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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1017

Mr DOBIE(8.53) —I wish to speak briefly in this debate. We have an arrangement that speeches will be kept to a minimum but I wish to put before the House certain issues that I think are wrong about this legislation and the principles behind it. I think there is a wrong assumption as to why parents and families in the countries in our geographical neighbourhood send their children to Australia for educational purposes. They do not come here because education is free. There is much in the second reading speech of the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West), which the honourable member for Eden- Monaro (Mr Snow) quoted, about secondary school education. Everyone in the countries we have in mind is very much aware that when private students come to Australia for secondary education they come in the firm knowledge that they will not receive a cent of subsidy because they are private students from overseas. They pay the same fees as any other student attending that school. If there is a state aid content in that matter it is something, surely, on which we would not put a price.

Let us be quite frank and open whcn we turn to tertiary education and talk about people from overseas coming to study in Australia. they do not come to Australia because they get free education. They can get that, as my friend the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) said, from eastern European countries , from the United Kingdom and from most European countries. They do not come here to get free tertiary education. They come to Australia to get good tertiary education and they come because the educational facilities in many disciplines here are excellent, not because they are available and not because they push out Australian students. Honourable members will see that this is the case if they talk to anybody as they travel through Asia. We should forget about Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong and talk to people from the smaller countries. What do they see in education in Australia? They see it as a place to train their medical doctors and their dentists. They see it as the place to train their paramedical personnel and the place to send those students who wish to become engineers. It has nothing to do with the capacity of Australian universities not to charge, as was the case until 1979.

I do not want to go over the ground that the honourable member for Denison spoke about concerning availability in some tertiary institutions and non- availability in others. I am very much aware of the pressures that exist in my own city-Sydney-at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales through many disciplines. We play blind man's bluff if we pretend in this House that there is not a problem at those two large and fine institutions. But there are more than two universities in Australia. More than six or seven other tertiary institutions in Sydney are available to overseas students.

We should bear in mind some of the history of this matter. The Minister took great care in his second reading speech to talk of history. Let us go back and see what in fact was done. When I first became a member of parliament in 1966, there were, thanks to the Colombo Plan that had been instituted by the famous Lord Casey, more tertiary students in Australia studying for their primary degrees than there were in the whole of Malaysia. Honourable members may ask: How many places did this stop? Those places came about because Australian aid to those countries changed. We then developed our aid programs so that those Malaysian students who previously had to come to Australia were being trained and educated at their own tertiary educational facilities. That was brought about thanks to Australian aid to teaching and other financial considerations.

I am sorry to see that the Minister made such a play on the Malaysian situation . Obviously he has not taken account of the sensitivities of the racial situation in Malaysia. Time does not permit me to dwell on this matter but I recommend that the Minister, when this debate is over, talk with his departmental officers about the allocation of free scholarships from Malaysia on the basis of race and what is desirable. The end result when we consider who has come to Australia, is that one of the groups is virtually compelled to come here as private students only. There is a great sensitivity in this matter and I do not for one moment wish to play politics with it or lead the Minister into playing politics. I merely ask that when he and his departmental officers consider restricting the number of Malaysian secondary students coming to this country, they forget about numbers and situations. They may care to look to see which secondary institutions those Malaysian students have applied to attend. The Minister may be surprised to find that there is a religious reason for many of them applying to many of the schools.

It would be well for departmental officers to go through those figures to determine what schools have been in demand by secondary students from overseas. It may come as a surprise to the Minister and his departmental officers-I suspect it does, otherwise they would not have advised the Minister in the way in which they have-to find which schools those students have attended. They are not-I stress those words-the top 30 to which this Government has decided to suspend state aid. They are schools throughout Australia that have had a specific appeal. Again, it is not my job now to name those schools, but the whole of the restriction is based on a false premise about where those secondary students go to school in this country.

Secondly, if this Government really believes that it is attacking an elite in these countries in our neighbourhood it should consider some of the tragedies about which some of us who have been in this place for a long time have learnt- failed students going back to their home countries, suicide, disgrace, trauma, things which have not been thought of in this legislation. Has the Government given thought to what happens when an Asian family scrapes and saves to send a student to Australia, with all the expenses involved of air fares, accommodation and sheer living expenses. As to social problems, 15 years ago we had to establish special social workers to attend to their particular social problems. Those people who fail go back to their countries disgraced, not because they have failed but because their families have made financial and social sacrifices the like of which few Australians have had to do. This is not an attack on elite people from foreign countries. This is an attack on families who have ambitions for their children, who do not see the advantages in their countries, who for religious and other social reasons find that they cannot break the social nexus in their own countries, and who see the hopes and ambitions of their children and, therefore, their countries, in sending children to overseas institutions most often at great financial burden and cost.

I say with sadness that the Overseas Students Charge Amendment Bill makes assumptions which I know to be wrong. From many years of travel in Asia and the Pacific region-not, I may say, in elite, expensive hotels but among the people in those countries-I can assure honourable members that the premise of this legislation is wrong. It is heartless and, I hate to say it, I believe it is elitist. To quote what the two previous speakers from this side, the honourable member for Denison and the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) had to say-they both made excellent speeches-this legislation is isolationist.

Mr West —Anyone would think you did not put the charges on in the first place.

Mr DOBIE —If the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, who is at the table, had been a member of this House a little longer he would realise that I made speeches in this connection when the former Government was in office. I say with great sadness to him now-

Mr West —You were not very effective, were you?

Mr DOBIE —I was quite effective. I was more effective than the Minister is being . His Government has made an arbitrary decision and has reduced the number of students who will enter secondary school education. This Government is blinding people by pretending that its concern is with tertiary education when its real concern is to stop students in their early teens from coming to Australia to get the education that their parents want for them. We in Australia should be honoured to realise that people in so many countries see Australia as their hope , not as the future home for their children but as a place where their children can be given opportunities so that they can then go home and make their countries beyond Australia's shores better places for their families. We once had an election campaign thrust at us by the present Labor Government. I throw it back right into the teeth of the present Government. Shame on the Government for this legislation!