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Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Page: 237

Senator IAN MACDONALD (11:23 AM) —The Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Re-registration of Providers and Other Measures) Bill 2009 before the Senate chamber today highlights yet another failure of the Rudd federal Labor government. I want to speak at some length about that failure. However, before doing that, I want to comment on the remarks made by the previous speaker, Senator Feeney, which again highlighted the failures of Labor governments throughout Australia. Senator Feeney quite clearly said, and I agree with him, that our streets in Australia are not safe. This has all happened on the watch of state Labor governments right around our country. I hear Labor politicians saying: ‘There’s nothing you can do about it. We just get our premiers up to smile at the TV cameras and say things.’

I have just returned from a week in Singapore as part of the Australian delegation to the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum, and Singapore, a nation of almost five million people, covering an area of about 40 kilometres by 20 kilometres, has no crime. It is a multiracial society of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Europeans and others, and crime in Singapore is non-existent. Why? Because Singapore governments have been tough on crime. Anyone can walk the streets of Singapore late at night, as I did with my wife, travel on public transport, including the underground, late at night without any fear of crime. Could you do that in Melbourne? Senator Feeney has assured us that you would be mad to even attempt it. Why? Because Labor governments are simply soft on crime. We know they are soft on border protection. We have enormous numbers of illegal immigrants coming into Australia every day, such as in last night’s incident, where a record number of people actually sailed into the bay of Christmas Island before the Australian government was even aware they were around.

In fact, while I was in Singapore, in the course of the parliamentary forum I was attending I raised the question: what is Singapore’s view on illegal immigrants? The answer given to me was slightly in jest, but there was some merit in it. I was told Singapore have a very humane response to boat people: they give them food, they give them water, they give them fuel and they give them a great big map with a big X marked on Australia! That is how Australia’s border protection regime is seen overseas. It is a joke. Since Mr Rudd has been in power, it is clear that Australia has gone soft on border protection. Senator Feeney’s contribution to this debate again showed that Labor state governments cannot make our cities safe.

I also noted that in Senator Feeney’s contribution he was saying that this bill will allow for rapid audits of education providers and therefore will weed out the dodgy operators. Now, why would anyone from the Labor Party be talking about rapid audits and urgency? This bill was introduced into the parliament on 19 August 2009, which just happened to be two days before Ms Gillard, the Deputy Prime Minister, made a highly publicised visit to India to go and tell the Indian government that Australia was doing something about the safety of Indian nationals in Australia and about the provision of quality education services in Australia. Two days before Ms Gillard went on her highly publicised, politically charged visit to India, she introduced this legislation into the federal parliament.

Let us see how good my arithmetic is: 19 August is, what, 5½ months ago? For 5½ months the Labor government have dillydallied with this legislation that might have had some impact on those dodgy education providers. But what did the Labor government do in this parliament? They sat on their hands. Mr Rudd was more interested in travelling the world, as he regularly does, building up his world profile so that he can become Secretary-General of the United Nations when he is thrown out of office in this country. He spends all of his time worrying about his image abroad, without paying very much more than lip service to the safety of international students who come to Australia and the safety of the money that they pay to education service providers in Australia. Is Mr Rudd worried about those international students coming to Australia or is he more worried about his international jaunts on the world stage?

Instead of dealing with this legislation we had the farce of the Labor government trying to push through before Copenhagen that stupid, useless and destructive piece of Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation. Everybody knew that the world would not be following Australia’s lead at Copenhagen. In fact, everybody of sense in Australia knew that nothing Australia did would have any impact on what happened in Copenhagen. In spite of the assurances of the failed climate change minister, Penny Wong, and Mr Rudd, we knew it would have no impact on what anybody else did. We also knew that, if that legislation had been passed before Christmas, Australia would have been out in the front exporting the jobs of Australian workers and unionists overseas.

What did we do in this country? We spent months dealing with that useless piece of legislation instead of dealing with this piece of legislation, which is good legislation and should in fact be passed. It should have been passed back in August when it was introduced. If it had been passed back in August when it was introduced then some of the problems we are seeing today may not have occurred.

I read with great distress that in Cairns in Far North Queensland, which is the area I come from, 150 students who were enrolled at the GEOS Cairns English language school have lost their money and are without an English language school provider. The several staff who worked at that school in Cairns now do not have a job. So there will be 150 fewer mouths to feed and fewer beds to provide in the Cairns region.

Because of the Labor government, the Cairns region is at the present time doing it very tough economically. We had a huge increase in the passenger movement charges by the Rudd government in the last budget, which has certainly not encouraged international tourism to Cairns. We had a bungled advertising campaign for Australian tourism, which has not assisted Cairns at all. We had a change in the workplace relations laws which reduces the flexibility for employers to employ people in the Cairns region in the tourist industry, which requires absolute flexibility. Under Mr Rudd’s regime that has all gone.

We have the fiasco in the Cairns shipbuilding industry, which has been around for 50 or 60 years. On the eve of signing a contract to build Australian warships the Labor government in Queensland, with the acquiescence of the federal Labor government, had that contract pulled from under their feet, resulting in the loss of some 300 skilled trade jobs and other jobs in the Cairns shipbuilding industry. A shipbuilding industry that has built many of Australia’s warships over the last 30 or 40 years is now defunct because of the actions of the Rudd Labor government and the Queensland Bligh Labor government. It is an absolute disgrace.

On top of this we now have this English language school in Cairns folding up shop. This is the very last time you need this. One thing you do need in Cairns is an English language school, because a lot of international tourists come in and we need multilingual people working in the tourist industry. This will be a real blow to Cairns.

Had this legislation been dealt with in August last year, like it should have been, then perhaps this catastrophe could have been avoided. But no, Mr Rudd wanted to wander around the world and spend weeks and weeks debating the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which everybody knows is a failure and will never happen in this country or in any other of the larger emitting countries. We wasted all of our time on that and this important legislation was left languishing on the table. It should have been debated back then and it should have been dealt with at that time. Then we may not have had these problems we are now experiencing.

I will return to the specific parts of the bill later, but while I am on this subject I want to make the comparison of some of these private tuition schools. Many of them are very good I have to say. I certainly hope that the collapse and the problems that some of them are having, the inaction of the Rudd government in getting this bill through and the paucity of the enthusiasm of state Labor governments to deal with crime, do not impact on some of the magnificent educational institutions we do have in Australia at the present time.

I particularly want to mention James Cook University, which is renowned worldwide for its marine science courses and is getting an increasingly good reputation as a trainer of would-be doctors for Australia and, indeed, the world. I am told that the Queensland health department has said that James Cook University medical students were the best prepared clinically trained students in Queensland and perhaps in Australia. That is because the James Cook medical school training is a six-year, not a five-year, program and has longer placement programs, which start in the first year. It has compulsory rotations and students work in areas of workplace shortages at some stage in their training. The additional year of training gives students the opportunity to sort out weaknesses. James Cook University is fast getting the reputation of being the pre-eminent university in the tropical world. Of course we know that the world in the tropics, between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer, covers more than a third of the globe and a lot of people. James Cook University, with its emphasis on tropical medicine and Indigenous health, is fast gaining a reputation that is being noticed in Asia and by international students everywhere.

While I am talking about James Cook University and medicine and as I was talking a little earlier about Singapore, can I say that whilst I was in Singapore recently at the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum I took a little time out to go and have a look at James Cook University’s campus there. It is a fabulous university in Singapore, training mainly foreign students—that is, foreign to Singapore—at that campus, but dealing in business courses such as the Master of Business Administration and also, interestingly, in psychology courses, which are being increasingly noticed around the Asia-Pacific region. James Cook University at Singapore is a very well run university. It is a credit to Australian university administration and teaching and it stands in stark contrast to some of the problems that we are seeing with these other providers which are highlighted by the bill currently before the chamber.

I understand from Senator Cormann, who has responsibility for this bill for the opposition, that we will be supporting it and we would wish it a speedy passage. I hesitate to use the words ‘speedy passage’ because it is now six months overdue. Had Ms Gillard had any semblance of ability and competence as a minister, we would have been dealing with this far before today. Had we dealt with it back in August, instead of worrying about Ms Gillard making those visits to India and Mr Rudd walking the world stage, as he likes to think he does—had we had them concentrating on what they are paid to do, and that is to legislate and administer effectively in the education area—then perhaps some of the problems that we are currently experiencing might not have existed. But as Senator Cormann has so eloquently said, and for all of the reasons he mentioned, I will be supporting the bill and urge the Senate accordingly.