The Greatest Generation Delivers

by on 27 November, 2015


The current Young Liberals and Liberal Students fight against the SSAF and parallel import restrictions on books deserves considerable praise, writes Josh Manuatu: 

This week, the ACT Young Liberals hosted a drinks event with Mathias Cormann, Zed Seselja, Nick Cater and Miranda Devine – the first three speakers spoke about the importance of standing up for the things we believe in and not being afraid of doing so, before Miranda Devine poignantly said that our generation is the greatest generation.

Since that night, the world for Young Liberals and Liberal Students has changed exponentially with two major breakthroughs on key matters of principle – things that have been fought for and championed by Young Liberals and Liberal Students. Little did I realise that so quickly after the event, a couple of people in the room would go on to prove Miranda Devine correct.

For years, successive ALSF Presidents (in particular Christian Street and Evan Mulholland) had advocated the abolition of Parallel Import Restrictions – a copyright restriction that stops the importation of cheaper books printed overseas. For young people, the restrictions have directly hit the hip pocket with university textbooks costing as much as 35% more according to the Productivity Commission. Despite recommendations from the PC in 2009 that the restrictions be abolished, successive governments have failed to act. Until now.

In response to the Harper Review, the Government this week announced that it would remove the restrictions when a further Productivity Commission inquiry into intellectual property is complete. Despite the campaign that has already begun from some protectionist authors, the Government has remained resolute in its position. As a result of campaigns spearheaded by Christian and Evan, every single student in Australia will benefit as early as next year.

I thought this was the biggest achievement that was going to happen for a while and something that we could all walk away from, proud to achieve. Until I ran into Jack McGuire and Will Taylor who had spent months lobbying the crossbench off their own back on the Student Services and Amenities Fee. And better yet, for no other reason than it was something that they are passionate about.
The ACT Young Liberals, like every State YL Division, along with the Federal Young Liberals have established policy to abolish the SSAF for the reasons we all know. It’s unfair, undemocratic and unjust, and more still it’s often used for junkets, rorts and ripoffs. It flies in the face of everything we believe in. Forced union membership, results and graduation held hostage and, in many cases, zero accountability.

Jack and Will’s proposal (which is now a proposal advanced by 4 members of the Senate crossbench) was that SSAF shouldn’t be levied unless an annual ballot of all students support it. A common-sense and middle of the road proposal similar to the approach adopted in New Zealand which has seen students reject traditional student unionism but, in fairness, support the levying of fees where there is greater accountability and superior services being provided.

But more still, they backed up this argument with the fact that SSAF hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in student support staff, polling that shows 70% of students would prefer a SSAF where they have a say in whether it’s levied or not.

This is something that was absolutely embraced by the crossbench and saw 5 crossbench Senators sign a motion to that effect to be brought on in the Senate. That in itself is a huge achievement for two guys with an idea without any backing whatsoever from any party or lobbying machine.

But things got better still. Over the course of the 24 hours following I joined Jack and Will for meetings with Liberal and Nationals backbenchers, for a meeting with the Education Minister and with the Prime Minister’s office. Their work had forced SSAF onto the agenda of government like almost no other.

When the motion came on for a vote, sadly the Government’s position was to not support the motion. That said, when the division was called something phenomenal happened – 4 crossbenchers supported the motion, along with 2 Liberal Senators who crossed the floor but impressively not a single Liberal Senator voted against the motion, most of which remained in the chamber and actively abstained, leaving only the Nationals to vote with Labor and the Greens to oppose it. A huge achievement by any standard.

An even bigger achievement when you remember that they did this as basically a two-man-band with some late support from Young Liberal Presidents from around the country along with a smattering of Liberal Students led by Liam Staltari from the west (but sadly there wasn’t any support from ALSF).

While the motion was defeated, the Government including Nationals Senators have indicated since the vote that they are open to further discussions around the SSAF and to see how governance and transparency arrangements can be improved.

The opening that has been created must be seized. It is important that all of us who believe passionately in freedom of association now work constructively to achieve a positive result.
While knighthoods might be gone, Jack McGuire, Will Taylor and Liam Staltari certainly deserve some kind of medal. The greatest generation indeed.
Josh Manuatu is ACT Young Liberal President and a Liberal Staffer

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