Page 1415 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 6 April 2005
this stuff. But, of course, it does not apply when it affects your own turf. So what we see is the government here suddenly seeing its own backyard threatened. There has certainly been a long association between the Labor Party and student unions. In fact, going back to my days in the ’70s at university, we saw, time and time again, these university union funds used to support a whole range of lost causes. They were sending money off to the PLO and various other bodies. That was something that was bound to upset a lot of people, but it was being funded through compulsory fees.
There are other activities that are funded. So many of these activities are spent ultimately on alcohol and subsidising alcohol consumption, and really there should be no basis to compel people to pay money over to see it wasted in such a fashion. There is no equity in a flat tax system, as is supported through the student union arrangements. This is surprising from the Labor Party, which is on the record as supporting some graduated form of taxation in other areas, where the rich pay more. In the case of universities, the poorer students are hit with these heavy fees to fund activities that in many cases they have no interest in. If they do not fork over the money to the university unions, they are denied this so-called fundamental right of education that Labor always talks about.
It is extraordinary when you look at the amounts being paid. The University of Sydney, when I looked at its accounts years ago, was worth more than $2 billion in assets. It topped the list of Australian universities, with 26,500 students forced to hand over $14.9 million with fees up to $590. Monash University in Melbourne is another that closely followed, taking $13.4 million in fees out of the pockets of students.
What do they do with these fees? The Labor Party, of course, will relate very closely to the University of Melbourne and their famous student union down there and their failed $48 million property deal and all of the dramas that have resulted from that student union being thrown into receivership as a result of their dealings and the investigations by police into some of those extraordinary things.
Mrs Dunne: And let’s not forget “wadgate”.
MR MULCAHY: And who were the people involved? Well, surprise, surprise. Members of the University Labor Club were the key figures.
I understand that these funds that have been generated over the years are very helpful in terms of campaigns that might attack this side of the political spectrum, but I really do not think that there is a measure of justification that warrants students who do not want to be part of this activity being forced to pay these fees. Most people attend university to get an education, to get a degree and get on with their lives. But there is a percentage there that wants to make it a lifestyle and, sadly, what the government is attempting to do in the ACT is defend that sort of pressure and demand being imposed on students.
Union membership should be voluntary and services should not be propped up by the compulsory appropriation of students’ hard earned money. It is important to note that currently in every state and territory throughout Australia, if a university student fails to pay their compulsory non-academic union fee, they will be prevented from graduating. How can people who are committed to social justice, to equality, to fairness, as they purport to be, support a system that says, “We are going to make you pay money and you will be denied education, irrespective of your financial position, so we can fund our