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Wednesday, 24 February 1971


Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - This Bill to amend the Australian National University Act provides for certain changes in the constitution of the Council of the University. It adds the President of the Australian National University Students Association as an ex officio member of the Council and increases the non-professorial representation of the academic staff of the Institute of Advanced Studies and School of General Studies from one member each to two members each.

The question that arises for the Senate when considering this Bill is whether the representation is sufficient. The University Council also recommended a further undergraduate representative, but Government supporters stated in their speeches on this Bill that the Government believed that having regard to the nature and composition of the Council and its methods of operation the measures the Government proposed would be adequate so far as undergraduate students were concerned. There are problems at universities throughout the world. Everywhere there is discontent among university populations about the conduct of universities and the way they are controlled, about the contents of courses and about the very nature of the institutions. This is a remarkable phenomenon of our age.


Senator Gair - Students are getting too much, too easily and too cheaply.


Senator MURPHY - Senator Gairsays, from his advanced position, that they are getting too much,tooeasily and too cheaply. This always has been the way in which reactionary persons in society-


Senator Gair - The university of hard knocks has produced the best men we ever had.


Senator MURPHY - Senator Gairsays that from his point of view the university of hard knocks hasalways produced the best men. That is how the students of Australia are regarded by people such as Senator Gair. I have no doubt he thinks that sincerely and that he holds that view extremely firmly. But the world has changed since Senator Gair was a young man. There has been a tremendous change in technology and that change has produced great industrial changes. They have swept us from a rural society to a secondary industry society and now into one which is clearly tertiary even if not, as some even suggest, a quaternary society.


Senator Prowse - What kind is that?


Senator MURPHY - I suppose it is the kind in which you and I are not likely to be operating, lt may be that it is the special kind of service society - the society of computers and special services performed by people. However, the categorisation is not important. What is important is that this new society is making tremendous demands upon our young people, lt has meant that for the first time we have herded into universities more students than ever before. They are studying all kinds of subject, including the humanities, the sciences and the application of those sciences, in a way in which those subjects have never been studied before. The world has never before seen such student populations. Young people have never been kept together in such numbers and for such times.

Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that the demands made upon the institutions will be quite different from what they have experienced previously. Universities of 100 years ago or even 30 years ago would be appropriate, by accident only, to meet the kinds of demands which are being made now. The administrators and the professors are well aware of the changing demands and of what needs to be done. Everywhere there seems to be regard for the principle that those who are affected by decisions - whether in industry, whether in institutions such as this Parliament or whether in the universities - should have some say in the making of the decisions. The demand for participation in the making of decisions is widespread throughout the world and is irresistible. The Senator Gairs of this world, however well meaning, will not be able to stop that surge of demand. Our universities will change. The increase in representation suggested by the University Council is only the beginning. I think we will see that more and more those in such institutions will be having much more to say in how they are run.


Senator Little - Those who pay for them should also retain some say.


Senator MURPHY - I think that is a reasonable suggestion. The University Council has put a very moderate proposal. It says that it knows the problems and that it wants a certain number of students on the Council. The Government sees fit to say that it will not have that number but that it will have one less. Is that reasonable? If a body of men selected to run the University says that it wants this representation of students on the Council, why on earth should the Government say that it will not give what the Council is asking but that it will give one less? Is that a reasonable approach to the way in which what should be an autonomous body is conducted?


Senator Gair - Do you give a child a clock to play with when he asks for it? Of course you do not. You would give it an unbreakable spoon or something like that.


Senator MURPHY - I think that what you are saying illustrates your approach to the Australian National University; you would regard it as a child and you would not give it a clock to play with. You would not give the Council the representation of students that it asked for. That is an autocratic approach on the part of the Government. Some senators and some members of the other place are on the Council. My understanding is that they all support the Council's viewpoint. The Minister for Works (Senator Wright) may correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that they support the viewpoint that the Council should have the representation of students which it seeks. Why should this request not be granted? Is this the way Australia seeks to deal with the problem of law and order and of student unrest? The Council seeks to deal with this problem in a way which is being used all over the world. It is seeking to bring the students into the Council, to make them parties to decisions and to make them understand the problems of the administration of the University as well as their own problems. Surely this request should he acceded to. We have had no real explanation as to why the Government does not agree with the University Council. I would like to hear the Minister explain why the Government says that the University Council is wrong. Surely it should know its own business. If it is not able to make a proper decision on matters of this nature, one would think that it is not fit to run a university. I think the Senate should have confidence in those who operate the University, in those who have made this decision and in those who represent this Parliament on the University Council and I think the proposal should be agreed to.

That brings me to the relationship of the Government and of this Parliament to the University. It seems to me that the University should have more autonomy than it has; it should not be placed in its unduly subordinate position to the government of the day. It is the National University and it is in the Australian Capital Territory. By its enactment it has power to make various statutes. They are called statutes. They are the regulations or the ordinances of the University. I would think that those statutes should be treated as other ordinances made in this Territory are. Insofar as they make law, they should be gazetted, tabled here and subject to disallowance by the Parliament, in the same way as other ordinances are. Important decisions affecting many persons who might wish to eater the University are made. The public has an interest in what takes place so far as the delegated legislation of the University is concerned. The appropriate way for Parliament to be involved in supervising the activities of the University should be the traditional way. We should allow the University to make its own laws, provided those laws are subject to the scrutiny of the Parliament.

I do not think it is right that the laws made by the University should be subject to the scrutiny of the Government only and should not be subject to the scrutiny of Parliament. I do not think the University should be excepted. If Parliament were able to scrutinise the statutes, the supremacy of Parliament would be preserved and I think the autonomy of the University would be enhanced. I would suggest, for the consideration of the Minister, that some action be taken in that direction. Perhaps before the matter is dealt with again the Government might give some consideration to those observations.

There are some other matters referred to in the Bill but I think that the critical matter with which we should be concerned is that the Government has seen fit to refuse the request of the University, and that is why I have addressed my remarks to the Bill. The other matters have been dealt with shortly, but apparently adequately, in the speech of the Minister and I do not propose to allude to them specifically. Senator Gair has indicated that he is concerned about student unrest. Those who are in the position of having to deal with the students ought not to be denied what they think is the appropriate way of doing so.


Senator Gair - How did they treat Zelman Cowen and his wife when they went to Queensland?


Senator MURPHY - Surely persons such as Professor Cowen, administrators and high officers of a university, ought not to be denied the request which they are making, that student representation be increased in the manner in which they have suggested in order to be able to deal with these problems before they arise. The Parliament, which has the ultimate responsibility, ought to grant the University's request, and T ask the Senate to agree to it at the appropriate time.







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