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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 730

Mr WEST (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs)(10.49) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to permit increases in overseas student charges which the Government announced in the 1983-84 Budget. Honourable members will recall that when the Overseas Student Charge Act was enacted in 1979 the maximum rate of charge was fixed by Parliament at $2,500 a year in respect of the enrolment of an overseas student in a prescribed course. This maximum level has remained unchanged for the last three years. The rates set in 1979 represented about 40 per cent of the average cost of higher education. To reflect changes in the cost of tertiary education the Government has decided that the charge will, from the beginning of 1984, be increased by approximately 15 per cent-from a minimum of $ 2,150 to a maximum of $2,900 a year. The new rate of charge will represent about only one-third of the estimated average cost of tertiary education in 1983.

It is to be noted that, unlike parents of Australian tertiary students, overseas students and their parents do not contribute significantly to the cost of tertiary education in Australia through the taxation system. The charge on overseas students is therefore required to defray part of the cost of their education. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) has stated in the Budget that the estimated total number of students liable for the charge-excluding those whose liability is met by the Australian Government-was about 8,300 in 1982-83, yielding $16.2m of the total revenue of $19m. The number is expected to rise to about 11,300 in 1983-84 and account for $25.6m of the total revenue of $29.2m in that year, the balance being attributable to government sponsored students. The Government will continue to meet the charge for private students from Papua New Guinea and other developing countries in the South Pacific region, and also for students sponsored by the Australian Development Assistance Bureau. This assistance is part of Australia's aid program for this region.

In the past few years, particularly in 1983, the numbers of overseas students admitted to Australia increased substantially over those of the previous year. The Government is concerned that as a result Australian students may not have been able to obtain places in the course of their choice at tertiary institutions. On the basis of advice from the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, the Government has decided that the number of private overseas students entering tertiary institutions in Australia in 1984 should be limited to approximately 4,000. This is still an increase of 400 over 1983. Included are 2, 500 overseas students who are now completing their secondary education in Australia. This means that the Government must limit the number of overseas students directly entering tertiary institutions in 1984 to 1,500. Further, we have decided that the number of new secondary students to enter Australia will be limited to 2,000. Thus, the total entry for 1984 will be approximately 3,500 new students, that is 2,000 into secondary institutions and 1,500 into tertiary institutions.

I might refer to the lack of control exhibited by the former Government which has created the necessity to now curtail new entry to both secondary and tertiary institutions even though the total entering tertiary institutions will be increased by 400. For instance, total secondary new intakes from Malaysia surged from 1,100 in 1981 to 2,580 in 1983.

Mr Hodgman —What have you got against Malaysia?

Mr WEST —If the honourable member will listen he will find out the difficulties that can be involved. If we are to control future intakes into tertiary institutions it necessarily follows that we must now control secondary school intakes. Thus, the Malaysians have been restricted to approximately 1,050 new secondary students for 1984, a big reduction on 1983 but nevertheless equivalent to the 1981 total. Similarly, a total of 1,650 new secondary and tertiary students were admitted in 1981 from Malaysia. This rose to 3,200 in 1983. It will be approximately 1,640 in 1984, again, close to the 1981 figure.

Mr Hodgman —What have you got against the Malaysians?

Mr WEST —I have nothing against the Malaysians. The fact is that the former Government allowed secondary school student intakes to rise dramatically during 1982 and 1983. That now has a repercussive effect on those people entering universities from within Australia. That is the point I am making. I mention these facts to show that if secondary school intakes are allowed to increase dramatically over several years, we can expect pressure to reduce the new tertiary entry figures so that the total intake of private overseas students to tertiary institutions is commensurate with our ability to absorb them. Any criticism of our need to reduce moderately new entries from overseas should be directed squarely at the previous Government.

The Government has decided to conduct a review of the private overseas student program, bearing in mind the large demand for places in Australian educational institutions, some existing inequities and difficulties in the administration of the existing program. The Government has appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Professor John Goldring, Professor of Law at Macquarie University. The committee of review has been asked to recommend changes to the private overseas student program which will achieve Government objectives-that is, to encourage private overseas students to study in Australia without reducing opportunities for Australian residents and without dramatically increasing public sector outlays. This is a complex and important task for the committee. Many aspects of the current private overseas student policy and procedures will need to be critically examined, including the proportion of costs of training to be borne by the student, whether priority should be given to students from particular countries, and the basis of future selection methods . The review committee has already called for submissions from interested governments, organisations and individuals. It is hopeful of the wildest possible consultations and participation in the review.

Mr Speaker, the Bill substitutes the new maximum level of charges of $2,900 for the current maximum rate of $2,500 in section 6 of the principal Act. The actual fees payable will be specified by regulation as in the past. I commend the Bill to the House.