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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13174


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (16:23): I move:

That the amendment be agreed to.

In moving that this government amendment be agreed to, I point out to the House that the purpose of the amendment is to implement the recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. This amendment removes the requirement in the Migration Legislation Amendment (Student Visas) Bill 2012 that updated contact information for all international students be given to the Secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Research, Science and Tertiary Education within 14 days of a provider becoming aware of a change. This is in recognition of the recommendations made by the Senate committee and the concerns raised by peak education bodies in their submissions to the Senate committee.

The government will instead propose amendments to the Education Services for Overseas Students Regulations 2001 to ensure that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship receives access to updated student contact details on a six-monthly basis through an automated mechanism or, in the case of certain students, course variations. These proposed amendments are in keeping with the spirit of the recommendations made by the Senate committee.

The passage of this bill will ensure that student visa holders will no longer have to have their visas automatically cancelled and will provide for a fairer cancellation process. These measures also support the international education sector, which is one of Australia's largest export industries.

The passage of this bill will represent what is in effect the only legislation required to implement the recommendations of the Knight review of international education visa settings. This was a very important review commissioned by Minister Evans and me last year to deal with what has been a concerning downturn in relation to Australia's international education sector. We are very committed to ensuring the vibrancy and ongoing sustainability of Australia's international education sector.

As the Knight review itself made clear, there have been a number of factors, and they do not need to be exhaustively detailed in the House today. There have been the high value of the Australian dollar and reputational issues in relation to events affecting Indian students, and of course the government previously found it necessary, because of abuse, to change some international visa settings.

The recommendations of the Knight review are very good ones. Michael Knight consulted very broadly and very intensively in the international education sector. He travelled throughout Australia and to China, India and Malaysia as part of his review. He made a large number of recommendations, the most important of which are the automatic granting of poststudy work rights to people with bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees, in relation to a bachelor's degree of two years duration, a master's of three years duration or a doctorate of four years duration. Of course, this does not replace the automatic 18-month visa for VET or higher education students but is in addition to it. Importantly, this automatic poststudy work right is not related to the field of study. The person who has studied in Australia can work in any field. I think that this provides a very competitive product for Australia's universities and other institutions offering bachelor's degrees and above, to make them very competitive in the international market.

The other key recommendation was streamlined visa and entry processes for universities in the first instance. This has already been implemented and I think is working very well. This is something that has been very warmly welcomed by the university sector in particular. It makes sense that a university take some responsibility and, in return, get streamlined entry. The vast majority of universities—in fact, I would say every single university in Australia—wants to see not only good educational outcomes but good immigration outcomes and wants to ensure that their students, once they have finished their study, only stay in Australia with an appropriate visa.

There is, of course, an important imperative to ensure that this is delivered consistently across the world. There is a small challenge in doing this, when you consider the number of staff that the department of immigration has in many posts throughout the world considering applications from many countries. It is important that we do so in a consistent way. We have put in place measures to ensure that that is the case, and we will continue to monitor that.

Shortly I will be announcing how the government intends to expand this streamlined entry to other institutions. It is fairly straightforward with universities. There are a smaller number and all with a good immigration outcome. That is not the case with the vocational education and training sector, which has a lot of providers, the vast majority of which have good outcomes and do the right thing, but of course we always need to be careful that the outcomes are positive and good. Therefore we have been working to make sure that we get those settings right. I will be making further announcements about this in the not too distant future. International education is very important to universities, to providers, to our economy and to our long-term strategic best interest. I am very glad that these reforms are being implemented and being implemented in a timely way. (Time expired)