From Canberra to Student Unions, Tunnels and Being Re-born

The last week in the Senate once again had a much higher number of Bills dealt with than usual – 19 in total in the 4 sitting days. None of these were very controversial, apart from the law to abolish ATSIC. As usual, details can be found on my main website. I left Canberra on the Friday morning, with the Senate not sitting again until the Budget appears in May.

I got back to Brisbane for a couple of hours and then got a flight to Rockhampton. With proposed laws just introduced by the Government aimed at destroying Student Associations and Unions on University campuses, I’m keen to see what might be done to make people aware of just how damaging this will be. It is likely to be far more damaging on regional campuses, so I wanted to meet up with a few people at the Central Queensland University to get a better picture of what the possible impact might be. As well as the Student Association, I also met with a number of academic staff. CQU has the highest percentage of overseas students of any of the 38 Universities in Australia. Its Rockhampton campus (it has 9 campuses around Australia) is one of the biggest single employers in the city and surrounding region and the potential loss of 30 or 40 jobs there, along with the services provided will be felt more widely than just the students.

I flew back home late Friday night and on Saturday morning I attended a rally in my local suburb regarding a proposed tunnel that’s planned to go under the Brisbane River from Woolloongabba to Windsor. If it goes ahead it will be Brisbane’s first step down Sydney’s path of mega-expensive, traffic-multiplying road tunnels, complete with an unfiltered smogstack at each end. The affected communities are starting to wonder when they will actually get some proper information about the project, beyond the usual glib stuff promising that the air will be cleaner and the traffic will be less. It’s proposed by the Brisbane City Council and supported by the State Government. Both Liberal and Labor parties support it. Because I live within a kilometre of one of the smogstacks, I’ve avoided speaking out about it before, as it could look like I’m speaking out of self-interest. I should mention that the Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, and the Premier, Peter Beattie, also live nearby (even if they are up on the hill, while I’m down near the floodplain). I’ll probably write some more about it soon. It impacts on areas I’ve lived in for virtually all my life, so it does interest me a lot.

Speaking of connections to the local area, I went from this rally to a meeting of local Democrat members. I wrote a brief entry on this site in January about a process we’ve been working on to look at where the party goes from here. The meeting today was to report back to members on some of the major outcomes (so far) with that process. The party organised to have it in a venue we hadn’t used before, which was an old Church hall in the suburb of Wooloowin. This hall actually used to be a church and, unbeknownst to whoever chose it, it was where I was baptised back in 1964. The church closed around 1968 and moved into a new one next door, so I had no memory of ever being inside this building. I guess returning to the place of my baptism could be a good symbol for undergoing a political re-birth. We’ll see if the voters agree by the time the next election rolls around.

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  1. Your party has an enormous job ahead of it to retain prominence of voice in public debate. I am an ALP member but I do wish you the best of luck, because I think that Australia needs a greater multitude of different voices in our national parliament.
    The major difficulty the Democrats face (IMHO) is that the media currently do not seem very interested in paying a great deal of attention to them. I’m sure that there are millions of people out there who agree with you on all sorts of issues, but at the end of the day if your average voter gets the impression from the media that the Democrats are fading into insignificance, they probably aren’t going to vote for them. Which is kind of sad, and an indictment of the two-party preferred system if things do continue to trend badly for the Dems.

  2. What if every student chose to remain in the student union despite it being voluntary? The Union wouldn’t then be destroyed as you claim. So it’s up to the students themselves to determine their future. The way people are carrying on you would think the government is outlawing student unions.
    You also make the absurd claim that it would destroy 30-40 jobs in Rockhampton. What if all the money from student unions fees were spent in more procductive areas of the local economy? Couldn’t this create new jobs? More than 30-40.

  3. Why do you suggest the Student Association jobs that would be lost are non-productive? How is it more productive to deny course assistance or help with appeals for students who are not rich? The university can’t afford to pick up those tasks(and could not provide an independent service even it did). Market forces don’t work for counselling.
    Why are sports facilities (which are often also used by the wider community) non-productive? How would removing those services or making them more expensive create new jobs?

  4. Andrew, I live in Brisbane are rarely go outdoors, so rely heavy on the media and what I am fed by it. Of course I am not that silly as to rely on it, which is why I much prefer the internet as I at least get a more balanced view of the world.
    Anyway as to my point, I admire your courage in having your own blog, and it’s refreshing to see a an MP being open and honest about his view on things, and at least giving us a right of reply. Good on ya, and please feel free to visit my blog anytime. Darren

  5. None of these were very controversial, apart from the law to abolish ATSIC
    …which got bizarrely little press coverage from what I could see. The news of the final passing of ATSIC was buried in a small piece on page 9 of that day’s Daily Telegraph. Leaving aside the question of whether or not ATSIC deserved the axe, I’d have thought the news that the axe was being swung would’ve garnered a bit more notice. We’re not dealing with the winding up of some pissant sub-committee in some obscure rural local council, after all. You’d almost swear they were trying to hush it up for some reason…

  6. I get the impression that the public is well over the initial shock of the ATSIC axing. Its not news because its been coming for a long time, I guess. IMO, of course. And, by these remarks, I am not either supporting nor condemning the decision. It’s just an observation.

  7. Also the public are well aware of what a disaster ATSIC was, the level of corruption, malfeasance and ineptitude in its administration and the collosal waste of their money it represents; regional Aborigines are worse off now than when they were living in missions, and probably less educated. Like the UN with PNG, social activists believe civilisation and governance can be introduced at whim when it took Western Europeans nearly a thousand years to move from a feudal to a representative democratic system. As to student unions, if they’re so wonderful they have nothing to fear, just like other wonders like the ABC, public arts projects etc; VSU is a good illustration of how things should be in the entire nation; if public services are as wonderful and essential as we are continually told, they will be voluntarily funded. If not, they’ll dissapear and eventually people won’t even remember them existing in the first place. Res Ipsa Loquitor.

  8. Andrew,
    With regard to the services provided by CSU fees, you provide a good example of the “fallacy of the broken window”.
    Many believe that a broken window provides employment and consequently increases the public good. Everyone can see that a window has been repaired and this is a positive.
    A bit like the damage that cyclone Tracey. A massive building boom occurred in Darwin wich was good for the Australian economy.
    What proponents of such a view fail to recognise is the loss of opportunity that occurs when resources have to be diverted to repairing the window or rebuilding an entire city.
    While previously students were forced to spend their money on CSU provided services, they were unable to spend those funds on other products or services that they may have considered to be more useful to them.
    As a consequence employment and investment in such other areas was less that it otherwise would have been because of the compulsory nature of CSU.
    So you demonstrate a serious lack of understanding of basic economics when you state that jobs will be lost because of the introduction of VSU.
    You are also making an assumption that students are incapable of making decisions about what services are to their benefit. Maybe it’s time that the Democrats and the ALP displayed a little confidence in the ability of students to make decisions of their own rather than be dictated to.
    If as a result of VSU legislation Union provided services fold, doesn’t that say a lot about the usefulness of those services to students that when given a choice they no longer support them.

  9. I know of the fallacy of the broken window – it is a good example to use from time to time.
    You may be partly right in regard to some of the services, but many of the services which student associations provide are not just cafeterias, etc. Services such as help with appeals, independent course guidance and counselling, emergency loans, legal advice, etc are not things that fit well in the market forces framework. A student may well not want to pay for these unless they have a need to use them, but they also may well not be able to afford to use them if it is solely a user-pays or market driven situation.
    I think this is particularly the case in regional communities. In the same way that competition policy can work in big cities but not so well in smaller communities, the critical mass that universal services fees provides can make the difference between whether or not some of the facilities will be there at all.

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