The majority voted against a motion introduced by Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young that: That the Senate— (a) recognises that university enrolments for 2009 are due to begin in the week beginning 28 September 2008 around the country; (b) notes: (i) the summary report, The impact of voluntary student unionism on services, amenities and representation for Australian university students [480 KB], dated April 2008, that specifically highlighted the devastating impact voluntary student unionism (VSU) has had on the quality of student support services on campuses across the country, (ii) the alternative solutions to the current system of VSU put forward by a number of key stakeholders, including a proposal based on a combination of shared funding arrangements between students, universities and government, and (iii) the Government’s commitment to restoring essential student services and representation; and (c) calls on the Minister for Education (Ms Gillard) to confirm before enrolments for the 2009 university calendar commence, that the current system of VSU will be scrapped to address the regressive impact VSU has had on student services and the educational experience, to ensure any change in legislation is in place before 2010.

This was a [ substantive motion] [924 KB], meaning that it was a “self-contained proposal... drafted in a form capable of expressing a decision or opinion of the House”.

Someone who voted Aye supported the motion. Since the majority voted No, the motion was unsuccessful. This means that the majority of the Senate disagreed with the motion.

Debate in Parliament

The Labor Government joined the Coalition Opposition in voting against this motion.

Labor Senator Joe Ludwig confirmed that "[t]he government’s consultations on VSU [voluntary student unionism] have supported our view that this policy has had a substantial negative impact for students and the higher education sector".(Read Senator Ludwig's discussion here.) He said "[w]e want to provide a sustainable and robust solution" but that the government "will of course not be rushed on this and is undertaking a proper process to ensure it gets the policy right".

Background to the motion

Voluntary student union fees were introduced by then Prime Minister John Howard’s Coalition Government with the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Upfront Student Union Fees) Bill 2005. This meant that universities could no longer require students to pay a compulsory fee for facilities, amenities or services that were not of an academic nature.


Votes Not passed by a large majority

Nobody rebelled against their party.

Party Votes
Australian Greens (100% turnout) 5 Yes 0 No
Bob Brown Tasmania Yes
Sarah Hanson-Young SA Yes
Scott Ludlam WA Yes
Christine Milne Tasmania Yes
Rachel Siewert WA Yes
Australian Labor Party (81% turnout) 0 Yes 25 No
Mark Arbib NSW No
Catryna Bilyk Tasmania No
Mark Bishop WA No
Carol Brown Tasmania No
Doug Cameron NSW No
Kim Carr Victoria No
Jacinta Collins Victoria No
Trish Crossin NT No
Don Farrell SA No
David Feeney Victoria No
Michael Forshaw NSW No
Mark Furner Queensland No
Annette Hurley SA No
Steve Hutchins NSW No
Joe Ludwig Queensland No
Kate Lundy ACT No
Gavin Marshall Victoria No
Anne McEwen SA No
Jan McLucas Queensland No
Claire Moore Queensland No
Helen Polley Tasmania No
Louise Pratt WA No
Nick Sherry Tasmania No
Glenn Sterle WA No
Dana Wortley SA No
Stephen Conroy Victoria Absent
Chris Evans WA Absent
John Faulkner NSW Absent
Kerry O'Brien Tasmania Absent
Ursula Stephens NSW Absent
Penny Wong SA Absent
Nigel Scullion NT Country Liberal Party No
Alan Ferguson SA Deputy President No
Steve Fielding Victoria Family First Party No
Nick Xenophon SA Independent No
Liberal Party (80% turnout) 0 Yes 24 No
Eric Abetz Tasmania No
Judith Adams WA No
Guy Barnett Tasmania No
Cory Bernardi SA No
Simon Birmingham SA No
Sue Boyce Queensland No
David Bushby Tasmania No
Michaelia Cash WA No
Richard Colbeck Tasmania No
Helen Coonan NSW No
Mathias Cormann WA No
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells NSW No
Mary Fisher SA No
Gary Humphries ACT No
David Johnston WA No
Helen Kroger Victoria No
Ian Macdonald Queensland No
Brett Mason Queensland No
Nick Minchin SA No
Stephen Parry Tasmania No
Michael Ronaldson Victoria No
Scott Ryan Victoria No
Judith Troeth Victoria No
Russell Trood Queensland No
George Brandis Queensland Absent
Alan Eggleston WA Absent
Chris Ellison WA Absent
Mitch Fifield Victoria Absent
Bill Heffernan NSW Absent
Marise Payne NSW Absent
National Party (40% turnout) 0 Yes 2 No
Ron Boswell Queensland No
John Williams NSW No
Barnaby Joyce Queensland Absent
Julian McGauran Victoria Absent
Fiona Nash NSW Absent
John Hogg Queensland President No
Totals (80% turnout) 5 Yes – 56 No