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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8001

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:41): I am conscious, Mr Acting Deputy President Edwards, that you hope to speak on the Migration Legislation Amendment (Student Visas) Bill 2012, but your duties to the parliament perhaps might prevent you. I am not sure that my contribution would be such that it would facilitate your speaking. I just want to support Senator Cash in the comments she has made.

Senator Conroy: What about Senator Mason and his comments?

Senator Mason: That goes without saying.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It does indeed go without saying. It is Senator Cash's bill and Senator Cash was our lead speaker. But, of course, as always, I along with everyone else in this chamber am always impressed with every contribution that Senator Mason makes.

Senator Mason: Hear, hear!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: As a fellow Queenslander and, perhaps, a voter he is always close to my thoughts.

Senator Conroy interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Edwards ): Order!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Acting Deputy President, you need to give me some protection from the interjections by the minister. He is diverting me from the very serious part of my speech. We in the coalition understand that we do have to have a system that is accountable and that works and a system that does not allow for some of the unfortunate incidents that we have seen in the past. Having said that, there are two things that are principally crippling this country. One is a very bad government that is quite dysfunctional. The other thing that cripples this country, in addition to all the new taxes that have been imposed and the cost-of-living increases, is regulation.

Wherever you look these days, you find there is more and more and more regulation. It is becoming a burden. Mr Acting Deputy President, did you know—and I am ashamed to admit that I have just ascertained it—that the Abstudy application form has some 36 pages of material to fill in? Bearing in mind that many of the people called upon to complete Abstudy application forms are parents of children living in remote parts of our country, many of whom have limited, if I might say, education, if any education at all, they are required to fill in 36 pages of questions that even I as a former lawyer find difficult to understand. As a result of that, Centrelink rejects a lot of Abstudy applications, and I am told by constituents in North Queensland that, in rejecting these applications, Centrelink just says, 'rejected.'

And when the school involved asks what the reason is for the objection, it is told by Centrelink: 'There's a matter of privacy here. We cannot tell you. We can tell the student or the student's parents, but not the school who is providing the education for Indigenous people.'

That is not directly germane to this bill but it is germane to my concern about the increase in regulation and form filling, which in the case of Abstudy is quite atrocious. Because of that, there is a school in North Queensland in administration now because it has provided the tuition, it has provided the care, it has provided the sustenance, it has provided the transport from remote parts of Northern Australia into Townsville, but it has not been getting Abstudy because the parents have not filled in the forms correctly and Centrelink will not tell the school what the problem is. It is a disgrace in the instance I am talking about, as told to me by my constituents, that $5.2 million is owing to the school. The school cannot run on love—although it does exude a lot of love. That is an example of how this country is being strangled by red tape.

Finally, before I sit down—I am conscious that my colleague Senator Edwards is now able to speak and wants to speak—I want to mention something about student visas. I know that all Australian universities are very welcoming and very good, but those students from Asia should really be going to James Cook University in Townsville and Cairns, or Charles Darwin University in Darwin, or Notre Dame in Broome. James Cook is a magnificent university with a worldwide reputation for marine science, among other things. I always point out that for Asian students, you go to a place which has the same sort of atmosphere, the same sort of relaxed 'Asian style' of learning. The James Cook University has a campus in Singapore—I have just mentioned that to my guest at the Singapore luncheon today. These are schools which welcome international students and require these visas, but I know James Cook University, like any other university and any other provider, struggles under the red tape. Notwithstanding that, I will be supporting the bill.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Macdonald. We should charge you for advertising!