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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3245

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(12.20) —I thank Senator Peter Baume for his constructive approach to this matter. As I have admitted, there is some merit in the suggestion of students being able to pay by instalments. The suggestion was made to me by representatives of overseas students a couple of months ago. We looked at the matter. I am happy to say that we will look at it again. We rejected it after having examined, in terms of the Budget, the administrative costs involved. But there is no reason why we cannot look at it again, as Senator Peter Baume has suggested. I have recently announced the establishment of an overseas students council with overseas student representation to be chaired by Professor Goldring. It may well be that that council will wish to look at this matter.

By way of warning I simply say that Senator Macklin seems to think that only a few students would want to take advantage of an instalment plan. Once such a plan existed there is no reason why all students would not want to take part because there would be some financial advantage in their doing so. We would not just be looking at an instalment plan for some students. We are not in a position to judge the relative hardship of students. We would be looking at making this plan available to 18,000 students. The administrative costs would be very high. However, in the spirit of the constructive suggestion that has been made I will certainly undertake to see whether it is possible to have a cost efficient instalment plan made available to students.

I also thank Senator Peter Baume for his comments on media reports surrounding deportations. He said that they were unfair. I agree. I remind the Committee, too, that every year about 18,000 overseas students study in Australia. The maximum number that might end up having to return home, being deported, in a year would be no more than a half a dozen. One can get entirely out of proportion the fact that in some cases students have not kept to the conditions under which they came here and have been sent home. A maximum of half a dozen being deported in a year when 18,000 students study here is not a great number. This does not suggest that there is any harsh application of the deportation provisions.

I refer to bad publicity in host countries. There has been criticism of the program from time to time. I have been in the region and have had discussions with governments and the media. Some criticism is inevitable, as it is in Australia, where any increase in any cost will attract criticism from some groups and attract media coverage. There is criticism, for example, in the Malaysian Press about increases in costs and occasionally about a deportation. I make it clear that the Government of Malaysia has no criticisms of the increase in costs. I have had very extensive discussions with the education Minister, the Prime Minister and others involved. They understand our economic circumstances. They appreciate our need to put up the costs. Honourable senators will notice that there is no government criticism. Criticism arises as it does anywhere in Australia when any cost or charge goes up. People do not like paying more than they paid the year before. The media will give them a run. I do not attach any greater significance than that to it. As to the effects on our bilateral relations in the region, there is a great deal of appreciation of the program by governments and a desire to see it continue.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Macklin's) be agreed to.