The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:34): I rise today on behalf of the Greens to staunchly oppose this bill. This legislation is yet another shift from a university, in this case Flinders University, away from being a not-for-profit education provider to being a fully-fledged corporate entity with a board of directors, directors’ fees and corporate allowances, but with very little external oversight. It was bad enough when recently this parliament supported the removal of positions of students and staff, diminishing their number on this university’s council. We cannot continue this bizarre march towards corporatisation in our universities.
The Greens have spoken to stakeholders. We were alarmed but not surprised to discover that the university and the government had not consulted staff or students, and that the National Tertiary Education Union was unaware of the introduction of this bill and certainly not consulted, and definitely not supportive. Why was their input not sought? This is particularly troubling as these amendments to the legislation were apparently requested by Flinders University itself, clearly showing that the internal democracy of that organisation is not something to be trusted. In correspondence I have from the NTEU it states:
It once again shows that management does not believe key stakeholders matter in such decisions, which also then draws attention to the motivations behind the bill. Universities exist for the public benefit and Council members should serve on Council for no other reason than to serve the public good. Period.
Another question to consider when it comes to this particular bill is: why do only some members of the council need to be paid? Why do they need to be paid at all and, for that matter, if we are paying some, then why not all? These are questions that I think go to the very motivations behind these changes.
This bill splits representation into paid and unpaid councillors in that democratic institution creating a two-tiered and loaded system. Actually, it is even worse than that, because under this legislation the council may fix different amounts of remuneration for different members according to the office held by the members or, and I quote, ‘other factors.’ What are those other factors? I would like the government to explain. Certainly the university has not explained it to their students or staff. Will it be, for example, how agreeable a council member is for Flinders University management purposes? If they vote the right way, will they be looking at a pay rise? If they vote the wrong way, will they have their allowance stripped? How unobstructive they are on council should never determine the amount they are remunerated.
Will the decisions perhaps be made on seniority, their pliability or whether or not they turn up to meetings? We have no detail whatsoever in this bill as to how those decisions will be made, but we have the track record of this university in recent times: their recent changes to the structure of the university council to rob staff and students of their democratic voice and the way the administration has handled the changes recently at Flinders University gives cold comfort to all students and staff within that institution.
I also ask how these changes disapply section 18C of the act so that council members will not be in breach of their duty when it comes to conflicts of interest in relation to the making of determinations regarding remuneration. Those on council will now be able to set their own and others’ remuneration and will be put in a position where they decide that as a council. I do not even want to start considering the potential games that could be played with this piece of legislation, let alone using potential lowered/raised, non-existent, or promised remuneration as leverage for supporting or blocking proposals put up by management.
It does beg the question: how will this affect the decision-making of the university council at Flinders University? This bill is modelled on similar legislation that exists for the University of South Australia, which also allows for the remuneration of council members. We have heard that since the introduction of the remuneration, dissenting voices on council have strangely diminished. People do not want to lose their remuneration, so perhaps it is best to just play along, right? This could lead to some really awful consequences for both students and staff at our universities and for our universities themselves.
The purpose of a university council is to provide democratic oversight and accountability over the university’s management, not to quietly sign off and agree to everything that university management puts forward. Further, if councillors do need to be attracted to serve on that university council with promises of payment, then I think we should rightly question their motivations for being on that council in the first place.
The Greens believe that universities should be funded through a fair taxation base, free to access and based not on what your bank balance looks like but your brains and your capacity to contribute. For the public good, universities are public democratic institutions and this is yet one more unacceptable step towards their corporatisation. We do not support that and we oppose this bill.