This is indeed a very sad day for students. It is a sad day for students who go along to an institution like a polytechnic or a university and want to be able to make the best use of their time at the institution. We heard from Mr Peachey earlier on, with his concerns about whether some people are in a state to be able to succeed at a university or a polytechnic if they need the support of a students association. What I say is that students associations over many years have provided support, advocacy, welfare services, and health and well-being services to generations of students, and have made the difference that has meant that those students have been able to complete their tertiary studies. That is how significant the work of students associations has been for many people.
What the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill tonight does, and I think we need to be very clear about this, is undo the work done by Tau Henare and the previous National Government in creating a regime for the membership of students associations that put control in the hands of students. What the current law does is allow students, if there are enough of them, to force a referendum, to have a referendum on whether membership of their students association should be compulsory or should be voluntary. The Auckland University Students Association, as has already been discussed, has taken the decision to go voluntary. The Waikato Student Union took a decision to go voluntary, then took a decision to go back the other way and return to compulsory membership. Those students did that because their experiment with voluntary membership was a disaster. They had the ability under the current law to return to the quality of membership that they wanted. They made a decision. They had a choice. This bill removes that choice.
There has been a lot of talk about choice, about it being a motivation and a driver for the promoter of this bill and for National to support the bill. But the reality is that the choices that are now going to be put before students are not real choices, because this bill basically prevents that. Certainly, the Government prevented amendments being put forward that would have allowed students to have an informed choice at the start of a year. Labour members put forward amendments that would have allowed students associations to have access to contact details so that they could provide information. But the reality is that this bill is not about choice. This bill is about an ideological crusade of a very small number of students represented in this House by a party that seems to be going out of existence. On the basis of that ideological crusade, the students associations will be destroyed.
Mark my words, it is not just the university students who will be affected by this. I predict that most of the university students associations will stumble on in some kind of relationship with their tertiary institution providers, and I will come back to that in a minute. It is polytechnic students who will really suffer here. I do not believe that many polytechnic students associations will be able to survive this bill, and, as a result of that, the experience of students at polytechnics will be diminished. Many of the students who arrive at polytechnics have no experience or knowledge of tertiary education, they are often there for a short time, and their students associations are the ones that are able to provide important services. There is a reason why all, bar one, of the polytechnics in this country came to the Education and Science Committee and said “Please do not pass this bill.” They know the value of the services that are provided by students associations. They are not in it for the politics, as Heather Roy was trying to say that that was where the students associations had gone. Those institutions support the students associations because they know the good work that is done, and they know the potential damage that will be done to their students when and if this bill passes.
I return to the university students associations. They are now caught in a very interesting dilemma, because in recent times we have seen student services levies—those levies charged by the institutions for services other than those provided by the students associations—increase dramatically. The Government rightly has been concerned about this. Legislation has been passed in this House to ensure that those student services levy increases can be limited, and that, in fact, by Gazette notice the Minister for Tertiary Education can control the range of services able to be funded under a student services levy. As a result, if we see students associations cut back, we will now see the institutions limited in the range of student services they provide. So not only are the students associations losing control of student affairs; the institutions, which will now be forced to fill the gap, are being limited in the services they can provide. These together mean that the quality of the student experience in our universities and our polytechnics will be significantly diminished, because of an ideological crusade by the ACT Party.
It is interesting to hear the Minister for Tertiary Education tell students to keep their heads down. That is what he said the other day—that they should keep their heads down. That kind of bullying approach from the Minister has absolutely no place and does give some indication of what the real concern might be here, which is that the students associations might actually stand up to Governments—of all colours, I might say; not just National Governments but Labour-led Governments as well. The students associations might just have a role in standing up to the Government and asking questions, and campaigning, and advocating. I believe that those are legitimate roles of students associations. It is like a ratepayer not liking some of the books bought for the library with ratepayer funds; just because one does not like some of the activities of students associations does not mean one can somehow take oneself out of society—not pay one’s rates. What we see here is an attack on students associations and the work that they do, and, yes, some of that work has been political, because it has been in the best interests of students. But taking away from students the choice they currently have about how they organise themselves, and limiting what the student services levy can be collected for, put together mean that students’ experience will be significantly diminished.
Ninety-eight percent of the submissions did oppose this bill. Heather Roy can talk about form submissions and all of that, but we have seen no groundswell of support for this bill. We have seen no groundswell of support among students. If student organisations like ACT on Campus and others had wanted to make changes, they had that ability. They had that ability with the referendum.
It is very sad to me that other options that were on the table for this bill were not taken up. National Party MPs sat through the submissions, and I agree with Allan Peachey, who said it was a good submission process. It was a genuinely good submission process. We heard from informed submitters. We heard a lot of different ideas. There were good ideas on the table. The idea of a KiwiSaver-style opt-out scheme where people were enrolled, had the opportunity to withdraw, and then could carry on as normal from there was a good possibility. The possibility of more regular referenda was another idea on the table. The National MPs on the select committee heard those ideas and I know that they resonated with them. But instead politics came into play. The need to prop up the ACT Party came into play. I regard that as very, very sad.
There is almost no constituency for this bill. It is not just students. It is not just institutions. It is not just the Labour Party. Today I heard that Rural Women, formerly Women’s Division Federated Farmers, surveyed its members, and 75 percent opposed this bill.
I tell Ms Collins to check with them and she will find there is no support for this bill. I cannot believe that National has decided to ignore its own constituency, it has decided to ignore tertiary institutions, and it has decided to ignore students, in order to support an ideological crusade from the ACT Party. This is a sad day for students. This is a sad day for tertiary education. But I can say on the record, as Labour members did in our select committee report, that we will repeal this legislation and we will return to a situation where students have advocacy services, where students have welfare services, and where they are supported to stay in their education. We will do that on the basis that that is what students want, and that we will not bow down to ideological crusades.
Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. Kia ora. We stand poised on the brink of ushering in a new dark age for students. There will be a fundamental change to what our universities look like in the coming years. The Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill, quite simply, is an ideological solution in search of a problem. I am proud to be voting against this bill, as the Green Party will do. We urge members on the Government benches to reconsider. It is not too late. I urge the Minister for Tertiary Education, Steven Joyce—he has one last chance—to reconsider allowing this bill to pass.
It is essential that we have strong students associations to deliver strong, quality education outcomes, to have a vibrant university culture, to have a place where foreign students want to come, to have a place where future Olympians have university games to perform at, and to have a place where people feel safe and where there are critical evaluations like sexual health audits of the university—things like this.
Mr Joyce cannot bring in this bill as urgently as he is doing. It is unfair, it is impractical, and, quite frankly, it is irresponsible of members on the Government benches to allow this bill to proceed with such a limited time for implementation. It is as though Mr Joyce has announced he is disbanding local government in New Zealand and telling people that if they like roads and water services, they can voluntarily pay for them but they have only 3 months to prepare. It is unfair, irresponsible, and impractical.
We saw the dawn of this new age 10 years ago. A short history of voluntary student membership in New Zealand tells us that we saw it across the Ditch. People are asking what the impacts will be. We do not have to theorise; we saw it across the Ditch in Australia. We saw students associations destroyed. We saw worse student outcomes, and we saw the Government having to step in and bail them out with $120 million.
In New Zealand in 1997 New Zealand First MP Michael Laws led the Voluntary Student Membership Bill through Parliament. In the end, a compromise was reached because he could not get the numbers for the Voluntary Student Membership Bill, which saw a referendum held across each campus in New Zealand. We saw some choose to go to an opt-in model. Many chose an opt-out model. We saw universities like the University of Waikato literally flog off their assets, which had been built up over decades by students saving a little bit every year, before going to an opt-out model. Ultimately, this compromise for students to choose saved it.
It is disappointing what we have not seen over that period. I think we in this Parliament should honestly reflect that some flaws were not addressed. We should have taken the opportunity earlier to look at the opt-out model for those institutions that chose to go with an opt-out model, to make it easier and more universal across the country and for it to have been better explained. Perhaps the NZUSA, the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations, and the students associations could have taken the opportunity earlier on to critically and voluntarily review their role and their services, because there have been some legitimate grievances that have not been addressed. Perhaps they could have been addressed earlier.
I say big ups to all those people who have campaigned against this disastrous bill. I take my hat off to them. They have stayed staunch and campaigned creatively, smartly, and intelligently. I think they quite clearly won the debate, but unfortunately what we are seeing tonight is that we are losing the war. We saw 98 percent of submitters opposed to the bill in the select committee. We have seen polling from diverse groups like Rural Women—a UMR Insight poll, I believe it was—opposing it.
On the Education and Science Committee we travelled all around the country, and it was a privilege to be with the other members, with the very able chairing of Allan Peachey. I thank the submitters for their submissions. We heard the experiences that students have in our universities around the country. We heard about the experiences at the University of Waikato, which flogged off those student assets that were built up over decades. We heard about future Olympians being at risk from the loss of university games.
We heard about those associations that have been forced to sign a compulsory levy with the institution. We heard from AUSA, the Auckland University Students Association, which is one of the only institutions in New Zealand to have the opt-in model. It feels that that it is under the thumb of the institution, and it does not feel that it can critically review the institution. We heard about the Australian example and about the $120 million going in to help the transition. I ask members on the National benches where the transition plan is and where the support is, be it financial or other resources. There is none. Government members want students associations to fail, and it is disappointing that we are seeing that.
The fact is that students associations do a fantastic job representing students, advocating on students’ behalf, and providing those services. In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake we saw students with the organisation and the resources of their association providing a key service in their community in the days and weeks following the catastrophe there. Students play a critical role in our society. Universities need a student body that they can talk with and negotiate with. The Government needs an organised student body that it can work with to deliver key, quality education.
Students will still need services after this bill passes, and the irony of this bill is that students will still be paying for their services but they just will not have a say. Instead, with the upcoming legislation, it will be Steven Joyce, not the students, who will be deciding what will and will not be funded with their student levies.
Quality education and a smart economy should not be up for negotiation. What we are seeing from this bill is a weakening of the student culture and the pastoral care that students need to succeed. Not once have I heard from National members any mention of this bill being about educational outcomes or the big issues facing us in our economy. At the heart of it are two differing views of what our universities are. On the one hand, we have a tiny ideological minority who see universities without the people and without community, and, on the other hand, we see a strong, vibrant vision of a democratic, open, transparent student body.
This bill is not about freedom of association; it is simply a smokescreen. This bill is about appeasing a tiny ideological minority of ACT supporters who failed to gain any support through democratic means on the university campuses, so instead went to Parliament to legislate away students’ ability to choose the system that works for them. This bill is about ACT and, disappointingly, National telling students how to organise themselves, and in the process they will weaken and destroy, particularly the polytech students associations.
I believe that this bill is actually about weakening an oppositional voice to the terrible and disastrous tertiary education policies we are seeing under this Government. At its heart it is a philosophical question—what does being a member of a community mean? And what we are seeing is a philosophical debate. I do not see students associations as being like the Automobile Association—just providing a service. I see them more as a representative body, more akin to local government, or a local board at a local council level, because they provide these essential representative and advocacy services.
If this bill was actually about making sure students get the support they need, we would have worked harder on the select committee. We would not have been party whipped into supporting this bill, and we would have looked seriously at the New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations’ compromise of automatic membership with an easier opt-out. I think we need an enduring, cross-party solution to this issue, and in future Parliaments we will be looking to work with the Māori Party, Mana, and the Labour Party to amend this legislation.
The tragedy is that when we have a future Government—maybe in 3 months or 3 years or 6—we will be seeing a change to this legislation. We will have two decades of flux in the students association area. We need an enduring, cross-party solution, not an ideological, partisan solution in search of a problem, which we are seeing tonight.
A few days ago we heard the Minister for Tertiary Education telling students to keep their heads down because most people think they are OK. I would like to ask the Minister for Tertiary Education whether he will keep telling students that it is OK and to keep their heads down when five of our six universities are dropping down the international rankings. Will Steven Joyce keep telling students to keep their heads down when he is telling students to organise themselves and not letting students organise themselves? Will he keep telling students to keep their heads down when his Government is ignoring the clear wishes of students and the 98 percent of submitters who oppose this bill?
I urge National to reconsider and to save this bill. But I am not holding my breath, because throughout the debate it has not shown a willingness to listen to the facts and it has literally taken an ideological partisan position. It is disappointing. Ultimately, the loser in all of this is students and quality education.
This day—the third reading of a bill that I really cannot name, because it is a lie—has been a long time coming. It is a day that the thinkers, and not the reactors, in this House had hoped would never come. I acknowledge the sterling efforts of the Labour Party and the Green Party, which, along with the Māori Party, have tried to prevent this bill from ever being enacted.
When the bill last came before the House, on 7 September, my colleague Te Ururoa Flavell sought the leave of the Committee that it be referred in its entirety to the Waitangi Tribunal, under section 8 of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. This action was taken up after the intervention of Te Mana Ākonga, the national association of Māori students. Te Mana Ākonga sought to take the claim to the Waitangi Tribunal on the basis that the bill would weaken the representation of Māori students. It was an action that unfortunately did not receive the full support of the Committee, but nevertheless the concerns we had, and have had since the outset of this bill, bear repeating for the record.
I want to do that by letting the student voices prevail. We believe we are here in Parliament to be the very best advocates for the people that we can be, and it is only right, therefore, that the voices of those most affected should be ringing in the ears of every member of this House as we consider actions that impact on the student body. I remind the House that 4,837 submissions were received on this bill. Of those submissions, 4,418 were from students who oppose this bill.
Not long after Mr Flavell attempted to refer this bill to the Waitangi Tribunal, he received an email that provides an interesting insight into the issues around students associations and their fate under this bill. That email stated: “As a past student of the University of Otago and a past tumuaki of Te Roopu Maori, Maori Student Association at Otago University I would like to express my thanks to you and the Party for attempting to suspend the progress of this Bill. I also wish to express my utmost support for Student Associations, in particular Maori Student Associations. These roopu are vital for students to survive at their chosen University, particularly Otago. Most Maori students enrolled at Otago University are from the North Island. Te Roopu Maori offered me a place to call home because of the tikanga (values) they upheld that no other student service, department or lecturer could provide. These being whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, aroha, taha wairua and many more. It was a place I could go to when I felt I had no where else to turn, where people can relate to how I was feeling or the challenges I was facing.”
I imagine that most members around this House would share a similar view to the Māori Party that education is a front-end investment in our future. What this student is reflecting about Te Roopu Māori is in itself a very positive reflection of the value of students associations in supporting and encouraging Māori students to progress in tertiary education.
What I found most illuminating from the submissions was how consistent the messages were about the value of students associations. I was interested in listening to Heather Roy’s opening remarks in this third reading, when she talked about the importance of the freedom of rights for students. I recall the very first speech I made on this bill, so many months ago. I thought it was with some irony that we are faced with a bill called the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill. It seeks to erode students associations, but places the word “freedom” in its title. Students’ rights, as the submissions tell us, are best represented by students themselves in the students associations they have formed.
I return to Otago University, to the present day, to the submission it presented to the Education and Science Committee. It said: “We oppose this Bill because it will exterminate the services that we provide for the Māori students at the University of Otago. It will diminish kaupapa Māori and tikanga Māori that Te Roopu Māori provide for students, for example a whānau on campus, whakawhanaungatanga, aroha, wairua and manaaki that are valued by Māori students.” The heart breaks when we read these submissions. This bill attacks those who are forming the very foundation of our future. It robs our rangatahi of the vital support that they have seen as being of such value in assisting them to undertake university study.
What is most infuriating about this whole legislative travesty is that the current legislative framework is both flexible and inclusive, allowing for both voluntary and universal membership of students associations. The legislation already has the potential for what Mrs Roy wants to happen, so why are we going to so much bother to pass this bill? What does ACT hope to achieve by making students associations voluntary? More to the point, what will enacting this bill do to the confidence and the optimism of our student body that Parliament is there to protect and support the interests of, along with those of any other taxpayer?
What will Te Roopū Whai Pūtaki, the Otago University Māori Law Students Association, think? This is the group that described this bill by saying it “attacks the Māori student voice and their ability to have democratically-elected collective organisations on campus, by removing the existing right of students to self determination.” How will Mrs Roy account back to Te Mana Mātauranga or Te Waiariki, which have advised the House: “We believe that this Bill is unnecessary as the status quo works,”? How can Parliament address the concerns of Ngā Tauira Māori, the Auckland University Māori Students Association, which explained the case very clearly indeed: “… the Bill adversely affects the ability of Nga Tauira Māori (NTM) to exercise Tino Rangatiratanga, Kaitiakitanga, and Manaakitanga of which are guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”?
Not only those who represent the associations of students are vehemently opposed. I recall the words of John Kīngi, welfare officer at the Auckland University Students Association, who said: “Often times we are forced to turn away students who may require some assistance as we simply do not have the capacity, that Universal associations do, to meet the demands of students.”
Māori students comprise a minority of university students: only 7 percent overall. These Māori students need to be introduced into the tertiary environment as a welcoming and safe space. Māori students associations assist in this by holding first-year support hui or wānanga, with active mentoring and academic support programmes. I am reminded of the submission from Te Mana Ākonga, which told this House that “The proud history of Māori Roopū and student associations has ensured Māori students have an outlet to speak their mind through the freedom of speech, the freedom of autonomy and academic freedom. … As the representative body for Maori Students we believe that this bill does not support Maori students but increases the likeliness of Maori student failure due to the support structures not being present”.
I am greatly saddened today that this bill has come to the House and that Māori students—indeed, all students—will be fully aware now that there are some parties that do not see the value of supporting the ripe potential of our upcoming generations.
I leave the last word to another submission from within my own electorate, from Ngāi Tauira, the Victoria University of Wellington Māori Students’ Association: “It is our belief that until Māori become a normal feature of the tertiary environment, then Māori student associations will be necessary to ensure equity and support of our students in the tertiary environment.” The Māori Party votes to oppose this bill with all of our might.
There are some pieces of legislation where the divide between the left and the right is more obvious than it is on others. The Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill is one such piece of legislation. I am very proud to say that the values of the National Party include freedom of choice. Part of balancing freedom of choice is, of course, responsibility. The left, however, have been clinging to compulsory student union membership, and they have fought this bill like they have not fought any other single piece of legislation in this House. One would think that they would strongly fight changes to labour laws, to taxation, and to welfare reform. But, no, this is the one piece of legislation that they have held up in the House for nearly 2 years. This is the legislation they choose to die in a ditch over. This is what matters most to them—not to the majority of New Zealanders, though, I might add. Members on this side of the House will not tell students what to do. We will give students the choice.
I applaud the ACT member Heather Roy for bringing this member’s bill to the House. I applaud her work and her efforts—the tag team of her and Sir Roger Douglas. They got this member’s bill through the select committee process so that we are here today for the third reading.
In no other sector in New Zealand is union membership compulsory, so why would members expect that we would discriminate against students? Compulsory student unions are the last vestige of a bygone era of compulsory unionism, and of course it was going to change. But the point is that in the same way that trade unions are still strong and still active, students associations will still be strong and active without the coercion of their members. I believe that voluntary unionism will actually improve the performance of students associations, because it will actually make them more responsive to what the students want. It will provide a mandate for advocacy based on engagement with the issues at hand.
Absolutely, they do hate choice. They cannot stand it. It was really interesting that the Leader of the Opposition said this week that this bill would compel voluntary membership. I thought that was such a fascinating turn of phrase from a party that is obsessed with compulsion and cannot handle the fact that this party values choice.
If we look at this bill, we see that students associations will still be able to support students, they will be able to tender for commercial contracts from institutions, and they will advocate on behalf of their students. But most important is that their students’ rights will remain unchanged. I want to bring to the attention of the House the New Zealand University Students’ Association submission, which clearly talks about the value of students associations. I agree. I agree that they do deliver value to students. What I do not agree with is their concern that students will not value their services. I disagree with that, because if they value their association’s services, they will join it, and that is exactly how it should be—just as people join advocacy organisations or professional organisations. This bill will not destroy student unions. They will still be able to offer all the services they currently do, including advocacy, including lobbying, but they will have to attract members on their merit—not from legal force, but on their merit. Some argue that voluntary membership does already exist. But if it does already exist, as some claim, then why would they fear these changes?
Choice for students will also mean greater accountability for student unions. Again, I do not think that student unions have anything to fear from this. Students should not have to vote in a referendum to receive the basic right of freedom of association. Unions that demonstrate value to students will continue exactly as they are. Opponents say that students can leave the association if they wish. But the submitters who came before us told us how difficult that was in reality. A very interesting thing to note is that in the last 18 months some students associations have changed the way that people exit, if they choose to do so. Funny, that! It is funny that it happens right about now. Tertiary institutions will still be required to ensure that students are looked after. They will take note of customer feedback and concerns.
One of the other things that opponents have talked about is the quantity of submissions opposing this bill. Heather Roy went through this in detail, so I will not cover it much, other than to bring the House’s attention to emails I received from so-called students who were opposing the bill. When I replied to these emails, I got puzzled responses from some students. They had absolutely no idea that emails had been sent in their name, from their email accounts, opposing the bill.
Part of the difficulty in understanding the opposition to this bill is the changing phrases used by the student unions. The student unions have been changing their tune because they cannot decide who they are like. First of all they said they were like trade unions. But trade unions became not compulsory, so the student unions had to change their thinking. Then they moved on to saying they were like professional bodies, like the Medical Association. But it has changed. It has now gone into two parts: the Medical Council and the—surprise, surprise—voluntary New Zealand Medical Association. Now, since the student unions lost that one, they say they are like local government. They think they can take money off people against their will, and have no accountability, no feedback mechanisms, no safeguards for their doing exactly that.
The one I love—this is probably the best for me—is the argument that student associations are the only true, independent voice. One very large concern raised by those who support the bill—and they gave examples—was the use of student association money to fund political campaigns. And this is so-called independence. Some of the associations are clearly not independent at all. One of the New Zealand University Students’ Association press releases before the last election said that the National Party was out of touch with thinking voters, when, in reality, National got more votes in the 18 to 24 age group than any other political party. So I wonder who was out of touch, if it was not the students association.
As a result of this bill, will students think twice about joining a student union? Probably. Will students get value from their students association? Most likely. Will students get to choose? Absolutely.
There are, I accept, two schools of thought on students association membership. One is that when students choose to attend a particular institution—whether it be a university, a polytechnic, or anywhere—where there is a compulsory or universal students association, by making the choice to attend that institution they then become a member of that students association in the same way that by deciding to live in a particular town, they would have to pay rates and have everything that goes with being a ratepayer in that area. That is one school of thought. The other school of thought is that students associations are more like unions or professional bodies and that membership should be voluntary.
I actually think that both of those points of view and schools of thought have merit. I do not think that one is more correct than the other. In fact, the status quo allows for both of those situations to exist at a particular university or a particular tertiary institution. If the students decide they want their students association to be universal, they can choose that. If they decide they want their students association to be voluntary, they can choose that. So whichever side of the divide you stand on, whatever your view is on membership of a students association, there is actually a mechanism in the current law to make that happen. All you have to do, if you want to create change—
Sorry. Well, Mr Assistant Speaker, you could if you were in this position.
All students would need to do if they wanted to change the status quo at their particular tertiary institution is to get 10 percent of their fellow students, have a referendum, and convince more than half the people who vote to come to their point of view. It is not so difficult. It happened at Auckland University, where the students decided to go voluntary.
It happened at Waikato University. Those students decided to go voluntary, then they changed their mind. They saw the folly of that decision, realised it was not working out, and went back to universal membership. The question was asked at Massey University, and its students decided to stay with universal membership. The status quo allows for both schools of thought to coexist.
But even if we were to decide that we had to force the point of view that students associations must be voluntary, this bill, the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill, is not the way to do it. A simple mechanism could have given students associations the opportunity to survive, and imposed voluntary student membership on all students associations as well, and that was to have an opt-out clause. Future students signing up for their first year would be automatically enrolled, in the same way that we automatically enrol people into KiwiSaver. We do this in the workplace. We automatically enrol people into KiwiSaver, and should they choose that that is not what they want, they can opt out. That is the mechanism by which Heather Roy could have achieved what she says this bill is about.
That is what gives the lie to Heather Roy’s motivation behind this bill. This bill is specifically designed to weaken and destroy students associations. There was a mechanism by which she could have achieved voluntary student membership, but this bill is actually about making the environment as difficult as possible for students associations to recruit new members. How can we honestly expect—
Tim Macindoe is asking how that is difficult. I will answer Tim Macindoe’s question. The answer is simple. The Government is asking young people to decide before they arrive at the university, polytechnic, wānanga, or private training establishment—or whatever the institution is that they will study at—whether they think membership of a students association is a good thing. They have no idea what the students association does before they get to—
If they’re bright enough to be there, they’re bright enough to work that out.
No, I completely disagree. It is not a question of whether someone is bright enough, I say to Mr Macindoe; it is a question of whether the information is available. It is ludicrous to expect students associations to make the information about what they offer available to every single potential student in the country. That is absolutely ludicrous. On the meagre resources that students associations have available to them, they should not have to market themselves to every 17-year-old in the country. The universities already waste, in my opinion, millions of dollars marketing themselves to every 17-year-old in the country. Why should the students associations have to follow suit? There is absolutely no good reason why they should.
The easy answer would be to have an opt-out mechanism. They are automatically enrolled—
No, they are automatically enrolled, and then they have the freedom of choice, which this Government bangs on about so much, to opt out at any time that they want to. If students arrive at the university and decide that they do not want their subsidised gym membership, they do not want the advocacy service, and they do not want the representation that is on offer, they can walk away and get their fee back. It is a very, very simple answer, and it would ensure that the students associations had the ability to offer their services to the new students before the students had to make the choice about whether they would be a member.
Here is another example, right here in the bill, of why this bill is more about destroying students associations than it is about giving students choice. Heather Roy, Louise Upston, and various other speakers have all stood up and said that the students association has to offer services that are relevant to the students, and if those services are good, students will choose to join the association. The only problem is that in clause 6 the bill states: “A person who is not a member of a students association may not be required to pay a representation fee to that association for any services that the association provides generally to the institution’s student body.” In other words, freeloading is legislated here in the bill. Even if someone is not a member of the students association, it is legislated that he or she will receive every single one of the services that the students association offers. So there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to join the students association. It could have the best services, and it could have all the reasons why students should want to be a member, but why would someone bother paying the additional fee if he or she got all the services anyway? That is legislated right here in the bill.
This is not about student choice, at all. This is about weakening and destroying one of the most powerful and influential political forces that has existed throughout the history of New Zealand. Students associations in New Zealand have had a voice for students. They have created change. Laws have been passed in this Parliament as a result of lobbying by students associations on behalf of their members, and that is what this is all about. It is about destroying and weakening the voice that students have through their students associations.
Ultimately, what this will really mean for students is increased costs. We know that, because in respect of the services that the students associations do provide, the universities know that they will have to step in, and the universities will not be able to do it at the cost level that the students associations are able to do it at. Furthermore, should they choose to, students ultimately have a say in how their students association fee is spent. They can go to a general meeting, raise issues, and elect the council and executive that they want to be running their students associations. If we take that out of their hands and give it to the tertiary institutions, the students will have to pay, but they will have no say. That is the fact of this bill. It takes away their voice, it weakens their representation, and it increases their costs.
This bill is not about student choice. Let us be honest about what this bill is about. It is about taking away a representative voice for students that has had political influence over the years. The National Party does not like it, the ACT Party does not like it, but I tell you what, the Labour Party thinks students should have that voice, and when we are in Government we will give them that voice back.
It gives me real pleasure to at last take a short call in this third reading of the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill. I do so as a member of the Education and Science Committee. What a fascinating philosophical debate we have had here tonight. We are seeing it all hang out, are we not? Over here, we are talking about freedom of association, not compulsion, and that certainly has come through all of our speeches tonight.
Tonight I pay tribute to one of the many people who have really supported this bill, and that is one Holly Ford, an ardent supporter of the bill, who is celebrating not only the bill’s progress tonight but also her birthday. So I say to Holly that she is in the right place celebrating the progress of this bill. Good on her.
National philosophically believes in getting the most out of every dollar that is spent in tertiary education, whether the individual puts the dollar out there, or the taxpayer—not the Government; always the taxpayer—puts the money out there. There are our two choices: it is either an individual or the taxpayer, via Government funding, who pays.
Getting the best value for money is also about accountability, so when this bill was pulled from the ballot, I took it upon myself, with the assistance of my then intern, Seonah Choi, to look into how, in the financial accounts of each of the students associations, they were spending their money. Fascinating reading, it was, absolutely fascinating. Although I could understand some of the money that was being spent, there seemed an inordinate amount of gravy-training going on. There were a lot of “nice-to-haves”, as we would put it, but there was also some stuff that clearly was a bit suspect. We have heard repeatedly over the years about the misuse of students association funding—it is actually legend. It is not every students association, and I am sure the individual students associations are not proud of that misuse of their funding, but, in fact, accountability was not there. On the part of those who belonged to those students associations, it certainly was never acceptable, but it was compulsory that they must belong to the students association. It was very, very, very difficult for them to opt out, and we have heard repeated examples of that. With students associations being compulsory, students felt they were actually supporting the rorts—unwillingly, but supporting the rorts.
Ultimately, this bill is all about choice, and of course National’s philosophy is to encourage choice and personal responsibility. When a young person decides they need exercise, they will make some choices. They will either go for a run, climb on a bike, or they may decide to join a gym. But if they need exercise, will someone say they must join a gym? Of course they will not. When they head to university, they are actually brighter than Labour thinks they are. We know that from the number of them who voted National.
When they get to university they will make a choice. They will look at what is on offer from the students association, and a number of them whom I have actually spoken to will tell you that they will join. However, they will want value for money, and they will want accountability. They will want to know they are spending their money wisely, and they will vote with their feet if they think that is not happening. This bill allows that to happen.
This bill provides that no student or prospective student in an institution is required to be a member of the association, and it actually prohibits anybody exerting undue influence on them, at all, which seems to be a really good idea. Students who believe they have been under undue pressure may lodge a complaint and it will be heard by the council of the institution. Again, it seems like a good safeguard. Are we getting to some accountability here? I think we are.
The bill states that no person is required to pay a membership fee to a students association, or any alternative fee to the membership fee, unless the person chooses. It sounds like a basic right, does it not? It is hard to believe that the Opposition members can fight so hard for compulsion. When we see the best in New Zealand—and we have certainly seen it this year—when we see the best come out in the students and other New Zealanders, we see it come out in voluntarism. I say now to the Student Volunteer Army that it is so good that they had “Volunteer” in their title, because that is what it is all about. They volunteered to put themselves out, to spend their own time, energy, and probably money on achieving something really good. That is what it should be about: volunteering.
This bill will not destroy good students associations. They will still be able to offer the services they currently do, including advocacy and lobbying, but they will attract their members on merit. What can be wrong with that? Freedom of association and personal choice are things all New Zealanders should enjoy. I am proud to say that from tonight students up and down this country will know that a choice to join a students association is coming their way. I commend this bill to the House.
I start today with a very, very simple question for this House, and that is: “Who are we here to represent?”. I often hear the sop in this House that young people are our future, that we must invest in our young people, that we need to give young people the best start in life, and, perhaps the most ironic statement of all, that young people need a voice. I really question what kind of voice we have given young people over the past 2½ years.
If I were to do a very quick review, it would probably cover the fact that this Government has eroded the chance for young people to have, for instance, the same retirement as members in this House today, by suspending payments to the superannuation fund. Second, the kind of voice we have given young people is a Government that has sliced into young people’s KiwiSaver accounts; a voice via a Government for whom a credible emissions trading scheme does not matter, and which will put young people into debt for 50 years to subsidise heavy polluters; and a voice that refuses to acknowledge that eventually the next generation will not be able to afford to put oil in their cars, but this Government refuses to fund an alternative. Now, to add to the list of shame, the latest voice we have given young people is the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill—a bill that will remove student services, student advocacy, and student voice.
The Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill received almost 5,000 submissions. Members in this House know that 5,000 submissions is substantial. Members in this House know that it is almost unheard of to get as many submissions as that on a bill. What is even more unheard of is getting 98 percent of submitters to agree on one thing, which is that they do not want this bill. Students and young people did not ask for this bill. ACT asked for this bill, so what kind of voice are we giving young people in this House today? So I ask again—I ask again: who are we here to represent? And second, why are we doing this?
Members would have heard from the Government that this bill is going through because of the fallacy that somehow it is providing student choice. Well, do not believe me on this question; let us go to one of the submitters. Why do we not ask for an independent view from the Human Rights Commission? The commission, when asked whether the existing structure and framework we offer in New Zealand actually caused any New Zealand Bill of Rights Act issues in relation to freedom of association, answered—what? It gave a clear no. The Human Rights Commission came to this Parliament and told us that the current structure did not pose any issue to freedom of association.
So I ask again: if this bill is not about choice, what is it about? In fact, let us reflect on what the current structure provides us. Personally, I believe that the current framework already gives students choice, and I would have thought that Tau Henare would agree with that, as well, given that it was National that was behind the clause that allows students to initiate their own referendum. If it is not about choice already, then why have we already seen student unions going voluntary?
We have already heard that Waikato University went voluntary in 1997. I joined that campus in time to watch attempts to switch back. The movement was not a movement of the vice-chancellor, as some pundits would argue. No matter what those out there say, I remember and I saw the cuts that occurred on that campus as a result of voluntary student membership. Students on that campus at that time know that that structure meant that we saw masses cut out of student media, and saw a student radio station fold.
Members can claim whatever they like about the referendum that brought Waikato University back from voluntary student unionism, ultimately, in 2000. They have had 10 years to switch back if they so chose, and they have not. Why? Because it did not work for Waikato University. What about Auckland University? I acknowledge that there are a number of students from Auckland University watching from Shadows bar this evening, and why? Because even though their association has gone voluntary, a large number of students on that campus do not agree with what is happening here tonight.
What of the services that the Auckland University Students Association is able to provide? Well, anyone who was on campus at the rally that occurred this week will have heard Joe McRory, president of the Auckland University Students Association, point out that even Auckland University, under this bill, will experience cuts to services. Even a student union that currently operates as a voluntary student union will experience cuts because of this bill, and to claim otherwise is a complete untruth.
Let me run through it. Under the Education (Compulsory Student Union Services Fees) Notice 2011 there is a list of student services that the Auckland University Students Association and the Auckland University cannot fund. Let us run through the things that Auckland University will no longer have as a consequence of this Government: orientation; student representation through the Auckland University Students Association executive, which it has had since 1891; student representation through clubs, which, again, it has had since 1891; student representation from class reps, which it has had since 1968; and club grants, and Ed Hillary’s historic tramping club is particularly worried about what this bill will mean for it. Also affected are the university games; reorientation; Pacific Island students associations; library services; freshers’ week; courses and careers days; the Māori Students Association—and I acknowledge the advocacy of the Māori Party, in particular, on behalf of our Māori students associations—the student emergency fund; international student advisory services; and pastoral care. All of these services will not be able to be funded as a consequence of the actions of this National-ACT Government.
The House cannot tell me that this bill will not affect student services when it will impact on the ability to raise funds for them and their ability to pay for them. The irony of all of this is that every single member in this House who went to a university experienced and enjoyed the services provided by students associations—the very services that members are now gutting. More than that, these services represent the fibre of our universities. If we want hollow institutions, devoid of ideas and devoid of debate, this bill is part of that. I am by no means the first person to make that claim.
Nicky Hager, in his book The Hollow Men, talked about attempts to squash student unions through the voluntary student membership movement, and that is not something that should be viewed in isolation. It was never just about student services or money. What do most people think when they think about universities and campuses? I know that I always saw them as being about advocacy on behalf of students—for students, by students. Universities have been a place of consciousness, of debate, of academic freedom, of ideas, and of protest.
Unfortunately, I joined Waikato campus at a time when Prebble’s Rebels were having a resurgence, so all of those elements were not quite as strong, but the point remains. These are not just places of learning; they are places where we grow global citizens. Students are not a brief sub-community. They have been our political consciousness, and students associations—
—I say to Tau Henare—have been the backbone of that. To destroy that is to destroy something much greater than just student services. Therein lies the answer. This bill is not about cost.
Tau Henare asks who cares. This bill is not just about cost. It is not about choice and it is not about freedom. It is about the opposite of all of those things. This bill is about removing student voice. I ask again: who are we here to represent? If taking away the voice of students, if taking away the voice of young people, is what those members call representation, then we have failed young people yet again. Shame on those members.
Let us cut to the truth of the matter in terms of what voluntary student membership really means. It means that the passing of the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill will stop the little lefties organising on campus, running back to their generals, captains, and lieutenants in the Labour Party, and using other people’s money for things that are, no doubt, political. If it was such a great organisation to belong to, thousands of people would be lining up outside Parliament today, a bit like the foreshore and seabed. But all we got was bed: 500 people out there waving a few balloons. I tell you what. There was a protest in Auckland, and the protesters locked themselves in—they locked themselves in. There were not 20,000 people, there were not 10,000 people, and there were not 5,000 people. There was a bunch of raggedy old Labour members. That is all that protest was.
I thank my colleague Sir Roger Douglas for giving me 5 or 6 minutes to tell the truth about this bill. What this bill does in no uncertain terms is gut the political animal that is the Labour Party. That is why those members are on their hind legs. That is why they are up tonight. They are on their hind legs. Why do those members not like freedom? Why do they not like choice? Why do they not like democracy? They have the cheek to get up in this House and ask what voice we are giving youth. I will tell members what voice we on this side of the House are giving young people today: democracy, choice, and freedom.
You know, I can remember doing some study. I did not go to university, and that is fine. That is all right; I still have time. At least when I do go to university, I will not be forced into belonging to an organisation that I do not want to belong to. It is simple. It is simple: do not make people do it.
I tell you what. Why should I pay 150 bucks a year at Victoria University just for the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association to buy a van and fix it up—or pimp my ride—when I do not get anything out of it? I would have thought that my young fellow, who is at Victoria, would get at least a dozen rides, or at least a ride in the van, but he did not. It begs the question of where else this money, which the poor old student pays, goes. Where else does that money go? It goes into the coffers of the Labour Party through its organisation. Make no mistake about it: it is nothing more than a little wee bank for the Labour Party.
Kia ora. I cannot wait for democracy and freedom to reign.
I am not sure what I should say, but I do congratulate the member Tau Henare. I will stand for just a moment and congratulate my colleague Heather Roy on what she has achieved tonight in getting the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill passed.
My only regret tonight is that Clayton Cosgrove is not here to enjoy Heather’s success. How many members does the Labour Party have? Is it 30-odd? Oh, it will be 20-odd shortly, if that party is lucky. But of that 30, only one member of the Labour Party actually understands the principle that underlies the bill. I can do no better tonight than to quote Clayton Cosgrove. This is the question he asked: “Why should I as a politician tell you or anyone else what you should belong to?”. He has got it. He has gone to the heart of the bill. It is about freedom—individual choice. He went on to say: “If you want to join the footy club, the workingmen’s club, … It’s your choice …”.
At the end of the day the difference between members on that side of the House and members on this side is very simple. Members on that side of the House want to take people’s money via taxes, or whatever, and tell them how to spend it. In this case those members want to do it by legislation. They want to tell people how to spend their own money. But those members go much deeper than that. They want to tax people and then actually tell them what school they want to go to, what hospital they can go to, and what risk cover they can have.
This bill is about freedom. The point about this bill is very simple. It does not matter whether 95 percent of students want to join the students association. That is their right, and we support them in having that right to choose. But the 5 percent also have the right to opt out, to decide not to join. That is a fundamental—
Well, of course they opt out. They opt out by not joining. It is very simple. I could not care less whether there were 10,000 students and only five did not want to join. That should be their right, and that is what this bill is all about. Clayton Cosgrove understands that, and it is a pity a few more in the Labour Party do not understand it.
I conclude by saying that over time in New Zealand we have come to respect the importance of freedom of association. We in this House have ratified the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees to individuals the freedom of association. I might add, and this is very important, that it explicitly includes the right not to associate.
I congratulate my colleague on the work she has done. New Zealand will be a much better place for having passed this law.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Education (Freedom of Association) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.
Bill read a third time.