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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1521


Mr BRADFORD(12 midday) --I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a few remarks on the appropriations to the employment, education and training area. A short time ago my colleague the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) was alluding to the Opposition's great concern about the current level of unemployment in this country. The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in August was 9.8 per cent. We are now only too aware that over 800,000 Australians who wish to work cannot currently find a job. We know that that figure vastly understates the real truth, because we know that many people who are working are vastly underemployed; they are working only a very limited number of hours. Each of us in our role in our electorate is confronted almost daily with people who have given up any hope of gaining employment. They may have gone out of business and may be living off savings--they are making no real contribution to the country.

My particular concern in respect of the unemployment figures is for Australian youth. In Queensland the unemployment rate for job seekers aged 15 to 19 is an horrific 29.5 per cent. In my seat of McPherson the figure is as high as 34.5 per cent--that is, over one-third of young people, people on whom to a large extent the future of Australia depends, cannot get jobs. These are the official figures. I believe that figure of over one-third in my electorate is also vastly understated. The prognosis for these young people is not good. They are devastated as they leave school and find that all that they have worked for and all that they have hoped for cannot be achieved and no jobs are available to them. As the honourable member for Bennelong pointed out, the social consequences of this unemployment rate will be enormous, immeasurable, and ongoing. For years to come we will not be able to overcome the problems that are created for us by these levels of unemployment.

The Government desperately needs a solution to the unemployment problems it has created. Interestingly, its solution to some extent has been the development of training programs, and this appropriation deals with those. We have a plethora of them--for example, Jobtrain, Job Search and Jobstart. Members of parliament--I include myself--are confused about all these programs, some of them overlapping and some replacing others which have fallen by the wayside. We basically see the Government grasping at straws as it attempts to find some sort of solution and some way of getting these young people, in particular, into something that will be worth while. I am confronted daily with the even more pathetic situation of people in their forties and fifties who have for one reason or another become unemployed. The solution is retraining. They ask me--and I have no answer for them--`What am I going to retrain for? That temporarily puts me aside and takes me off the heap, but I am cast back onto it as soon as I have completed the retraining, because at the end there is no real job available to me'.

I could go on at length about that aspect of this appropriation, but I now move on to one or two other areas that I want to touch on, one of which deals with the export of education services. I am fortunate to have the Bond University situated in my electorate. In this context, I refer very briefly to the Industry Commission's final report on the export of education services. There is no doubt that Australia has a comparative advantage in this area. We have the opportunity to earn export dollars for this country.

The number of international students coming to Australia has grown rapidly since 1986 when public institutions were first permitted to enrol them and charge fees. But major problems have emerged and the Industry Commission report is a damning indictment on the Government's handling of this particular aspect.

Government regulation of this industry has been characterised by sudden shifts in policy direction. There is criticism that there was too little industry consultation prior to policy changes. The Industry Commission, in bringing down its report, points out to members of parliament and to the public that institution and government rules mean that we are losing international students, hence export income, as a result of government ineptitude in this area.

This report says that the Commonwealth Government's 1986 decision to free up the export of education has led to major economic and social benefits for Australia and for students who come to study here. Gross 1991 exports of education were worth about $1 billion. But Australia's public universities, even where they have the capacity, do not accept all qualified international students.

The Commission points to the need for these rules to be changed. The report recognises that accepting all qualified international students would contrast with the treatment of domestic students. In 1991 up to 29,000 qualified Australian students were neither granted a university-funded place nor allowed to purchase a place in a public university. We know that this unmet demand problem will continue in 1992. The Commission concludes that funding arrangements for higher education domestic students are flawed. It recommends that the Commonwealth accept the need to alter current arrangements so that qualified domestic students not be precluded from a place in public universities.

The Commission also found that the recent history of frequent changes to visa processes and the ways these were made have resulted in confusion and a loss of market. There are many reasons why overseas students should want to come to study in Australia. It is a good place to study. We have an excellent education system, despite the problems that it has. We are able to attract students. In many respects it is a great pity that this particular program got off to such a bad start and that so many overseas students were disillusioned and had their fingers burned by their experiences with it.

Bond University is making a great contribution in so many respects, particularly in receiving overseas students. Bond currently has 307 full fee paying overseas students, which represents roughly 25 per cent of the total student population. These students come from 23 different countries, the largest being Japan with 79 students, which represents 6.5 per cent of the student population. Every student at Bond is treated the same: each contributes directly to the costs of running the university. No overseas student takes up a place that an Australian would otherwise have, as vacancies exist in all schools. The fees there therefore contribute to the ongoing viability of the university.

I am very pleased to tell the Parliament that Bond University spends half a million dollars each year actively recruiting in all major overseas markets, and it anticipates the flow of overseas students to continue. The university has just recently applied for the Queensland export award, based on the revenue earned by its overseas student population. It collected some $3.6m in tuition fees from overseas students in 1991. It is estimated that a further $3.8m in extra earnings was actually made indirectly as a result of those students studying at Bond. This amounts to a contribution of $7.6m to the local economy; it is a tremendous achievement. (Time expired)