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Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Page: 3017

Mr CHAMPION (8:08 PM) —Just in response to the previous speaker, the member for Barker, it is a fact of life that we go through our adult life paying for services that we do not always use. I paid for private health insurance from about 1998 to the present day because I was compelled to by a $500 tax passed by the Howard government. It was a levy. That is the way they talked about it; the Medicare surcharge levy. I cannot remember using that private health insurance—

Mr Secker —But you might have.

Mr CHAMPION —I might have, but equally a student might also use the services provided on campus. You cannot test a proposition by whether or not you may or may not use services. But I do rise to support the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009 and take this opportunity to reflect on my university life, as so many other members have, and reflect a bit on this matter, which is a bit of an ideological battle between the two parties.

When I look back to my time at university—I went to the Salisbury campus of the University of South Australia—it was a very working-class campus, actually. There were many young adults from the northern suburbs and a lot of country kids from towns like Kapunda, where I grew up, who travelled in. It was an accessible campus for people who wanted to travel from the mid-north. There were a lot of REC students and, in particular, a lot of them came from the Iron Triangle, from places like Port Pirie, Whyalla and Port Augusta. So it was a very accessible campus. It was a campus where I made a lot of really good friends, like Gavin Rudge, Sondra Mettner, now Lyons, and Lee Odenwalder, who is now a Labor Party candidate for the state parliament of South Australia for the seat of Little Para. So it produced hopefully a few Labor politicians.

In this campus, the student union really was central to campus life. It ran the cafeteria. Most importantly, it ran the bar, which was an important area for social engagement. It ran O week, which was always a lot of fun, but it also ran a lot of important student services—small loans, child care, support services and the like. I knew a lot of people who probably would not have made it through university, or their lives at university would have been much more difficult, had they not had access to those services.

The student union was not party political. It was not part of the National Union of Students. It was a dissenting campus and existed on its own in splendid isolation, unconcerned with international politics, unconcerned with extreme ideologies. I cannot remember anybody ever discussing foreign affairs at the bar of the student union. I cannot remember anybody really discussing politics. I do not know what was going on at other campuses, but evidently we were missing out. But there was no sign of extremist ideologies at Salisbury, and perhaps that is because it was a bit of a working-class campus. We were much more concerned with bread-and-butter issues. We were concerned with HECS fees, and I remember protesting out the front of Trades Hall, of all places. This was before I was a member of the Labor Party, but I remember protesting there about some of the HECS rises. I remember being very concerned about the levels of Austudy, so I think things do not change so much. A lot of students find it very tough to get by with the level of HECS fees charged by the previous government. Often they have to work. They find it very difficult indeed.

Towards the end of my time at university most of the student activism was aimed at saving the campus itself, because unfortunately the management of the University of South Australia decided to close the Salisbury campus. It was a great tragedy, in my opinion. It is just adjacent to my electorate, on the very edge of the electorate of Makin. The campus is now closed. The sports oval was turned into a retirement village—a very nice retirement village, but it fills me full of sadness whenever I go there. Its old buildings are now a very good private school, Tyndale college. I went for a tour there recently, and I must say I got a bit misty eyed when we went up to what is now the teachers lounge but was the old bar. The decision to close that campus was, in my opinion, a tragically short-sighted decision. It undermined the ability of so many of my constituents to attend a local campus. Given the fact that the northern suburbs is the growing area of Adelaide, we now find that students often have to travel very long distances—one or two hours, sometimes one way—to Flinders University or the University of Adelaide. It places great burdens on their studies, their work and their families, and often rural families face having to send their kids to Adelaide.

That is not new; it has gone on for a long time. My first girlfriend, Annette, was from Mildura. She was staying in the accommodation down at Flinders University around the same time that the member for Barker was there. I made good use of the university bars even if he did not. My point is that Adelaide universities need to take some account of the prominence of the northern suburbs and, hopefully, take the opportunity to boost the Mawson Lakes campus of the University of South Australia and the Roseworthy campus of the University of Adelaide. Roseworthy has a tremendous history. It is one of the oldest agricultural colleges in the country and has just had a significant boost with the opening of Adelaide’s first vet school. I think they have taken their first students this year and a terrific new building will open in early 2010. There is a very keen group of students and lecturers there so it is a really positive thing.

In the main, my experience with student unions was that they did their job, that they were not particularly overly political and they existed to help students no matter what their status. This bill really does ensure basic student support services of a non-academic nature—bookshops, counselling, sports establishments, clubs and food. Frankly, I am staggered that people could oppose student representation and advocacy—it is hardly controversial. Yes, there is a small compulsory fee but, as I have said before, fees are just part of life. It is part of adulthood and I think most students learn that. There is a loan facility to help pay for the fee. The fee cannot be used to support political parties or political candidates. That last point is very important.

When I looked through some of the contributions made by members opposite, I was particularly concerned when I read the member for Mayo’s contribution. He spent a great deal of time talking about what he called ‘Labor Inc.’ which, in his fevered imagination, is the link between student unions and the state Labor Party. He made a number of references to my time in this House and at university. I ran for student union office only twice, losing miserably both times. He also reflected on the member for Adelaide, the member for Kingston, Senator Don Farrell, the state member for West Torrens, Tom Koutsantonis, and my good friend Peter Malinauskas and his brother Rob Malinauskas. He suggested that we were all from some student union training ground.

Ms Grierson —A conspiracy theory.

Mr CHAMPION —Yes, a conspiracy theory. Adelaide’s main paper, the Advertiser, has a confidential page, a very successful social page. There was recently a spread on my friend Peter Malinauskas at the races with his new girlfriend. Even more bizarrely, the member for Mayo claimed:

Yesterday, there was a great spread in the Advertiser about the secretary of the SDA, the key union in the Right faction, with his love life posted all over the Advertiser—all part of the management of the faction, of course.

I find this an absolutely bizarre claim. When you reflect on it, there is probably a bit of personal jealousy in the attack on the part of the member for Mayo. He is probably desperate to get into the confidential pages of the Adelaide Advertiser, desperate to be part of Adelaide’s A list. I do not think he is likely to get there. It is pretty hard to get into the gossip pages if you are short, portly and boring.

To return to the contrived attack that we are all part of some machine that is linked to student unions, I think it is just a falsehood, it is a fantasy, but it is also chapter 2 out of the conservative dirty tricks handbook. It is all about making us part of some privileged elite that seeks to use the state, student unions and other things for our own benefit. It is an unfair attack. Just for the record, there is no link between any of us from our uni days. We went to different campuses at different times, and we had different results. I think the member for Mayo misleads the public and abuses privilege in what is a pretty despicable partisan attack. I am not so much fussed about the attacks on me, the member for Adelaide or the member for Kingston, but I do take exception on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves in this House, in particular, Peter Malinauskas and Rob Malinauskas.

The member for Mayo ignores the real link between us as individuals, which is, firstly, our commitment to the cause of Labor and, secondly, the fact that we had real jobs. University was not the defining time in my life. The defining times in my life were when I was a fruit picker or a station hand or when I worked as a cleaner or a trolley collector. I know that the defining time in the life of the member for Adelaide was when she worked for seven years as a checkout operator in Arrow supermarkets in Edwardstown. One of the critical times in the member for Kingston’s life was when she worked for Toys’R’Us and was offered an ‘individual contract’—it was a sort of take it or leave it deal. And, just for the record, Peter Malinauskas worked for years doing night-fill at Woolies at Mitcham. Rob Malinauskas was a cadet reporter for the Advertiser—a job that prepared him for his new role as press secretary to the Deputy Premier, which the member for Mayo referred to in his contribution. Tom Koutsantonis worked as a taxi driver. Senator Don Farrell worked at a kiosk in Cleland Wildlife Park and also as a waiter in Darwin.

That is the link: we all had real jobs, working for real employers in the real world. We know from experience what it is like for working people. I would have been inclined to let some of the comments stand if they had come from the member for Hume, who was an ex-meatworker. If someone like that had made an attack on us because we all came from student unions, I would have been inclined not to reply. But the member for Mayo went straight from university to Business SA.

Ms Grierson —That’s the fast lane.

Mr CHAMPION —Yes, that is the fast lane. Business SA also employed Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher. Maybe we should call business SA ‘Liberal Inc’ in future. The member for Mayo has never had a real job in his life. He went from Business SA to work for Rob Lucas—no-one would know him here but he is the leader of the Liberals in the Legislative Council in South Australia. It should be noted that Mr Lucas has also never had a real job in his life. He went from university to Liberal Party HQ and then to the Legislative Council. You cannot find a more sheltered life than that. You cannot find a more sheltered workshop than the Legislative Council of South Australia—a body that should be abolished as soon as possible. That was not enough for the member for Mayo. He progressed into cloud city, into the federal parliament, to work for Kevin Andrews, the former minister for industrial relations, and he finally finished up working in the office of the former Prime Minister. In his biography on his website, the member for Mayo claims to have been ‘the youngest person ever to hold the title of senior adviser’, which is an extraordinary thing to brag about.

Finally, after that you would have thought that the election defeat of the Howard government and the defeat of Work Choices, with which the member for Mayo was so intimately involved, might have brought him back to earth or seen him make sure he went into the private sector and make a million dollars in business or something like that. But, no, what happened was that the conservative machine in South Australia shoehorned him into a vacancy deliberately created by Mr Downer. The conservative machine shoehorned him into Mayo over the wishes of local candidates in a preselection that Liberal stalwart Bob Day, the former Liberal candidate for Makin, rightly observed was designed just to benefit one candidate, Mr Briggs. So he went from university to Business SA to a ministerial office and then into Mayo. One can conclude that the member for Mayo has never worked a day in his life outside his work for the Liberal Party and outside his work in professional politics. If anybody has been so part of a political machine, if anybody has had the benefit of some self-serving political machine, it is the member for Mayo. His attacks, in his speech on this bill, on the member for Adelaide, the member for Kingston, Tom Koutsantonis, Senator Farrell, and Peter and Rob Malinauskas are just rank hypocrisy. They are insincere and driven by a rather divisive partisanship. His contribution sought to invent this powerful Labor machine as some mechanism to explain away the South Australian Liberals’ inability to establish support in the community.

We know they lose elections because of unpopular policies like Work Choices and their rampant and divisive internal factionalism. Mr Briggs is involved in both those things. My advice to him is this: give up your myopic focus on the South Australian Labor Party, give up your myopic focus on trying to invent this fantastic Labor machine which supposedly exists out there, get out into the real world and try to do a real job and get in touch with reality and you might find that Work Choices is not so popular, nor are partisan and unnecessary attacks on your opponents. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Grierson) adjourned.