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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5679

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (11:07 AM) —in reply—I thank honourable senators for their contributions to the second reading debate on the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment Bill 2002. We have had two contributions, one by Senator Carr and one by Senator Tierney. In relation to Senator Carr's contribution, I acknowledge some of the concerns he expressed about certain schools and colleges. All I can say to him, and remind him of, is that these schools are in fact registered and licensed by the various state Labor governments around this nation. We as a federal government do not seek to second-guess whether or not they are necessarily appropriate institutions.

Senator Carr —You haven't read the act, have you, to say something as silly as that!

Senator ABETZ —I have just checked with the advisers, who confirmed exactly what I have said, Senator Carr, so I think it is quite obvious who has not read the act. Once again Senator Carr has charged in with an interjection, clothed with his usual ignorance, and has shown that he does not know what he is on about. I invite the honourable senator to speak with his mates in the various state Labor governments and see what can be done. If the matters that are raised are an issue—and I am sure they were raised genuinely by Senator Carr—then clearly these matters do need to be addressed, and I simply seek to direct him to the appropriate area to have them addressed.

In relation to Senator Tierney's contribution, I acknowledge his longstanding interest in education and especially in overseas students in this country. As Senator Tierney pointed out, when he first came into this Senate in 1991, the value to Australia of overseas students coming to this country was $700 million. That figure is now $4 billion. As I understand it, in the academic year 2000, there was a 16 per cent increase in the number of overseas students. Most of them came from South-East Asia or were our Asian neighbours. So much for the nonsense that we continually have fed to us by those on the extreme left of politics in Australia that somehow Australia's reputation amongst our near neighbours is being damaged by the Howard government! In fact, overseas students are coming here in droves, as witnessed by these figures, because they respect this nation and they respect the rigour of our education system.

I would not want anybody to think that we are interested only in the dollars. Clearly, we are interested in the dollars; it is good for our economy and good for our educational institutions. But there is also a richness added to this nation by having these students come from overseas. They add to the richness and diversity in the schools and in the communities in which they live. After they have undertaken their education, the vast majority of them go back to their home countries having had a very positive experience of Australia and, as a result, spread the good news about Australia to their fellow countrymen when they go home.

The Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment Bill 2002 seeks to make the regime that we have somewhat more robust. I understand that a review of the complete act will commence by December 2003. I believe that this area of education is often overlooked and not given the regard that it deserves. I compliment Senator Carr and Senator Tierney on their interest in this bill and for the fact that they have been willing to make a contribution to the debate. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.