House debates

Monday, 9 August 2021


Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2021, Education Services for Overseas Students (TPS Levies) Amendment Bill 2021, Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Cost Recovery and Other Measures) Bill 2021, Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Charges) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading

4:10 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In continuation, I mentioned earlier that we support these bills and the reasons why we support them, as well as the reservations that we have around the setting of most of the detail of these bills through regulation. I mentioned then that I would also continue, in my contribution today, to speak specifically about higher education and universities.

A couple of weeks ago—in fact, the Friday before the last parliamentary sitting—I attended the 30th anniversary of Edith Cowan University. I have three degrees from Edith Cowan University, and my brother gently reminded me that he also graduated from Edith Cowan University, so I must say that it is the Aly family university of choice. It is such a feat for the university to celebrate 30 years in the same year that we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Edith Cowan being elected to the parliament of Western Australia. As part of their celebrations, I attended a gala concert at the Perth Concert Hall that was put on by students of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University. It was such an amazing event. It was a fantastic event. The closing piece of that evening was a spectacular performance put together by a WA Academy of Performing Arts student. The title of the piece was Transformation. It reminded me of how my own life, as well as the lives of many of the young people I meet, has been transformed by education.

I want to congratulate Edith Cowan University not just on that event but on reaching 30 years and really growing to the extent that they have. But juxtaposed against that wonderful celebration of 30 years was an announcement made just before that by the University of Western Australia that they were effectively cutting their social sciences offerings, meaning they would no longer be offering anthropology or sociology, among other social sciences, either as a degree or as a research area. The result of that will not just be felt in the 16 or so full-time jobs to be lost at that university. I was moved by the number of people who contacted me about this: academics, of course, especially those who come from the humanities; former graduates, of course, who understand the value of a humanities degree; students who were studying anthropology and sociology; and would-be students—young people who aspire to study a degree in the humanities and have a clear talent and passion for it.

In response to that, I wrote an opinion piece that was published in the West Australian. In that opinion piece I drew attention to this government's eight-year-long undermining of universities and, in particular, the humanities. There has been absolute destruction of higher education—our universities as well as our TAFEs—and, specifically, ideological shadow boxing against the humanities. I was shocked when I found out that the former Minister for Education had taken it upon himself to veto ARC grants in the humanities, placing himself above a panel of discipline-specific experts—many of whom are professors, many of whom have done decades of research and earned international reputations in their own right—and placing himself above a college of experts, who deemed those grants worthy of funding, to veto those grants.

Those opposite seem to think that anthropologists and sociologists engage in navel-gazing activities where they clamour to write dissertations and study frivolous things like the migratory patterns of Argentinian ants or the relevance of the apostrophe in modern-day Tajikistan. That's not the case at all. Anthropologists and sociologists contribute so much. Their work is absolutely central, and has been central, to the management of pandemics. They played a vital role in the management of the Ebola virus outbreak. They understand human behaviour and human responses to pandemics, to government messaging and to policy.

It would be remiss of me to not stand and speak on these bills that we support, because they make it easier, because they make education more accessible, specifically for our overseas students, and because they give some relief to those education providers. But we stand here and support these bills against a backdrop of a continuous eight-year attack on universities—one that has seen $3 billion in revenue lost. By the end of this year there will be $18 billion lost from our economy, from our education sector. Education has gone from being a $40 billion export to being a $22 billion export.

It's true that we have always been faced with harsh competition from like nations such as the UK, Canada and the US in attracting overseas students to study in Australia. For as long as I can remember, from my days of teaching ELICOS and attracting students to come to Australia to study English as a pathway to a university degree in Australia, we've grappled with these questions about how we make Australia a competitive nation for overseas students, and we have proven our place in the world landscape as a destination of choice for international students. We currently have 200,000 students stuck overseas with little or no hope of getting here and completing their degrees because we don't have proper, fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities that would enable that.

I notice that many speakers who have contributed here have talked about universities pivoting to online learning. When I was teaching I always taught online as well as face to face, and I know that you cannot completely replace face-to-face learning with online delivery, particularly for some courses where students need to be in a lab. You also cannot deliver quality teaching without quality research; you simply cannot. If we want to grow and develop the minds of the future that will go on and contribute to the industries of the future, we need to make sure that our teaching at universities is up to date with industry trends and world trends. You simply cannot expect our world-class education system to remain world class if you cut research, if you undermine ARC grants or if you take away ARC grants that were justly assessed by a college of experts because you don't like the title of the grant and you have no understanding of the content of that particular research program.

I will end on a point that was made by previous speakers. This point really demonstrates the government's contempt for higher education, particularly for universities. It's demonstrated not just in their undermining of the humanities. It's demonstrated not just in their ideological battle against the social sciences and the humanities. It's demonstrated not just in their cuts to universities. It's demonstrated not just in their failure to ensure quarantine facilities are there so that overseas students can return to universities and it can be back to business as usual. If there is anything that demonstrates the government's contempt for higher education and for universities it is the fact that they changed the rules for JobKeeper three times so universities could not get it. It is the fact that, since the pandemic began, they have presided over 18,000 job losses in one sector alone—and not in just any sector but in one of our largest export sectors, a sector in which Australia has enjoyed a very proud and strong international reputation. So, while we support these bills, we will continue to hold the government to account for their absolutely disgraceful undermining of the university sector.

4:21 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to speak on the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2021, because of the importance overseas students play not only in my electorate of Corangamite but also across our nation. Overseas students are so important to Deakin University and to my region as a whole. This bill does a number of things around cost-recovery, charges and the associated regulations for overseas students. Amongst other things, the bill updates the registration charges to recover costs for certain regulatory activities under the ESOS Act. The bill also establishes new registration charges consistent with the Australian Government Charging Framework. But there is a sad irony associated with this bill and its timing, because, on the one hand, the Morrison government wants to streamline the charging framework for overseas students attending Australian universities but, on the other hand, it makes it almost impossible for these overseas students to attend our universities. I will return to this point, but first I want to detail some context around overseas students in our region and the importance of Deakin University.

Deakin University had over 13,000 overseas students. I said 'had' because, of course, this number of overseas students has been slashed. It's been decimated to virtually zero by COVID and the actions—or should I say inactions—of the Morrison government. In large part this has been due to the hopeless failure of the Morrison government to establish a robust quarantine system that would facilitate an early re-entry of overseas students. Overseas students are vital to my region's economy and to many regional economies, to our diverse cultural life and to getting the world's best and brightest people to stay in our region into the future. The education of overseas students is a major job creation engine in our region. This bill adds a whole lot of detail around the regulation and charging of overseas students, but what is the point of it if there are no overseas students? I ask all members to think about that question. The real tragedy is that all the job losses didn't have to happen. All these university job losses resulted from a deliberate decision by the Morrison government not to take responsibility for quarantine and not to support Australia's university sector overall.

The Morrison government, astoundingly, decided that the university sector would be excluded from JobKeeper but that the likes of Gerry Harvey, or Harvey Norman, would be included. How could any responsible government do that? How could they? I note recent figures from the independent Parliamentary Budget Office which show that 157,650 Australian employers who received JobKeeper support had turnover rise during that period compared to the same in 2019. In just three months these employers accrued $4.6 billion in taxpayer funded wage subsidies. If just half of that $4.6 billion had been supplied to the university sector, there would not have been job losses. This massive brain drain and the huge economic blow to Australia and our region would have been avoided.

I would like to acknowledge Dr Alison Barnes from the NTEU, who said recently:

For a small portion of the JobKeeper money that was wasted on corporate handouts to profitable companies, we could have saved the 21,000 jobs lost from higher education.

Yes indeed. I want that figure on the parliamentary record: 21,000 jobs lost in the Australian university sector because of some weird agenda by the Morrison government to punish universities—21,000 Australian jobs lost. And that is not the end of it; it continues. Universities Australia chief executive, Catriona Jackson, has said that the sector is estimated to lose a further 5.5 per cent, or $2 billion, in 2021 alone.

And this is not where punishment of the Australia university sector by the Morrison government ends. There's even more—a lot more. Everyone in this chamber would remember the tortuous path of the higher education support amendment bill. The bill cut another billion dollars in Australian government expenditure to Australian universities. And of course it hugely punished Australian students interested in pursuing careers in the arts and humanities, doubling already-high fees and saddling our youth with even higher levels of debt. Overall, that piece of legislation increased already-high costs to students by seven per cent. Forty per cent of students had to cop increased fees, some by as much as 113 per cent. Arts and business students will now leave university with debts averaging between $40,000 and $50,000 for a normal degree. What a disgraceful attack on students because they wish to pursue a career in humanities. The respected academic and university policy analyst Andrew Norton put it very simply:

A future education minister is going to have to fix these problems.

Too true.

The Australian university sector is bleeding profusely, and Deakin University is no exception. This is largely due to the Liberal government's funding cutbacks, the absence of overseas students and the refusal of the Morrison government to provide support to the sector when they desperately need it. JobKeeper was the sad example of this. The Morrison government has been consistently rigid in its refusal to allow universities to access JobKeeper, and it makes no sense. We are proud of the quality education our universities provide; they are the engine room of regional employment and an important economic driver. Instead, under the Morrison government we see universities hurting and shedding jobs. For Deakin University, this has resulted in more than 300 jobs lost. At the time, I spoke out about these job losses in the local media. These job losses have devastated morale for many at Deakin University and have left many local families facing difficult times during this pandemic. Casualisation of the university workforce makes it even harder to keep your job, because those who aren't tenured are the first to lose their jobs.

It is sad that casualisation of the workforce under the Morrison government has escalated to alarming proportions—it is really staggering. I do want to give a shout-out to all the employees at Deakin University. You are doing an amazing job in these very challenging times. What you need is a federal government that cares about you and cares about our education system, our university sector. While this bill deals with a lot of the detail about the regulation of overseas students, there are virtually no overseas students to apply this bill to. To me, it feels exactly like fiddling while Rome is burning. I will leave you with that thought. We on the Labor side will support this bill, but we do not support the attack on the university sector. We are alarmed by it. We will fight it. When we come into government, we will fix it.

Finally, the struggling university sector is just another pointer to the Morrison government's fundamental failures. A pointer to one of their fundamental failures is the two tasks they had during this COVID crisis. The first is the failure to effectively roll out vaccines. The second is the Morrison government's failure to establish a high-quality quarantine system. That's what we need to get the university sector back on its feet, that's what we need to get overseas students back into our universities, and that's what we need to help our regional economies to get moving again. This is what the Prime Minister should be focused on. Instead, the Morrison government is totally failing Deakin University and the whole Australian university sector. This is not vision. It's not leadership. Universities need a government that believes in their vitality and the significant role they and our TAFE sector play in equipping us all for the future. Only a change of government will deliver such an outcome. It is certainly time for that change.

4:32 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2021 is part of a set of cognate bills and other so-called reforms to impose a cost recovery model on the sector. As has been said in previous debates and again in this debate, this is the very worst possible time you could pick to shift a sector to cost recovery. In the previous debate, on the related TEQSA bill, even government speakers acknowledged that providers are paying about 15 per cent of the costs. At the very time that students are not able to come to Australia and university revenues are being smashed, the government wants to move the sector to 100 per cent cost recovery.

This bill—no doubt the government will try to tell us this bill is a great thing—throws a tiny, tiny crumb to the international education sector by fiddling around with the charges, which should give them the princely saving of about $7 million a year. That sounds nice, doesn't it? But, firstly, the impact is largely irrelevant given the scale of damage to the sector; it's lost literally billions of dollars of revenue. Secondly, the impact is actually unknown. Peak irony: the government, in this bill, is giving $7 million of fee relief through the CRICOS registration charges and yet, in the other bill, is increasing charges for full cost recovery by a much larger and indeed unknown amount. So I don't know how any provider or university, private or public, could bank this saving without having a clue what's coming down the pipeline in the TEQSA changes. It's truly ridiculous. The sector has unprecedented financial challenges. The government is giving on one hand and taking more with the other.

International education was—I say 'was', sadly, in the past sense—Australia's fourth biggest export sector, worth over $40 billion to our economy. More than that, international education has enriched our cities and regions; it's made our campuses more vibrant and diverse. It's been an incredible national success story, something we as a country should be so proud of—that hundreds of thousands of young people, at that time in their life, have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases, to come and study and live in our community. It's increased our soft power, over decades, incalculably.

COVID has decimated this sector—our fourth-largest export sector, decimated by COVID. Some damage, of course, was unavoidable, with the borders shut. This is a sector—one of the service sectors—that relies on the movement of human beings and was always going to suffer damage. But the scale of the damage has been exacerbated and made far worse by deliberate actions and neglect by this government. As I said, the sector was worth $40.3 billion before COVID. The latest ABS stats saw that fall last year to $31.7 billion—a loss of 25 per cent of the value of this sector. The latest Mitchell Institute modelling projects another $10 billion loss in 2022; so we'll be down to half of where we were, and that will keep going. It will possibly actually start falling exponentially, for reasons I'll touch on. This is a devastating impact. This is billions of dollars of lost revenue for our universities and TAFEs and also an existential crisis for our independent providers.

Remember—and I say this to bust an urban myth—that international students do not take our domestic student places, as too many Australians think and indeed some government members seem to imply or think. They create places and opportunity for Australian students. They fund our classrooms, our capital works programs at campuses and indeed a significant share of our research effort. To be really clear, the impacts of this devastation that has been wrought on this sector include research. As a member for Cowan so eloquently spoke about, billions of dollars cut from international education means billions of dollars lost for our research effort. In an environment of the first recession in 30 years, when we should be thinking about economic recovery, that's the very time we need to be investing more in research and innovation, not less, and yet research funding is falling. The government's cutting research funding this year. This will also, over time, impact our ranking, because our global rankings for universities, which in turn help drive our attractiveness as a student destination, are significantly driven by research. So we're going to see a very nasty cycle emerge over the next two to three years.

We've also seen thousands of jobs lost at universities, with the government doing nothing. The latest estimate of jobs lost directly is between 18,000 and 21,000—and they're just the jobs that show up in the org charts in the universities. Untold thousands more casual teachers, sessional teachers, casual researchers, administrative staff, cleaning staff and so on have been lost. The ABS estimates this year say that 30,000 fewer people are working in higher education than were working the year before. These are avoidable losses. The government changed the JobKeeper rules three times to stop universities being eligible for JobKeeper. They didn't just stand by passively; they actively made sure that these jobs would be lost by refusing to extend the support to the sector. The economic impact has been felt on jobs in the cities and in the regions. I think the ABS stats said, before the crash, over 240,000 jobs were supported by international education in Australia. That's actually more jobs than are created in the entire mining sector. It's more jobs than are created and supported in the entire agricultural sector. The government has nothing to say on this. They're just happy to stand by while tens of thousands of jobs are lost.

It's also impacting our reputation. This is where the government is culpable. The Prime Minister actually stood up last year publicly and told students, 'If you don't like it, go home.' How do you think that resonated in a market where word of mouth is everything? Can anyone imagine the Prime Minister saying that about another one of our big export sectors? 'If you don't like our iron ore, don't buy it. If you don't like our agricultural produce, then nick off. Buy someone else's.' Why on earth would the Prime Minister say that about this sector? He's got a pattern of hostility. Remember, he blamed them the year before for congestion. It wasn't his failure to invest in infrastructure or rorting every infrastructure dollar he could find to push to marginal seats that was causing congestion; apparently, it was international students trying to get a bus to the university. Pathetic.

I do call on the government to extend the 485 visas. One positive thing which they could do right now would be for those thousands of students who are stuck offshore with a valid 485 postgraduate study visa. They were made a promise by this country, they invested thousands of dollars and years of their life to study here, they happened to be home when the borders were shut, and they're unable to come back and use that visa. That was a promise our country made them. We can't bring them back right now, because of the government's failures on quarantine, but we could at least do the decent thing—the smallest thing—and say, 'When the borders reopen, we will honour the promise as a country we made you and we will let you come back and have your one year or two years of post-study work rights.' That's in our national interest as well, because they form such a wonderful part of our pipeline of highly skilled migrants, in regional areas as well as in cities.

The final thing I'd note is the human impact on students is incalculable. As I said, they've invested a lot. For some students it's a case of, 'We enrolled, we're studying online and we'll be able to come at some point.' That's not a positive thing, a positive experience. But for some of these students, the government has to talk to them and at least say, 'We will prioritise you as soon as we can bring back any students.' Take a student who's invested hundreds of thousands of dollars doing a dental course. They've had five years in Australia, and they're stuck offshore unable to do their sixth year. They've gone into debt, and they see their life dreams evaporate. The government has had nothing to say to those students who've invested so much in our community. It's not a matter of trading them off against stranded Australians, which the government tries to do every time you raise this, but just being decent and human and understanding that these are people. They're human beings, they're young people who've invested in our country. We could at least have something to say to them: that we understand the sacrifice that they're making, that we understand the difficulties that it's causing. We understand that some have partners living in Australia. I've tried to help some students whose partners are living in my electorate. They are not able to come back and have never met their own child. Their own child has been born, they've only met their child on WhatsApp, and the government has nothing to say to these people. We can do better than this as a country and we can do better by our fourth-biggest export sector.

The other point I'd make about the impacts is that without action business failures are looming. The university situation is bad enough—the impact on research, capital works and so on—but the situation facing independent providers is existentially grim. This is a sector that works on pipelines, let's be clear. As current students leave, if there are no students coming through the borders to replace them, the student cohort shrinks. In the short term last year there was relatively little pain. Providers could adjust to some ups and downs and they still had a good stock of students who were in the country. But there's no JobKeeper eligibility for most of these providers because they couldn't show the drop in turnover at the critical time when JobKeeper was around, so they didn't get support at that point because they didn't need it. But for this sector, unlike most other sectors, the fiscal cliff is looming because their stock in the pipeline, if you like, the students coming in, has dried up. If you sit down and talk to them—the government doesn't talk to them—they'll tell you they can look down the pipeline and the next six months are going to be hard and they will hurt A lot of providers that could with their balance sheets have stuck away a bit of money to try to get through to Christmas. That's when the government suggests that students will start to come back. But by the time we get to January or July next year, we'll be at serious risk of significant business failure.

It's no exaggeration to say that for independent providers—not dodgy providers; most of them will go out of business because they don't have reserves, and good riddance to the small number that are dodgy—reputable businesses that have run a quality product and have been in the market for decades are facing a valley of death that is looming over their business. The government won't say it, but it seems unlikely that students are going to return before mid-next year at least. Oh, what could have been: if the government had invested in purpose-built quarantine facilities, hadn't turned its back on the sector last year and rejected every plea for help and every creative idea, we could have had thousands more students at least onshore and we could have had 38,000 stranded Australians back onshore. But the government decided it was fun to play politics and blame the states for everything, instead of taking responsibility and putting in place a safe national quarantine system. We are where we are, but they've wasted our island continent advantages and they've set up this impossible conflict between students and stranded Australians.

Of course people understand that citizens are going to get priority, but we should not be in this situation where we've seen the scale of devastation in our fourth-biggest export sector. So we're going to need—and I call on the government to do this—to provide more business assistance and to sit down to talk with the sector. If the government know that they're not going to be bringing students back for 12 months—if that's what the government are prepared to say and actually prepared to state as a view—then they have to give some comfort by working with the sector and businesses now. This is a sector that knows exactly what's going to happen. You tell them where the student pipeline's going to be, they will tell you at what point their businesses will fail and we'll see more closures and more loss of jobs. The government says it's put in $53 million. It's not nearly enough and it's not targeted. A lot of that went to universities; that's a different problem. Some of it went to ELICOS, English language teaching, and quite rightly so, but the VET and higher-ed providers need help and they need engagement now.

The other thing we need is a plan to rebuild the sector from the ground up. I hate to say this, but there's no choice but to hope that the minister for education will champion it. That was the minister who gave us robodebt, the minister for car park rorts, the minister who made a mess of immigration. And so, for that brilliance, they promoted him to education. But unfortunately it's this man, the minister for education, on whose competence and ability to get something through cabinet the future of our fourth biggest export sector rests. God help them.

You can't rely on the Prime Minister. He weirdly hates international education. As I said, he told the students to go home, blamed them for his own failures on infrastructure and congestion, gave no help or care—verging on sociopathic kind of lack of empathy, time after time. He wouldn't treat any other sector like that. The lobsters even got their own plane, but there is not a word of care or concern for international students.

The minister for education has a strategy. I understand he got it a couple of weeks ago. It's a bit constipated in the department. The department of education's not going that well. They've had three or four people in charge of this strategy. Apparently the international education person is in acting up in a job. But, anyway, the minister's finally got a strategy, with a road map to recovery. I urge him to get it out and give some hope to the sector. Hope is not a strategy, but it's a good start. At least he can say what his plan for recovery is and then try as best he possibly can not to do a robodebt, not to do a car park rort, not to make the mess like he did in immigration. He can try to get something through cabinet to actually repair some of the damage in our fourth biggest export sector.

I've outlined a few positive ideas. The government are going to need to help the independent education providers. They're going to need to send some messages to the students and start to repair the market and reputational damage and show that we do care as a country. They're going to have to start putting some money into marketing and get a bit more focus across the bureaucracy. Time doesn't permit me to go through all the solutions.

I look forward to seeing the strategy and I hope it's a good one. I used to look after international ed in the Victorian public service and worked under Labor governments and Liberal governments. I travelled with Liberal premiers and Liberal ministers to China. This should be a bipartisan portfolio. It should be a bipartisan sector. I've never before seen this lack of care for this sector from a Liberal government, ever. It's time it stopped. This sector has been a wonderful thing for our country and it deserves more attention from the government.

4:47 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] It's always a hard act to follow the member for Bruce, and I commend him on his strong speech on these education bills. Like so many parts of Australian society, we are feeling the effect of last year's negligence and last year's inaction by the Morrison government. It is nowhere more stark than in our university sector, where, last year, not only did they exacerbate the problems that our university sector is facing by not building purpose-built quarantine facilities, but also they've systematically attacked our educators and made university more expensive for Australians to go to.

We in the Labor Party have always championed our university sector. From the Whitlam reforms, many of my parents' generation went to university for free. Within a generation, the life and the living standards of Australians, including our family, were turned around. Because of the Labor Party's longstanding commitment to access to education, it is through university, it is through higher education, that Australians have had the social mobility to be able to do whatever they want within this country. But that dream is slowly being chopped away at and undermined by the efforts of this government.

Unfortunately, due to this pandemic, we have seen our university sector on its knees. For too long, the university sector has been underfunded by this government and by successive Liberal governments. Instead of being funded properly, the university sector has been forced to rely on international students to make up a lot of the revenue that the government and successive Liberal governments have cut from courses. So the university sector has a financial model where it absolutely relies on international education. Because of this pandemic the sector has had a huge reduction in revenue to subsidise and support Australian students and quality Australian education through having a reduction in the number of international students coming here.

You would think that, for Australia's fourth-largest export industry—it is Victoria's single largest service exporter—the federal government would be doing absolutely everything in its power to help ensure that our universities are supported throughout this pandemic. You would think that it would do everything in its power to ensure the key revenue of international education coming into this country. It not only supports our university sector but supports businesses and accommodation and is a huge benefit for our economy. You would think that the federal government would be doing everything in its power to help ensure that our university sector could survive. But it's not.

The federal government has consistently been attacking our university sector. It has been undermining our university sector. You need to look only as far as the JobKeeper reform to see how much the university sector in Australia was never a priority for the Morrison government. You couldn't have designed JobKeeper in a way that excluded universities more directly than the way in which this government designed JobKeeper. To create a JobKeeper program that specifically excluded the university sector was literally a design of the Morrison government. Despite the urging and the amendments put forward by Labor, it was the federal government that flat out refused to support the university sector through JobKeeper.

What we saw were massive job losses across the sector. Monash University proudly has one of its campuses in my electorate of Macnamara. It also produces some of the finest people in this country. The great Monash University lost over 250 jobs. A total of 277 jobs were lost in 2020, mainly because the federal government flat out refused to support our university sector with JobKeeper. We saw comparable job losses at the major Victorian universities of Deakin and La Trobe. Universities have been left behind by the federal government. It's so frustrating. Universities have gone through the really traumatic experience of this pandemic. Not having the extra revenue from international students has been compounded by the fact that they were left behind in regard to the JobKeeper scheme. Then you add to that the fact of the legacy reforms of the Morrison government, which are to make university more expensive for a lot more Australian students, especially those in humanities courses.

I was a humanities student. I proudly studied politics and history. Yet the consecutive attacks on our humanities courses, on creative thinking, on critical thinking, on independent thought, on history, on our society and on ethics have been pretty disappointing to say the least. It has been a reflection of the values of the Morrison government that they have constantly sought to undermine free and independent thinking if it doesn't comply with the government's thinking. Successively we've seen JobKeeper, the cuts and the lack of purpose-built quarantine put our university sector on its knees. We've then seen the federal government make universities more expensive for more students.

I want to take this moment to reflect on the fact that, throughout this pandemic, our young Australians have missed out on so many milestones. Each and every day away from school and away from your friends is really difficult. Our young Australians have been asked to do so much throughout this pandemic. It's important to note every single time a young Australian misses a formal, every single time a young Australian misses a sporting event, every single time a young Australian misses a chance to go and hang out at their friend's house, every single time a young Australian doesn't get to leave school and hang out on campus and experience all of the joys of campus life after doing a tough year 12. It's important to recognise that young Australians have had to go through their best years, their formative years, the years when they could have grown and experienced independence and all of the joys of the world and of Australian society—travel, exploration and all the things that we all have fond memories of—having missed those milestones because of this pandemic. And what are they confronted with? They're confronted with a government that tells them that university is going to be more expensive for them, they're confronted with a government that tries to prescribe which courses they engage in, they're confronted with a government that clearly hasn't prioritised the university sector or prioritised the next generation.

We should be investing in our young people, because our young people are missing out on so much. Of course they've been left behind in the vaccine rollout. Our young people have been really forced to bear the brunt of this pandemic and have not had an opportunity to get vaccinated until very recently, and all the mixed messaging has been extremely confusing for young people. We should acknowledge it. But I also think that we really should acknowledge the fact that each milestone missed by a young Australian is important. It's something that we should be thankful of and thankful for, that younger Australians, with dignity, have managed to do that, making huge sacrifices for the betterment of Australian society. So the least that we could be doing, the least that the Australian government could be doing is saying to them, 'Thank you,' and investing back in their future.

I think that the way in which the federal government has treated our university sector does the exact opposite. It says that we're going to make your university more expensive, we're going to leave you with more debt, we're not going to support the university sector in the way in which we could and we're not going to try as hard as we can to ensure the future prosperity of, and investment into, our university sector. And it's really disappointing, because that is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing at this time. Now is the time to be investing in young people, now is the time to be saying to young people that there is hope, you will get through this and we're going to invest in the opportunities that you're going to need in the future.

I would take this opportunity to say directly to the younger people of Australia: We appreciate all of the sacrifices you've made. Every milestone that you've missed is important. And whether it was a school formal, a sporting match, just a chance to hang out with your friends, a chance to hang out on campus life, a chance to just be a young Australian and to be yourself, the fact that you've missed out on that and made sacrifices is amazing, and it's important. It's helped keep people safe. The end of this pandemic is going to come, and you will have a return to some form of normal life. It will happen. Have faith, it will happen. In the meantime, in order to reward younger Australians, we should be saying to you that our university sector should be the best funded in the world, that our university sector will not be the source of constant cuts and undermining, that if we work to create a wage subsidy program our university sector shouldn't be missing out on that—they should be at the top of our funding pile—and that we recognise all of your sacrifices and we want to help invest in the future so that you can give back to this wonderful country.

On that note, I say that we have seen a really disappointing few years for our university sector by the Morrison government, but it is true to form. We would hope that with a change of government it will give us the opportunity to right the wrongs, reinvest back in our university sector, reinvest back in our young Australians and reinvest back into the future, as a Labor government has always done and will do long into the future. Thank you.

4:58 pm

Photo of Michelle LandryMichelle Landry (Capricornia, National Party, Assistant Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all members for their contributions to this debate in relation to the Education Services for Overseas Students legislation package. This package of four bills will give effect to the government's decision in the 2021-22 budget to implement updated cost recovery arrangements for registration on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, CRICOS, from 1 January 2022.

The changes to the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2021 will allow the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to recover the cost of the efficient regulatory services it provides to the international education sector, including in its role as the regulator of schools that enrol international students. The new arrangements will result in a reduction in the department's CRICOS charges. The amendments are necessary to ensure the charging approach meets the requirements for the Australian government Charging Framework and to maintain the quality and reputation of our Australia's international education sector, positioning it for recovery and regrowth. Consequential amendments to the three other acts facilitate the changes set out in the registration charges bill.

In response to the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, I table an addendum to the EM. I thank members for your engagement on the bills and your continued commitment to the international education sector and I commend these bills to the House.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Moreton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. So the immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to.