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Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
Auditor-General's reports Nos 16 to 46 (2010-11)
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
Oakeshott, Robert, MP
D'Ath, Yvette, MP
Briggs, Jamie, MP
Thistlethwaite, Sen Matt
Bishop, Sen Mark
O'Neill, Deb, MP
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Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
(Joint-Wednesday, 12 October 2011)
Content WindowJoint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit
Auditor-General's reports Nos 16 to 46 (2010-11)
CASS, Ms Barbara, Acting Group Executive Director, Performance Audit Services Group, Australian National Audit Office
CHAPMAN, Mr Steve, Deputy Auditor-General, Australian National Audit Office
FREW, Mr Todd, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
ILLINGWORTH, Mr Robert, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
JONES, Mr Peter, Senior Director, Performance Audit Services Group, Australian National Audit Office
KUKOC, Mr Kruno, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
VARMA, Ms Saloni, Acting Branch Manager, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
WALTERS, Mr Colin, Group Manager, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
WEDDELL, Mrs Di, Branch Manager, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
WILLIAMS, Ms Paula, Assistant Secretary, Education and Tourism Branch, Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Committee met at 12:18
CHAIR ( Mr Oakeshott ): I declare open today's public hearing for the inquiry into Audit report No.46 2010-11: Performance audit: management of student visas. I now welcome representatives from the Australian National Audit Office, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. Given the short time available, statements and comments by witnesses should be relevant and succinct.
Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise you that these hearings are formal proceedings of the parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. Do any of the witnesses have an opening statement to the committee?
Mr Kukoc : The department of immigration would like to make a short opening statement. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. Since the Australian National Audit Office contacted the department in May 2009 regarding its intention to audit the student visa program, and the finalisation of this report in May 2011, there has been considerable change to the global and domestic environment impacting upon Australia's international education sector. The global financial crisis, the rapid growth in the value of the Australian dollar, increased competition from established countries and new countries entering the international education market and the perception that Australia is perhaps not as safe and welcoming as previously thought contributed to instability in the sector and strain on Australia's student visa program.
Furthermore, it became apparent that many international students were not coming to Australia with a genuine intention to study and then return home. Policy and legislative settings contributed to a situation where the primary purpose of some students in deciding to study in Australia was to gain permanent residence under the skilled migration program. The availability of this pathway led to a massive increase in the number of international students in the vocational education and training sector in particular. This was not an example of an education sector growing sustainably and with integrity; it was an illustration of unsustainable directions and practices. The rapid acceleration of student visa grants to students with no intention of returning home after studying put a massive strain on the credibility of the international education sector and led to considerable pressure on the department and the integrity of the student visa program and the broader migration program in general.
Over the time period covered by the ANAO audit, significant changes have been made to the policy and legislative settings relating to student visas and skilled migration to shore up the integrity of the student visa program and the migration program. This strategic response has taken place on a number of fronts. For example, there is the decoupling of an automatic link between studying in Australia and permanent migration through abolishing the Migration Occupations in Demand List, which acted as a pull factor to those students wishing to identify the easiest, fastest course to take in order to obtain the largest number of points for skilled migration. There is also the introduction of a new points test which focuses on human capital, not a narrow range of occupations, and which recognises a range of attributes including better English, more extensive skilled work experience and higher-level qualifications. It counters the previous practice of some students and providers manipulating their courses of study simply to target skilled migration. There has also been some tidying of the regulation of education providers.
In the wake of the Baird review, new bodies have been established to regulate international education providers and to require them to meet exacting standards to obtain and keep their CRICOS registration. The government also commissioned the Hon. Michael Knight to conduct a strategic review of the student visa program to identify ways in which the program can best balance Australia's economic and migration interests. Mr Knight reported to the government on 30 June 2011 with 41 recommendations. On 22 September 2011 the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP, and the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, released Mr Knight's report, Strategic review of the student visa program 2011.
So we now have a key opportunity to make appropriate changes to the student visa program—those recommended by both the ANAO report and the strategic issues identified in Michael Knight's report. The department has agreed with all six recommendations made by the ANAO and has already begun working to implement those recommendations. In the remainder of this statement, rather than provide a detailed summary of the department's progress in this regard, I would like to provide the committee with a brief overview of some of the key actions undertaken by the department in response to the ANAO recommendations as well as to the recommendations of Michael Knight's report where there are synergies between the two.
Three of the six recommendations made by the ANAO—1, 4 and 5—align with recommendations made by Michael Knight's review of the student visa program. Michael Knight's report recommends a fundamental review of the assessment level framework. This review will allow the department not only to respond to the ANAO's recommendation No. 1 but also to make recommendations on the entire student visa risk management framework with a view to enhancing the integrity of the program while at the same time supporting the competitiveness of Australia's international education sector. Michael Knight's report also recommends the abolition of the automatic and mandatory cancellation regimes which aligns with ANAO recommendation 4. The department is helping to have the required legislative and system changes scheduled in the legislative program for early 2012. This should allow the department to more strategically target its student visas compliance and integrity resources.
Implementation of the Knight report recommendation that work limitation entitlements be measured as 40 hours a fortnight rather than 20 hours a week provides an opportunity to also review the operation of the work limitation requirement in relation to evidentiary requirements, discretion and compliance resources. Changes will be subject to legislative scheduling requirements and are expected to be completed by early 2012.
System changes will be made in December this year preventing the majority of student course variations converting automatically to a non-compliance notice, recommendation 5 in the ANAO report. Legislation to repeal automatic cancellation will be completed in 2012 at which point the remaining student course variations, two of them, will also cease to become non-compliance notices.
In respect of the remaining ANAO recommendations—2, 3 and 6—the department is currently evaluating the e-visa trial lodgement facility. We will resolve the trial status by the end of 2011. The results of the e-visa trial evaluation will inform planning for further development of e-visas and e-lodgement in relation to the student visa program. The department is also conducting a statistical analysis of student visa applications lodged through the facility to determine whether e-visa agents are complying with their obligations. As recommended by ANAO in recommendation 6, a DIAC-DEEWR strategic student visa policy group has been established as a mechanism to coordinate activity between the two departments regarding international students and international education issues. That concludes the main points I wish to convey in my opening statement and thank you for the opportunity to do so.
Mr Walters : I would like to add to what Mr Kukoc said, as he has covered a lot of the work on which we collaborated in responding to this review. The last couple of years, since the issue of international students came to national prominence, has been a period of enormous change in the international education sector. The government has been putting through a major reform program in the area, including the commissioning of two independent reports—the Baird report and the Knight report—the construction of the international student strategy for Australia together with COAG and the state premiers signed up to that, the transfer of marketing responsibility to Austrade which now has a campaign under the Future Unlimited banner which is supporting international education, and a great deal more.
This report really focuses on a small part of the jigsaw, one around the processing of student visas. That is still a very important part. It is something we need to get right and it is an area which education providers watch carefully and are keen to make sure that our practice is up with the world's best, in particular with overseas competitors. That is where the ANAO is coming from in suggesting some worthwhile improvements.
We support all of the recommendations. The two which particularly concern DEEWR are 5 and 6. No. 5 covers a very technical area. What it really deals with is a process we have at the moment where there is a lot of automatic notification of visa terminations in a mechanical way which simply clogs up the system. This was also a recommendation in Michael Knight's report. We have been working vigorously with DIAC to implement that along the lines Mr Kukoc suggested.
Recommendation 6 is about better working between the two departments. You will recall that this report was compiled quite a few months ago and so it reflects a historical situation rather than the one we have now. Mr Kukoc referred to the high-level committee which now exists to enable discussion between our two departments on student visa matters. It is also worth remembering—and this is contained in our reply to the report—we now have an interdepartmental forum which brings together all of the departments with an interest in international education. It is worth bearing in mind that these matters not only concern DEEWR but also concern DIISR because of research visas. They concern AusAID because of the many aid scholarships and the interchange of people with aid visas. So there is really quite a broad interest across government. The interdepartmental forum, which has now met several times, is intended to give all departments some input into these processes and to discuss allied issues. There are additional report findings which are relevant on the unique student identifier. That has—overtaken is not the right word, but there has been a COAG decision to explore, through a business case, having a unique student identifier across the whole of education. It is worth bearing in mind that, while we have around half a million international students in the country, there are several million ordinary students, so it is important to work with COAG to have a system that covers the whole field.
I will not go on much more—I could talk a little bit about the government's response to the Baird review, but that is the subject of three separate bills which have been introduced into the parliament, so there will be other opportunities to debate that. In a nutshell, we see this as a very useful contribution to a big reform program that the government is pushing through, and we have been working enthusiastically and diligently with DIAC to try to implement the recommendations.
CHAIR: Thanks for coming in and thanks for those opening remarks. We will go to questions from committee members. This is an important area for Australia for a number of reasons. One is that we are talking about the third-largest export industry, and I hope it is still the case that we are talking about at least $18.6 billion in regard to Australia's international education and training sector generally. The second is to do with transnational crime issues. There is a media report out today that links issues around student visas and Asian sex workers in Australian brothels, so this includes all the transnational crime issues related with human trafficking. The third is to do with historical and cultural issues, scratching the xenophobic issues in and around Australian public policy. It is important that we get this right, and I would hope that there is full recognition of that.
On the back of that statement I ask the question of both gentlemen: if we were to get you back here in 12 months time, would it be a definitive yes that all six recommendations from the ANAO have been implemented? Related to that, with regard to both the Knight and the Baird reviews, could the same be said for those if we got you back here in 12 months time? Primarily, for the point of this exercise and those six key recommendations that have been accepted, would it be a definitive yes that within 12 months all will be implemented in some form?
Mr Kukoc : We expect that we will be able to implement most recommendations within the next 12 months, and I have outlined the timetable in my opening statement. There may be some that will require significant system and legislative changes—
Ms Williams : Which may take a little bit longer.
Mr Kukoc : Which may take a bit longer.
CHAIR: Are you able to identify those recommendations?
Ms Williams : It could be things in terms of changes to assessment level processes, or systems changes in relation to prisms, and that sort of information exchange may take longer in terms of systems resources, but I think that, substantially, yes, they would be well and truly underway.
Mr Walters : As far as we are concerned the two recommendations we had direct input to—recommendations 5 and 6—are more or less complete. You would have to ask, in 12 months time, whether those forums continued to meet, of course, but at the moment they are in place. In terms of the Baird report, perhaps the answer lies in the hands of the parliament. Three bills which would implement the remainder of the Baird report have been introduced into the parliament and are, I believe, now subject to the parliamentary process, and we hope for the best. In terms of the registration of providers and ancillary matters, which is what the Baird report is all about, we have already introduced legislation to implement the first part of the Baird report and that included the creation of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to give an avenue of grievance to all overseas students. Also, we reregistered all the providers to the end of 2010. That led to some 200 providers exiting the system and it was a major exercise for the department. So the three bills currently before the parliament build on what has already been achieved over the last two years. Will it about in place in a year's time? I hope so. But part of the answer lies with the parliament. I would not like to speak for the parliament.
CHAIR: The reason there is some media interest is more than likely to do with issues that are in the media today. Does anyone want to take the opportunity to respond to the issues around links between the Australian flesh trade, human trafficking and the student visa program either to correct the record or to advocate the work that you are doing or should be doing?
Mr Illingworth : We have noted the allegations that have been running in the media over a few days now and we take those very seriously. We have a number of areas where we work closely with relevant police forces in state and territory jurisdictions to look at issues of criminality and where there may be issues of trafficking, for example. I suppose one issue to bear in mind with, for example, the reference you make to the media and students who may be participating in the sex industry is that in many jurisdictions it is decriminalised and a person with permission to work has permission to work. While there may be instances of trafficking that go on in various industries, I would make one point that the sex industry is not the only industry where that is alleged to occur and also that all workers in that industry are not necessarily either non-citizens or working in breach of their visa entitlements.
CHAIR: Does anyone else want to say something on this while we have got the chance? Do you want to make a comment?
Mr Kukoc : Yes. This is why the integrity is absolutely crucial for maintaining the quality student visa program in the international education sector. When you have the situation where there are strong pull factors and also push factors from the region in terms of many people wanting to come to Australia and work instead of studying, it is important to get the balance right with the policy settings. I think Michael Knight's review has achieved quite a lot in trying to get us to this point where we get the balance right. It is important to make sure that the objective of the student visa program is always about educational objectives and not about the permanent stay or work visa or about labour market objectives. This is what the government and the department have been doing over the last two or three years.
Mrs D'ATH: In the time I have, I want to concentrate on one particular area, which is compliance and the number of non-compliance notices. Has there been any reallocation of resources to start addressing the number of non-compliance notices? I appreciate the comments around the recommendations from the Knight review to remove automatic cancellation but that does not change the fact that people are non-compliant in the first place. What changes are occurring? Are there now mechanisms in place to prioritise and, if so, what are those mechanisms and do they give high priority to those who are non-starters when it comes to educational studies?
Mr Kukoc : I may just make two or three comments. Many of these non-compliance notices were the result of the old system that actually turned any student course variation into an automatic non-compliance notice. That resulted in a huge spike in student numbers, especially in the VET sector, and that resulted in a huge number of student course variations turning automatically into non-compliance notices. At some stage, we had a backlog of 270,000 of these notices. So it was almost impossible to go through them strategically without changing the system. We have done some changes to the system, even in the lead-up to the implementation of Michael Knight's recommendations, which will make sure that many of these ordinary student course variations—like changing the course in the sector or whatever, which is not serious non-compliance—will not be turned into non-compliance notices in our system's eyes. So that will reduce the workload. There are also some risk prioritisation activities that we are doing, but I will ask my colleagues to talk more about that.
Mr Frew : If I may make a comment. I believe the audit report noted in relation to the non-compliance notice arrangement that about 155,000, I think, had been cleansed at the time of the publication of the report. We are now up to, as at 27 September, 178,000. So there is a very strident process going on of clearing up those non-compliance notices.
Mrs D'ATH: I am sorry; 178,000?
Mr Frew : 178,000. Alongside that piece of work is the grading of risk of the residual non-compliance notices. So, if you like, we are attacking it from two ends: we are trying to clean up the residual spike that existed for the reasons that Mr Kukok has explained and we are also looking at the higher grade of risk at this end. The audit report speaks of the operational integrity network that we have set up as a part of the DIAC transformation. The report wisely said that the new global management structure is being bedded down, and I would have to say it is still a work in progress. However, one of the benefits has been that the operational integrity resources—student integrity resources, if you will—which by the nature of our previous organisation were a bit more work distributed and were more compelled to act on priorities that were local and/or state based, are now being centrally marshalled so that there is a far greater capacity to prioritise and act against those areas of higher risk.
With the changes that will come out following the Knight review and the complete restructuring of the non-compliance notice, ultimately the problem will go away. As Mr Kukok said, non-compliance is not an accurate description for some of these notices. But, in the meantime, we are still cleaning them up, cleansing them if you like, and, as I said, coming at it from the other direction as well. The coming at it from the other direction—that is to say, grading those areas of risk where we are best able to deploy our resources—is the plan for the future as the Knight review recommendations and the ensuing legislative systems and policy changes come into play.
Mrs D'ATH: With the prioritising that you are talking about and the systems that you are putting in place, are you able to categorise the non-compliance notices so that you can prioritise? You have talked about this large group of non-compliance notices that are really just about changes in the requirements of the course that people are doing and it is not really about them not complying. First of all, do you know what the percentages are of those? Of the 178,000, are you able to identify which of those are because of course requirements and which of those are because they are non-starters in education and other studies? Are you categorising them and, if not, how are you prioritising them?
Mr Frew : I am sorry, I do not have a breakdown of the percentages you have just asked for.
Mrs D'ATH: Are you able to get that information? Can you take that on notice?
Mr Frew : I will take it on notice.
Mrs D'ATH: Thank you.
Mr Frew : We can break it down by code. So, yes, we would be able to come up with the information. I am sorry I do not have it with me here today. The high-risk ones are obviously things like where the person fails to attend the course et cetera. So we are looking at those high-risk ones and dealing with both providers and individuals. Because of the spike and the background noise that has been created by the structure and with the resources we have, I would have to say that we are able to move at the pace which we are able to move at.
Mrs D'ATH: I do not want to take up too much more time, but you say that you can go away and identify them. But is there a mechanism whereby they are categorised as the notices that are issued so that you are not going through them individually and figuring out what their status is?
Mr Frew : I am not sure if I am answering the question, but usually we have a categorisation by code of what we regard as the highest risk to what we regard as the lowest risk.
Mr BRIGGS: Why has the immigration department not updated its compliance and integrity plans since 2007-08?
Mr Illingworth : We have recently issued a revised compliance priority matrix to our service delivery network and are in the process of rolling out workshops to work through how that will be implemented.
Mr BRIGGS: The ANAO was quite critical of that in the report. Is the department reviewing priorities without the annual compliance plan and supporting the planning process?
Mr Illingworth : We now have the matrix.
Mr BRIGGS: From when have you had that?
Mr Illingworth : From about September.
Mr BRIGGS: Are you answering questions on the basis of the ANAO report?
Mr Illingworth : That is right. We rolled it out after the report.
Mr BRIGGS: What was the date?
Mr Illingworth : It was rolled out in the middle of September. That was following a process of consultation within the department and our service delivery colleagues about how best to structure advice so that it is useful. The challenge when you are working in a statutory regulatory field is that all breaches are important. That is true because if somebody is doing something which is not permitted according to the program design or the regulations, then it has to be addressed. The challenge is to craft advice that enables officers on the ground to make sense of the priorities of the organisation and deliver the best yield for their effort rather than, for example, focus all of their effort on the most important thing and none of their effort on any of the other things. So it has been quite a work in progress to get to this stage.
Mr BRIGGS: The ANAO found that the department was essentially unable—and you were just talking about this with Miss D'Ath—to find how many students were in breach of their visas, how many were working more than 20 hours and how many were enrolled in the courses. Given these problems with compliance, why has the government accepted the recommendations to repeal the automatic mandatory cancellation provisions for student visas?
Mr Kukoc : I may have said that, but the main criticism of the current system lies in the fact that the system turns many ordinary student course variations into non-compliance notices. Some student course variations that are of significance in terms of compliance are also turned into non-compliance notices, but on many occasions you need to look into the other circumstances, individual or otherwise, surrounding that student non-compliance. You need to put it into context.
The proposed policy is suggesting that we do not turn all course variations into non-compliance notices automatically, but they should still be brought to the attention of DIAC's officers and the DIAC compliance team. Then that compliance team—based on its priorities and the new integrity framework—should look into all other relevant information and material before exercising a non-compliance action. That is a more strategic and more flexible approach which does not undermine the integrity in any way.
Mr Illingworth : I will add some numbers to give you an idea of the activity of the compliance network in this field. In the last financial year there were over 5,000 locations of students either working in breach of their visa conditions or who more often had overstayed. In fact, the working breach is a very small percentage of the compliance student locations which suggests that it is relatively more likely that students will be overstayers rather than working in breach. Putting that in the broader compliance context goes to the priority matrix that I was talking about earlier. When you look at you the overall overstayer numbers in Australia—and we take snapshots on an annual basis—it is important to bear in mind that the student component of that, notwithstanding the high numbers of students coming to this country on visas, is actually quite small. It is around 13 or 14 per cent, compared to, say, visitors, who would represent about 76 per cent of the overstayer pool, as we would call it.
Mr BRIGGS: My last question relates to work rights. I am interested that the government has accepted the Knight review recommendation that work rights be included for two to four years for university graduates but there are no limitations placed upon their employment nor are there any jobs channelled towards areas of skill shortage or need. What measures will the government put in place to ensure these provisions are not abused by people simply trying to access the temporary labour market through student visas?
Mr Kukoc : The core integrity criterion that we are going to implement in the new system is the genuine temporary entrant criterion. That criterion will be for assessing whether the person is coming here as a genuine student and temporary entrant or with the purpose of or objective to do something else such as stay permanently with a core work objective. That is one new integrity criterion. The other safeguard is that we know that the university sector is a low-risk sector. People who are students in the university sector and are undertaking a bachelor degree or Masters coursework or research or PhD work have come here for the predominant purpose of their career educational objective, not just for work purposes. I think the rationale that Michael Knight has explained in his report, and which the government has accepted, is that this additional work period for university students will give them another experience to top up their education that they gain in Australia. It will help them in the pursuit of their further career, be that in Australia or overseas.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: I have a question regarding the electronic lodgement process for selected visa categories. Can you give us a rough idea of how many of those selected categories are processed through electronic lodgement from start to finish? So in other words, it is without officers having to go through the process. I think it is called the automatic lodgement approval process.
Mr Kukoc : I will make an introductory comment while my colleagues are searching for the information, and we should have that information for you. For all the low-risk countries and sectors—as we call them, assessment level I, or AL1, countries—we have an electronic lodgement system that is available to any student from those countries. So we have a number of these AL1 countries and sectors. In addition to that, for some high-risk cohorts of students in countries and sectors such AL2 to AL4—such as India, China, Indonesia and Thailand—we do have the electronic lodgement facility through selected agents. I have asked my colleagues to give me the numbers and I now have them here. In 2010-11 the eVisa take-up rate was 55 per cent. I have the eVisa take-up rates from trial participating countries. These are about India, China, Thailand and Indonesia. For those countries that go through the agent, of 41,245 total applications the eVisa applications were 22,724. So it was a 55 per cent take-up rate in those high-risk countries. For all AL1 countries—such as Saudi Arabia, European countries, the USA and the UK—it is a very high take-up rate and all students have access to e-lodgement facilities.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: I imagine that for those specific categories that would be something that we would be trying to encourage. Is that the case? What is being done to encourage a higher take-up rate for those processes?
Mr Frew : Can I speak generally about that. As the ANAO audit mentions, under the departmental transformation there are a range of measures that we are taking, across the organisation, to change the way we deal with people through channels. Fundamentally, we are looking at things like improving our website to provide better information. We are looking at making more products available electronically. We are looking at making better use of call centres, for example. Within that, we have been using e-visa products for more than 10 years, and longer in other circumstances. We have a range of e-visa products that cover visitors, temporary residents, students et cetera. The piece of work that we are engaged in at the moment is expanding our e-visa products in those markets where there is a return in terms of client service and efficiency for the government in measuring the speed with which we can facilitate applications, while at the same time the system has to allow for a measure of integrity in respect of each application.
The audit report mentions on a number of occasions that there are things to occur over time as a part of this process, and that is indeed right. It is not only the systems that we need to develop, for some of which we are just adding to existing arrangements—for the sake of discussion, it could be done with student visas. In other areas, we are looking at new and enhanced the products. It is really just a case of where the greatest return for government and the client lies in the order of priority in which these things are dealt with.
Senator THISTLETHWAITE: Does this process take into account the reviews that have been undertaken in the past and the recommendations that have been made in this area?
Mr Frew : Most certainly.
Senator MARK BISHOP: Minister Evans said in the press that responsibility for the administration of the student visa program was going to be devolved to the individual universities. Firstly, is that the case; and, secondly, is there going to be, or has there been, a consistent template developed for application by the universities via a set of regulations, or will each of the universities have responsibility for devising their own set of regulations for the internal administration of applicants?
Mr Kukoc : Do you mean as a student visa?
Senator MARK BISHOP: Yes.
Mr Kukoc : I do not think it is correct to say that they will effectively be regulating themselves. Michael Knight's recommendation was that all university students doing bachelor degrees or higher degrees—Masters or PhDs—are treated as assessment level I students, which has the lowest evidentiary requirements for meeting the standard visa criteria. For all these students, all the criteria still apply—health, character, confirmation of enrolment in a registered course, the ability to support themselves financially during their studies and English language proficiency—but the evidentiary requirements will be minimal. Effectively, we will be doing a very streamlined process where the person will be asked to state that they have enough funding to support themselves while in Australia. They will need to have confirmation of enrolment. They will need to have sufficient English language proficiency. The mere fact that the university has accepted that person and issued a confirmation of enrolment will mean to us that that university is satisfied that that person has the financial ability to pay their tuition fees to the university and sufficient English to meet the course requirements. So in that aspect we will reduce our documentary evidence requirements. But we will still require them to meet those criteria. Of course we will have the genuine temporary entrant criterion. We will also ask universities to opt into this arrangement. So effectively all universities will be asked to provide a document—a commitment, which will be on the public record, that they will meet certain standards and provide certain information to the department.
Also they will acknowledge that we will share the integrity statistics with that university on a six-monthly basis and that any worsening of the integrity statistics may lead to them being put on public notice or may lead to them being taken out of this streamlining arrangement.
Senator MARK BISHOP: But admission to the course in a particular university will result in the university's issuing a certificate of—
Mr Kukoc : Confirmation of enrolment.
Senator MARK BISHOP: confirmation of enrolment, and that will be sufficient for your two departments.
Ms Williams : Just to clarify, the department will still issue the visas and the confirmation of enrolment process is, as always happens with education providers. That will not change. If a provider believes that a student has the educational qualifications and so forth to do the course they will enrol the student and issue them with a confirmation of enrolment.
If the universities that have opted into the arrangements make certain public commitments that they will meet particular standards we will treat those students, no matter where they are from or what assessment level would normally apply to them, as AL1s. So we will still be issuing those visas.
Senator MARK BISHOP: So, to cut to the heart of this, is the issuing of the certificate from the university—that they meet the requirements—done according to a standard template having the same application in all universities or is it up to the individual university to choose the various aspects that go into the test before they issue the certificate or compliance form?
Ms Williams : This could be a question for my DEEWR colleagues, but I understand that it is up to the education providers to determine their processes for enrolling students and what they are required to do or the templates that they use.
Mr Walters : That is right, because the universities are looking for issues that go well beyond the immigration requirements. What they need to do under the new system is ensure that they have arrangements in place to ensure the integrity of the processes that they are using—that they are recruiting both genuine students and genuine temporary entrants and that they will not be caught out, down the track, when the monitoring from DIAC comes back and shows that there has been abuse of this migration pathway. So long as all that is the case then the universities will still have other things they need to ask about in their application processes. Those will diverge between the universities.
Senator MARK BISHOP: So different tests could be applied by different universities.
Mr Walters : They are at the moment, and they will continue to be, I am sure. Some get together and use a common format but it is basically up to them.
Senator MARK BISHOP: Understood. Thank you.
Ms O'NEILL: I have a couple of questions about resourcing and also about cooperation. In terms of resourcing, Mr Frew, you mentioned that you have 178,000 of those compliance notices that have been sorted through now.
Mr Frew : Yes.
Ms O'NEILL: That would leave about 100,000 if the numbers remain static, or perhaps a little higher if there have been a few more issued since that time.
Mr Frew : That is about the order.
Ms O'NEILL: Bearing that in mind, and also that we have some commentary here that the internal processing that you undertake to determine where funding goes will be impinging on your resource capacity to get through those compliance notices, what is the time line for completion?
Mr Frew : As I said when I spoke earlier about the changes that Mr Kukoc alluded to earlier, the things will not go into the bucket any longer, after a period of time. Is the first one in December?
Ms Williams : Yes.
Ms O'NEILL: So there will be a finite number of these compliance—
Mr Frew : The overwhelming majority of them stop in December this year, and I think the final two stop in April next year. So the drain into the bucket will start to diminish. That, of course, will give us the opportunity to clear the bucket more fully, if you will.
The other issue—I think it was mentioned earlier, as well, by Mr Kukoc in response to a question—is the background noise as opposed to a strategic attacking of the highest areas of risk. As I said when I spoke earlier, we are using the two-ended method at the moment to devise a better plan. What resources we have to devote to the ongoing arrangements of integrity management will depend in part on the implementation of some of the Knight review recommendations, which do many things, but it is all underpinned by integrity. For example, a discussion around the university involvement previously is an indication that, if the universities are doing certain things, then we can treat those applicants as a lesser risk. That is obviously something to be monitored but, if you like, we can divide that cohort off. We are then left with areas of higher risk which, I guess, have been traditional over the years. With the changing of the AL levels, et cetera, this is the opportunity for us to look more carefully at both the risk and the risk treatment, which of course will then lead to the resource application.
Ms O'NEILL: Do you have enough resources to get this resolved and how long will that take?
Mr Frew : Yes, I think we have enough resources in the wider context of all of the things that we do. In terms of how long will it take to clean up the residual NCNs with the flow ceasing in the bucket, I would hope that by the time the second tranche in April ceases to go in we would then be close to either emptying the bucket or at that point, with no more coming in, we should be able to get rid of them.
Ms O'NEILL: Certainly by the middle of next year you would expect that would be all cleared.
Mr Frew : I would hope that would be the case.
Ms O'NEILL: Okay, that is great. Bearing in mind the time, can I talk about the meetings that you have been having. You talked about a high-level committee, Mr Walters, and then I think you also spoke about an interdepartmental forum. Are they the same or different instruments?
Mr Walters : There are two. There are high-level meetings between ourselves and DIAC. Then there is an interdepartmental forum that brings in all of the departments with an interest in international education which includes Prime Minister and Cabinet, AusAID, Foreign Affairs, Industry, Innovation and Research and Austrade. It is a bigger meeting but all of these departments play a part in the overall effort on international education.
CHAIR: What are the level of the officials involved in those work groups?
Mr Walters : In the IDF the meeting is chaired at the associate secretary level in our department. The standard members are deputy secretaries from all of the other departments.
Ms O'NEILL: Regarding the high-level committee, who is on that?
Mr Walters : That is normally at the assistant secretary level.
Ms O'NEILL: In terms of ongoing plan in the strategic integration of leadership, you have had a number of meetings, I understand.
Mr Walters : Both of these fora have been meeting during the year. Perhaps I could emphasise that we do not necessarily need formal meetings to get together. We have many other meetings in the course of, for example, progressing the Knight review and so on and so forth. This is just a bare bones structure to make sure that we meet in a certain formal setting at different points in the year. We are forever discussing things. It is a continual matter of day-to-day business between us.
Mr Kukoc : For example, during Michael Knight's review we had a secretariat to help Michael Knight located in our department, Immigration, but we had seconded a senior person from DEEWR to that secretariat which provided an enormous support and contribution.
Ms O'NEILL: As the Knight review is completed, what are the formal processes and planning going forward to make sure that this high-level committee meeting of assistant secretaries continues to improve the strategic coordination of DEEWR and DIAC? Do you have any policy platform? Do you have any processes in place? Do you have any documentation? Do you have any schedules of meeting?
Ms Williams : Yes, we do. We are meeting monthly. We have a schedule of meetings for next year. It is guided by a terms of reference including membership on both counts. I think the group is working extremely well.
Mr Kukoc : We can provide those documents to the committee.
CHAIR: We have run a little over time. Thank you for attending today and for assisting the committee with its inquiry. I would flag that, without having met as a committee, in some of the notes that we have had through the course of this public hearing there is a desire to get you back. I think I was being generous in saying 12 months as there are some committee members wanting it to be six months. I think it does reflect, on behalf of the parliament, that there are some real concerns and sensitivities in this area that we want to see systemic and cultural change in. There are some concerns in regard to crisis management taking priority over those desires for systemic and cultural change.
It is more than likely we as a committee, on behalf of the parliament, will be seeking your return so that we can explore this in more depth with more time on your side to make sure those implementations are fulfilled for exactly the same reasons and desires that, I hope, you have to get the best possible policy outcomes on behalf of Australia. There was a question on notice at the end. If you could provide that information to the secretariat as quickly as possible, it would be appreciated.
Resolved (on motion by Chair):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at the public hearing this day.
On behalf of the committee I would like to thank all the witnesses who have given evidence at the public hearing today. I also thank Hansard and Broadcasting for their assistance.
Committee adjourned at 13:11