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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee—Senate Standing—Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 [Provisions]—Report, dated November 2020


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November 2020

The Senate

Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 [Provisions]

© Commonwealth of Australia 2020

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iii

Members

Chair Senator Amanda Stoker LP, QLD

Deputy Chair Senator the Hon Kim Carr ALP, VIC

Members Senator Claire Chandler LP, TAS

Senator Anthony Chisholm ALP, QLD

Senator Sarah Henderson LP, VIC

Senator Lidia Thorpe AG, VIC

Secretariat Sophie Dunstone, Committee Secretary Margie Morrison, Principal Research Officer Sofia Moffett, Research Officer Brooke Gay, Administrative Officer

Suite S1.61 Telephone: (02) 6277 3560

Parliament House Fax: (02) 6277 5794

CANBERRA ACT 2600 Email: legcon.sen@aph.gov.au

v

Contents

Members ............................................................................................................................................. iii

Recommendation ............................................................................................................................. vii

Chapter 1—Introduction .................................................................................................................... 1

Conduct of the inquiry ........................................................................................................................ 1

Acknowledgement ............................................................................................................................... 1

Structure of the report ......................................................................................................................... 1

Purpose of the bill ................................................................................................................................ 2

Background and context of the bill ................................................................................................... 3

Key provisions of the bill .................................................................................................................... 3

Consideration by other parliamentary committees ........................................................................ 7

Financial impact ................................................................................................................................... 7

Chapter 2—Key issues........................................................................................................................ 9

Removing the 510 hour limit .............................................................................................................. 9

Increasing the eligibility threshold to 'vocational English' .......................................................... 11

Time limitations for registration, commencement and completion of courses ......................... 12

Provision of English services outside Australia ............................................................................ 13

Resourcing ........................................................................................................................................... 14

Committee view ................................................................................................................................. 15

Additional comments from the Australian Labor Party ............................................................ 17

Additional comments from the Australian Greens .................................................................... 19

Appendix 1—Submissions .............................................................................................................. 21

vii

Recommendation

Recommendation 1

2.26 The committee recommends that the Senate pass the bill.

1

Chapter 1 Introduction

1.1 On 12 November 2020, the Senate referred the provisions of the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 (the bill) to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 27 November 2020.1

1.2 The Senate referred the bill to the committee following a recommendation of the Selection of Bills Committee.2 The report of the Selection of Bills Committee presented multiple reasons for referral, including:

 the bill does not explain how changes to English language requirements are expected to work;  the reach to potential eligible migrants and retention within the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), and how this will interact with existing

service provider contracts; and  the financial impact of the bill and whether service providers will be asked to do more within the current funding envelope and existing contract.3

Conduct of the inquiry 1.3 Details of the inquiry were advertised on the committee's webpage. The committee called for submissions to be received by 24 November 2020 and also wrote to a range of organisations inviting them to submit. The committee

received 12 submissions, which are listed at Appendix 1.

1.4 The committee considers the short length of time for its inquiry, as determined by the Senate, made it difficult for the committee to discharge its responsibilities. The practice of referring inquiries with such short deadlines has occurred under both Coalition and Labor governments, and should be avoided wherever possible.

Acknowledgement 1.5 The committee thanks all submitters for the evidence they provided to the inquiry. The committee acknowledges the short deadline for making a written submission and thanks submitters for their efforts in doing so.

1 Journals of the Senate, No. 73, 12 November 2020, p. 2566.

2 Senate Standing Committee on the Selection of Bills, Report No. 10 of 2020, 12 November 2020.

3 Senate Standing Committee on the Selection of Bills, Report No. 10 of 2020, 12 November 2020,

Appendix 6.

2

Structure of the report 1.6 This report comprises two chapters:

 This chapter outlines the key provisions of the bill and provides administrative details relating to the inquiry.  Chapter 2 examines the key issues raised in submissions and provides the committee's view.

Purpose of the bill 1.7 The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 29 November 2020 by the Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Alan Tudge MP.4 In his second reading

speech, the minister explained that the bill is 'designed to support migrants to increase their English language proficiency'.5

1.8 The minister outlined the importance of English language skills for migrants, stating that without these abilities 'it's harder to get a job, it's harder to integrate into a person's local community, and harder to participate in Australia's democracy'.6 The minister explained:

[o]nly 13 per cent of those with no English skills are in work today compared to 62 per cent of those who speak English well.

Migrants with no English skills are also more vulnerable to fall victim to foreign interference and misinformation, and will likely find it harder to seek help if they are a victim of family violence or exploitation.

English language is also vital to our social cohesion—if we can't communicate at school, or work, or in social settings, how can we fully connect as a nation?7

1.9 The minister stated that census data has demonstrated that 'the number of people in Australia who do not speak English well or at all has risen' from about 560,000 in 2006 to 820,000 in 2016.8 Based on that trend, he estimated that:

there is now likely now close to a million people living in Australia who do not speak English well or at all—about half of those are working age.

4 House of Representatives Votes and Proceedings, No. 81, 29 October 2020, p. 1365.

5 The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, House of Representatives Hansard, 29 October 2020, p. 1.

6 The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, House of Representatives Hansard, 29 October 2020, p. 1.

7 The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, House of Representatives Hansard, 29 October 2020, p. 1.

8 The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, House of Representatives Hansard, 29 October 2020, p. 1.

3

It's in their interest and it's in the interest of all Australians that we reverse this trend. We must do better.9

Background and context of the bill 1.10 The Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) has provided free English tuition to migrants for over 70 years. It is Commonwealth funded and legislated under the Immigration (Education) Act 1971 (IE Act).

1.11 Reform of AMEP has been the subject of a number of reviews, including by:

 Professor Peter Shergold AC, Kerrin Benson and Margaret Piper, Investing in Refugees, Investing in Australia: The finding of a Review into Integration, Employment and Settlement Outcomes of Refugees and Humanitarian Entrants in Australia, 2019;

 Social Compass, Evaluation of the AMEP New Business Model, 2019;  Settlement Council of Australia, Maximising AMEP and English Language Learning Consultation Report, 2019;  Scanlon Foundation, Australia's English Problem: How to renew our once

celebrated AMEP, 2019;  2017 Joint Standing Committee on Migration, Inquiry into Migrant Settlement Outcomes, December 2017; and  ACIL Allen Consulting, AMEP Evaluation, 2015.10

1.12 In addition, two further reviews—one undertaken by the Department of Home Affairs (the department) and another commissioned by the Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services—also considered reforms to the AMEP.11

Key provisions of the bill 1.13 The bill seeks to amend the Immigration (Education) Act 1971 (IE Act) to expand eligibility for migrants to access English tuition through the AMEP in four ways:

 remove the 510 hour statutory limit on an eligible person's entitlement to English tuition, in order to support and incentivise English proficiency;

 amend the upper limit for eligibility to access English tuition to a new level of vocational English, which will enable eligible persons to continue their language learning to a higher level of English proficiency;

 remove the statutory time limits for registering, commencing and completing English tuition for certain people who held a visa and were in Australia on or before 1 October 2020; and

9 The Hon. Alan Tudge MP, Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and

Multicultural Affairs, House of Representatives Hansard, 29 October 2020, p. 1.

10 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, pp. 4-5 .

11 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, pp. 5-6.

4

 allow for the provision of English tuition to certain visa holders or visa applicants outside Australia, to support their English language learning in preparation for their migration to Australia.12

Removal of 510 hour statutory limit 1.14 The IE Act currently provides that the minister's statutory obligation to provide, or arrange the provision of, tuition in an approved English course to an eligible person ceases after that person has completed 510 hours of learning.

The bill proposes to remove that statutory time limit.13 The intention of this is to support and incentivise eligible persons to improve their English proficiency, and enable their English language learning to continue.14

Replacement of functional English with vocational English 1.15 The bill proposes to repeal the definition of 'functional English' in the IE Act and insert a new term, 'vocational English'. Similar to the repealed term, 'vocational English' would be defined as follows:

a person has vocational English if the provider of an approved English course determines, in accordance with any procedures or standards specified by the Minister under subsection (2), that the person has vocational English.15

1.16 The bill would also repeal and substitute subsection 3(2) to provide that the minister may, by legislative instrument, make a determination specifying procedures or standards for the purposes of the new definition of vocational English in subsection 3(1).16 This would allow transparency in the procedures used to assess a person's English, further clarify the meaning of 'vocational English' by linking it to a particular standard of English proficiency, and enable the minister to link the definition to internationally recognised standards or Australian standards.17

1.17 The bill would replace reference to the term 'functional English' with 'vocational English' as one of the statutory requirements for eligibility for access to English courses. It is intended that vocational English will reference a higher level of English proficiency when compared to functional English, and therefore a person who meets the totality of requirements for eligibility will have access to English language learning until they attain the higher level of

12 Explanatory memorandum to the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to

English Tuition) Bill 2020 (explanatory memorandum), pp. 2-3.

13 Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020, cl. 5.

14 Explanatory memorandum, p. 10.

15 Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020, cl. 3.

16 Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020, cl. 4.

17 Explanatory memorandum, p. 6.

5

vocational English.18 The intention of this amendment is to support eligible persons to increase their level of English proficiency and improve their future education and employment prospects, as well as their ability to integrate into Australian society.19

Exemptions to time limitations for access to English courses 1.18 The IE Act currently provides that eligible persons are subject to time limitations within which they can register and commence approved English courses:

(2) The person stops being eligible:

(a) if he or she fails to register with the provider of an approved English course within:

(i) if he or she was aged under 18 years on his or her visa commencement day—the period of 12 months starting on that day; or

(ii) if he or she was aged 18 years or over on his or her visa commencement day—the period of 6 months starting on that day; or

(b) if he or she fails to start an approved English course within the period of 12 months starting on his or her visa commencement day.20

1.19 The bill proposes to exempt certain individuals whose visa commencement day fell on or before 1 October 2020 from these time restrictions. Visa commencement day is defined in subsection 3(1) of the IE Act as the earlier of either:

 the first day the person was in Australia on or after the day when a permanent visa held by the person came into effect; or  the first day the person was in Australia on or after the day when a temporary visa of a class identified by the minister in a legislative

instrument held by a person came into effect.

1.20 The exemption would apply to a person who has been granted either a permanent visa or a temporary visa of a class specified by the minister, and the first day that person was in Australia on or after that visa had come into effect fell on or before 1 October 2020.21 This would apply whether or not that person was in Australia on that date.22

18 Explanatory memorandum, p. 9.

19 Explanatory memorandum, p. 9.

20 Immigration (Education) Act 1971, ss. 4C(2).

21 Explanatory memorandum, p. 11.

22 Explanatory memorandum, p. 11.

6

1.21 In addition, the IE Act currently establishes a time limit for the completion of English courses of five years from the visa commencement date.23 If a person fails to complete their English course within this time limit, then that person may apply for an extension of time.24

1.22 The bill proposes to remove the five year time limit for persons who have been granted a permanent or a temporary visa of a specified class if the first day that person is in Australia on or after that visa comes into effect is a date that is on or before 1 October 2020.25 This applies regardless of whether or not that person is in Australia on that date.26

1.23 These provisions would have the effect of re-enlivening the eligibility of certain individuals who have failed to register, commence and complete English language courses with approved providers within the requisite time limits.27 These amendments are intended to remove disincentives to English language learning for a cohort of persons in Australia on or before 1 October 2020 and allow these persons the opportunity to boost their education and employment opportunities, noting the particular challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.28

1.24 These amendments would have no effect on eligible persons whose visa commencement date falls after 1 October 2020. These visa holders would continue to be subject to the time restrictions currently set out in the IE Act.29

Enabling access to visa holders outside of Australia 1.25 The bill proposes to vest the minister with the discretion to provide, or arrange the provision of, English courses to persons who are outside Australia and hold, or have applied for, either a permanent visa, or a temporary visa of a

class specified in a legislative instrument.30 This amendment is intended to support English language learning in preparation for migration. The current provisions permit the delivery of English language courses to applicants for permanent visas. This legislation would extend access to individuals who have been granted a permanent visa, or who hold or have applied for, a temporary visa of a class specified by the minister in a legislative instrument.31

23 Immigration (Education) Act 1971, ss. 4D(2).

24 Immigration (Education) Act 1971, ss. 4D(3).

25 Explanatory memorandum, p. 13.

26 Explanatory memorandum, p. 13.

27 Explanatory memorandum, pp. 11, 13.

28 Explanatory memorandum, pp. 11, 14.

29 Explanatory memorandum, pp. 11, 13.

30 Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020, cl. 6.

31 Explanatory memorandum, p. 7.

7

Consideration by other parliamentary committees

Senate Standing Committee on the Scrutiny of Bills 1.26 The Senate Standing Committee on the Scrutiny of Bills had no comment on the bill.32

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights 1.27 The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights made no comment in relation to the bill.33

Financial impact 1.28 The explanatory memorandum states that these amendments will have a low financial impact.34

32 Senate Standing Committee on the Scrutiny of Bills, Scrutiny Digest 16 of 2020, 20 November 2020,

p. 29.

33 Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, Report 14 of 2020, 26 November 2020, p. 56.

34 Explanatory memorandum, p. 3.

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Chapter 2 Key issues

2.1 This chapter outlines key issues raised about the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020 (the bill) by submitters. While submitters overwhelmingly supported the proposed reforms, a number of potential areas of concern were raised, including:

 the removal of the 510 hour limit;  the increased threshold for eligibility to 'vocational English';  the removal of time limits for registration, commencement and completion of courses;

 the provision of English services outside Australia; and  the impact of the changes on the resources of providers.

2.2 The chapter concludes with the committee's view and recommendation.

Removing the 510 hour limit 2.3 The removal of the 510 limit was strongly supported by submitters.1 Navitas, an Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) provider, submitted that the current limit 'does not reflect the language learning needs of clients'.2 It

suggested that many AMEP clients have 'little or no English…[and] low or very low educational attainment'. In its opinion, these clients 'require at least, 2,000 hours of English language learning to reach social proficiency, that is functional English'.3

2.4 AMES Australia, another AMEP provider, echoed this sentiment. It submitted:

Removing the hours cap and setting the AMEP exit point at a specific, and adequate, level of English language skill makes sound educational sense. It also creates conditions that will much better support new arrivals to Australia to settle, become part of the broader, social community, access education and training and secure employment commensurate with individual's aspirations, skills and prior qualifications and experience. These changes will benefit not only the migrants and refugees who access the AMEP, but the broader Australian community - both socially and economically.4

1 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 2; Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia

(FECCA), Submission 5, p. 3; Independent High Education Australia, Submission 6, p. 1; Legal Aid Western Australia, Submission 11, [p. 2]; Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 12, p. 3.

2 Navitas, Submission 9, [p. 1].

3 Navitas, Submission 9, [p. 1].

4 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 2.

10

2.5 In addition to removing the 510 hour cap, the Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA) suggested that consideration should be given to how AMEP programs accommodate individuals' needs.5 AMES Australia similarly acknowledged that 'the current attrition from the AMEP may not be solved by providing additional hours of tuition'. It pointed to a recent review of the AMEP which found that 'people who are employed or employment-ready, women with child-caring responsibilities and young people - are not making full use of their AMEP entitlements'.6 It suggested:

increased flexibility in how the AMEP is delivered would increase uptake of AMEP entitlements by providing a range of modes of access for clients for whom the current classroom based or Distance Learning modes do not accommodate settlement priorities, including work and family commitments, and/or learning styles.7

2.6 In contrast, STEPS posited that a minimum, statutory attendance (for example 15 hours a week) and participation requirement is needed to ensure learners' continuation of English language tuition.8 It cautioned that:

Paid employment for those with low level English language attainment is most often associated with low-skilled, poorly paid work. This, combined with poor or sporadic participation in English language tuition is likely to further disadvantage migrants, leading to delayed development of English language skills and thereby diluting their future work aspirations, career progression and full participation in the Australian community and society. Observation of STEPS' students indicates that English language learning is best achieved through regular immersion and participation.9

2.7 The Department of Home Affairs (the department) opined that 'uncapping the number of hours of tuition available recognises that learning a new language is complex and takes time and that migrants will learn English at different rates':10

At present, the cap on hours in the AMEP sends an incorrect signal to migrants about the long-term effort that will be required to achieve a level of English to effectively participate in Australian life. The 510 hours was set without reference to any evidence base and only 21 percent of AMEP students currently leave the program with functional spoken English (usually those who enter the program with higher levels of English skills).11

5 FECCA, Submission 5, p. 3.

6 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 2.

7 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 2.

8 STEPS Group Australia (STEPS), Submission 8, [p. 1].

9 STEPS, Submission 8, [p. 1].

10 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 7.

11 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 7

11

Increasing the eligibility threshold to 'vocational English' 2.8 Submissions supported the increased eligibility threshold from functional to vocational English.12 Independent Higher Education Australia opined:

As economic development occurs and higher-level English skills are required for effective participation in the Australian economy, as fewer “low skilled” jobs are available, programs designed to increase employability and social cohesion need to reflect that change. Increasing the level of English proficiency that can be attained through the AMEP to “vocational English” responds to the impact of this economic reality. Functional English may assist migrants to engage in society more freely, but increasing employability of migrants requires higher levels of English. The term “vocational English” expresses this difference and is more appropriate for the outcomes being sought for participants in the program.13

2.9 Some submitters sought clarity about the new threshold.14 English Australia questioned how the changes might operate in relation to International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores. It referred to conflicting advice on the department's website as to whether 'vocational English' amounted to a score of 5.0 or 5.5.15 English Australia suggested that if the higher threshold amounted to an increase from a score of 4.5 (the current score for functional English) to 5.0, the shift 'may not have the desired impact'.16 It noted that a difference of 0.5 'is often seen as a margin of error' and is 'so small as to be challenging to reliably identify'.17 In English Australia's opinion, an English proficiency level equivalent to IELTS 5.5 'aligns with the requirement for international students to enter vocational education programs…[and] is more likely to better support the intention of the changes'.18

2.10 STEPS Group Australia (STEPS) also raised a question about English language scores. Under the framework currently used to assess individuals under the AMEP program, the Australian Core Skills Framework (ACSF), persons are considered to have reached 'functional English' once they attain ACSF level 3. STEPS suggested the IELTS score equivalent to an ACSF level 3 is 5.5, which is the score it suggests is currently being considered by the department as the

12 See, for example, STEPS, Submission 8, [p. 1]; Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 12, p. 3.

13 Independent Higher Education Australia Submission 6, p. 1.

14 See, for example: English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2]; AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 3;

15 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2].

16 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 3].

17 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 3].

18 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 3].

12

IELTS equivalent score for 'vocational English'.19 STEPS suggested, therefore, that 'effectively this is not a change in the exit level at all'.20

2.11 The department submitted that the present threshold of functional English is lower than the level of English required by most employers, and for entry to most TAFE courses. It stated:

By raising the upper limit to vocational English, migrants have the opportunity to study English for longer and reach a higher level of proficiency. This will enhance their prospects for further education and future employment, as well as support their full participation in the Australian community. It also sends a more accurate message about the level of English required to participate in Australian life.21

Time limitations for registration, commencement and completion of courses 2.12 Submissions demonstrated substantial support for the proposed exemptions from time limits on registration, commencement and completion of English

tuition for certain visa holders who were in Australia on or before 1 October 2020.22 FECCA stated that newly arrived migrants:

often find themselves struggling with the everyday tasks of starting their lives…Competing challenges such as having to learn English at the same time…is often a struggle for many and some miss out.23

2.13 AMES Australia acknowledged the reason for incentivising early engagement with English language learning.24 However, it warned that the creation of a dual system of eligibility may lead to confusion within migrant and refugee communities where eligibility and time limits differ between individuals. AMES Australia stated:

How this is communicated and managed will be critical for minimising impact for both clients and providers.

Relaxing the time limits for all clients who are otherwise AMEP-eligible could reduce the potential for confusion while it increases the reach and consequent benefits of the AMEP.25

2.14 STEPS was concerned that without time limitations to incentivise early engagement, individuals 'may delay commencement of English language

19 STEPS Group Australia (STEPS), Submission 8, [p. 2].

20 STEPS, Submission 8, [p. 2].

21 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 7.

22 FECCA, Submission 5, p. 3; Independent Higher Education Australia, Submission 6, p. 2; Navitas,

Submission 9, [p. 1]; Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Submission 12, p. 4.

23 FECCA, Submission 5, p. 3.

24 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 4.

25 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 4.

13

learning, unless appropriate supports are in place to initiate tuition as soon as practical following immigration'.26

2.15 The explanatory memorandum acknowledges the position outlined by STEPS, and identifies that 'early engagement in English tuition is encouraged for new migrants (and the current time limits will continue to apply for those with a visa commencement date after 1 October 2020)'.27 However:

Due to the unique circumstances posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government proposes a removal of the time limits for registration and commencement of English tuition for those certain visa holders in Australia on or before 1 October 2020, while keeping these time limits in place for those who arrive after this date, as an incentive to commence English studies early in the migration journey. This change will also reduce the administrative burden in relation to applications for an extension of time under current section 4C.28

Provision of English services outside Australia 2.16 While submitters welcomed the extension of English language tuition to certain visa applicants and holders who have not yet arrived in Australia, AMES Australia raised a number of questions as to how that might operate in

practice, such as:

 How would these courses be delivered?  If they are to be delivered offshore via electronic or online means, do adequate and appropriate resources already exist, or would these need to be developed?

 Is there an intention to use or repurpose existing AMEP Distance Learning courses and resources?  Who would deliver the courses - current AMEP providers? Or would there be a new call for expressions of interest/request for tender?29

2.17 The department submitted that allowing the minister the discretion to decide whether English courses will be provided to certain visa holders outside Australia will have the following effect:

should an appropriate English tuition option be developed for those outside Australia in future (for example, a pre-arrival online English training course), it would be able to be offered to those outside the country who are preparing to migrate to Australia.30

26 STEPS, Submission 8, [p. 1].

27 Explanatory memorandum, p. 17.

28 Explanatory memorandum, p. 12. The explanatory memorandum expresses an identical sentiment

in relation to the proposed removal of time limits on the completion of English language courses: explanatory memorandum, p. 15.

29 AMES Australia, Submission 4, p. 4.

30 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 7.

14

Resourcing 2.18 Submitters broadly supported the removal of time limits for enrolling, commencing and completing AMEP tuition and the existing cap that limits free English tuition to 510 hours per participant. However, concerns were

raised about the impact removal of these limitations would have on the resourcing and capacity of AMEP providers. English Australia submitted that 'the success of these changes would mean a significant increase in the uptake of the Program as more individuals study for longer periods and to higher levels of proficiency'.31 It stated that 'to best support this change and to meet the likely increase in demand…we believe that expanding the number of AMEP providers will ensure the success of the changes'.32

2.19 English Australia identified that the changes 'would necessarily mean an increase in demand for appropriately qualified teachers'.33 Currently, AMEP provider teaching staff must meet requirements set out in the Standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) 2015. It submitted that these standards are 'designed to ensure the quality of providers in the vocational education sector and are of questionable relevance to English language provision, as are the teaching qualifications they require'.34 English Australia compared these requirements to those of teachers within Australia's English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) sector, which, it stated, 'employs a large pool of qualified and experienced English language teachers who are both world-class and rarely hold the qualifications required by the Standards for RTOs 2015'.35 English Australia argued that the requirements for ELICOS teachers under the ELICOS Standards 2018 'are relevant to the AMEP program and to supporting the learning outcomes that it aims to achieve'.36 It suggested:

to enable AMEP providers access to a significantly larger pool of potential teaching staff English Australia recommends amending the qualification requirements for AMEP teachers to require that teachers either meet the relevant sections of the Standards for RTOs 2015 or the relevant sections of the ELICOS Standards 2018.37

2.20 In addition to meeting the increased demand for teachers, English Australia also stated that this amendment 'may provide a valuable employment

31 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 1].

32 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 3].

33 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 1].

34 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2].

35 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2].

36 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2].

37 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2].

15

opportunity for ELICOS teachers who have lost jobs due to the lack of international students in Australia'.38

2.21 The department estimated that the proposed changes:

will be cost-neutral for providers under the existing contract, as the increase in access to the AMEP for students current in Australia will be counteracted by the reduction in student numbers as a result of COVID-19 and border closures.39

2.22 As to future reform, the department stated that it is 'exploring a range of further reforms for AMEP delivery, including efficiencies that can be gained through the use of online learning and linking funding directly to outcomes'.40

Committee view 2.23 Lack of proficiency in English language skills is a significant inhibitor to a person's ability to obtain meaningful employment and educational opportunities, and to engage with their community. It is of vital importance to

Australia's economic and social wellbeing that every opportunity is afforded to new migrants to obtain proficiency in English language skills.

2.24 The committee is concerned about an upward trend in the number of people with low or no English language skills. It considers this bill integral to ensuring that this trend is arrested and reversed.

2.25 The committee strongly supports the measures contained in the bill. Lifting the standard from 'functional' to 'vocational English' will align participants with the standard required for meaningful employment, educational and social opportunities. The committee commends the government for incentivising English language education and removing barriers that might have precluded otherwise eligible individuals from taking up these opportunities, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recommendation 1

2.26 The committee recommends that the Senate pass the bill.

Senator Amanda Stoker Chair

38 English Australia, Submission 2, [p. 2].

39 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 8.

40 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 8.

17

Additional comments from the Australian Labor Party

Conduct of the inquiry 1.1 Labor senators note that when this bill was proposed for a referral to this committee it had a reporting date of 3 February 2020, instead the government chose to ignore this request and only give the committee two weeks to inquire

into this bill and report by 27 November 2020.

1.2 This was insufficient time for consideration of this bill by senators, submitters, and the secretariat. In the end, the committee only received 12 submissions and gave the committee no realistic options to hold public hearings.

1.3 The process of calling for submissions, allowing people time to write detailed submissions, allowing senators time to consider the evidence and to write a quality and considered report takes more than two weeks.

1.4 To run an inquiry in such a manner shows contempt for the Senate, the witnesses and the issues. It also undermines that senate committee process.

1.5 Senators are asked to make serious judgements about important matters of public policy, but they must be given a satisfactory and appropriate amount of time to do it in.

1.6 Labor senators recommend that the government considers this before selecting such reporting dates in the future.

1.7 Labor senators would also like to thank the secretariat for what they have been able to achieve in this very short space of time.

The bill 1.8 Labor senators support this bill, however notes:

 As a consequence of the rushed committee process, which did not allow for stakeholders to participate in public hearings; to explore in detail:

− the increased threshold for eligibility to 'vocational English' and whether this will have a meaningful impact to increase participation and retention in language learning.

− the merits of the department's partnership with the Behavioural Economics Team in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to increase participation and retention in language learning.

− the issues with the existing Deed of Standing Offer which is in place from 2017-18 to 2022-23.

 The decision not to allocate any additional funding for the program and the impact of the changes on the resources of providers. The department's

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submission states '…more migrants will be able to access free English tuition for longer and until they reach a higher level of proficiency'.1 It further states that '[e]nrolments are likely to reduce in 2020-21 and will return to pre-COVID levels in the second half of 2021-22'.2 However, funding decreases over the forward estimates from 2021-22. This contradicts the statement:

The Department estimates the proposed changes will be cost-neutral for providers under the existing contract, as the increase in access to the AMEP for students currently in Australia will be counteracted by the reduction in student numbers as a result of COVID-19 and border closures.3

1.9 The strong concerns expressed by stakeholders to tie AMEP with the introduction of English language requirements for partner visa applicants:

 'FECCA would welcome greater transparency and more detail when it comes to evaluation and testing of people’s English levels, especially related to partner visa.'4

 'RACS wishes to make clear that our support for this Bill does not extend in any way to support for future measures restricting access to permanent visa pathways for migrants.'5

 'ASRC’s support of the bill does not extend to support any possible future measures restricting access to permanent visa pathways for migrants.'6

Senator the Hon Kim Carr Senator Anthony Chisholm

Deputy Chair Senator for Queensland

1 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 3.

2 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 8.

3 Department of Home Affairs, Submission 3, p. 8.

4 Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia (FECCA), Submission 5, p. 4.

5 Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS), Submission 7, [p. 2].

6 Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), Submission 12, p. 4.

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Additional comments from the Australian Greens

English Language 1.1 This country has no official language, English is only the de facto national language because it was the main language spoken by its colonisers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages 1.2 The Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies notes that there are more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and around 800 dialects in this country.1

1.3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages have been a part of this continent since the time of creation and are instrumental in connecting First Nations people to Country, Elders, ancestors, heritage, and culture; the longest living culture in the world.

1.4 Because of the ongoing impacts of colonisation, dispossession of lands and waters, forced family separations, massacres, genocide, and the systematic attempts to destroy them, 90% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are endangered.

1.5 Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples states that:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

1.6 The Australian Greens believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages must be preserved and revived. Being able to share and pass on language to future generations is central to the ongoing wellbeing of the sovereign First Peoples of this country.

This inquiry 1.7 The Australian Greens thank all the parties that gave evidence to this inquiry or made a submission.

1 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Living languages, accessed 27

November 2020, https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/living-languages.

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1.8 The Australian Greens are very concerned that there was insufficient time provided for meaningful community consultation and submission to this inquiry.

1.9 Providing insufficient time for proper community consultation is grossly unfair and places incredible demands on individuals and organisations (as well as the hard working members of the secretariat) to react quickly to the arbitrarily tight deadlines of the committee.

1.10 Furthermore, not providing sufficient time for community members to engage meaningfully with the work of this committee is not compatible with an open and transparent democracy.

Recommendation 1

1.11 The Australian Greens recommends that in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are preserved and revived.

1.12 The Australian Greens recommends that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations receive sufficient public money to allow them to continue leading the work of preserving, reviving, and promoting their languages.

Senator Lidia Thorpe Senator for Victoria

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Appendix 1 Submissions

1 Settlement Council of Australia 2 English Australia 3 Department of Home Affairs 4 AMES Australia 5 Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia 6 Independent Higher Education Australia 7 Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS) 8 STEPS Group Australia 9 Navitas

10 Languages and Cultures Network for Australian Universities 11 Legal Aid WA 12 Asylum Seeker Resource Centre