Posted by: Chris Cole | November 3, 2008

Compulsory student unionism / fees…

The federal opposition is vehemently opposed to the government’s intention to re-introduce, if not compulsory student unionism, then a fee of identical purpose by another name, for university students across the country. This fee existed until 2005 when the Howard government passed legislation enabling voluntary student unionism, essentially making the fee optional. These are uni students we’re talking about here, so “optional” = “no-one pays it anymore”.

Typically this fee was around the $200-$300 mark, and paid for or subsidised services such as sporting clubs, special interest groups (e.g. extra-curricular engineering or art projects, educational and community service programs), child care facilities, healthy food outlets, free contraceptives, counselling and sexual health advice, and in some cases university health services. In short this fee, while maligned by students, was used to provide a wide range of services which most uni students consider fairly integral to their university life. Not every service was used by every student, obviously, but most of us would make use of union facilities to an appreciable extent, even if only in one or two particular areas.

The opposition feels this is an evil draconian arrangement, however I personally am at a bit of a loss to see the difference between this modest compulsory fee that everyone must pay in order to provide a range of services which not everyone will use equally…. and, for example, basic income taxation, and the Medicare levy.

They would argue that the student who never plays any sport at uni, never uses child care, never sees the university health centre doctor, etc., should not be burdened with paying for other students to do so. Why do they not take the same approach to taxation? If I don’t own a car, why should I pay for roads? If I don’t use the public health system, why should I pay the Medicare levy? These questions have obvious and simple answers. What I fail to understand is why the opponents of compulsory student union fees do not apply the same simple logic to such an analagous situation.

Can someone perhaps enlighten me with a sane argument for why student union fees are bad but universal taxation and the Medicare levy are sensible?



  1. You have a university with about….. 20 Services give or take, then you have the country of Australia which has how many services? I have no idea, even to put a ballpark figure, sure its alot more than 20. Triple or possibly quad figures. And yes Joe Blogs could go to uni without using one of the services, this will NEVER EVER EVER EVER be the case with the services of a country. My view on your question is that even if joe blogs doesnt use roads, im sure he uses services that require road travel like food and mail. If he doesnt use the road with his car, does he only ride on the nature strip? Which would be maintained by the council? Where does he take his rubbish at the end of the week? Does he live by candlelight at night? I could go on.

    The public health system levy is there as a fallback. Can you imagine what would happen if you could nominate to be included in medicare services, instead of being compulsory? You dont know when you are going to need an emergency room or medication, you cant plan for something like that! And in my opinion, should most definitely be in place for the simple fact that if it wasnt, then it could send the public broke in the time of need, and make more paperwork and headaches to the administrators and human mechanics like yourself.

    My point is that compared to Union fees in a university and the Australian taxation system you are trying to compare apples and oranges.

    Reasonable argument do you think?

  2. Yep… reasonable argument in support of taxation and the medicare levy… pretty much the reasoning I didn’t elaborate on in my original post (“These questions have simple and obvious answers…”).

    Not to imply you’re simple or obvious… 🙂 but yes there are straightforward reasons why universal taxation (including medicare) for essential services is a good idea.

    My point is that it is a little tricky to then suggest that university union fees are diametrically opposite… an incredibly bad idea… without essentially contradicting the logic that tells you taxation is good.

    You point out that Joe Bloggs has a better chance of not using some uni services than he has of not using societal/government services at large, and this is indeed true, but it is only a matter of scale and amortisation.

    The main reason this difference in utilisation will occur is simply that Joe is only going to be at uni for a few years or so, while he lives in society at large for his whole life. (This assumes Joe is neither a professional/perpetual student, nor a freaky self-sufficient hermit later in life). If he was to spend forever at uni (and some of us feel like we did), he would almost certainly end up making significant use of the services which the compulsory fees fund.

    You may not think it’s likely you’d get value for money by going through say, $250 worth of free condoms from the student union in a year… but… well, it depends where your priorities lay while at uni… 😉

  3. I see your point, and I do understand that I did not attend university myself, so I dont have the intelectual capacity to use big words. But I think your getting your wires crossed with the fact I never said taxation is good nor bad.

    Next time you ask for a response you should be a bit clearer, you said yourself these questions have simple answers, maybe you already answered it yourself but just didnt know it.

    I will quote you here:

    “Can someone perhaps enlighten me with a sane argument for why student union fees are bad but universal taxation and the Medicare levy are sensible?”

    Simple question will always get a simple response.

  4. Relaaaaax, Adrian. Down, boy. 🙂 I was not implying anything about the intellectualism or otherwise of people who attend uni versus those who don’t. And no, you never said taxation was good. Your point seemed to be I was comparing two fundamentally different things. I disagree.

    I probably wasn’t clear enough about what I was getting at, or elaborated a bit too much on tangential aspects of it.

    The gist of what I was trying to say is that I think both systems, taxation and compulsory student union fees, are there to serve the same purpose for their respective institutions… society and the university student population, respectively. They are both compulsory fees, levied on the entire population, to provide funding for services provided to that population.

    Most people would agree that whether a given individual utilises the majority of those services is largely irrelevant, as our basic ethical or moral guidelines suggest that there are certain services to which everybody should have access, but which would be prohibitively and unfairly expensive if only those requiring that service were required to fully fund it (health care is the most obvious example).

    It is in this pragmatic sense that I suggested that taxation is “good”, insofar as it acts to more fairly distribute the burden of providing services which are expensive but deemed necessary in a civilised and ethical society.

    So my original question was and is, in what important respect is the logical argument that taxation is good or fair, somehow not applicable in the case of compulsory student union fees? Why does the federal opposition think that taxation is fair, but student union fees are not?

  5. Ok Chris, I see exactly what you are saying. And I appologise for my somewhat prude reply.

    Basically, the answer to your question is simple, but I believe you are looking WAY to deep for your answer. If I ask someone how their day was, If they stood there and told me EVERY step of what they did all day I would soon lose interest and walk away. Probably not the best comparison, but do you see what I mean?

    Like I said in my first reply, I think you are comparing apples and oranges to the fact that if you drop a grain of sand (representing union fees) into a still pond (representing Australia as a whole) you will barely notice any effect. Then if you drop a boulder (Representing the australian tax system) you will get very large ripples and a huge splash.

    ANY system for any country or community needs to benefeit the majority, whether that be decdided by the people or the peoples vote in the house of representatives. Either way its the majority which needs to benefeit from any system (as much as it can realisticly). So in the case of a university (tax system) which is what you are implying union fees are, the majority would benefeit by not paying for services they dont use. Whether the students are at university or living in the community as a whole without union fees, they will ALWAYS pay tax no matter what. So why should students who are struggling enough as it is to get by each week be forced to pay tax twice?

    You asked:
    “Why does the federal opposition think that taxation is fair, but student union fees are not?”

    My Answer: I dont believe you are asking a realistsic comparitable question! And please refeer to my first paragraph in my first reply AGAIN for clarity.

    My Conclusion this time around is that I dont think anyone but a politician representing the federal opposition could answer your question down to the descriptive level you are looking for. I gave it my best shot.

    Over and Out.

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