Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Oxley Electorate: COVID-19
This afternoon, I wish to draw to parliament's attention yet another demographic who have been forgotten by the Morrison government during the COVID-19 pandemic: our international students and temporary visa holders residing in Australia.
Last week, I met with Pastor Robyn Robertson and Pastor Ryan Vallee from the Riverlife Baptist Church in my electorate in Oxley, alongside Paviter Kumar Noori, from the Indian Cultural & Sports Club, and the state member for Mount Ommaney, Jess Pugh. I'm grateful for the work that Riverlife Baptist Church and the Indian Cultural & Sports Club have been able to do within our community for this forgotten group. They've shared heartbreaking stories of students who've been stranded in our community with no family close by, no access to jobs, no access to JobKeeper, no access to jobseeker and, more importantly, absolutely no access to any financial assistance from the government.
One such story was that of Eric from Fiji, who was studying at QUT and who was working prior to COVID restrictions. He was covering his rent, food and student fees and sending money back to his family in Fiji. As a result of Cyclone Harold hitting Fiji and Vanuatu in early April, his family experienced much loss. They were not in a position to send money to assist him. Despite Eric's hard work and best efforts, he now finds himself in financial stress through no fault of his own.
One of the most confronting situations they encountered was that of a female international student who, because she was unable to cover her accommodation contribution to her share house, was being exploited for sexual favours by the landlord, allegedly to pay down her outstanding balance. Riverlife Baptist were able to provide funds to pay what was owing, cover bond for a new place for her to live and connect her to counselling as a precursor to this student lodging a police report. To date, Riverlife has invested more than $45,000 in support to 42 international students from 13 nations experiencing financial hardship. Funds have been used to cover rent, food, medicines, phone and data plans and to create a multi-week buffer and, in certain cases, a term student fee instalment to ensure students can continue to complete their studies. I want to thank the Riverlife Baptist congregation for their generosity and for loving their neighbours as themselves and giving to those in need in our community.
Our international students and temporary visa holders make up an important part of our community. In 2019, the number of international students in Australia was 720,000—growth of 11 per cent from 2018. These people have been abandoned by the Morrison government. International students in 2020 contributed around $32 billion to the Australian economy, and Australia is one of the leading countries for tertiary education. But will we be able to keep this up the way the government is neglecting international students and neglecting to grant organisations—
Government members interjecting—
Those opposite won't even apologise. They are so arrogant that they are still condemning those students who have absolutely no support from this government. So many of our international students—
Government members interjecting—
and those opposite are laughing about this, Madam Deputy Speaker—need our support and care. I congratulate and salute our churches and community organisations, which are delivering for these international students being ignored by the Morrison government.