way of interjection, Western Australian students will get freedom of association. It is just a question of how much it will cost the Australian taxpayer.

  That brings me to my next point, one that has yet to be addressed: as student guilds or associations come to rely more and more upon federal government moneys to subsidise their membership revenue, they will become more and more reliant upon the discretion of the federal minister. In the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill, which I have not read since last year but which is still sharply focused in my mind, the specific clause about how the money goes to the student unions or institutions clearly set out, I believe, that it was a matter of ministerial discretion.

  I think an issue this chamber will have to deal with sooner or later, probably within the next 12 months, is under what regulations and criteria that money is given to student unions. Take the extreme and probably stupid and silly example of a campus with thousands of people, only a few—10 or 15—of whom are members of the union. Clearly, that would be an outrageously unrepresentative student union. I am sure that any sensible minister—and we have some sensible ministers—would not want to pay millions of dollars to such a student organisation that was clearly unrepresentative. So in that position the minister will have to make some sort of decision on whether or not the government gives millions of dollars to student unions. That is one worry, and we will have to deal with that. There will have to be regulations to decide what sorts of unions we want to fund.

  The funding will start flowing from Commonwealth taxpayers' money and ministers will have to make decisions. Let us hope the decisions are made in a slightly more open, accountable and transparent way than were Minister Kelly's decisions on sporting grants. That is a very real worry.

  This will become a matter of ministerial discretion. Decisions will have to be made here in Canberra about whether or not the unions get taxpayers' money. So the unions themselves will become more and more reliant on the fiat of the government in Canberra and therefore become, I guess, less independent and less able to express views that may be in opposition to a federal government. That should be a matter of concern.

  If this provision does make it through today, if we are not successful in deleting clause 20 from the bill, as sure as night follows day—to use a hackneyed cliche—this will become an issue we will have to deal with. Money will flow to unions from Canberra; we will be taking money away from Australian taxpayers and sending it to student unions; and they will lose some of that independence that I am sure the Democrats would like to see retained.

  I now address some of the comments made by Senator Woodley, particularly what he described as the state government interfering in the autonomy of institutions. If that is the case, what the state government of Western Australia, and in particular my good friend and colleague the Hon. Norman Moore, the minister, are doing is ensuring that individuals do have the freedom to choose not to join a union. If that is called interfering in the autonomy of institutions, so be it. If a government needs to ensure that a young Australian does have that freedom when he or she goes to campus, so be it: that is interference.

  If we have to interfere to ensure that when 16- or 17-year-old Australians, Western Australians in particular, go to the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Murdoch University or any of the other campuses around the place they are not confronted with a big sign on the front of the university saying `no ticket, no start' or `no guild membership fees, no degree', I think it is a very good idea for us to do so and to pull that sign down. But, again, that is me putting my view on student union voluntarism. The issue before us—and I plead with Senator Bell to see it this way—is whether or not we should be pouring taxpayers' money into student unions and, as Senator O'Chee said, tying untied grants.

  On the issue of whether the services provided by unions are seen as valuable or not valuable by the students who should use those services, Senator Woodley referred to Mark Dale, who works on the staff of the minister, Norman Moore, and who is a very strong advocate of voluntary student unionism. He has worked very hard on this issue since he has been on the staff of Norman Moore and I believe that he has spoken to Senator Woodley as a friend on these issues.

  It is interesting to note that Mark was a welfare officer on the campus he was on. One of the arguments used by, I am sure, the Democrats and those who oppose us on voluntary student unionism is that the counselling and welfare services provided by the guild are some of the most important. I do not seek to enter into that argument, but the fact of the matter is that Mark Dale has been a welfare officer on campus. He knows probably better than anybody in this chamber how important the duties of a welfare officer are. Yet Mark Dale is saying, `Voluntary student unionism is vital'.

  I think that refutes in some way Senator Woodley's use of Mark Dale as some sort of reference because he was a welfare officer on the campus in Queensland. The fact is that Mark Dale, to use Senator Woodley's words, was a very effective and good welfare officer on the campus in Queensland; yet Mark Dale, not so many months after he gave up his job as a welfare officer, is one of the most forthright advocates of voluntarism on campus.

  I conclude by making a last plea to the Democrats to think about the road down which they are now taking a step, to think about what they are going to do in terms of using Commonwealth taxpayers' moneys to fund student unions, to think about the lack of autonomy those unions will suffer because of that funding, and to think about the principle that is being established in ensuring that we can now start tying general purpose grants and using bribes through the general purpose grants process to seek to change policy at a state level. I think it is a very dangerous precedent we are setting. I know that Senator Bell has private concerns about it but has made a decision, and I make this last minute plea to him to support our move to defeat this obnoxious clause.