Higher Education Student Services Fee - Congratulations to the Senate for rejecting the Bill
I rise today to congratulate the Senate on rejecting the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009. This represents a great win for students on university campuses across Australia, who now no longer have to pay the $250 that was proposed by the government for the privilege of attending university.
The minister for youth and for sport, yesterday in the House, proceeded to instruct us that students around the country were devastated at the news that this bill had been rejected by the Senate. I can record for the House that every single student I have spoken to, subsequent to the rejection of this legislation, far from being devastated, is in fact delighted that they no longer have to turn up to university and pay a $250 fee for the privilege. This is a great boon for students.
We also had the minister regale the House that this was some sort of ideological extremism, as if having a different view makes you extreme, as if rejecting the imposition of a $250 tax on students were somehow ideological. The reason that students around the country oppose such retrograde legislation is that they have the right to choose what to do with their own money. If you are putting forward the proposition that, if you ran a university campus you could not provide services to students, such as at the University of Sydney, with 30,000 students, and turn a profit through food service provision, let me tell you: I do not think that is a valid proposition; I think that is total nonsense. There are 30,000 students at the university I went to. There is plenty of scope for a person to choose their own food, to choose their own services and pay for services that they require. They do not need a student body, or a student service representative organisation, to choose for them. They do not need to be taxed for the privilege of going to a university campus.
Ever since the passing of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Up-front Student Union Fees) Act, what we have seen on campus is a rebirth of the ability of people to choose with their own money. When I went to university you would pay up to $400 a semester for the privilege of joining a union that you did not want to join. Freeing up students from joining such an organisation compulsorily has been of great benefit—they have enjoyed that new freedom and life has continued on campuses all around Australia.
Funnily enough, the minister seemed to want to regale us with a tale of how things were devastated on campuses, how student life—of course, we do not understand what the term means; I think it is supposed to mean hanging out at bars, listening to music and those sorts of things—had somehow stopped, somehow these things had ceased since the abolition of the compulsory unionism model. Far from ceasing, life has continued. Western Christian democracy has gone on. The world continues to revolve around the sun. Students now have more money in their pockets to make their own choices. They can choose the services that they wish to have, the services that are best for them—and they can do that without the aid of a body that they do not wish to be a member of.
The minister for youth and sport seemed to want to say, ‘We will be back with this legislation’, as if somehow the imposition of this tax on students was a top priority of the Rudd government, one of the first things that it would seek to do, at a time when what we see in Australia is a downturn in the economic climate. We see many people who are young being unable to access employment. Why would any government in this climate seek to impose an extra burden on students for the privilege of going to a university? Why would the minister for youth and sport say, as she did in question time, that somehow people in lower socioeconomic demographics would somehow be worse off through the rejection of this measure? It is self-evidently the case that students who come from lower socioeconomic demographics are now demonstrably $250 better off than they would have been if this government had its way, and that helps the people who have the least money the most. I applaud the Senate for standing up for students around this country and rejecting the notion of taxing students for the right to go to university.