Monday, 30 November 2015
Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Streamlining Regulation) Bill 2015, Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment (Streamlining Regulation) Bill 2015; In Committee
The Australian Greens support the amendments proposed by the Labor Party because they are an improvement on what is bad legislation being proposed by the government. However, it does not change our view on the bill that the government has put before us today, and Labor's amendments fall short of addressing the issues with this bill. They do not stop the removal of the 50 per cent cap on up-front costs, for instance. They do not deal with the issue of weakening reporting obligations, and so they still expose students to risk.
The government have said that they have reason to be confident that the sector is in a good position and that somehow the sector is addressing the issues that have plagued it over the last few years. Well, let's be very clear on this: the evidence certainly does not support that view. There is barely a day that goes by when there is not another humiliating scandal plaguing the VET sector in this country. There is not a day that goes by when there is not more news of students being exploited and ripped off.
The government talks about wanting to remove the red tape. Well, it is removing the red tape and rolling out the red carpet for shonks and rip-off merchants. That is what is going to happen if the government goes down this path. It is absurd to be going down the path of removing protections for students when the government has not got its house in order in terms of ensuring that there is quality for students and that students are going to be protected.
I have heard a bit of discussion during this debate about the idea of Australia relying on international students and building a reputation for excellence within the field of international students. Obviously Australia has some terrific education institutions, and we are competing internationally, but one sure way for us to damage our reputation on an international level is to remove the protections that ensure that students get a quality product here in this country. We do not want to see a situation where students are buying an expensive lemon and they are being ripped off and that is the product that they take back to their home country. We do not want to see that model, yet that is the path that the government are taking us down if they remove these protections.
I think Senator Carr is right when he talks about this government's ideological obsession with deregulation and what that means. We need only look at what it has been doing to the higher education sector over the last several decades. I recall all too well the Howard government's deregulation efforts when the Liberals were last in power and, of course, the deregulation agenda that they have been pursuing in this term of government, which they have put on ice but intend to revive after the next election should they be returned. All of this is part of an ideological obsession with this idea of leaving students at the mercy of the market and letting the market decide. That is the Liberal Party's agenda: using education as a means to make profit and wealth for big business and big providers and selling out the interests of students and, all too often, the most vulnerable members of our community. In this instance, we are talking about international students, people who come to this country often lacking resources and sometimes language skills. These are the people who are going to be ripped off by some of the shonky operators. It is integral that we have protections in place, and the Greens are always going to continue to advocate for those.