Voluntary Student Unionism

Current Issues

Voluntary Student Unionism

E-Brief: Online Only issued 14 March 1999

Dr Kim Jackson, Analysis and Policy
Social Policy Group


  • On 21 December 1998 the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, the Hon. Dr David Kemp, announced that the Government would introduce legislation in 1999 to ensure that university students have the right to choose whether they wish to join a student association and pay union fees.The Minister's media release can be obtained here.
  • the Liberal Party's Higher Education Election Policy contains a section on voluntary student unionism.
  • On the 22 December 1998 the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee issued a press release on this matter. The AVCC has also released a Policy Paper on student organisations.
  • Members and Senators can obtain Background Notes on this issue from Kim Jackson.

Related Legislation

  • The Higher Education Funding Act contains the conditions attached to university grants. The Government proposes to amend these conditions so that institutions will incur a financial penalty if they require students to pay fees that will go to a student union as membership dues or for the provision of campus amenities and services.
  • In 1996 the Government introduced the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill (No.2) 1996. This was intended to remove provisions relating to the Student Organisation Support Program, an initiative of the former Labor Government designed to negate State legislation preventing the levying of compulsory student union fees. The Bill was the subject of a Senate Committee report (not available online) and did not proceed. The Senate debate on the report is available. A Bills Digest which contains background on the student unionism issue is available.
  • In Western Australia the Voluntary Membership of Student Guilds and Associations Act was passed by the State Parliament in December 1994. The legislation stipulates that membership of a student association is to be voluntary and that no student is to be required to pay any subscription or fee that is not directly related to an educational course. This means that students cannot be made to pay amenities and services fees, as well as union membership fees. The Act amended the establishing Acts of all Western Australian universities. An example of its provisions can be found here.
  • In Victoria the Tertiary Education (Amendment) Act 1994 was assented to in June 1994. The Act provides that the governing body of any Victorian post-secondary educational institution must not require any student to be a member of an organisation of students, or to pay a compulsory fee for membership of such an organisation. The Act permits the charging of compulsory services and amenities fees but limits the expenditure of such fees to defined activities of direct benefit to the students at the institution. Victorian legislation can be accessed here.



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