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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2632


Senator MACKLIN(3.19) —The report on Private Overseas Student Policy, as the previous speaker has suggested, is a very large one. It has a very large number of detailed recommendations. In the short time available to me I wish to concentrate on only two. One is the connection of the overseas students office to the Department of Education. I am not at all sure that that is the correct Department to which it should be attached. We are talking about educational matters but I wonder whether responsibility for overseas students should be a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs rather than for the Department of Education. I think that overall this matter may be better handled by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It may be seen precisely and clearly to be so, not only by other countries but also by our own citizens who consider this as a matter of foreign aid.

We have a significant and very important obligation to countries in our region to provide, through our tertiary institutions, as much aid and assistance as we can. Otherwise, the contribution that Australia makes in the international forum and the much talk about the North-South dialogue by the previous Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, will be pure rhetoric. We have a very strong moral obligation to our own region. I can think of no better way of assisting countries in our region than by providing places in our tertiary institutions.


Senator Peter Baume —And funding them, I guess.


Senator MACKLIN —The funding issue is one that I wish to come to now, briefly. The funding of overseas students ought to be entirely separate from the education budget. It ought to be seen as part of our aid to other countries. In relation to funding, when one looks at the report one misses entirely the economics of the matter. I have pointed out previously and again I point out that Australia is now very concerned about the development of our tourist industry. When we talk about that we talk about the jobs that flow from having tourists come to Australia and from the money that they bring in. When one does a cost-benefit study on most of our overseas students one discovers that they leave more money in Australia than our educating them actually costs. I suggest that more detailed understanding of the economics of this issue in the wider community may go a long way towards alleviating a lot of the concern that people have.

I share the point of view expressed by Senator Baume that the way we go about things is important; not only what we do, but how we are seen to be doing it. I think it is extremely important to show to our own citizens that the places we provide in our tertiary institutions to people of other countries are provided in addition to those places which are provided for in our educational budget, that they are provided because we have a moral obligation to other countries and we wish to show that as a developed country we have a lot to contribute to other people.

Finally, the contribution of students who comes to Australia can never be counted in dollar terms. Upon their return to their own country, undoubtedly almost every one of them becomes an important ambassador for this country. While we may not see an immediate return in dollar terms, we will certainly see, over the years, increasing return by way of bilateral relations between our countries and by a growth in the international community of goodwill between all nations.