Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 05 Hansard (Wednesday, 6 April 2005) . . Page.. 1414 ..
MRS DUNNE: I move:
paragraph (1), omit the paragraph, substitute:
“(1) commends the Commonwealth Government for the introduction of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Up-front Student Unions Fees) Bill 2005 because it upholds part 3, subsection 15(2) of the ACT Human Rights Act 2004”;
(2) paragraph (2), omit the paragraph; and
(3) paragraph (4), insert “voluntary” before “student”.
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (12.07): Mr Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Mrs Dunne’s amendments because I think they recognise a most valuable and welcome initiative from the commonwealth government. We should reflect on what voluntary student unionism is all about. Voluntary student unionism is a fundamental and straightforward principle of freedom of association. What we are seeing is legislation that provides for an end of compulsorily acquired student union fees at Australia’s tertiary institutions. We are seeing the implementation of a policy, which in fact forms part of a federal election platform of my party, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Australian people. It has been incorporated into backing Australia’s future higher education reform that the minister for education would be well aware of.
What does voluntary student unionism do? It ensures that union fees are lowered and that student services are improved. It does not preclude raising fees for extracurricular activities, but on a voluntary basis. The measures introduced on 16 March by the Howard government will make student payments voluntary. It is a campaign that many of us have been involved in for more than 30 years to try to bring about a just outcome, which we are now about to see. As Mrs Dunne pointed out, student unions acquired more than $160 million in compulsory fees from Australian full-time undergraduate students. Student union representatives have regularly claimed compulsory fees to fund services, and many of the students who are forced to pay these fees have no idea what their money is being used for, as student representatives invariably omit the facilities that they want to support or be involved with and the allowances that are funded by these fees.
Is it not tragic that every time this debate comes up, we are told all these valued services are going to disappear? But then, when we go and talk to the students, we find this incredible lack of support for these so-called essential services. On hundred and sixty million dollars is taken out of the pockets of students around Australia who can ill afford to part with those dollars. Most of them have part-time jobs to try to help support themselves through uni, but the Labor Party says, “Let’s take more out of it and if you do not pay up the fees to the union, we are going to stop you getting a degree.”
How do they reconcile that with their so-called commitment to freedom of association and human rights values? The Chief Minister I think presents himself as something of a modern day Lionel Murphy, who was a great advocate of a human rights bill and all