Page 1409 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 6 April 2005
clubs and societies, sporting organisations and student unions that are the hub of student activity on campus. Without this support, these activities would be exorbitantly priced and inaccessible or simply would not exist. The importance of these social and cultural activities to students is immeasurable. For students facing difficulties of access to tertiary education, campus as a community can be essential in providing a social support network. For students whose access to tertiary education is limited because of financial concerns, the inflation of the cost of participation in campus life will further preclude their participation and their access.
While it is argued in the bill itself that the activities, services and functions of a student organisation are extra academic activities, when considered in this the light it is apparent that the distinction is not so clear cut. This has been repeatedly recognised by the university administrations. The Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee reaffirmed a statement late last year that recognises that the services provided by student organisations are an “important element in the social and cultural life of universities and part of the education process” and are “an integral part of university life”.
I would like to quote from a paper recently released by the National Union of Students. It states:
At a time when the social fibre of the community is being atomised, universities provide a valuable vehicle for development of active citizenship. University student organisations are an example of institutions which allow citizens to engage in the debate and activities of direct relevance to them.
These are comments with which I wholeheartedly agree. I have argued before in this chamber and in our community the importance of encouraging and supporting an active and vibrant democracy through active engagement. University student organisations are about this very engagement. I am sure it is arguable in a narrow sense that it is a platform for student politicians. I would argue, though, that that is not a bad thing, even in its narrowest sense. It is important that our young people are engaging, that they are developing ideas and putting them into action. The debates are reinvigorating our society and our democracy. Engagement exists beyond this. In organising events, contributing to student publications, participating in sporting, cultural and social events and managing enterprises of student organisations, these students are engaging in the community around them, even to the extent of actively contributing to our own Legislative Assembly.
The bill is about silencing the student voice. Active engagement should be supported and rewarded by our community and, as I said earlier, should never be condemned. Student organisations provide the space, the resources and the capacity for our students to engage with, and contribute to, the community around them. Enforcement of their demise is antithetic to promoting values of our democracy and engagement in our community, and for the spurious reason that these organisations are called unions.
This federal government’s ideological rampage on collective organisation is threatening our industries, our workplaces and our working families. Now it is also threatening our student unions. For anyone who bothered to read Eric Abetz’s rant in the Canberra Times last week, it is apparent that it is the ideologues in the federal Liberal Party who are driving this one. It makes no sense otherwise.