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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1011

Mr HODGMAN(8.13) —This small but obnoxious piece of legislation gives effect to a Budget measure already announced by the Hawke socialist Government. Whilst the Opposition will not decline to give the Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill 1983 a second reading, we do feel very strongly that there are undesirable features about this legislation which should be brought to public attention. Accordingly, with respect to this Bill I move the following amendment :

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that- (1) the increased charges will cause personal hardship by preventing a large number of private overseas students from obtaining the benefits of secondary and tertiary education in Australia; and

(2) the substantially reduced overseas student intake for 1984 is not in the interests of Australia and its relations with our Asian and Pacific neighbours in that it is elitist, isolationist, selfish and mean'.

This legislation increases the maximum rate of charge per prescribed course for overseas students attending secondary and tertiary education institutions in Australia from $2,500 to $2,900. When the maximum rate of charge was fixed back in 1979, $2,500 represented approximately 40 per cent of the average cost of higher education. The increased rate of charge represents today slightly less than 40 per cent of the estimated average cost of tertiary education in 1983. So on the one hand the Hawke socialist Government has increased the cost to overseas students wishing to receive education in Australia, while on the other hand the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West), in his second reading speech on this Bill, announced that the Hawke socialist Government had substantially reduced the size of the intake of overseas students coming into Australia for the purposes of secondary and tertiary education in 1984.

In short, to its discredit it has made it much harder for private overseas students to be able to afford secondary and tertiary education in Australia. At the same time it has cut the intake to approximately 3,500 in 1984, being 2,000 for secondary education and 1,500 for tertiary education. In so doing, we believe that the Hawke socialist Government has taken action which can be fairly described as elitist, isolationist, selfish and mean. Whilst it is true to say that the overwhelming majority of overseas students entering either secondary or tertiary education in Australia are either Australian Development Assistance Bureau students or scholarship students, the fact still remains that many many families in many countries of Asia and the Pacific region work very hard to raise the money to give their sons and daughters the opportunity of education in Australia. For many families in countries which are not as wealthy as we are to pay $2,500 involves a very significant sacrifice. That figure has now been increased to $2,900.

I believe that all Australians would be proud of the fact that many of the leaders of Asian and pacific nations today received their education in this country, Australia, some years ago. The fact that they have been educated in Australia and have formed ties and friendships with this nation of ours has stood this nation in very good stead in its relations with our neighbours. I mention, for example, the Minister for National Development in Singapore, Mr Teh , a most intelligent and charming man whom I had the honour to meet in Singapore last year. Mr Teh took his degree of Bachelor of Architecture at Sydney University back in the 1950s. By one of those coincidences of fate, a significant number of members of the Fijian Parliament undertook their law degrees at the University of Tasmania in the 1950s and 1960s. It think it is more than significant that the former Leader of the Opposition in Fiji, Mr Siddiq Koya, took his degree of Bachelor of Laws at the University of Tasmania. The current Speaker of the Fijian Parliament, the Deputy Speaker and a significant number of Ministers in the Fijian Government of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara took their degree in this country.

Last year on a brief overseas visit-the only one I was able to take as a Minister under the former Government, because overseas trips under our Government were not handed out with gay abandon-I had the opportunity to visit three Pacific and Asian countries briefly and, I might say, at very modest expense to the taxpayer. During those visits, I found one matter raised repeatedly: Why was it that Australia had brought in this overseas student charge legislation in 1979? Anyone who checks Hansard and anyone who was around in 1979 will know that I, as a backbencher, had very strong views about the principle that we were bringing into legislation when we decided to charge overseas students for the privilege of education in Australia. The Australian Labor Party was unanimous in its opposition to that legislation in 1979. The ALP said that it was disgraceful that we were to charge overseas students for the privilege of being educated in Australia. Running up to the 1980 Federal election campaign you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the most senior and experienced member of your party in this House, and the father of the House, will well recall that your colleagues ran around Australia and at campuses of universities said: 'We shall get rid of this inequitable overseas student charge'. But what do we find? In 1983 not only does the Hawke socialist Government not get rid of the overseas student charge; it has increased it, and increased it substantially.

The second matter is one of very great concern. The Minister, in his second reading speech, put forward unconvincing arguments for a reduction in the overseas student intake for 1984. The Minister no doubt read, in the Australian and some other newspapers which published similar articles, that there was overcrowding in certain universities, and that problems were being caused because of the numbers of overseas students in certain faculties. I think, with respect, that the Minister and the Government have given a kneejerk reaction to this and have said that they will slash the number of overseas students coming into Australia without taking into account what this will do to Australia's image.

There are many universities and colleges of advanced education in this country and, indeed, many schools and secondary education institutions which would be able to take more overseas students, and would welcome them. My colleague in the Senate, Senator Peter Baume, our shadow Minister for Education, could no doubt give more accurate details of the universities which are in a position to take new students. The University of Tasmania could take more overseas students, and I am informed that the of Flinders University and Deakin University could take more overseas students, as could Macquarie University, and so on. So if it is a problem in one or two universities, why take the action that the Government has taken in shutting the door on a significant number of overseas students who would dearly wish for the opportunity of coming to this country?

I have a robust and, I think, forceful debate with the Minister. It never gets personal, However, I thought that there were a few parts of his speech which could have been put better. I refer, for example, to his statement-which I challenge-where he says:

The charge on overseas students is therefore required to defray part of the cost of their education.

That statement is just not correct. The money from the overseas student charges goes into the coffers of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. It is not then paid out to the educational institutions which look after those students. It is wrong to say to the people of Australia and to our Asian neighbours that we are charging these students a fee, which will now be $2,900 per annum, on the basis that it will defray part of the cost of their education. I put it bluntly to the Minister: If that is the intention of the legislation, I suggest that, to put it on an honourable footing, the Hawke Government should introduce amending legislation to ensure that the money collected is paid through to the educational institutions at which those overseas students are carrying out their courses.

Mr West —It goes into general revenue. You know that.

Mr HODGMAN —I am sorry. I am just putting it to the Minister that he said in his second reading speech that it is required to defray part of the cost of their education. The fact is that it is not. A little further on in the second reading speech the Minister said:

The Government is concerned that as a result Australian students may not have been able to obtain places in the course of their choice at tertiary institutions.

That will read very well in Australia, but how does the Minister think that it will be read in Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila, Hong Kong and Fiji? It will be read as one of the most selfish and ill-considered statements uttered by a Minister and a government in many years. What the Government is saying, effectively, is that Australian students, in its judgment, may not have been able to obtain places in the course of their choice at tertiary institutions because of overseas students in this country. On the Minister's figures, that proposition is simply untenable. There are 8,000 overseas students in Australia today. Is the Minister telling me that those 8,000 are squeezing out Australians ? I repeat: If there is a problem in a particular university or a particular college of advanced education, why not fix that problem by letting those students go to other institutions where there is not a problem? I repeat-I can tell the House at first hand about this-that the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania is most enthusiastic in his belief that Tasmania could take more overseas students in certain faculties.

The other matter in the Minister's speech that concerns me is when he says that we shall be limiting the number of private overseas students entering tertiary institutions in Australia to 4,000 in the coming year, 1984, and that this is an increase of 400 over the number for 1983. When one reads a little further, one sees that he says that this, of course, includes 2,500 overseas students who are completing their secondary education in Australia, and this means that the Government must limit the number of overseas students directly entering tertiary institutions in 1984 to 1,500. How does the Government think that the fact that we are prepared to accept a miserable 1,500 will go down with our Asian and Pacific neighbours? What an isolationist attitude for Australia to take. It is selfish, mean and miserable for this Government to tell our Asian and Pacific neighbours that we are prepared, out of the goodness of our hearts, to receive 1 ,500 in 1984 and that we are upping the ante to $2,900.

The Minister says that the Government is limiting the number of secondary students to 2,000. But that is not the whole story. I have a case in my parliamentary office in which the head of one of our diplomatic missions in the Pacific has had to write to me to say that a young lady who wished to attend a Catholic non-government school in Hobart to do her matriculation cannot go to that school at all to do her matriculation. If she wants to, she can do a technical course at the Hobart Technical College. She has a cousin attending that Catholic school in Hobart and an uncle, aunt and other relatives who are prepared to put up the fees for her to attend that school. How does the Government explain to them the rationale of a policy which says that that 17- year-old lass cannot matriculate at Mount Carmel College but she can do a technical course at the Hobart Technical College?

I am bitterly disappointed, on behalf of the Opposition, by the attitude displayed by the Government in this matter. Firstly, I am disappointed by the Government's utter hypocrisy. This was the party that condemned this legislation as did I, when it was introduced in 1979. Now that the ALP is in power, it is prepared to up the ante. It will be depriving many private overseas students of the opportunity of coming to this country for secondary or tertiary education. The jump from $2,500 to $2,900 is a fortune for some of the families on the low wages that they receive who want to send their son or their daughter into Australia to undertake a secondary or tertiary education course. To accompany that by a cutback is regrettable. More than that, it will convey an impression to our Pacific and Asian neighbours that notwithstanding the rhetoric of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), the young people of these countries are not really welcome in Australia. I have had a long standing association with the Overseas Students Association of the University of Tasmania since its inception in 1956. I continue to be the honorary legal adviser to that Association and I have nothing but the highest regard for the calibre of the young people in it. The young people who come here bring good and they assimilate well. They have been an absolute success in every university. As I have said, many of those who went through our universities in the 1950s are now leaders.

I say to the Minister that as a result of the actions of his Government in upping the ante and dropping the quota students who should be coming into this country will not now be coming. I daresay that some of them will finish up in Moscow. Why will that be? It will be because the Soviet Government, which is determined to extend its influence into the Pacific area, as the Minister well knows, will go out of its way to say to young people: 'If you are not wanted in Australia we will certainly have you in Moscow'. The Soviets will do it in a cunning way, whether it be through ballet, music or gymnastics. They will find the way. They will pay these young people their fare and an allowance. For example, what does the Minister think will be the influence of the Soviet Union in an area such as Western Samoa where the Soviet Union is desperately trying to ingratiate itself with that Administration? As a result of an elitist, isolationist, selfish and mean act by the Hawke socialist Government, not only will these young people be lost to our nation and to our institutions to our detriment and to the detriment of their countries but also, I suggest, some of them will now find their way to Moscow. Is that really what the Government intended? I would hope not, but that is what will happen. The Government is putting up the shutters. It is telling these young people that they are not wanted. Shame on the Government.

I think the legislation is regrettable in the extreme but, more importantly, it indicates that, in a way, this Government is demonstrating its true colours- isolationist, selfish, mean and miserable. I hope there will be members of the Government with enough courage to acknowledge the veracity, sincerity and force of the Opposition amendment. I hope they will be prepared to cross to our side of the House and do the right thing in voting in favour of our amendment when it is put to a vote later this evening.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Millar —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.