Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.30 p.m.)-One of the principles that separate senators on this side of the chamber-be they Liberal or be they Nationals-and senators on the other side of the chamber is the principle of freedom of association.
Senator Lundy-Don’t hide behind freedom of association!
Senator FIFIELD-Senator Lundy mocks that, but one of the great divides between the two sides of Australian politics is the principle of freedom of association. Voluntary student unionism is a natural extension of that principle. If we can trust students and if students have the capacity to choose their university, if we can trust students and students have the capacity to choose their degree and if we can trust students and students have the capacity to choose their subjects, then why do we suppose that their critical faculties all of a sudden leave them when it comes to deciding whether or not to join a student union or association and whether or not to pay a compulsory amenities fee? If we can trust students to decide which institution to go to and what to study, why can we not trust them to decide whether to join a student union or association and whether to pay a fee?
It was disappointing, as the committee that I was on, the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee-and I certainly will not pre-empt their findings before they are tabled-moved around Australia, to hear vice-chancellors express that they did not trust students. We heard Professor Ian Young, Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne University, say:
This is a rather condescending comment, I am afraid, but when you have a group of 18- to 22-year-olds the reality is that their focus is very short term. They are interested in the here and now.
I think that is a very condescending comment, and I think the attitude to students of senators opposite is very condescending: that students lack the capacity to make the decision for themselves. The answer that is sometimes put up is the legislation in Western Australia and Victoria, which allows students to opt out of unions. Sounds like a good idea-the only problem is that if you opt out of the union you still have to pay the same fee as though you joined the union. When Senator Wong was referring to me earlier and talking about ‘a con and a sham’, that is what I was referring to: the legislation in Victoria and Western Australia. That legislation in those two states is a con and a sham. No, you do not have to join the union, but you still have to pay the same fee, as if you did, and that money still goes to the union. That is a con and a sham. That is not freedom of association; that is just a technical out. It is not a real out; it is not a real choice.
It is extremely interesting that the National Union of Students, the Gallop government and even Ms Macklin in the other place support this concept of a limited amenities and services fee. It is pretty clear why that is. You only have to look at the National Union of Students’ electoral return for the last federal election to see why. It is because you cannot quarantine money. It does not matter what is on paper, the money is fungible. The money ends up being used for a purpose other than that for which it was intended. The National Union of Students spent $250,000 of the money compulsorily acquired from Australian university students in a partisan political campaign to put the coalition last. That is why the National Union of Students, the Gallop government and the senators opposite want to maintain the status quo or, at the very least, have a limited amenities fee. They know where that money will end up. That money will end up in partisan campaigns, being used against the wishes of students. Students are not consulted. Students do not have a say as to whether that money is used on political campaigns but, sure enough, that is where that money ends up.
On the issue of rural campuses: despite repeated questioning at the hearings, the transcripts-which are available-show that witnesses were unable to substantiate the claim that regional universities would be affected in any way materially different to metropolitan universities.
Senator Lundy-That is not true!
Senator George Campbell-That is rubbish!
Senator Lundy-Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: I think the senator is technically misleading the Senate. We cannot discuss the report in detail as it has not yet been tabled, but I take great exception to him reflecting on the evidence that we received in that committee inquiry in the way that he has, because I believe it to be untrue.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT-Senator Lundy, I hear what you say but I do not believe that is a point of order.
Senator FIFIELD-There were assertions but there was no hard evidence to substantiate that claim. Senators opposite were asking in question time if a fund will be used to compensate differently in regional areas and metropolitan areas. The simple answer is: there is no fund, so I am not quite sure what they are talking about. On the tax analogy that is often put forward: I do not accept that universities and student unions are some fourth tier of government-(Time expired)