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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1014

Mr SNOW(8.33) —Once again the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) has described one of our measures as another measure from the Hawke socialist Government. I do not know what effect he thinks he is having on his listeners. Socialism exists in many guises and Australians know that. I do not know whether the honourable member for Denison remembers that Australia is the home of democratic socialism and had the world's first socialist government 13 years before there was a communist government and 30 years or more before there was a fascist government which abused the word even further by describing itself as a national socialist government. Whereas he described the Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill as elitist, isolationist, selfish and mean, this Bill is designed to lessen opportunities for the rich because the poor have been going backwards and so that the poor might benefit. Therefore, the Bill gives some attention to democratic socialist principles.

The honourable member did not point out in his speech that this Government will allow 400 more overseas students to enter Australian tertiary institutions in 1984 than were allowed by his Government in 1983. This decision was forced on to the Government simply because secondary students numbers had been allowed to get out of hand. Our first duty is to the secondary students who are already in Australia and are coming up to tertiary training level. The previous Government may not have been prepared to take the reins: This Government is. The charges to private overseas students have increased by 15 per cent to a maximum of $2,900 a year. This is a third of the estimated average cost of tertairy education in 1983. It compares with 40 per cent which applied in 1980 under the Government of the honourable member for Denison. Of course, the Government will continue to meet the charges of private students from Papua New Guinea and other developing countries in the South Pacific as well as students sponsored by the Australian Development Assistance Bureau.

But the Government is concerned that Australian students may not have been able to obtain places in tertiary institutions. Some have not been able to do the course of their choice and numbers have risen in some areas, as the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) pointed out when introducing the Bill. He said that numbers from Malaysia in 1981 were 1,100 and in 1983, 2,580. The Opposition may not have been prepared to meet that challenge. As usual, as it was with tax reform, it is running scared. This Government is prepared to meet the challenge and to face the complex questions which must be reconciled by any responsible government. First, the Government has a desire to encourage private students to study in Australia while, at the same time, to avoid reducing opportunities for Australian residents and also to avoid increasing huge extra costs to taxpayers where possible.

The honourable member for Denison made some excellent points about the need to encourage private students studying in Australia. It has to be admitted that even when those students come from the elite in their country they are often the people who become those with power and influence. However undemocratic and inequitable their economic and social structures are it is important for them to know Australia, as the honourable member for Denison said. It is very handy to have overseas leaders who understand our complex system of government, comprising up to four levels if one includes county councils and regional bodies . They are better able to deal with our Governments in trade and other matters when they are familiar with our anachronistic system of government. It is also important that we make up for deficiencies in some areas of some countries. For instance, Chinese Malays may be excluded by racial quotas from univeristy training in their country. It is important to give our students in Australia a broader view by having overseas students studying with them but also there needs to be caution through realising that there is a looming worry perhaps in some Australian universities with some problems of racism developing.

We need to fill some courses-the honourable member for Denison made this point- in which places exceed demand, such as the teacher education field. Some of the people who have come to Australia have become some of our best scientists. So there are good arguments in favour of encouraging private overseas students coming to Australia. There are also sound arguments for not reducing the opportunities for Australian residents. The Government asks: Can we afford to say no to Australian students in high demand courses? Some of the high demand courses which the honourable member for Denison did not mention are medicine, engineering and science. The Government has taken the reins and said no. We have lowered the number of students entering Australia next year, not the number of tertiary students doing courses, so that Australian students will not be displaced from couses of their choice and so that secondary students from other countries can also go into those courses. There are also sound arguments against increasing costs to the Australian taxpayers. In this area again it has to be admitted that private students coming from overseas bring foreign exchange into the country. We also have to face the fact that there is no contribution by students or their parents to the Australian tax system.

The reasons for the Government's action need to be looked at from all these points of view. The Government is taking further advice from a committee of review that has been established which will examine in detail the issues relating to the private overseas student program. That committee should report in early 1984. This Bill is consistent with the philosophy of democratic socialism and recognises the need for more opportunity for the less advantaged.