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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12555

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (18:30): I rise to voice my support for the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (Tuition Protection Service and Other Measures) Bill 2011 and related legislation. I thank the member for McPherson for her contribution. We have seen a growing number of students from overseas enrol in Australian universities. Australia is home to 460,000 overseas students, including 126,000 from China and nearly 70,000 from India. Many students also come from South Korea, from Indonesia, from Malaysia, from Thailand and, as mentioned by the previous speaker, there is an emerging South American market. In fact, international students here come from more than 190 countries. It is a vote of confidence in our wonderful Australian universities and proof that an Australian degree is highly regarded all around the world.

Australia is a very attractive place to study—great people, great climate—I am sure you would agree, Deputy Speaker Slipper, that that is the case in Queensland at least—and a very welcoming multicultural society. Young people want to come to Australia: they want to be educated in Australia and they want to experience Australian culture. It is estimated that overseas students and their families spend more than $14 billion a year in Australia. Access Economics estimate that their presence creates an extra $12.6 billion in goods, in services and in jobs. That means, in all, overseas students contribute more than $26 billion to our economy, making education our third biggest export. When we see coal trains going through Brisbane and in North Queensland, we need to think of our overseas students in similar terms—they are valuable commodities and it is our job to protect them.

Their contribution is not just economic or financial; overseas students contribute to the broad tapestry of Australian multiculturalism, and they also ensure that there is a diversity of thought in our universities and in the broader community. Griffith University's Nathan campus, in my electorate, is home to nearly 4,000 international students. They have an even stronger presence on the Gold Coast and in Logan. The Gold Coast campus particularly caters for international students for some of the reasons the member for McPherson detailed, including the sand, the sunshine and the healthy lifestyle. Obviously our community is all the richer and stronger for having these international students in our presence.

Of course, such a rapidly growing sector does create challenges, and the Labor government has responded in recent years to improve the integrity of the sector. There are other problems associated with this rapidly growing sector. At Griffith University in my electorate there are community consultation meetings, which I try to attend. These meetings are all about the university engaging with the community—the local residents—because sometimes we have had to educate international students about some of the topics which will not be in the end-of-semester exams. These are things such as: where do you put the wheelie bins? How loud do you have the music? Is it okay to walk around without a top on? They are things like that, although I do not get a lot of complaints from people in my electorate about the last topic. Apparently some Swedish students did have this practice.

Mr Neumann: Get back on the bill!

Mr PERRETT: I had better get back to the legislation—I take the interjection from the member for Blair. However, returning to the legislation, there are some unscrupulous education providers who exist only to provide a back door for students or who represent themselves as being able to provide a way for the students to gain residency—they do not have particularly accurate product disclosure statements. The government has responded to regulate and make sure there are minimum standards, better complaints handling and further strengthening of the registration requirements. This is important to ensure that international students get a quality education in Australia and, on the flip side, that our international students meet the conditions of their student visas.

I was doing street stalls at the weekend in Graceville when a lady came up to me on behalf of the international students who are employed by a cleaning company. It was pointed out that they were being taken advantage of because their English is not perfect. It turned out that their employer is not paying superannuation on their behalf and that there are some other questionable work practices. This does happen.

These bills are the second part of the government's response to the Baird review of 2010, which made a number of recommendations to government regarding overseas students. The bill introduces a tuition protection service to protect students when an education provider cannot meet its obligations. The service includes a TPS director and advisory board, both to be appointed by the minister, and a DEEWR secretariat to support the work of the director and the board. The bill also creates a service provider to manage the student placement arrangements.

A TPS levy will be applied to all registered international education providers. Where a provider defaults on tuition, it will be required to refund any part of the course paid for but not delivered. This will ensure that students can choose and afford an alternative provider and have the tuition received recognised at this new provider.

The bill will also amend the Education Services for Overseas Students Act to limit the collection of prepaid course fees to no more than one study period in advance. Providers will also be required to keep the fees for the first study period in a designated account until the student commences study. This ensures that, in the sad circumstances of the provider going belly up, the provider will still have funds to meet its refund obligations should it default or the student's visa application be refused.

The bill will make study in Australia more affordable as students will no longer be required to pay huge amounts in upfront fees. Furthermore, the bill strengthens the requirements for providers to have procedures in place to update student contact details and maintain assessment records. This is an important process if students are not here for the right educational reasons. The bill also establishes a national registration system to allow a more straightforward registration process for education providers who operate across jurisdictions—getting rid of red tape yet again. This amendment will not stop the regulator from taking compliance action against any or all of the provider's operations but it will reduce compliance costs for providers.

Like any growth industry, there are always a few cowboy operators who are happy to dig into others' pockets to make a quick buck rather than committing to protecting the great brand that is Australian education and to providing a great education service. This bill will make it more difficult for these cowboys to operate and provide greater protection to international students. It also ensures Australia can continue to stand tall as a destination of choice for overseas students and that the brand so carefully protected and nurtured over the years by past governments, continues to be a great brand overseas. I commend the bill to the House.