Goldstein News – 1 December 2008
“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 and are not looking in terms of the long term as to what they might need to invest in, even in the next couple of years.” (Senate Committee Hansard, 4 July 2005)
That was a university vice-chancellor explaining to a 2005 Senate inquiry into the Coalition’s voluntary student unionism legislation that his students were not capable of making long-term decisions. Instead, he argued, they needed to pay a compulsory fee to support services most will never want nor need. He was right about one thing. His comment was condescending.
University students are trusted to choose their own university, their course and their subjects. They don’t do so with a short-term outlook. They make judgements about the long-term career paths they might wish to take. These same students are of an age where they are trusted to vote, drive vehicles, hold firearms licences or serve in the military. Yet many university vice-chancellors, student unionists and the Labor Party argue that they cannot be trusted with the choice whether to join a student union or support certain campus activities. In their view, they must be compelled.
When the Coalition abolished compulsory student unionism in 2005, it brought freedom of association to university students for the first time in over three decades. No longer would students be forced to pay a high, up-front fee to support organisations that provided little value to them and supported causes many found objectionable.
Labor promised before the election not to re-introduce compulsory amenities fees. Yet the Government has announced its intention to introduce legislation to allow universities to charge a compulsory amenities fee for non-academic services. Labor are proposing a new tax of up to $250 per student. The Government claim this is not compulsory student unionism because the university would collect the fee rather than the union. This is a con and a sham. Students can choose not to be a union member, but will still have to pay an equivalent fee, much of which will be passed to student unions. It’s “no fee, no start.”
The best way to help struggling students is not to hit them with a new tax to fund services chosen by a university or union. The best way to help students is to allow them to keep more of their own money and let them decide which non-academic services they need.
There is an important principle at stake that must be defended. No one should be forced to support any organisation against their will. I will be voting against Labor’s attempt to resurrect compulsory student unionism.