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Transcript of Press conference, Parliament House: 15 September 2009: International Students Roundtable; Parliamentary Standards; BER.

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The Hon Julia Gillard MP

Minister for Education. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister for Social Inclusion Deputy Prime Minister

15 September, 2009


Transcript - Press conference, Parliament House


ISSUES: International Students Roundtable, Parliamentary Standards, BER

JULIA GILLARD: I’m joined here this afternoon with two representatives of the International Students Roundtable which has been meeting since Sunday to provide a voice for international students to the Australian government. I’m here joined by Manish and Kusum who have been elected as the leaders of this Roundtable. We’ve brought 31 international students together from around the country. There are representatives from every continent, from universities, from vocational education and training, we have students who are studying PhDs, who are studying at an undergraduate level, who are studying vocational education and training qualifications, we asked them to come together to provide a voice for international students to the federal government and indeed to state and territory governments through the Council of Australian Governments Process.

Being on this roundtable was hard sought after. We asked for applications from international students around the country and around 1300 international students applied for these 31 spots. So we have brought some great representatives together, they have worked hard over the last two days, I think you have probably seen they have bonded very strongly together as a group which is fantastic and they have put together a communiqué calling on the Australian government and state and territory governments to take a series of actions so I am now going to formally receive the communiqué and let our representatives say whatever they would like. Thank you very much.

Would you like to say anything on behalf of the students?

KUSUM TAMANG: I’m Kusum, I’m from Nepal and I’m studying community welfare in Melbourne. Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, we are really, very thankful to you and the federal government to give us this opportunity to come together and actually bring out some suggestions that address the issues that were happening around the country and we are really thankful, not only from the 31 participants in the Roundtable but from all of the students all over Australia who were really looking forward for something to happen and we do believe

that now federal government, the state government, would take initiatives to address these issues so we are really very thankful to you.

MANISH JHOWRY: My name is Manish, I am from Mauritius. I study at Curtin University in Western Australia. I study mathematics and finance. On behalf of the team that was gathered for this Roundtable and behalf of all the international students in Australia, first of all we would like to thank the Deputy Prime Minister, the team that she has put together for us but also we have tried our very best to basically put down on paper the life of an international student in Australia. We have drawn the challenges that we face every day on this and we have tried to provide practical and reasonable recommendations to the team of the Minister so that they can look into possible solutions and work in the future with international student organisations so that we have, as we put down in the paper, a very harmonious environment.

JOURNALIST: And what are some of those challenges and some of the suggestions that you have made?

MANISH JHOWRY: The challenges that we have listed down are enormous, it ranges from costs to accommodation, to transport to social integrity, to education teaching and learning quality also ranging from migration and marketing pre-departure. Basically it’s a wide spectrum of challenges that we have listed down so that we don’t miss out on basically any part of the life cycle being an international student in Australia.

JOURNALIST: I suppose some of your concerns are for state and territory governments and some are for the education providers but are there some things that you’re asking the federal government for as well, some things that the Minister and the government can act on?

MANISH JHOWRY: I think what all of us we agree on, first of all is to have a very proper international student experience in Australia but also we wish the Australian community to recognise the contribution that international students make to the Australian community and then let’s come to a point of contact where there is a huge collaboration and basically a harmonious environment where we all can live.

JOURNALIST: Of the 31 students, what’s the breakdown of people that are attending recognised universities and what is the number that are doing trades? Can you tell us what those 31 comprise of?

MANISH JHOWRY: It is a very diverse Roundtable, there is an equal number of males and females, there is also an equal number of masters, post-graduate, PhD research, under graduate, TAFE, private, VET. All kinds of students were brought together, also ranging from ages from very young to parents as well so I think the team has down a good job in basically putting this team together.

JULIA GILLARD: That was very diplomatically done when you went very young to parents, I think we should stop and admire that level of diplomacy. Sorry you’ve got another question.

JOURNALIST: Was there a theme that came from, regardless of what they were studying, was there a specific theme that seemed to be coming through? You talked about what you’re addressing but was there a specific concern?

MANISH JHOWRY: Talking about a specific theme I think the theme was, I mean from what we were told is the federal government would like to basically hear from 31 different international students our personal experience in living in Australia and basically draw out the challenges out of this. There wasn’t any specific theme to it. It was the very first, I think, concrete step that was taken by the government after years on re-evaluating its international education industry.

JOURNALIST: Ms Gillard, will you be providing government guarantees in the case of international schools that did close down, will you be setting up an independent ombudsman? How do you go forward? Is this just a talk fest?

JULIA GILLARD: I said to the student roundtable when I first met them that the reason we had brought them together is we seriously wanted to hear the voice of international students. I have just been presented with the communiqué since question time today so I am obviously going to study the communiqué and respond in detail but what we said to the International Students Roundtable is that what they say through the communiqué will be fed through the Council of Australian Governments into the International Student Strategy that COAG has committed to producing by the end of this year and of course that’s important because there are questions and issues here for the national government but also for state and territory governments and so resolving them through COAG is important. Almost immediately too, this communiqué and indeed representatives of the roundtable will have an opportunity to speak to relevant ministers who are drawn together for the ministerial council that covers tertiary education. We have also said that what the students say through this communiqué will feed into Mr Baird’s review of the underpinning legislation for international students.

We have taken a series of steps already. Many of them are now well known, they were discussed by our international students, the requirement for re-registration, the increased policing measures, the complaints hotline, the better information before people travel here but against that backdrop of measures already having been taken the International Students Roundtable has provided a communiqué with further measures and we are obviously going to study and respond to each of them, not only as a national government but through the Council of Australian Governments.

JOURNALIST: I have a question for both international students if I could, do you think students arriving today to study in Australia from overseas are getting a fair deal and are going to get a fair deal?

KUSUM TAMANG: I would like to say that compared to many other countries international students are getting fair treatment, a fair deal but there was some little loopholes that we were trying to address. We were not trying to say that its not fair, it is very fair but why not address some little loopholes that we can make Australian life much better for international students. That was our main theme of the whole roundtable.

MANISH JHOWRY: I think I don’t have much to add to Kusum’s point. There is basically much that the federal and local government, relevant industry stakeholders in tertiary institutions are doing for providing the level of service that they promised but also value for money that they also promised when international students pay very high level of fees but there are certain unfortunate circumstances where students experience what they didn’t expect so we’re trying to reach out to those students and using our experience and the information that we have gathered today we are hoping that those students will come to us so

that we can actually know where are those particular places, where are those particular groups that we don’t know of that we would like to touch.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can I ask you a question on a separate issue?

JULIA GILLARD: Can we just finish with any questions on international education because our students might well want to step out of shot before you ask about general federal government questions.

JOURNALIST: How dependent are you on state legislation versus federal legislation? Can you get this all under your umbrella and make sure that it can all work or do you, as you say with COAG, do you still need the individual states to sign up otherwise it won’t work?

JULIA GILLARD: Through the Bradley review we announced our intention to have a national tertiary education quality and standards agency so to deal with regulation from the centre and quality assurance from the centre. Under current arrangements of course state and territories register providers but we also have a registration system for the providers of international education and its through federal legislation we will be requiring the re-registration of every provider by the end of next year. But even when we move to a new system with a tertiary education quality and standards agency, there are of course always going to need to be areas where the federal government collaborates with state governments on questions concerning international students. Policing matters for example, transport concessions, many things related to accommodation are always going to be state government questions so we are always going to need that partnership and collaboration between the two levels of government.

JOURNALSIT: Minister, do you have any plans to set up a more permanent student advisory body?

JULIA GILLARD: I’m glad you asked that because - very intelligent question - one of the things that I specifically asked the roundtable to discuss and make recommendations to me on was how to have an ongoing voice for international students and through this communiqué they have done that and I very much welcome that work and that set of recommendations. We do want to be able to hear from international students on an ongoing basis. We are talking about a big and diverse community, at any one time there are around half a million international students in this country. They come from many nations around the world, they are in all parts of Australia, they are studying in different kinds of education providers, vocational education and training, universities, studying degrees, diplomas, PhDs, the full range so we want obviously to be able to hear from that diverse group through a representative body and some recommendations have been made about that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, one of the things that the students talk about in the communiqué is transport concessions, I think VIC and NSW are the only parts of Australia that don’t over transport concessions for international students, is that a point you will be making to your counterparts in those places? Will you be encouraging them to extend those concessions?

JULIA GILLARD: It’s a point clearly that the students are making and I think the most powerful voice here in many ways is the voice of the students and one of the reasons that we will take it to the ministerial council and this voice will inform the strategy of all governments, national, state and territory as we work together on international student issues

is because things like transport concessions do depend on changes of policies by state governments.

JOURNALIST: Were you able to agree on anything or were there some issues where students had very different views?

MANISH JHOWRY: You have no idea, I think all of us had different views which made it even more exciting and which made us be able to draw more effective recommendations out of it. It wasn’t a Roundtable that everyone was agreeing on everything it was a Roundtable where we came from different states, different institutions and different cultures so that was, I think, very, very fruitful.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the Opposition says that Parliamentary standards have slipped under Labor and when you were in opposition you touted four minute rules for ministers answering questions. Now that you’re in government will you do that and do you agree that parliamentary standards are slipping?

JULIA GILLARD: What I would agree with is if we look at Question Time today I think through Question Time today and more generally the Liberal Party is showing just how out of touch it is with modern Australia. Out of touch on questions involving women, out of touch on the need to address climate change, out of touch with its embrace of work choices. That’s what we saw on display today. In terms of these standards that the opposition’s engaged in today in question time, well I will allow their behaviour to speak for itself.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Tony Abbott talking about potential boycott of question time?

JULIA GILLARD: Once again, I’ll let the standard of Tony Abbott’s behaviour speak of itself.

JOURNALIST: Did the Government give the Future Fund a heads up about the Telstra announcement today or was it just pure luck they sold billions of dollars worth of shares three wees ago.

JULIA GILLARD: You’ll need to address that question to the Minister for Communications. Obviously he’s dealt with those questions today extensively.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just on time limits for ministers answering questions, do you think they’re going a bit long?

JULIA GILLARD: If the Parliament wants to work through these questions they are of course mechanisms that the opposition participates in. But I would note that when we had the Howard Government and the Liberal Government for 12 long years, we used to see lengthy parliamentary answers. We didn’t see cooperation on reform proposals. What I think we’re actually seeing in the Parliament today isn’t a question of the standing orders - it’s a question of the standard of behaviour and participation by opposition members.

JOURNALIST: It is an unfortunate by product of the fact that more women are invariant that there is more scrutiny of women having robust exchanges across the dispatch box than there is when it’s men doing the same thing?

JULIA GILLARD: I, as a woman in politics, have always said I think women can thrive in adversarial environments. The Parliament is adversarial. I think when you’re talking about the biggest issues that confront this nation on which there are sharply divided views - for example whether or not to reintroduce Work Choices - the Liberal Party says yes, we say let’s have fair and decent laws. When you’re contesting over an issues big as that, you expect people to put their position robustly. That’s what the Parliament’s for. Women can do that as well as men. I think the problem that the opposition has and it’s been on display today is it’s out of touch with modern Australia and there’s no debate about parliamentary standards or parliamentary tactics that the Opposition can try and provoke which is going to cover that up. The essence of their problem today was they were showing word after word, question after question just how out of touch they are with the standards of modern Australia on the role of women, on industrial relations questions and they’ve shown it month after month on climate change questions.

JOURNALIST: On international education again for a moment, what’s being done to help the students of Stirling College, some of whom are apparently still without places in new courses?

JULIA GILLARD: Well under current legislation, as a national government we guarantee a new place, a comparable place or a refund of fees. We obviously work as cooperatively with students on that as we can. Sometimes it can take time to identify an alternate provider but that is being worked through for Stirling college students.

JOURNALIST: Some of those students are apparently about to run out - their visas are about to run out. What’s going to happen in that case?

JULIA GILLARD: Stirling college and indeed in any other example, we work with students cooperatively to resolve issues. We work to identify a comparable place and if that is not possible then people do have their fees refunded. That is already a legislated guarantee. The purpose of the Bruce Baird review is to see what else can be done in terms of the legislation to assist international students.

JOURANLIST: Just on Parliamentary standards, are you suggesting the Government is innocent in today’s show of, I guess, unruliness?

GILLARD: There’s nothing the Government can do which makes opposition members say things and the opposition has to take responsibility for the words that come out of their mouths and for the conduct they show as individuals. And what I would say from that conduct today is it was putting into stark relief just how out of touch they are with modern Australia and we’ve seen that over the many months that the Liberal Party’s been in Opposition and we’ve seen it clearly today.

JOURNALIST: You’ve said that the Coalition never took the opportunity to reform the process but now that you’ve got the opportunity, will you take that up?

JULIA GILLARD: These are questions of parliamentary committees not government committees, but can I say the issue arising out of question time today is really how out of touch the Liberal Party looked with the standards of modern Australia - to be quoting extracts of speeches from 1969 I think tells you about where they are 40 years later.

JOURNALIST: Just on Building the Education Revolution, is there a provision in the guidelines that would allow the federal government to contribute more money to a particular project if the school sought a variation request?

JULIA GILLARD: There are provisions in the guidelines and always have been on variations, and those provisions are available on our website.

JOURNALIST: Would the federal government contribute more, though, under any circumstance?

JULIA GILLARD: The Building the Education Revolution amount of money is clear. It’s clear, it’s correlated with school size. Questions of variations are within the funding envelope of Building the Education Revolution, it is not a question of the allocation of additional money and the process for dealing with variations is very clearly spelled out in the guidelines which are publicly available.


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