Revelations in Senate Estimates show that Youth Minister Kate Ellis is at odds with her Department in no less than three areas over the review into voluntary student unionism.
Senator Simon Birmingham said Ms Ellis and officials today contradicted each other on:
1. the timing of when the report into VSU was provided to her;
2. the government’s commitment to not reintroducing compulsory student fees; and
3. the allocation of funds to student amenities this year.
1. Contradiction on timing
On the 28th of April Ms Ellis was “expected to receive a report on VSU by the end of the month.” (Australian Financial Review, 28/4/08)
But Dr Wendy Jarvie, Deputy Secretary, DEEWR, today said “we provided advice to her on the 23rd of April.” (EEWR Estimates, 5/6/08)
2. Contradiction on fees
Ms Lisa Paul, Secretary, DEEWR, told the February Additional Estimates hearings that “the Minister has said she will not be reinstating compulsory student fees.” (Page 126, EEWR Additional Estimates Hansard, 20/2/08)
But Senator Kim Carr, representing Ms Ellis, today backed away from those comments, confirming only that the Government does not intend to reintroduce compulsory membership of student unions, but leaving open the option of compulsory fees. (EEWR Estimates, 5/6/08)
3. Contradiction on funding
In response to questions on funding student amenities Ms Ellis has said “the Government’s $500 million Better Universities Renewal Funding will substantially benefit students.” (The Australian, 15/5/08)
But Mr Colin Walters, Group Manager, Higher Education Fund, DEEWR today said there was “no guarantee” any of the $500 million will reach student amenities and “no requirement” for it to be spent on student amenities. (EEWR Estimates, 5/6/08)
“The Government’s policy on VSU is shifting day by day,” Senator Birmingham said.
“No wonder officials and Senator Carr refused to confirm whether Ms Ellis’ $50,000 report would be released publicly, despite the terms of reference being public, consultation undertaken publicly and submissions being made public.
“Amongst all of their contradictions lies the worst news for students, that Labor is leaving the door open to reintroducing compulsory fees, despite early assurances to the contrary.
“Ms Ellis should stop sitting on her secret report and make clear her plans on VSU.”