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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2539


Senator ANNING (Queensland) (14:44): My question is for Senator Payne, the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Last week Minister Bishop confirmed 495 scholarships will be handed out to 22 African countries at a cost to the Australian taxpayer of $31.8 million. It has been reported that these scholarships are all expenses paid. Can the minister detail whether or not these scholarships include living expenses such as a weekly income, accommodation, education or other related expenses?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:45): In response to the back end of Senator Anning's question, I can indicate that the expenses that are covered by the Australia Awards include the costs of travel, of tuition and of student health cover and a contribution to living expenses for the individual recipient. What I would also like to draw the senator's attention to and the Senate's attention to are the many benefits that the Australia Awards bring for Australia and for the recipients' home countries, which includes investment, job creation and wealth generation. The recipients overwhelmingly gain skills, knowledge and practical experience that help to drive economic and social development in their home countries, which, if I was to put my hat on as Minister for Defence, also contributes to security and stability in the region's communities from which they are drawn.

The education, training and research exchanges are central to building and enhancing Australia's engagement and influence both in the region and globally. The awards recipients—and there are many who have gone on to hold very senior positions in their own nations—develop a very strong affinity with the Australian people and a very strong and positive opinion of Australia. They showcase Australia and the Australian education sector, as I'm sure the Minister for Education, Minister Birmingham, would acknowledge, in a globally competitive marketplace. And let's not forget that international education is our third largest export and our largest services export, contributing a total of $30.8 billion in the last financial year and supporting over 130,000 full-time jobs across our nation, across our major cities and in key regional cities. They are jobs for all working-age Australians.

This year, the provision from the Australian government is 4,000 long- and short-term awards to emerging leaders from more than 60 countries in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Anning, a supplementary question.

Senator ANNING (Queensland) (14:47): Given that our rural and regional students have access to few scholarships, the main being the $24.1 million Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program, can the minister explain why the government has prioritised funding for educating Africans over rural Aussie kids?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:47): I would like to draw on the expertise of my colleague Minister Birmingham, but, if one began with youth allowance and HECS in and of themselves as contributions that support students from regional Australia, that would be a good place to start in the conversation. But the two are not mutually exclusive, and I think that is the most important aspect to consider here. I've outlined the contribution and the engagement that Australia Awards recipients make in their own countries as a result of Australia's engagement, and the total cost of the program over the year 2017-18 is $320 million. Over 86 per cent of it is also directed to the Indo-Pacific region. This is an important area of key focus for Australia. It's an important area in which we should be investing in people. People-to-people relationships that can be developed through the work of the Australia Awards are essential to our standing in the region.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Anning, final supplementary question.

Senator ANNING (Queensland) (14:48): Noting the recipients of those scholarships are expected to return to their own country after completion of their education—if they don't overstay their visas—can you explain the benefit to the Australian taxpayer for providing these scholarships with their hard-earned tax dollars?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:49): I thank Senator Anning for the supplementary question. I think I have taken the opportunity to outline to the Senate a number of the very positive outcomes from the Australia Awards program, but I would also note it is a condition of the student visa subclass 500 that Australia Awards recipients don't remain in Australia following completion or termination of their scholarship. The Australia Awards recipients are further excluded from applying for return to Australia for anything other than short-term visits for a minimum of two years following completion or termination of their scholarships.

Let me outline some of the most notable activities of the alumni from the Indo-Pacific region alone. The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Mr Henry Puna, is a recipient of an Australia Award; the Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Disability Forum, Mr Macanawai, from Fiji, similarly; the Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection in Indonesia similarly; and the President of Kiribati similarly. That is just a short example. (Time expired)