Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2020


Jobseeker Payment: International Students

7:25 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I want to talk about the real harm that the denial of the jobseeker payment to international students is having on their wellbeing and their ability to continue to survive the pandemic. Two international students, Skye and Xiajun both worked in the hospitality industry to support themselves whilst they studied, but the overnight shutdown of the industry has meant they have been out of work since mid-March. Skye is 28 years old. She is from Xinzheng, China. She is currently on a skilled graduate visa and was working as a cook at a restaurant, after going to a commercial cookery school. Skye first came to Australia in 2016 on a working holiday visa and wanted to stay in the country she had come to love. Before coming to Australia, Skye saved for three years, working as an accountant. Now Skye is struggling to get by. Her expenses are about $1,100 per month. She used to earn about $1,000 per week, before tax, and is now having to live off her small savings. Skye has applied for permanent residency. If accepted, she will have to pay $4,000 but will have little of her savings left to pay that fee. She told me that she still wants to stay in Australia and is grateful to the Australian people, even understanding that some are scared of what is happening and are taking it out on people like her. Skye thanks WA Premier, Mark McGowan, for supporting the Chinese community, encouraging people to buy Chinese takeaway and condemning the cases of deplorable racism that we've seen, and the discrimination. But she says she's disappointed in the Australian government, because she has contributed to Australian society and has paid taxes, but gets nothing.

Let me read some of Skye's words: 'I feel lonely, Australians at least have family here. If they can't go to work, they have family, but we have no-one. When you've left everything behind in your home country and something like this happens, you have nobody at home to keep you company. My entire life is back in China and the only thing we have, the only thing we can depend on, is income. Now, there's no income.' Skye does not want to be a burden on Australia. She came here to work and she continues to try to find work, even though the crisis is ongoing.

I also spoke to Xiajun, a 19-year-old man from eastern Liaoning province in north-eastern China. Xiajun first came to Australia as a 16-year-old, to study English. He's now studying a pre-uni course at TAFE to be able to enrol in a mining engineering course at Curtin University. He was told that Curtin was one of the best universities in the world at which to study engineering and he wants to follow in his father's footsteps as a mining engineer. To support himself, Xiajun was working as a chef and waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Perth. He grew up helping in his family's restaurant back home. Since the restaurant closed in mid-March, he's been out of a job. He is also struggling to make ends meet. His family in China are also not making as much income as before, so he can't rely on much financial support from them. Xiajun loves Australia and wants to make his home here. He says he would still recommend to other Chinese people that they come here and study and he still thinks Australians are friendly and helpful people.

Xiajun also feels disappointed in the Australian government. He says, 'I feel like they've told us: "Can't pay your rent? That's your problem."' Xiajun's monthly expenses are around $2,800, which his job just covered before the crisis. He now owes his landlord rent. His family saved for a long time to afford the visa enrolment fees when Xiajun first came. He pays $40,000 to study here every year. He needs to pay for his study, his rent and his ongoing living costs, but he does that because one day he knows he will have a good job.

Both Skye and Xiajun want to make a life for themselves in Australia and contribute to our community. As a country, we just cannot discount their current welfare because we are only looking after Australians. These are just two stories of the hundreds of thousands of international students who are forming poverty lines and who are relying on charities to be fed. With the flick of a pen the Treasurer could fix this situation overnight.