Our say | Money for access is the problem, not CSU

THE question of whether Charles Sturt University has done the right thing or wrong thing in buying its way into Liberal Party fundraisers is all a matter of your perspective.

The Western Advocate reveals today that CSU has spent more than $2500 over the past 12 months to meet with NSW Liberal Party powerbrokers to continue its push to establish a rural medical school.

In terms of an annual budget that runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the $2665 outlay is a drop in the ocean.

But the spending does seem to fly in the face of an auditor-general recommendation that “universities should ensure their policies prohibit political donations”.

So does buying some seats at a series of government meetings amount to making a donation?

Many would say yes, and just as many would say no.

Certainly CSU has not tried to hide the spending, nor did the university shy away when questioned about it by the Western Advocate.

Right or wrong, though, most would agree that what we’re seeing here is the reality of the world of political lobbying.

And if anyone is at fault, it must surely be the party (and any party, at that) that seeks to profit from being in government by selling access to senior ministers.

The case for a rural medical school is too strong for it to be dragged into this tawdry sort of politicking.

The problem for CSU is that Sydney’s sandstone universities are wary of ceding their dominant position as trainers of the nation’s doctors, particularly to upstarts from the bush.

These same sandstone universities boast strong old boy and old girl networks that deliver regular access to the upper echelons of political power, whether at a post-budget update or in a more informal setting.

So if CSU feels it has to buy a ticket to try and match that access, then the fault is with the system rather than with CSU trying to make the most of it.

It may be the state Liberal Party that is selling access in this instance but all parties at both state and federal level adopt the same strategy when they’re in power.

So has CSU transgressed in terms of political donations? That may be up to the auditor-general to decide.

But if $2665 brings our region closer to a medical school of its own, then we must all agree it is money well spent/