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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1888


Senator MACKLIN(5.58) — We are debating the Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill 1984 and the International Development Association ( Further Payment) Bill 1984. I wish to address my remarks only to the first Bill, the Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill. I think that the private overseas student program is in disarray. As Senator Peter Baume, who has just spoken in the debate, mentioned, a number of reports have been made on this matter which, in many material ways, are in conflict. We are dealing with legislation which in an ad hoc fashion increases charges but which really does not address the central issue or the concerns which currently are being expressed within the community. There is no doubt that some parts of our program support the policies of other countries which we in Australia would find abhorrent. Our program is not flexible enough to take into account the type of-


Senator Peter Baume —Racism in Malaysia.


Senator MACKLIN —Yes. We have a number of problems in this area. In previous debates I have gone through a number of them. In today's debate, because of the shortage of time, I wish to look at only two matters, the first of which is the need to make sure that in subsequent years we make it very clear that the budgeting in this area is going to the overseas student program essentially as part of our foreign aid program. I believe it needs to be designated quite clearly as that, because at the moment there is in the community a great deal of unrest. Quite a number of parents are expressing the view-although it is an erroneous view, they still feel very strongly about it-that their daughter or son is being deprived of the benefit of an education in a tertiary institution because places are being taken by overseas students. However, if we rearranged the budgeting, and did nothing else, we could show that those overseas student places were being provided as part of our obligations to other countries, in Oceania and South East Asia in particular.

We need to fulfil those obligations, and I believe we should be proud that this country has fulfilled them in the past and should hope that it will increase its role in the future. Many developing countries in the Pacific area require professionals in a whole range of disciplines. The best contribution that Australia can make to aiding those countries is not to go there and direct them what they ought to do with their resources, how they ought to run their businesses or how they should conduct themselves in relation to agriculture, but to provide free of charge to the citizens of those countries the expertise that they believe they need. Then the citizens of those countries can go back and help in the development of the Pacific region. By doing that we will build up for ourselves, if one wants to look at it selfishly, a great deal of goodwill, because undoubtedly those people in due course will become leaders in their countries. We will then have an enormous amount of goodwill in the relationships between Australia and the many republics in the Pacific and in South East Asia which will undoubtedly mean a growth in trade between the various countries.

Unfortunately we often do not spell out some of the selfish benefits to Australia of foreign aid. Quite apart from the altruistic support that it gives, Australia benefits itself in the long run from the money it provides to other countries. We get an ability to establish trade links that we could not get in any other way. I believe that our overseas students program is a vital part of what we do in education. It is vital to any reasonable foreign affairs policy of any government. That is why the Australian Democrats are worried by the reports of the Goldring Committee of Review of Private Overseas Student Policy and of the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program. As I understand it, we are still having difficulties. One rumour that came to me was that three departments had spent about seven weeks arguing about who was going to be on an interdepartmental committee to systematise the difference between those two reports.


Senator Peter Baume —At least Jackson does what you want-makes it specific to foreign aid.


Senator MACKLIN —But the point I am making is that we have two reports, yet we do not have a definitive view from the Government spelling out where we should be going. I wish to raise only briefly another area in relation to overseas students, that is, the British example. At the moment Britain is making considerable headway in providing courses for students from many other countries , in particular intensive English language courses. Those courses are attracting people from a wide range of countries and, in doing so, are attracting dollars. In other words, the British are looking at their educational institutions as an export. I believe we in Australia have really failed, because the vast bulk of the billion dollar English language industry operating in the United Kingdom is produced for Asian students. Yet I would have thought that Australia was better positioned than Britain to provide that educational service-at a fee. Students are paying for that service in Britain. It is a totally different service from the one I was talking about previously which, if we do it in the right way as part of our foreign aid, can be seen by everybody to be such. But I am talking now about an education export industry, which we could base on our tertiary institutions, not only in English language but also in other areas-


Senator Peter Baume —Additional to the foreign aid.


Senator MACKLIN —Yes, in addition to the foreign aid and paid for by the people who come here. They would pay for it; it would be a service.


Senator Hill —If you are going on to the open market you have to offer a good service.


Senator MACKLIN —Australia can offer the best service in the world in English language courses. We have the expertise. We have the people. All we need is the support to be able to produce that industry and to make it tick. It will tick partly by piggy-backing on the expertise and partly by selling the product overseas. It is time we in Australia started actually listening to some of the ideas which are being and have been produced, including the ideas that Barry Jones, the Minister for Science and Technology in the Labor Government, has been producing about the need for us to look ahead and at other types of industries. Here is one we have ploughed an enormous amount of capital into and which could be useful as an export industry. The spin-off from it would be two-fold. The first advantage would be the provision of updated institutions for our own citizens in which they could take pride. For example, it is very expensive to provide a top-class language laboratory in a wide range of our tertiary institutions, but if such an operation could be supported by using education as an export our own students would be able to partake of the facilities.

In addition, we would have an even wider range of contacts with other countries . For example, if people were to come to Australia to learn English they would do so for a reason, and the reason would be trade and business. The more of those people we can get here to show them the value of our community, the friendliness of our people, the abilities we have in this country and our willingness to work with other countries towards the development of a peaceful world, the greater will be our benefit in trade. We can gain advantage in a whole number of ways. We can get it in pure dollars from the industry itself and we can get it again later from the establishment of the very real personal and interpersonal links which mean so much in the trading world.

We have here an opportunity which we should have grasped long ago. It is an opportunity which we can have only by not listening to the knockers in our society, to those types of people who are afraid of talking to people in other countries, who want to be insular and not go out and who do not want to open up this country and show the rest of the world what we have while they show us what they have. We have an enormous amount to learn, but we also have an enormous amount to teach and to give. In doing that we can benefit not only ourselves but also the rest of the world. I believe that the Government has an obligation to move rapidly to clarify its view and to show a very strong, positive move in this regard. We have a great opportunity; let us grasp it. Let us not leave it for another six months, another nine months, another year, another departmental committee, and for probably yet another inquiry. There is very little that we do not know about this area. What we do not know is what decisions the Government wants to make. We do not need any more evidence, we need decisions. This Government has to make those decisions. It has to give leadership. It has to show that we have a great thing going in this area.