Voluntary Student Unions Bill: Speech By Senator Barnaby Joyce

This is the speech by Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce on the voluntary student unions bill.

Senator JOYCE (Queensland) (4.21 pm)—Mr Acting Deputy President—Senator Lundy—Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. According to standing order 186, when all else is in doubt you should call the senator who rises first. This is the third time I have risen to speak in this debate—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (SenatorBrandis)—I saw Senator Joyce rise first.

Senator Lundy—That is because you were looking in that direction.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT—There is no point of order.

Senator JOYCE—There have been many good arguments posed, and I will endeavour—

Senator Lundy—Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a further point of order. Perhaps you could advise me when I will be able to seek leave to incorporate my speech on the second reading, seeing that I am obviously going to be deprived of the opportunity for the third time this week to give such a speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Senator Lundy, that is not a point of order either. The debate has not long to go.

Senator Lundy—Can you give me that—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT—No. It is not a point of order. Sit down.

Senator JOYCE—As I said, there have been many good arguments posed here today, and I will endeavour not to replicate them. I do not support—

Senator Bob Brown—On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: I ask you when honourable senators
who want to incorporate speeches will be able to. Can you make sure that that opportunity is available?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT—That is a matter for arrangement between the managers—not for me.

Senator Bob Brown—At your behest.

Senator JOYCE—I do not support compulsory student unionism. We have the chance today to end that process, and it is quite obvious that it will end today. I have moved an amendment to allow the ending of compulsory student unionism but to facilitate continued facilities at universities. The inception of it is in a resolution that comes from my state conference. I will read it out to completely clarify my position, because I was sent here by Queensland to represent Queensland and to follow or be guided by it. It reads:

That this State Conference of The Nationals Queensland:

  • Declares its full and unequivocal support for the concept of voluntary student unionism;
  • Notes the concerns of the Federal government with regard to wastage of funds by university student unions;
  • Requests the Federal government ensures that an alternate funding mechanism with comparable—that means the same— levels of funding to existing fees is provided to maintain—that means forever—the level of services and the provision of facilities on university campuses—That backing—coming down in my first term to represent my party at the federal level—is what is driving me. I would like to thank Mike Horan and Stuart Copeland for raising this issue at the start and for sitting down with me to cover the issues of the University of Southern Queensland. I would like to thank Lawrence Springborg and the Queensland Nationals for their support.

As a starting point, I see there being a number of pieces to the philosophy. I see a university as any other business, and so at this moment I have a problem. Universities should be able if they so choose to not charge a fee. If we get rid of compulsory student unionism and put the matter under the auspices of the universities, they should be able to choose to charge a fee or not to charge a fee. If they pick up students, who are like clients, and start making a way into the market because of that reduction of fees then they will continue on with that. But we should leave them the option if they so choose to charge a fee at the university level, audited and covered by the university—a bill that goes to the university. It seems peculiar, from a conservative party point of view, to be telling a business what it can and cannot charge for.

Universities are not just purely academic institutions. They never were and they never will be. I hope they are never turned into just purely academic institutions. They are to embolden the whole spirit of a person and to broaden their social dynamic. And to broaden a person’s social dynamic they must have things around them that entail and encourage that—that bring that out of them. That is why we have playgrounds for the kindergarten, we have playgrounds for the primary schools and we have fields for the high schools. And so it should be the case at universities that we create the mechanisms for people to go out and mix.

If you are going to have those mechanisms for them to have a greater social engagement then you have to have them in place. To say a user-pays facility will work does not tend to countenance the argument that some of these facilities take 10 or 13 years to pay off—maybe 150 years of funding is needed to build them up to a certain level. We are about to take Australia to a form of funding for these facilities that is only replicated in one other country in the world—that is, the Republic of China. The package speaks of $80 million to cover $170 million worth of fees. There would be a residual of about $25 million. So we have $145 million a year or $20 million a year taken over four years. That is about a $120 million shortfall. That is not a comparable level of funding. This means that there is going to be a large black hole at the end of that period. It is going to fall to a political process as to who gets the funding.

Yes, I am driven by the fact that I went to the University of New England. It holds on by its nails to being a relevant university. I am passionate about it because I believe in the collegiate spirit that it has. I believe that this change is going to take them down so that they start losing relevance. I believe that when they close down 14 hectares of sporting fields, as they say they going to, they will become a second-rate choice university to go to. I believe it will build up the status quo for the sandstone universities and the little universities, such as the University of Southern Queensland, the University of New England, James Cook University, the University of Central Queensland and Charles Sturt University, will be detrimentally affected.

We will be saying to people who go to one university, ‘This is the experience you will have here,’ and to the people who go to another university we will be saying, ‘This is the type of experience you will have there.’ Earle Page, a prime minister of this nation and a leader of my party, was formative in trying to construct education in regional areas to give them a comparable experience, to give equality around this nation. I am passionate about this because I think that we are being bloody-minded. We could go forward and come up with a reasonable solution that would achieve parity and equality. I believe that after this bill passes all of a sudden the funding mechanisms of these regional universities will say once more to people in regional areas, ‘You belong to a second class.’ And they should not.

Families, 5,000 of them, are going to be affected by this legislation. Where is the impact statement on them? You should not create a problem and then endeavour to say, ‘We are going to fix it.’ You should not create the problem—you should find the solution rather than create it. That is what we should be doing here today. There is no reason that this has to go through in the next half-hour. There is no reason to put these things at risk. There is no reason to put the University of New England at risk in the next half-hour. We could come up with a solution. We are a clever government. We build submarines and all these other things, and I am sure we could come up with a reasonable solution. The Senate is not controlled and nor should it be. This is a clear example for the soothsayers, especially on the other side, who say the Senate is controlled; it is not controlled. This is a house of review where people have their own minds and their own mechanisms for making decisions, and it will continue to protect the dignity of the parliament of our nation. I am disappointed that some people believe that there is a sense of attracting attention. I would happily not have been the subject of having a resolution from my party, which I am supporting. It is not the resolution of one senator; it is the resolution of my party, supported by three states and federally.

I certainly do not seek applause and I never have. But I certainly have gone into bat for my party against the odds and against all takers, and I have tried to do the very best that I can for them. I find it a slight insult to suggest that I have done 10 years of work for my party as some sort of gratification mechanism. That is a complete insult. I have done it because I believe in the people I represent. This Senate has passed a lot of legislation and will continue to do so. I will be an effective part of the transition of bills, but I will always retain my dignity in representing the constitution of this nation. And I will never let this place fall into a position where we cannot review and where, the moment we intend to review, the moment we intend to exercise our dignity as senators of this nation, we are derided.

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