Page 2099 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 21 June 2005

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It is time that the federal government listened to the experts in the community and to its constituents, who are those same productive workers.

Traditionally, university employees—in particular, academic staff—have been supportive of the role of trade unions within academic institutions. The National Tertiary Education Union has one of the largest proportional memberships within the trade union sector. It is no matter of irony that some of the nation’s most highly educated employees are also strong advocates of the right of workers to collectively organise in the workplace.

Academics, along with employees in a diverse range of sectors, recognise that union representation and the role of union representation in agreement-making negotiations have positive outcomes for their members. The new higher education workplace relations requirement, combined with the impending abolition of universal student organisation membership, is changing the culture of education, changing it to our detriment.

Universities used to be the centrepiece of education-based communities, places where scholars and interested students could learn, participate in their community and gain the skills to actively contribute to their society. Instead, Mr Speaker, we are increasingly seeing the formation of corporate universities with boards of control, boards which after these reforms are implemented will have reduced staff and student representation, so that five years from now we may have a situation where Australian universities are simply run by boards of directors whose bottom line includes no mention of educational outcomes and which have no active involvement from staff or students.

The subject of today’s matter of public importance should hit home particularly to those opposite who represent the electorate of Ginninderra. In a community the size of the Belconnen region, the services provided by an institution such as the University of Canberra are vital and must be protected. This MPI should serve as a wake-up call to both Mr Stefaniak and Mrs Dunne that they should sit up and take a bit of notice of how their Liberal Party colleagues in the house on the hill are damaging the community fabric of their very electorate and realise what the leadership of their party is doing to the facilities and the services on which their constituents rely so heavily.

The University of Canberra alone employs over 800 staff and has approximately 9,500 students enrolled from almost 80 countries. These are not disembodied people who are somehow just locked away in a university. They are members of our community, living amongst us, taking part in the fuller life of our community beyond the hallowed halls of learning. We need to support them in their fight to keep their proper working conditions and not allow the federal government to ride roughshod over their rights and bring higher education to its knees, which would be to the detriment of us all, as I have said before.

I encourage all members of this place to recognise the importance of higher education to the life of Canberra and in particular to the important contribution of the staff and students of the University of Canberra. Federal government legislation is threatening their very livelihoods and we, as their elected representatives, have a responsibility to stand up and fight for that livelihood.

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