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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4747


Senator ABETZ(12.45 p.m.) —The matter that I wish to address today relates to the Australian National University and the most recent student association elections on that campus. I recently received a letter from a female student on that campus who wrote to me expressing her genuine concern about the events that took place there in recent times. I think it is important that we highlight what occurred there to put into context the debate that we have just witnessed in relation to the role of unions and these so-called representative bodies.

Allow me to quote substantially from the letter I received, because it sets out the factual circumstances in a fairly brief but nevertheless detailed way so that people can understand what the problem was. She says:

I am writing to draw your attention to the 1996 ANU Students' Association elections that were held in the last week of last term, and where the Labor-endorsed ticket, "Rage" were caught with their hand in the ballot-box so to speak.

The elections were held in the last week of third term. There were four main tickets involved . . .

. . . the current SA President is William Mackerras, a member of the Labor Club. His Treasurer, Daniel Jenkins, is also a member of the Labor Club, and was the Presidential candidate for the Rage ticket. Due to the SA electoral regulations, it was up to the current executive to appoint the returning officers. William delegated this job to Daniel (despite the fact that he was a presidential candidate) . . . Five student officials were appointed . . .

Polling took place and was uneventful (except for a failed attempt at a beer-stack by the Labor Club) until the last afternoon. An impartial and apolitical student observed one of the Rage candidates (and Labor Club member), . . . attempt to stuff a wad of ballots into the presidential box. He was initially unsuccessful, but was seen trying again a little later and this time succeeding. A complaint was lodged, and special care taken when opening the Box for counting the following Monday.

. . . 146 suspicious ballots were found in total, all of them bundled together in wads, and all of them—

surprisingly—

with Rage candidate Daniel Jenkins number 1. Scrutineers say that there were four distinct handwriting types on the ballots, that the ballots were originals, not forgeries, and that all carried the initials of either one of two returning officers—neither of whom were checked with any other candidates prior to polling.

Believe it or not, Mr Mackerras is currently conducting an investigation. In other words, Labor is going to investigate Labor. It is likely that even if the candidate had not been seen placing the forms in the box they would have been caught anyway, because the ballot papers were stuffed into the ballot box in wads, rather than as single sheets, which is how they would have appeared if placed there by legitimate voters. This sort of corruption of the student union process at the Australian National University ought be a matter of great concern to everybody.


Senator Bolkus —Corruption in government. You are investigating yourselves on DDB. You cannot deny that.


Senator ABETZ —It is interesting that Senator Bolkus is interjecting. He is undoubtedly laying his own credibility in honesty and integrity on the line and trying to say that somehow this is an appropriate course of conduct. We know it happens in the Labor Party on a regular basis, so it is nothing new for senators opposite. But those on this side happen to believe in the democratic process and that you either win fairly or lose fairly. You do not have the introduction of all these excess votes.

We do know, of course, of the rumours about the way that your former Prime Minister is alleged to have won his preselection. Yes, senators opposite are starting to smile when that is mentioned. They are not roaring out denying that ballot boxes were rigged and extra votes introduced to allow that to occur.

It really is a matter of concern that this has taken place at the Australian National University. It is interesting to note that the same Mr Jenkins who was the beneficiary of those 146 introduced votes wrote in very pious terms in his local student newspaper only a few months before. He said:

The 1995 election results overwhelmingly made it clear that the membership of the student association fundamentally rejects the people that don't believe in the organisation or the democratic process itself.

Yet he or people on his behalf were introducing those extra 146 ballots into the ballot box—undoubtedly to give democracy a little help; to ensure that Labor might at last win an election!

It is interesting to note that, although there were only about 1,000 votes cast, even with the introduction of the 146 votes the Labor candidate still did not win. It really does indicate how hopeless the whole effort was and I think it is to the great credit of the student who observed what occurred that it was brought to the notice of the public.

This is a student association which people are compelled to belong to. They have to belong to it if they are to get a tertiary education. That is a matter that a number of sena tors on this side have raised from time to time. We believe it strengthens our argument for the need for universities and institutions around the country to give students the freedom of choice as to whether or not they belong to student organisations or associations.


Senator Forshaw —Why are you trying to force all Australians to join private health funds?


Senator ABETZ —It really is quite amazing that people like Senator Forshaw try to defend this compulsory aspect which means, if you do not join a student union, you are denied an education. Through his interjections, Senator Forshaw is basically telling the Australian people that that is a fair and reasonable system. Yet they still wonder why they were so overwhelmingly rejected on 2 March! You see, people believe in a fair go and those who believe in a fair go would say you ought be entitled to a university degree—in fact, the right to enter a university—without the need to join a student association. The joining of the student association might somehow be desirable in some people's eyes, but these students are old enough to pick their own courses, they are old enough to decide where they are going to live and which university they are going to study at. Surely they are old enough to also determine whether or not they want to belong to a student association, because those students who are forced to belong to the student association then have to make a determination whether or not they can afford the time to fight the sort of skulduggery that I brought forward earlier in my speech.


Senator Mackay —They are going to be working to put themselves through university.


Senator ABETZ —Now Senator Mackay is interjecting and I am so grateful—


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator West) —Order on my left! Senator Abetz, you might like to address the chair.


Senator ABETZ —Madam Acting Deputy President, I was just drawing to your attention and to the Senate's attention that Senator Mackay was interjecting. I was not addressing any comments to her. I am delighted that Labor opposition senators have been interjecting and, in doing so, reinforcing to the people of Australia that they support this system of compulsion and that somehow they would explain away the corruption that took place under the auspices of the Labor Club at the ANU in trying to rort a ballot. Rorts may well be common in the Labor Party. We know of other occurrences in union elections where that has occurred.

It is very interesting to look opposite to see how many senators are former union officials. They tell me that in Labor Party circles these days the preselectors have a joke. They ask people, `What do they call a failed trade union leader?' Answer, `Senator.' That is where they put failed trade union leaders these days. They get shunted off into the Senate to get them out of the Labor Party.

We can see the sorts of tactics that they were trained in from university days, as witnessed by these recent events at the Australian National University. I hope that there is a full and detailed inquiry. I would have thought that, rather than having a situation where students are not allowed to sit exams at the Australian National University and have their results withheld because they are not members of the student association, that when they find all those involved in this incident they might like to bring some discipline to bear and deny them the right to their education and to sit exams and be given their results. Then the university may gain some credibility in this very sordid matter.

I commend the students at the Australian National University who have been pursuing this issue, who want to see justice and who have exposed that what the Labor Party gets up to in trade union ballots, in preselections, seems to be taught to them at a very early age at university. From there they just seem to graduate and go on to bigger and better things. Of course, the prime example of that was the former failed Prime Minister, Mr Keating, when he was preselected for his own seat.

I look forward to the day when students are able to study at university right around this country without being forced to be members of student associations and where they are able to pursue their chosen career without having to continually look over their shoulders of those Labor students who want to play politics and, more importantly, want to play it in such a corrupt manner as the ANU Labor Club has shown that it is willing to do.