Page 1417 - Week 05 - Wednesday, 6 April 2005

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MS PORTER (Ginninderra) (12.17): I commend Mr Gentleman for bringing this matter to the Assembly. I join with him in condemning the legislation introduced by the federal government. I will not be supporting Ms Dunne’s amendments.

In the ACT we are proud of our nationally recognised system of higher education. We possess a first class institution for vocational education in the Canberra Institute of Technology, as well as internationally recognised universities such as the Australian Catholic University, the University of Canberra and the Australian National University. It is because of this commitment to an educated community that Canberrans stand to be particularly affected by federal government moves to destroy our university communities. Because that is exactly what this legislation will do. Student organisations are a vital part of campus life. They provide services to the university and the broader community that quite simply could not be provided otherwise.

Federal education minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, in his attempt to justify this legislation, used the example of a single mother training to be a nurse who may be said to subsidise the activities of canoeing or mountaineering for other students through her student amenities fees. What Dr Nelson conveniently failed to mention is that this single mother has access to a range of other facilities and services on campus that may more adequately suit her needs. For example, she may benefit from the provision of childcare facilities at an affordable price or from the existence of inexpensive health advice on campus.

The cross-subsidisation of services within a university community produces the kind of environment which Australian universities are renowned for. Our university communities foster an environment of tolerance and respect, where difference is celebrated because of its contribution to the diversity of our community. If this legislation is introduced, that diversity will become a memory. This is because the services that benefit the most disadvantaged members of the university community will go first. Childcare services, legal consultation and welfare advice may not be the most commercially viable commodities in society and they may not be able to be sustained in the market demand environment in which Dr Nelson places so much faith in determining what services a university student requires, but they will be noticed when that same single mother, whom Dr Nelson claims to be defending, is forced to defer her studies because of the lack of support available to her.

As Mr Gentleman said, all major education stakeholders are opposed to this legislation: community groups, students, university staff and university administrations. They can see that sometimes there can be more important things than commercial viability. The community needs to cooperate to ensure that its collective resources can be spread in a more equitable and just manner so that all members of the community are allowed the opportunity to succeed.

University campuses will change forever under this legislation. Food outlets, free stationery and emergency financial assistance will all be lost. Legal, welfare and psychological advice will be things of the past. Student magazines and newspapers, which have produced many of Australia’s finest journalists, will be gone. Second-hand textbook outlets will be forced to close down, Mrs Dunne. I personally remember how important these were to me when I was completing my tertiary studies. At some universities the provision of accommodation assistance and employment services are funded from the student amenity funds and therefore will be lost. Sporting and recreational facilities will be gone.

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