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Proposed student fees

CHAIR —I welcome Ms Carla Drakeford and Mr Graham Hastings, representatives of the National Union of Students, to the hearing. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Drakeford —Yes, thank you. I would like to thank the scrutiny of new taxes committee for inviting the National Union of Students to present our views regarding the proposed student services and amenities fee legislation. NUS has always made extensive submissions to inquiries on voluntary student unionism over the past decade, as have our member organisations. NUS is the peak representative body of university students and has one of the largest democratic structures for youth organisations in Australia, with all enrolled students having the ability to vote in NUS elections. We represent over 75 per cent of those students through membership of the student associations.

NUS has supported the passage of this legislation, yet we have always questioned its purpose in opposing and changing the devastating effects of voluntary student unionism that have occurred on our campuses. We have always argued publicly that this legislation fails to address issues of student representation, which has been significantly and negatively affected by VSU. As our submission has shown, the effect has been most pronounced on regional universities, followed by universities that have a higher percentage of students from a low socioeconomic status background, such as Victoria University in Victoria and the University of Western Sydney in New South Wales. This new law will not be enough to restore representation and a voice to those students who struggle to meet the standards of a modern student life.

NUS would like to comment on concerns around the legislation that it will hurt students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds and that the student services and amenities fee will hit them with an additional fee. Obviously, NUS would like the committee to note that under the legislation there will be a deferred payment of the fee and it will not be required as an upfront living expense. Not only is it deferrable; it offers essential services to students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. It will see not only funding go back into agency and welfare services but also the return to collective student buying power, enabling food and beverages to be made cheaper on campus for those students who struggle. It will have longer term effects for low socioeconomic students, as well as for students from regional and Indigenous backgrounds, by providing adequate support services on campus as well as a range of activities to raise retention rates. Also, the capped $250 is no more than the standard CPI index on HECS payments. What will deter students from studying at university is large increases in tuition fees, not the proposed student services and amenities fee.

NUS would like the committee to note also that, as we outlined in our submission, we feel the student services and amenities fee is not a tax while, like HECS and the HELP components for students who defer payment, the payment is repaid to the tax office and the fee revenue goes to the university. Our understanding is that HECS is legally defined as a fee for service and not as a tax. We can see no reason for treating the university student services and amenities fee as different for these purposes than the purposes of HECS and FEE-HELP.

The $250 is a cap. Universities can offer the fee in any amount up to $250 for all the different types of students enrolled. There is obviously concern that external or part-time students may be charged the fee for services they do not use, but I would like to comment that universities are able to alter the fee for external or part-time students. In fact, arguments that try to assume that external students do not use these services are naïve, in that universities can reduce the $250 to a partial fee for safety net services taken up by external and mixed mode students, such as academic advocacy, research and skills help as well as, potentially, welfare or financial services that the student may require.

The fee needs to be compulsory so that students are not disadvantaged by a pay-as-you-go service. This is especially pertinent for the types of students that I have already mentioned that are from low-SES backgrounds, who may not have money to seek academic advocacy when it is required. Services and opportunities are also created by universities to give their students a more holistic educational experience, one where students become active citizens and engage with learning on a wider scale than that offered in the classroom. For this type of learning to take place it must be funded in a different way to the way it currently works.

Universities who can afford to are currently funding their student organisations and services on campus. The experience of the University of Queensland student union and the University of Sydney SRC are examples of how funding from universities has been provided to prop up services that were previously run by student organisations. The universities in the Group of Eight have been able to provide considerable transitional funding to those student services over the past four years but have done so by cutting money from teaching and learning funding and from research facilities and building grounds work. Organisations such as those at the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney are not allowed to also levy a student union fee, as part of their agreement, and anything that is offered on that basis is a small number of premium memberships.

We believe that this legislation should pass the Senate. As I said, NUS does have some concerns about the details of it, but on the whole it is a piece of legislation that is not a return to compulsory student unionism. It does not require universities to give any money to student organisations, yet the National Union of Students recognises that this is incredibly important to restore essential services on our campuses, particularly regional campuses, and we are in full support of this bill.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your opening statement. Just to kick off, I would like to test the assertion in your opening statement that this is not a tax, because it really does have all the elements of a tax, doesn’t it? It is compulsory, it is imposed by government legislation, the universities are essentially acting as the agents for the government in collecting the tax and payment is going to be enforced, whether it is deferred payment or payment on the spot. And the comparison with HECS is not really accurate, is it, because HECS is indeed a fee for service—the service being the university course—whereas the student tax is payable irrespective of whether you access a particular service. So it is not a fee for service as such. Isn’t that an accurate description of what is on the table?

Mr Hastings —No, I think we would still say it is fee for service because people are choosing to enrol at an institution and they are basically taking on whatever fees the university chooses to charge for that, and those fees could be for tuition or for non-academic services. I am not quite sure on what basis it could be argued that it is fundamentally different from HECS.

CHAIR —The reason I am arguing that it is fundamentally different from HECS is that every single student who pays HECS will, by definition for that fee, have access to a university course. That is why they are at university. The HECS fee is a payment for a service they access which is the course at the university. That is very different from being required to pay a compulsory levy irrespective of whether, as an individual student, you access a particular service. That is where it essentially becomes a tax because it is compulsory, it is not in exchange for a service access, it is imposed by government legislation even though it is collected by universities as agents of the government. If you look at the definition of a tax in the dictionary, this particular student amenities fee has every element of a tax.

Senator CAMERON —On a point of order, the Clerk of the Senate has said this is not a tax and you should not be trying to lead these witnesses into conceding this is a tax.

CHAIR —That is not quite what she said, Senator Cameron.

Senator CAMERON —That is what she said.

CHAIR —You can ask your questions when it is your turn.

Senator CAMERON —But do not try and lead the witnesses into some crazy trap you are trying.

CHAIR —Mr Hastings, do you understand the distinctions that I made between a HECS fee and what is on the table here?

Mr Hastings —I understand what you are trying to argue but I just do not agree with the conclusion that you have drawn. Whether or not students see that they are accessing the benefits as a whole bundle of intangible services akin to the things that students are interested in and having all the safety net things which need to be in place, regardless of whether or not people have used them directly, they need to be provided. A fee for services that need to be provided to students is maybe a better way of phrasing it. Fee for service is a bit of a simplistic way of saying it. But I would argue there is a whole bundle of services that people are purchasing with that fee. They will see tangible things there of what they are consuming, and other ones are more intangible, which are, maybe, hidden but are still necessarily provided, and they are accessing the benefits of those services.

CHAIR —If it is a fee for service as you say why should individual students not using or accessing those services still have to pay a fee for that service?

Mr Hastings —What we were arguing was that there are a whole lot of intangible services which they are accessing. There is another range of services, which I probably would not call campus-life services, which the universities should reflect in their fee structure. There is a distinction between those sorts of services, which are campus-life services, which your full-time internal students are going to access. Obviously your external or postgraduate students, who are coming in the evening, may not access those. They should pay for fee for service for the safety net and benefits which are historical, which have been received, but maybe they should not be charged for those campus-life services. There is scope in the legislation for universities to reflect that in their fee structures. That is how we would respond to that.

CHAIR —What you are describing there are the underlying principles, of course, of our tax system. Do you have any statistics on the percentage of students who utilise services that would be funded by this compulsory student levy?

Ms Drakeford —Obviously that is difficult to gauge since voluntary student unionism. Any data of the students who undertake services that would be available under the legislation is going to be difficult considering the number of those services which have collapsed over the past four years.

CHAIR —Do you accept that the compulsory student services levy will be a financial barrier for university students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds?

Ms Drakeford —Absolutely not. Like I said in my opening statement, in fact it is beneficial for students from low SES backgrounds to have access to essential services offered on campus. Like I also said in my opening statement, what deters students from poorer families attending university are increases in tuition fees. It is about not having places for them and it is not encouraging them and making them feel like that are part of the community committed to learning. Those are the issues that deter low SES students from engaging, not this fee. Like we said, it is not going to be an upfront expense that students have to pay in their everyday living; it can easily be deferred to their HECS debt.

Mr Hastings —Obviously NUS is a body that is very concerned about access issues and this is one of the objections we do take very seriously. I have looked at the debate over study debt and the impact on access over the last 20 years and what is very clear is that the CPI increases and HECS do not seem to change the patterns of enrolment. What has changed access patterns has been very large increases in HECS such as occurred in 1997 and 2004. For example, the increase in the CPI for 2010-11 is $230. We do not expect that is going to change the access enrolment patterns in Australia this year. I will be flabbergasted if a $250 increase in deferred student debt would have any noticeable impact on access, as opposed to—

CHAIR —I have some questions and some colleagues have some questions as well, so I will be quick. It has been suggested that it is unfair to expect part-time and external students who may never have the opportunity to utilise student services to pay a compulsory fee. What is your response to that?

Ms Drakeford —Again, like I said in my opening statement, the fee is capped is at $250, which means that universities can decide to create a lower fee for the students who are studying externally and students who are studying part time. At my university, the University of Melbourne, I know there is going to be a different fee for part-time and full-time students, thereby taking the differences into account. There are safety net services that are used by external, mixed-mode, part-time students, such as academic advocacy, research and skills help as well as financial and welfare services that enable students to engage given the difficulties they face studying externally and that support them through their academic life.

CHAIR —When you say in your opening statement that this legislation does not go far enough, is that because you think it should go closer to compulsory student unionism?

Ms Drakeford —Yes.

CHAIR —Is it not true to say that voluntary student unionism has encouraged student unions to be more responsive to the needs and wants of students and that under compulsory student unionism students were receiving poor value for money?

Ms Drakeford —Not at all. Voluntary student unionism ripped the heart out of student life. It reduced the financial resources that student organisations had to provide those services. We also saw universities take over services—so swapping hands. If you look at somewhere like the University of Wollongong, you will see that that university took over the academic advocacy services that were offered, and the amount of students who used those services dropped by 33 per cent. It is important that we keep services in the hands of the student organisations. On top of that, it does not allow essential safety net services for students such as advocacy and welfare services. As well, the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne are campuses we can point to and say, ‘They have done okay under VSU because the universities have subsidised their services or sometimes the services have been taken off them.’ That is not the way that services should be offered. Universities should not be paying for the services and topping up the services that are offered to students to help support them through their academic life. It has put an increasing financial burden on our universities which has taken money away from their teaching and learning departments.

CHAIR —You talked about students accessing welfare services. They can do that now without the student tax—is that right?

Ms Drakeford —There is a limited ability for students to do that, particularly in regional Australia where services have collapsed. At universities such as the University of New England the whole structure of the student organisation collapsed and the university did not take on many of the essential services.

CHAIR —But there are government services providing welfare services, including to students. These services are for the broader community.

Ms Drakeford —Are you suggesting that students have access to Centrelink payments and that should be sufficient?

CHAIR —Obviously, there are services that go beyond that. These are available now irrespective of whether there is a student tax or not.

Ms Drakeford —Like I already mentioned, it varies from campus to campus. Students from regional communities and Indigenous students who need to access ongoing important services on campus are the ones who are going to be disadvantaged by not having a compulsory fee.

CHAIR —It has been suggested in a submission before our committee that in most cases where specific services of student unions have collapsed in recent years that has been as a result of student union mismanagement or incompetence rather than voluntary student unionism. What are your thoughts about that comment?

Ms Drakeford —I would ask you to refer to which campus exactly. There are obviously situations where student organisations are not managed in the best possible way, but that happens in every sector. On the whole we have very strong student organisations. If you are talking about in recent years, the University of Ballarat student association collapsed this year because the university could provide no funding to help the ongoing campus life.

CHAIR —You had your national conference in Ballarat last year, didn’t you?

Ms Drakeford —Yes.

CHAIR —How did that go?

Ms Drakeford —It went well, thank you.

CHAIR —Did you have a quorum for your meetings?

Ms Drakeford —I am not sure how this relates to the fees.

CHAIR —It does in so much that student fees were channelled into it, weren’t they?

Ms Drakeford —We received affiliation fees from our campuses.

CHAIR —In your extensive submission you provide a campus by campus breakdown of all campuses except for those in Western Australia. Western Australia of course has a more long-standing tradition of voluntary student unionism that the other states. Have you left Western Australia out because it has been such a voluntary student unionism success story over the last however many years?

Mr Hastings —No, we did not, because we actually devoted a section to Western Australia. We went into more detail on Western Australia to try to explain the anomaly of the Western Australian situation. It is a different experience to what the other campuses have got and also the nature of the campuses is a little different apart from Edith Cowan. UWA, Murdoch and Curtin have some sorts of strategic advantages in being able to operate their voluntary membership fees. We have discussed that in more detail in the appendix part of the submission. So I am saying that there is a whole section in the appendices devoted to discussing the Western Australian situation because it is quite a complicated story going all the way back to 1994 with the legislation and work that was done to operate those sorts of models.

CHAIR —In Western Australia at present the fees are $100 at most universities and at Notre Dame there is no charge. Obviously, this would then increase the impost on students in Western Australia even though the system there is working exceptionally well.

Senator CAMERON —Thank you for making this submission. Could you outline the key priorities for the NUS in terms of the student fees? What are the significant benefits for students?

Ms Drakeford —Obviously, in the legislation there is an itemised list of allowable expenditure. In that list there are essential services such as childcare, advocacy, welfare and financial services that can be provided by the university. On top of that it creates a whole list of ways in which students can engage in the broader learning community on campus. Really good examples of that are funding for recreational libraries, funding for the debating club and making sure there is student activity on campus.

The overall theme of the legislation is to ensure that there is a greater student experience—something that is obviously going to be more important as we move into the education reforms and see a growing number of students attend our universities. It will make sure that these essential services are in place and that our safety net services are in place for students who study externally, for those who study mixed mode and for those low-socioeconomic background students as well, to make sure that there is sufficient campus life and support on campuses. I will reiterate: none of this fee at this stage can be passed directly on to student organisations. It is to be administered by the university. Obviously NUS has some problems with that, but we think that overall this is a very good way to restore those services onto campuses to make sure that students are supported.

Senator CAMERON —What support does this fee have from the chancellors and vice-chancellors of the various universities?

Ms Drakeford —I believe that all 39 vice-chancellors wrote a letter to every senator, urging them to pass this legislation. It is incredibly important to Universities Australia that this is passed. The vice-chancellors are in total agreement about this and the universities need this fee to come in. As I mentioned earlier, universities that are currently supporting their student organisations on campus and are supporting essential services are having to lop money off the top of teaching and learning, research and building and grounds work to support these services, so they would very much like to see this passed.

Senator CAMERON —The submission from the Australian Liberal Students Federation says:

… various left-wing student organisations have argued that essential services have collapsed as a result of VSU. The ALSF rejects this claim as self-serving and false.

What is your comment on that assertion?

Ms Drakeford —In our report there is an extensive list, campus by campus, of what has collapsed, which jobs have been lost and which services have been lost. We particularly focus on the experience of regional student organisations such as Southern Cross University, University of New England and Charles Sturt University—all in New South Wales and all which have suffered because of voluntary student unionism. There is no denying the fact that services have disappeared. If you look at the University of Wollongong, I have already mentioned the fact that their academic services have gone into the hands of the university and, because of that, students are not using that service. We can look at any university and note that there has been significant damage done by VSU. Of course, the students who are going to be hurt the most have been, and those are students from regional areas and from Indigenous and low-SES backgrounds who require those services and they are no longer there. It is also pertinent to note that one of the biggest services missing from universities and student organisations and the ability to fund them is services for housing. Obviously, at a time when rental affordability is getting a lot harder for students to meet, finding appropriate and affordable housing for students is crucial, and that is a service where there is a glaring omission.

Senator CAMERON —One of the propositions that the ALSF put forward is:

The idea that you need compulsory fees for a union to provide services is a fallacy. Local sporting clubs and child care centres are able to operate and survive without a compulsory fee—so why shouldn’t union-operated services?

How do you respond to that?

Ms Drakeford —Universities are part of a community of learning. They are in themselves a community. If we want to take the example of a modern student, whether they are part-time or full-time, there is incredible financial pressure on them to work. There are obviously obligations around study requirements, rent and essential course costs. With this $250, students can put it on their HECS debt and pay it progressively once they graduate, and that way they will have access to childcare services on campus. They will have access to quite considerably reduced gym memberships. Gym memberships are something we should pick up on as well. The Australian National University’s gym membership has gone up by 500 per cent since VSU, so there is another financial burden on students which has been incurred. The student services amenities fee will charge a $250 fee, if that is what the university decides to set it at. It will go on the student’s HECS debt, they will be able to access the services on campus at a considerably reduced rate, because of the way our community structures are working at universities.

Senator CAMERON —The Liberal students have said that freedom of association is a fundamental right in Australian society. They go on to say:

It is completely abhorrent to force students who are apathetic or completely opposed to some of the causes promoted by their student union to fund those activities.

What activities do you think this would be alerting the committee to? Do you have any idea?

Ms Drakeford —I am a little confused by your question. The student services and amenities fee will not allow any money to be used for political purposes at all and the fee does not allow the university to pass the money on to the student organisation. So I believe what the Liberal Students Federation are trying to say is that money has previously gone to left-wing causes, which they are opposed to, but that is not able to happen with this fee.

Senator CAMERON —They have made quite a bit of the political nature of student unions, freedom of association and concerns about compulsory student unionism. What you are saying to me is that this is not how these fees will operate?

Ms Drakeford —That is correct. In fact, there is a specific provision forbidding any use of this fee for political purposes.

Senator CAMERON —I have not gone to university, but in terms of my involvement with universities I have been to the University of New England a couple of times, and what I noticed up there was that there are significant resources and facilities lying vacant after the move to voluntary unionism. Is that typical that there are resources lying vacant, not being used, around the country?

Ms Drakeford —Are you referring to resources and services that have collapsed or services that are just not being used by students?

Senator CAMERON —Both, because in New England I was advised not only that these services have collapsed but that there were significant facilities, like bar facilities and coffee shops, that have all closed down.

Mr Hastings —Yes, that is probably correct. I have certainly heard that around the place about cafes, bars and things like that. In terms of the permanent staff employed in student services and student unions, there has been an overall reduction in the workforce of about a thousand since the VSU came in. Obviously that means we were affected by that decrease in facilities that are operating. There probably used to be a workforce of about 6,000, and there are 1,000 fewer now, so the ballpark would be a 20 per cent reduction.

Ms Drakeford —I would also like to add that the University of New England also saw their international students association collapse, and that has been a common theme. There has not been enough money for international student services, and obviously they have special needs when they are seeking out advocacy services as well as visa requirement services and those sorts of things. We saw that happen at the University of New England. I think it is important to note that Australia has been struggling to get international students over here in recent years because of a lack of support, and violence against international students. So I think it is also pertinent to point out—

CHAIR —And changes to our migration laws too.

Ms Drakeford —that this fee will be able to fund international student services and make sure that our overseas students are well supported, not just our domestic students.

Senator CAMERON —One of the submissions that have been put in says that the fees can be spent on political activities. You have said that they cannot, but the ASLF are arguing that once money has been handed over you can send money to trade unions. I was a trade union official for 27 years and I cannot remember ever receiving money from student unions.

CHAIR —You were out of the loop, Doug.

Senator CAMERON —I was certainly out of the loop there! They also said that you would be supporting trade unions, GetUp! and student political groups. How do you respond to that?

Mr Hastings —The bill was very specific that money could only be spent on those allowable activities. It, quite explicitly, does not include student representations. Whatever money the student representatives might use will not be from that compulsory fee. They might use some other source of income, but it will certainly not be from that compulsory fee for those sorts of activities, if they choose to do them.

Senator CAMERON —The ASLF said that campus is still vibrant. At Sydney university the union provides large-scale clubs and societies and programs, as well as hosting regular university parties and other activities. What is your comment on that?

Ms Drakeford —Our comment on that is also something that I touched on in my opening statement, which is about the Group of Eight universities and their ability to provide significant transitional funding to student organisations to allow the activities to take place. At the University of Sydney we are talking close to or just around one million dollars for the union to provide activities. They also provide transitional funding to the University of Sydney SRC. That is also the experience of the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the University of Adelaide. These are all unions that benefit from funding from universities.

A really good example of how it is different to another university. which is not a regional, is La Trobe University here in Victoria where, after the issues, the university disbanded all the services, privatised what was offered by students at cheap rates in cafes on campus and food outlets and was unable to provide much funding at all for the representative activities and advocacy activities that students needed. Because of this fee we are seeing a turnaround at La Trobe. The university has given a lot of services back to the students to run so they can provide cheaper food, cheaper amenities on campuses, but that was not going to be a reality without this legislation. They talk about the experience of Sydney, Melbourne, UQ and Monash as a completely different experience and a totally different world to what we are talking about outside that Group of Eight.

Senator CAMERON —The ALSF say that the voluntary system is best for funding student services. Do you have any evidence that that is the case? What are your comments on that?

Mr Hastings —The data is already in; the experiment has been run. There are not any significant student organisations running purely on voluntary student fees. All of them are relying, to various degrees, on large grants directly from the university. Only the three Western Australian student guilds seem to be collecting a significant amount of voluntary income. The other 37 actually either—

CHAIR —What an example for voluntary student unionism there. That is why.

Mr Hastings —You can go through our argument about that, but for the other 37 that is certainly not the case. All of them are reliant on substantial university funding to do that, or on their own commercial trading operations, which was the case beforehand, in which they provided subsidised services with their commercial trading operations.

Senator CAMERON —The ALSF have an appendix which shows what they are describing as minimum savings for each university student as a result of voluntary student unionism. For instance, for Macquarie University the saving is $356 according to this report. It is going anywhere down to $40. The University of Western Australia has no saving because the fees are still the same. This seems to me to be a very black-and-white approach with them simply saying that if the fee is gone then this is the saving. What has the cost been to some individual students in not having access to student services? I just need some practical examples of the problems for individual students in not having access to services.

Ms Drakeford —Problems can range from dropping out of university, which is obviously the most serious, because there are not enough support services. We are not talking about the traditional Group of Eight universities; we are talking about places like the University of Western Sydney, where the Vice-Chancellor, Janice Reid, is very supportive of seeing this fee passed, because basically it will put more money towards supporting the types of students she attracts. There are 23 per cent of low-SES students at the University of Western Sydney, and that definitely should not be overlooked. So dropping out is obviously something that is very serious. On top of that is the issue of students not being able to access academic advocacy. If students feel they have been discriminated against in the classroom and there is no appropriate advocacy for them to turn to on campus, it makes it very difficult for students to continue their studies. Students often have to receive marks because they do not know how to go about recourse. These are obviously much more serious ways that students are affected by the lack of support services on their campuses.

Senator WILLIAMS —How long has the NUS been established? How old is the NUS?

Ms Drakeford —The NUS was established in 1987.

Senator WILLIAMS —Has the NUS ever made any political donations over that period?

Mr Hastings —No.

Ms Drakeford —No, not to my knowledge.

Senator WILLIAMS —None whatsoever to any political party over the 23 years?

Senator CAMERON —Not to the AMWU, I can tell you.

Senator WILLIAMS —Senator Cameron said his union did not get any.

Ms Drakeford —I will have to put that question on notice. I cannot speak honestly because I do not know. I actually have not looked into the extent to which that happens.

Mr Hastings —I do not think there have been any donations to political parties, if you mean donations to the ALP and all those sorts of things. Obviously, at various times, the NUS have run federal election campaigns but have not made any donations to political parties directly, if that is what you are referring to.

Senator WILLIAMS —Do you know if they have made any indirectly?

Mr Hastings —I am not aware of any indirect things. As I said, sometimes the NUS have run federal election campaigns; sometimes we have not. There has been no giving of money to outside bodies, to federal parties, to run their elections or to support a particular political party.

Senator WILLIAMS —If you could take on notice whether they have supported political parties directly or indirectly—for example, printing corflutes or how-to-vote cards and using the NUS funds for that—I would appreciate that. There was a Senate inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The committee tabled its report on 10 March 2009. It said:

The committee majority recommends that universities, in taking responsibility for the management of the fee levy, be required to accept the advice of student representative bodies in regard to expenditure priorities and disbursement of funds …

Are you aware of that?

Ms Drakeford —Not really.

Senator WILLIAMS —What the Labor senators said in that report was that, when the levy is collected, it ‘be required to accept the advice of student representative bodies in regard to expenditure priorities and disbursement’. In other words, the administration must be required to accept the advice of the student representative bodies. That is an issue I want to point out to you. I will give you an example: let us say this levy is collected and a student body says, ‘We wish to set up a bar run by the NUS.’ That would be an example where it could be used—is that correct?

Ms Drakeford —I think that is not the greatest example of having a bar run by NUS.

Senator WILLIAMS —The point is that could happen—am I correct in saying that?

Ms Drakeford —I have not looked into how NUS would factor into this fee, actually, but I know that on some university campuses—and I take the example of Latrobe, where the university has previously run the student bar called the Eagle Bar—it is now going back into the hands of a newly created student organisation, so it will be managed by the president of the student organisation, as well as a general manager. I know that that could be possible, but as to any reference to NUS creating a bar, we do not offer on-campus services so I am not exactly sure how that would work.

Senator WILLIAMS —The point I make is this: under the recommendation by the Labor senators of that committee in that report, they are saying that the administration must accept the priorities of the student representative body. I will give you another example: let us say the student representative body wished to establish a coffee shop or some other retail outlet, and they insisted on that, then that would have to be carried out, under that recommendation. You would agree with that?

Ms Drakeford —I think what we have always supported is the idea that there have been students in student organisations that have been democratically elected by their peers—every student in the university has the right to vote—and the views of the students who have been elected need to be taken into account by the university.

Senator WILLIAMS —We will get back to the point. If the majority of students voted that they wished to establish a coffee shop, then the coffee shop would be established by funds from this levy. Is that correct?

Ms Drakeford —Like I said to you before, I cannot be sure of how exactly universities and student organisations would go about establishing a coffee shop under the itemised list.

Senator WILLIAMS —But, according to the recommendation of that committee, as I have been through for about the third time with you, that could be the situation where the majority of voting students said, ‘We wish to establish a coffee shop on the campus,’ and the funds will come from the levy to establish that coffee shop. That is obviously how it could be presented.

Ms Drakeford —Yes, that could be.

Senator WILLIAMS —And then the student union would be able to receive the profits of that coffee shop and then disburse the moneys as they wished. Is that correct?

Ms Drakeford —I would see that as a likely scenario in that case.

Senator WILLIAMS —Time has restricted us, but I look forward to the answers to the questions on notice as to whether the NUS has at any stage directly or indirectly made donations to any political parties. Thanks for your time.

CHAIR —I have a final question. Has the NUS done any research into how much student support there is for the student tax?

Ms Drakeford —No, we have not.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your contribution to the committee today.

[9.16 am]