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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2525


Senator TEAGUE(10.09) —A little over a year ago this Parliament received two major and valuable reports concerning overseas students policy. One was the report of the Goldring Committee of Review of Private Overseas Student Policy and the other was the report of the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program. The Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill 1985, which is now being debated directly reflects the Government's decisions in response to its consideration of these reports. The Government's response has been basically to adopt the Goldring approach. However, the Opposition regards the work of both committees as valuable and is critical of a number of the Labor Government's decisions in this area.

Given the pressures of time for this debate and my need to concentrate on the particular Bill before us, I will not review all of the elements of what we in the Liberal-National Party Opposition believe should be a sound and dynamic overseas student policy. I just say that we are immensely proud of the positive measures taken by Australia in the 1950s, the 1960s and until now to establish and maintain a very significant overseas student program which has served so very well the students of our region and the countries of our region, especially those from South East Asia and the South Pacific but also importantly students from China, Japan and other countries with which we also have significant relations.

The achievements of the program have been to the mutual advantage of Australia and our neighbours. In summary, the elements or principles of this very positive success for Australia and for all the countries of our region have rightly included the following: Sound professional education, which has an enduring impact on the lives and work of graduates for the ensueing 50 years; development assistance; cultural exchange; the development of Australia as a multicultural, tolerant and enlightened society; foreign policy interests including good relations with other countries and our region's strategic and security interests; trade and commercial interests, including a direct knowledge by graduates outside Australia, of our commercial and technical standards and practices.

I now turn directly to the Bill and in doing so warn the Government that the financial implications of this measure already begin to endanger the best achievement of the principles to which I have referred. The Government's intention to raise the overseas student charge from 25 per cent to 45 per cent of the education cost endangers the best achievements of the overseas student program as we have up till now so confidently known it.

The essence of this legislation is the Hawke Labor Government's decision to raise the level of charge which overseas students studying in Australia are required to pay. Until now there have been three categories of charge, depending on the type of higher education course undertaken. This year in the first category postgraduate students have a charge of $3,350 per annum. In the second category undergraduate students in the so-called high cost courses of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science have a charge of $3,100 per annum and in the third category all other undergraduate students have a charge of $2,500 per annum.

The Bill proposes that there now be only two categories but that those charges be raised at a stroke by 40 per cent. However, I must add that, because the Opposition has strongly argued that such an unexpected and sharp increase is unfair, especially to those overseas students who have already enrolled in courses, the Government has now been forced to amend its original legislation to limit the increase for those continuing students to 15 per cent, that is, to about twice the rate of inflation. I must tell the Government that the Opposition regards the 15 per cent rate of increase also as unfair to existing students and we will propose a further amendment. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which has been prepared at my request by the Parliamentary Library.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

OVERSEAS STUDENT CHARGE

Year

Postgrad. Courses (1)

Undergraduate Courses

High Cost (2)

Other

$ p.a.

% incr.

$ p.a.

% incr.

$ p.a.

incr.

1980...

2,500

. .

2,000

. .

1,500

. .

1981...

2,500

. .

2,000

. .

1,500

. .

1982...

2,500

. .

2,200

10.0

1,700

13.3

1983...

2,500

. .

2,350

6.8

1,850

8.8

1984...

2,900

16.0

2,700

14.9

2,150

16.2

1985...

3,350

15.5

3,100

14.8

2,500

16.3

1986 (3)...

n.a.

3,565

4,340

(4)...15.0

40.0

2,875

3,500

(4)...15.0

40.0

Average Percentage Increase 1980-85:

% p.a.

Postgraduate Courses

Undergraduate-High cost

Other

6.03

9.16

10.76

(1) Masters and Doctorates.

(2) Medicine, Veterinary Science and Dentistry.

(3) In 1986 the distinction between postgraduate and undergraduate courses will be abandoned. All courses will be subject to the rates for undergraduate courses depending upon the field of study.

(4) The lesser rate is for continuing students; the maximum rate is for new students.

Education and Welfare Group

25 November 1985...LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH SERVICE


Senator TEAGUE —This table sets out detail of overseas student charges in all of the years since 1980, the year of its introduction, and includes the proposed charges for 1986. It is clear from the table that in the six years of its operation the average annual increase has been in the range of 6 per cent to 11 per cent. It is also clear that this range of annual increase until now has been no greater than the annual inflation rate in Australia. I add that in the first four years of its operation, that is, during the period of the Liberal-National Party Government, the overseas student charge was raised at less than half of this 6 to 11 per cent average rate. It has been a decision of the Labor Government in the last two years to increase the charge at a rate that considerably exceeds the rate of inflation.

The culmination of all this is the Bill before us. This Bill enacts the extraordinary decision of the Hawke Labor Government to increase the charge by 40 per cent. When we in the Liberal-National Party Opposition protested the impact that this would have, especially on students already enrolled, the Government half changed its mind and made the weak and unconvincing response to set the increase for these students at 15 per cent, which is not only about twice the rate of inflation but also about twice the rate of increase that overseas students have been led to expect from the 1980 to 1985 experience of this charge.

Unlike the Australian Democrats, the Opposition acknowledges that the Government should have the ability to increase the charge but we believe that the appropriate rate of increase in respect of existing students should be the rate of inflation. Accordingly, our amendment at the Committee stage will propose that the Government determined level of 15 per cent not apply but, rather, that it be the maximum under which the actual rate will be determined each year by regulation so as to reflect generally the rate of inflation in Australia. Because regulations are subject to disallowance by the Parliament, the Government should expect approval from the Parliament when the rate determined does in fact reflect the annual rate of inflation.

Finally on this aspect, I remind the Senate that, when in 1980 the original overseas student charge was introduced, the then Liberal- National Party Government did not require students already enrolled to pay the charge. It was levied only on new students. This was on the ground that it would be unfair to existing students and unexpected by them. Thus, all existing students then were exempted from the charge.

In the final part of my speech I wish to refer to the cost to the Australian taxpayer of overseas students. But, first of all, how many students are there? In 1983, there were 16,600 overseas students from developing countries studying in Australia and in 1984 this figure had increased to 18,000. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

STUDENTS FROM DEVELOPING COUNTRIES STUDYING IN AUSTRALIA

1983

Sponsored

Tertiary

Students

(1)

Other

Tertiary

Students

(2)

Secondary

Students

(3)

Total

1984

Sponsored

Tertiary

Students

(1)

Other

Tertiary

Students

(2)

Secondary

Students

(3)

Total

Africa...

214

154

11

379

215

136

14

365

South America/Carribean .

23

21

7

51

28

15

1

44

Asia

China...

36

35

3

74

46

80

13

139

Hong Kong...

9

1,388

744

2,141

10

1,639

638

2,287

Indonesia...

247

593

466

1,306

229

775

346

1,350

Malaysia...

60

6,016

3,191

9,267

57

7,269

2,958

10,824

Pakistan...

22

41

. .

63

13

42

1

10,824

Philippines...

63

26

27

116

61

28

30

119

Singapore...

67

723

84

874

72

776

84

132

Sri Lanka...

39

123

3

165

35

125

8

168

Taiwan...

. .

21

4

25

. .

23

7

30

Thailand...

118

151

64

333

117

131

65

313

Other Asia...

101

294

34

429

81

359

24

464

Middle East South Pacific...

1

58

4

63

3

70

21

94

Fiji...

61

420

281

762

72

399

264

735

Nauru...

. .

1

65

66

. .

1

72

73

PNG...

68

31

245

344

81

45

247

373

Solomon Is....

11

6

12

29

11

11

15

37

Tonga...

18

45

32

95

27

35

27

89

Other S.P....

19

15

13

47

17

14

18

49

Unspecified...

. .

1

. .

1

7

18

12

37

TOTAL...

1,177

10,163

5,290

16,630

1,182

11,991

4,826

17,999

(1) This excludes tertiary students who are undertaking specially arranged courses funded from other parts of the aid budget.

(2) These do not include students in approved tertiary exchange programs.

(3) These do not include secondary students in approved exchange programs.


Senator TEAGUE —This table sets out the number of overseas students, both sponsored and private and both tertiary and secondary, and the countries and regions from which they have come to study in Australia. Almost all of these students come from South East Asia and the South Pacific.

I should point out that the overseas students charge is paid by a majority of these students but it is not paid by all of them. For example, it is not paid by secondary students nor by technical and further education students. Also, for sponsored students, the charge is covered by being incorporated into the scholarships these students receive, mostly by programs of the Colombo Plan type which are provided by Australia. In addition, the charge is waived for all private students from Papua New Guinea at a current annual cost of $121,000, and is waived for all private students from the South Pacific at a current annual cost of $1,018,000.

I should also point out that the total cost of the courses of study undertaken by the remaining majority of students, that is, all the private overseas students who attend universities, colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology, amounts to about $130m. To this total of $130m the overseas students themselves currently contribute about one-quarter of the cost of their studies by their payment of the overseas student charge. The remainder, which is about three-quarters of the cost or about $100m, is paid by Australian taxpayers. In fact, in the 1984-85 financial year the Department of Foreign Affairs appropriated and expended $98,624,000 to meet this cost and in the current financial year the estimates indicate an appropriation of $97,398,000 but it appears that this will need to be supplemented early next year. In addition--


Senator Macklin —What is that based on?


Senator TEAGUE —That is based directly on the Estimates. In addition to this, the Australian taxpayers provide almost $3m to administer the Overseas Student Office and this includes, of course, the cost of collecting the overseas student charge. In the light of this approximately $100m provided by the Australian taxpayers for students from developing coutries, I take this opportunity again to draw attention to the need for us to develop an equitable distribution of these resources between the various countries in our region.

Finally, I note that, by the Government already changing the increase in the charge from 40 per cent to 15 per cent for continuing students, the revenue forgone amounts to $5m. It is in the context of having a responsible approach to these perspectives that the Opposition does not accept the approach to this Bill of the Australian Democrats. We do not agree with the Democrats' view that the Government should be denied altogether any ability to increase the overseas student charge for existing students. However, I urge Australian Democrats senators to support the reasonable amendment that I have outlined on behalf of the Opposition. My colleague Senator Peter Baume will in the Committee stage introduce the precise wording of the amendment that we have determined.