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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6430

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Immigration and Citizenship) (17:34): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in international education. He referred to his advocacy of the University of Wollongong. In a very modest way he did not refer to his advocacy for St Paul's College in his electorate and the very important work St Paul's does in international education. The honourable member will correct me if I am wrong, but I think well over 90 per cent of the students at St Paul's are international. It is a great facility in the Illawarra and a great export earner for Australia and a great educator of young people. The honourable member is correct: international education is vital for Australia. It is one of our largest export industries. It also provides a very important stream of finance to our tertiary institutions. It is a creator of employment. Also—and this is sometimes forgotten—it is important to Australia's international strategic long-term best interests. If we are educating the leaders of tomorrow—from Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India—if we get it right we will stand in very good stead with those people who get their education in Australia. There are plenty of examples of senior leaders in Asia at the moment who studied in Australia, and I hope we have many thousands more.

For that reason, the minister for skills and I appointed the Hon. Michael Knight, a former minister for immigration, to conduct a review of our visas settings for international education. The number of student visa grants had declined between 2009 and 2011 due to a range of factors. We wanted to make sure that the visa settings were right for the times. Michael Knight made 41 recommendations and we accepted every one of them. Twenty recommendations have been implemented, a further eight are going to be implemented by early 2013 and work on the remaining 13 is ongoing because it involves long-term research and ongoing liaison.

A number of Knight review recommendations were made in March this year as part of the second stage of the review. The changes included streamlined visa processing for certain prospective students of participating universities. That was very warmly welcomed by Australia's university sector as a very important streamlining of their necessary processing. It really gives universities and other institutions—but universities in particular—the opportunity to ensure that their processing is as efficient as possible and, while protecting integrity, not overly bureaucratic.

We have also made significant progress on other reforms—in particular, the assessment level framework review. That will be very important to the honourable member because it goes to VET institutions and it goes to schools like St Paul's. It will look at how we can best take a streamlined approach and apply it to other institutions. It is not as simple as universities. There is a much smaller number of universities and they are easier to monitor. But there are many more VET or other institutions. But the principle is sound and good, and we are looking at how that could be expanded.

The very important new post-study work visa arrangements come into effect in early 2013. Graduates who have completed a bachelor's degree, a master's degree by coursework, a master's degree by research or a doctoral degree will have access to post-study work arrangements of two, three or four years respectively. In relation to streamlined visa processing, that came into force on 24 March 2012.

The honourable member raised the subject of working hours. We did make changes there. It was not so much an increase but more a streamlining. The previous condition was 20 hours a week. We have changed that to 40 hours a fortnight. That might not seem like a change, but it does actually provide a lot more flexibility. As you can imagine, there are different working hours and different working environments. Sometimes students might want to work 25 hours in one week and fewer hours in the next week. Averaging that over a fortnight makes more sense to employers and their record keeping.

In relation to the honourable member's question on enterprise migration agreements, as the government and I have repeatedly stressed, we want these jobs to go to Australians, particularly those who have been affected by structural change and adjustment in electorates such as Throsby. That is one of the reasons for the jobs board, which will have the capacity not only to advertise positions but for people to express interest in working not only at Roy Hill but at other projects throughout the resources sector. I know that Roy Hill is soon to begin a very major recruitment exercise across the country in a high-profile way. It will be making its own announcements about that. But I expect to see lots of capacity for the member for Throsby to refer people to Roy Hill, including through jobs expos which he may wish to hold in his electorate.