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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1119 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

I will outline the services funded by the University of Canberra students association that will either no longer exist or be cut substantially if the Federal Government legislation is passed: Free legal advice to students; trained mediators and sexual harassment contact officers; the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students association; the parenting room; the community-based child-care facility, Kirinari, that provides places for students with children and the greater community; participation in other organisations, such as the Youth Coalition of the ACT, and the National Union of Students; emergency loans and grants to students; help for problems with Centrelink; sporting associations and access to fitness facilities; degree ceremonies; and access to on-campus health care, including doctors, nurses, dentists and a counselling service providing accident and emergency care, immunisations and family planning and contraception services. The list is far from complete.

The Federal Government's conservative agenda is veiled by its statement that all students should have the choice to be a member of a student union or association. Where is the choice in the Government stripping back funding to universities to such a degree that the only way these services survive is by student funding? Where is the choice for the young woman who can study only by placing her child in subsidised care, another area that this Federal Government has cut greatly? What about the student living away from home with little support from friends and family? Counselling, medical and advocacy services often provide a lifeline to students, particularly those in their first year.

I noticed in the Canberra Times of, I think, yesterday an article on our current account deficit - very dry - written by Dr Peter Urban, basically a fan of Peter Costello's. Even he says an area in which spending cuts have probably been too deep is the tertiary education sector. If he is saying that, we might be forgiven for thinking that there is a problem with the Liberal Government's approach to education generally. The collective good is certainly a principle, as Mr Berry has already spoken about. It is incredibly important if we are to have a sense of social justice and equity in the community.

Another area that may have a considerable impact on university funding is the demise in the number of fee-paying overseas students as a result of this legislation. Student associations have provided a great deal of support to overseas students by way of representative bodies, multicultural events and publications. There are 65,000 overseas students enrolled in Australian universities, contributing $3.8 billion in revenue to the Australian economy. If these services were stripped, a reduction in the number of overseas students in Australia would be a real possibility.

Don Aitken, vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, has stated publicly that if compulsory student union membership was abolished and all services were replaced at commercial rates, it would cost $3m a year to do so. Why? Because most of the work is done voluntarily. Association officials may receive an allowance, but when that is converted to an hourly rate it equates to around $2 an hour. Many other students are involved in hours of unpaid work providing student activities and support services. The University of Canberra students association is open from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm, five days a week, to support students. In no way do associations force students to engage in political activity. Most of their work is in reaction to students' needs. I believe that student organisations are vital to university culture and student life.

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