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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8584

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (13:41): I join with my colleague the member for Herbert in his wise and profound remarks on the Education Services for Overseas Student (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011 and cognate bill.

A government member interjecting—

Mr HAWKE: Good remarks! The member for Herbert and I have been compared to Waldorf and Statler occasionally in question time, but we are actually funnier than those two, I think. This is an important piece of legislation and I do want to join with the member for Herbert in what he was saying about the smaller providers. Quite often when this government acts, there is a series of unintended consequences to its legislation it does not consider. The small player is often ignored by this government. While it may seem appropriate from the recommendations of the Baird report to review registration fees as proposed by this bill, there is a lot of diversity in the smaller colleges. Colleges with small overseas student numbers are delivering courses to overseas students for reasons related to expanding their educational mission, broadening the cultural mix of their campuses and not necessarily for a commercial imperative. It can often be counterproductive to increase such costs for smaller providers. Because of the nature of higher education there is often a diversity of courses offered by particular colleges. It is not necessarily the case that increasing fees produces the best outcome. Some colleges, for example, register fewer than 20 foreign students and they will face a sixfold increase in registration fees. That is not a desirable outcome.

This sector, we are told, is our third largest export industry, earning up to $17 billion—that is, before the recent turbulence in the industry. It is an issue we have to take very seriously, because there is an expanding middle class in Asia and wealth being generated in many countries. The international student market is very competitive and it is a market that Australia certainly wants to access. It is the role of government to recognise and promote the inherent worth of international and transnational education. This parliament has a great role to play by recognising it and encouraging it for our nation. Our economic and strategic interests in the region mean that we should be seeking to do everything we can to promote an international education focus in Australia to make us a regional hub for international and transnational education.

We do not oppose this legislation and we see some worth in increasing the registration fees and charges. Of course, there is a subset of issues that I have spoken about in this place before in relation to the private service providers, and colleges in particular. I think the member for Herbert elegantly explained that the colleges in his area, small colleges closer to Papua New Guinea than Brisbane—a very important point—are often the unintended consequences of these blanket pieces of legislation that we pass here in Canberra—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The member for Mitchell will have time to continue his remarks at a later hour.