(via Jacques Chester) Apparently the Howard government has now introduced into the House of Representatives a Bill that effectively abolishes compulsory student unionism in Australia. The principal operative provision reads:
(1) A higher education provider must not:
(a) require a person to be or to become a member of an organisation of students, or of students and other persons; or
(b) require a person enrolled with, or seeking to enrol with, the provider to pay to the provider or any other entity an amount in respect of an organisation of students, or of students and other persons;
unless the person has chosen to be or to become a member of the organisation.
(2) A higher education provider must not require a person enrolled with, or seeking to enrol with, the provider to pay to the provider or any other entity an amount for the provision to students of an amenity, facility or service that is not of an academic nature, unless the person has chosen to use the amenity, facility or service.
I have some significant reservations about the Bill, in that it may well result in a reduction in services and amenities to uni students, through a combination of student apathy and (understandable) parsimony if amenities/union fees are optional. But on balance I don’t think the basic principle of freedom of choice and freedom of association (which must include the freedom not to associate) can be compromised by this sort of coercive impost.
Moreover, with the incidence of students combining their studies with full-time or substantial part-time paid employment, my personal observation on the CDU campus is that only a fairly small minority of students is in fact able to take advantage of the services offered by the Student Union. Nevertheless, abolishing compulsory student unionism may well be a further step along the road to universities being colourless degree factories, so I can’t see the Bill as a cause for unbounded rejoicing.
Others will no doubt see it as vindictive Howard government payback for student unions using their members’ funds to campaign against the re-election of the Coalition last year. But that was a seriously inappropriate utilisation of compulsorily-exacted union/amenities fees. What did they expect?