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Wednesday, 4 November 1992
Page: 2619

Mr HAND (Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs) (9.11 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is to impose a charge on those adults who apply for certain visas and entry permits and who will need instruction in the English language. The Bill also provides scope for charging people who are already resident in Australia and who enrol in courses arranged under the Commonwealth-funded adult migrant English program. The charges are in two forms: up to a maximum of $4,080 for applicants from 1 January 1993 who are issued visas or entry permits after 1 March 1993; and up to $250 a year for current residents enrolling or re-enrolling in adult migrant English courses. In return the Commonwealth undertakes to fund up to 510 hours of tuition.

  The charges are part of the broader reform strategy spelt out in a statement I made jointly with my colleague the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Beazley). I seek leave to table that statement.

  Leave granted.

Mr HAND —In brief, the statement details our plans for removing the backlog of need for English as a second language, ESL, among long term residents who are registered job seekers. My Department, through the AMEP, will prevent the backlog from growing by honouring commitments to currently enrolled clients and by delivering ESL for incoming migrants more effectively than in the past. We will also provide for other groups, particularly women, who may fall outside those broad priorities. A sum of $500,000 is earmarked for them. Our strategies will bring significant benefits to Australian society.

  Commonwealth funding of the AMEP has increased substantially in recent years, exceeding $100m in 1991-92. This year total Commonwealth resources for adult ESL will exceed $142m, of which $42.2m will be targeted at job seekers through labour market training programs.

  As these commitments demonstrate, the Government recognises that proficiency in English is an essential part of Australian life. Learning English benefits Australian society by facilitating communication—and hence equality of opportunity—among Australians. At the same time, proficiency in English benefits individuals. It is reasonable therefore that individuals who benefit from the adult migrant English program should contribute to its cost.

  There are exceptions—among them refugees, preferential family members and those who are wholly dependent on social security payments. Hence revenue projections are modest: $3.65m in 1992-93 and $9.7m in 1993-94. It will allow increased resources for the program with no increase in Commonwealth appropriations. But the benefits of charging go beyond any contribution to revenue.

  Client contribution to cost will encourage greater motivation from students. More importantly, charging places a greater obligation on service providers to meet the expectations of clients. The charges, together with the other reforms I have touched upon, will result in a better managed, client responsive program. I commend the Bill to the House and I present the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.

  Debate (on motion by Mr Ruddock) adjourned.