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Wednesday, 30 August 1989
Page: 593

Senator MACKLIN —I refer the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs to media reports indicating that the Government has stopped processing applications for refugee status made by Chinese students in Australia in the wake of the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in Beijing. What does this decision mean for Chinese students in Australia? Given that they are not refugees and not residents, what rights and privileges will they enjoy until their visas expire in July 1990? For example, what is their standing with respect to Medicare treatment in Australia. Does it mean that graduate students will be ineligible for Austudy? I refer the Minister to a letter I wrote to the Minister for Employment, Education and Training in which I suggested that the Government assist students to complete a diploma of education while they are here so that they may fill the many available positions for Asian language teachers in Australia. What is the Government's attitude to these types of proposals?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Mr President, it would not surprise Senator Macklin that many of the reports he reads are often not the truth. The ones that Senator Macklin has read in this case certainly are a long way from the mark. Most senators would be aware, of course, that all Chinese nationals legally in Australia on 4 June were permitted to extend their entry permits to 31 July 1990. Those who are here illegally, whilst not permitted to extend their permits, are not being required to leave at this time. I think these arrangements were very generous for the People's Republic of China (PRC) nationals, because they were granted irrespective of their circumstances. To the extent that some PRC nationals may wish to seek refugee status in Australia, these provisions at least afford a temporary protection for those individuals.

As of 18 August, almost 5,500 Chinese had extended their entry permits under the special provisions. At the same time some 9,500 changed to resident status applications and some 5,700 refugee status applications had been distributed. The number of applications so far lodged is some 270 and 100 respectively. We as a Department are not encouraging people to rush in at the moment with these applications until the situation in China becomes more clear cut. But it should not be taken that because people do not apply immediately that in any way lessens their long term claims. The honourable senator asks what sort of privileges do these individuals have, for instance, on the question of the right to work. All PRC nationals have been given the right to work. The only restriction is those who are currently undergoing a course. They may be limited to 20 hours a week. Otherwise they have the right to work whether they are here legally or illegally. Normal eligibility conditions apply for special benefits. My colleague the Minister for Community Services and Health, Dr Blewett, through his powers under the Health Insurance Act, has declared that PRC nationals in Australia temporarily on 4 June who have chosen not to return to the PRC at present will be covered by Medicare from that time until the entry permits cease.

On the final matter, which is not a matter for my portfolio again-the question of eligibility for Austudy-the honourable senator would, of course, be aware that at this stage it is only available for those people who are Australian citizens or permanent residents in Australia. Nevertheless, I am advised that Mr Dawkins has undertaken to give the honourable senator a response to his letter which raises these matters. No doubt it is somewhat delayed because he is on sick leave at the moment, but at some stage in the near future I hope he can get back to the honourable senator with a full answer on the question of Austudy.