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Thursday, 17 April 1980
Page: 1547

Senator KNIGHT (ACT) - I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Education. I refer to a statement made by Senator Carrick on 15 November last year when he was Minister for Education concerning the payment of Students' Association fees at the Australian National University, to the effect that if a person should express a desire not to belong to such an organisation that fee 'will not be payable'. He went on to say:

There can bc no attempt to compel payment of that fee for any indirect purpose or attempt to direct money through other channels to that end.

Is the Minister aware that the Australian National University has threatened a number of students with expulsion for not paying such a fee this year? Is he also aware that the amounts withheld by those students have now been paid anonymously, that is, money has been directed through other channels to pay the fees despite the expressed wish of the students that they not contribute an amount of money to the Students' Association as a socio-political body? Is the Government's position still as stated by the Minister last November? If so, what action will be taken to ensure that the Australian National University administration adheres to the spirit of that arrangement?

Senator CARRICK - The Government's position on the membership of students at the Australian National University of socio-political student organisations has not changed throughout the various negotiations. Our policy is that student membership of socio-political organisations should be voluntary and that those students who elect not to join such bodies should pay smaller fees than those who elect to join. This was the intention behind the amendments to the Australian National University Amendment Act approved by Parliament last year. Certain students have objected to the likelihood of the compulsory fee being used for purposes other than the provision of amenities and services. The difficulty arises because the University has not yet decided the classes of amenities and services which are to be financed within the provisions of the Act from the compulsory fee collected from all students.

The matter cannot be resolved until the University has produced a statute setting out its intentions. My colleague, the Minister for Education, has been in discussion with the Vice-Chancellor and discussions are proceeding about the terms of the statute. The Government is anxious to see this matter settled promptly. The Minister has asked that, pending settlement of the statute, the University defer any disciplinary action against students who have declined to pay a part of the general services fee because of an objection to the use to which it might be put. As Senator Knight has indicated, the outstanding fees of the students in question were paid yesterday, I understand anonymously. Therefore, there should be no immediate question of penalising them.

Senator KNIGHT - Mr President,I ask a supplementary question. Can it be taken from the Minister's answer that when the statute to which he referred has been introduced there will be a refund of some amount to those students involved? Will he ensure that action is taken for such a refund to be made to those students who opted -

Senator Georges - Mr President,I raise a point of order. The question is not a supplementary one. It is entirely new. I would also like to point out to you, Mr President, that we have now witnessed further evidence of the use of the device of asking a question to allow the Minister to make a statement. For that reason -

Senator McLaren - He can put a statement down after Question Time.

Senator Georges - Yes, the statement should be put down after Question Time to allow the Opposition an opportunity to debate the matter. Mr President, I ask you to remind the honourable senator and the Minister of the Standing Orders which pertain to Question Time. I further ask you, Mr President, to ask the Minister to table the paper from which he read in answering that question.

Senator Knight - Mr President,I wish to speak to the point of order. There is a well known practice in this place of asking supplementary questions. My question arises directly from the answer of the Minister and relates directly to the point which was raised in that answer.

The PRESIDENT - That is quite right. I see no validity in the point of order.

Senator Cavanagh - I wish to speak to the point of order because I think this is an important matter. There is not a well known practice in this place of asking supplementary questions. It was introduced in the time of Sir Magnus Cormack when he was President and it has been abused ever since.

Senator Archer - By whom?

Senator Cavanagh - I am not saying by whom. I think that it has been abused ever since by the majority who have asked supplementary questions. I think it is about time that the Senate discontinued this practice of one man asking a number of questions by way of supplementary action. IC supplementary questions are to be asked, they should be designed to clarify something that the Minister has said which is unclear. To ask a completely different question on this occasion, on what happens to the scabs who have not paid their fees, I think -

Senator Carrick - May I raise a point of order? The very point that is being complained about, the allegation that a statement is being made, is now being breached, and the words I find objectionable. To take the opportunity to call people scabs by this device is indeed an abuse of the opportunity of a point of order, and certainly is making a statement.

The PRESIDENT - There has been sufficient debate on the point of order which has been raised. I can see no validity in the point of order raised. I call Senator Knight.

Senator KNIGHT - In completing my supplementary question, I ask: What action will be taken to ensure that a refund is made to these students for the fee payment which has been effectively compelled by the ANU administration?

Senator CARRICK (NEW SOUTH WALES) -I will ask the Minister for Education to reply specifically to that. He is, I understand, waiting for the draft statute to come to him from the Australian National University to see whether in fact the draft statute will bring that about. I am asked to table the document from which I have read, and 1 do so. It is part of my education brief and it is in fact a minute from the Secretary of the Department of Education to his Minister stating the words, and therefore objectively stating the words, that I read out. I am perfectly happy to table the minute.

Senator Georges - May I now raise a point of order before we get much further on this matter? I will not take up much time. Senator Cavanagh had the call, as I recall, and he is entitled to speak without the Leader of the Government in the Senate rising and interrupting him. I make that point of order because the Leader of the Government in the Senate interrupts consistently, and for that reason I suggest, Mr President, that he refrain from taking the call from the senator who happens to be on his feet at the time.

The PRESIDENT - Order! We will not debate this matter further. Senator Cavanagh was speaking to another matter in regard to supplementary questions. The point of order is not sustained. I call Senator Chipp.

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