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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21311

Mr LINDSAY (3:33 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of measures the government is taking to enhance Australia's position as an international provider of excellence in education? Minister, are you aware of any other statements or policies in this area?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Herbert for his question. He is a very strong supporter of James Cook University in Townsville and a very strong supporter of the internationalisation of education. Today, on behalf of the Australian government and Australian education providers, the foreign minister and I have released the first forward policy document in more than 12 years setting out the vision for education and Australia's strategic direction over the coming decade.

At the moment, amongst the English-speaking countries Australia attracts the third largest number of international students. That education and training is now worth $5.2 billion to Australia. We have 380,000 international students who are currently being educated by Australia or in Australia. About 280,000 of them are actually in Australia at the moment. This is our third biggest services export industry. It is responsible for employing 43,000 Australians. In fact, in the budget this year the government announced a $113 million package to further promote and develop internationalisation of education. The government will be putting $40 million into additional counselling and promotion facilities, particularly in North America, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe, and $10 million towards strengthening auditing and quality programs in offshore facilities—obviously outside Australia. The government will also be establishing four international centres of excellence: Asia-Pacific studies and diplomacy at the Australian National University, water resources management, sports science and administration, and mathematics.

On behalf of not only the government but also the opposition, it is fair to say that there are two things upon which this parliament would agree. The first is that students are very welcome from all countries—in fact 200 countries at the moment—to receive an education in Australia. The second point that I think both the government and the Australian Labor Party would make to the Australian people is that not one of these overseas students takes a single place from an Australian student. It is important for Australians to understand—and I think the Australian Labor Party would join the government in reminding Australians—that the 130,000 university students who come from overseas to go to university in Australia not only do not take a single place but create extra places for Australians from the revenue that comes from educating these students, and it improves the quality of education that our own children receive. The absurd position of the Australian Labor Party is that, having recognised that fee-paying foreign students create more opportunities for Australians and improve quality, it then says, `But Australian citizens are not allowed, after HECS places have been expanded, to take up the same opportunities that are currently available to 130,000 students from overseas.'

For example, at James Cook University there are 1,400 foreign students. They are welcomed; they are an important part of our educational, political and cultural framework. But the Labor Party then says, `But if you are an Australian citizen living in Townsville the only way that you, under a Labor government, will be able to take up a fee-paying opportunity at James Cook University is if you sell your Australian citizenship overseas and come back as a foreigner.' It is very important that there be consistency in higher education policy in Australia, and the Labor Party should at least give Australians the same break in higher education as it gives our international community.

The SPEAKER —Just before I recognise the member for Lilley, on a relatively incidental matter I point out to the member for Herbert that his statement `Minister, are you aware' would have been more appropriately framed `Is the minister aware', and a similar error was made by the member for Griffith a couple of questions earlier. This is just to remind members of their obligation to address remarks through the chair.