In the short time remaining, I will start the debate on the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (2006 Measures No. 1) Bill 2006 and the Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment (2006 Measures No. 2) Bill 2006. The Education Services for Overseas Students Act was introduced to protect overseas students studying in Australia and to protect Australia's international reputation as a provider of quality education services . We in this place all know the immense value of overseas students to our community and to our society. Taking a walk down Queen Street in Brisbane at any time-as you would know, Acting Deputy President Brandis-you will see the large numbers of overseas students who are receiving their education in various ways within just our own city of Brisbane, to say nothing of other cities right across the country. They provide enormous value to our community. It is important for all of us to protect them. The ESOS Act regulates the provision of education and training services for overseas students in Australia by ensuring that providers are nationally registered and required to meet certain obligations in terms of standard of provision, reporting on visa conditions and consumer protections-all extremely important regulations for people who are often considered to be most vulnerable in an overseas country.
Education services are Australia's fourth largest export industry, behind-and I believe this is accurate-coal, tourism and iron ore. In many ways, it is important that such an interesting national industry as education is up there as an important contributor to our economy. Today, the Australian education export industry owes its genesis to the Hawke Labor government's initiative in the mid-1980s to directly link trade and aid policy, including a decision in 1986 to open Australian education to full fee paying overseas students. Then, international students were small in number but already a valued part of university and private school enrolments. They were an add-on rather than integral or essential to the wellbeing of the sector. Today, that has changed significantly. The industry is a major business and the sole focus of some private providers-for example, in English language intensive courses for overseas students-and a vital component of many services. Australia was an early player in the education export industry. Today, it is the largest provider per head of population and the third largest English-speaking provider of international education services, with seven per cent of the market, behind the US, which, I believe, has 32 per cent, and the UK, which has 15 per cent.
The ESOS Act included a statutory requirement for the evaluation of its operations three years after commencement. These bills implement some of the recommendations of the independent evaluation of the ESOS Act commenced in late 2003. One of the key issues in the bills is to do with fees and charges. All providers who deliver education and training services to overseas students in Australia must be registered on the Commonwealth register of institutions and courses for overseas students. Providers of education to overseas students must inter alia pay an initial fee and an annual fee to maintain their registration. Payment requirements are being changed to require automatic suspension from the register for failing to pay the annual charge by the due date. Item 26 repeals the previous section 90 and inserts a new section. The proposed section 90 automatically suspends the registration of providers who have not paid their annual registration charge by the due date, as well as continuing to provide for automatic suspension for noncompliance with the reminder notice for payment of the annual fund contribution. This is issued under section 75. The proposed section 90(2) requires payment of all outstanding moneys, including late payment and reinstatement fees, before that suspension can be lifted. Item 17 replaces note 2 to section 23 to indicate failure to pay the annual registration results in automatic suspension of registration.
Concern has been raised by universities through a letter received from the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee. It said:
'Timely payment by universities or any other provider is contingent upon early receipt of notification from the Department of Education, Science and Training regarding the rules and calculation of the ARC'-the annual registration charge-'for the period, which should include any discrepancies between DEST and provider calculations.' This particular provision has been discussed with the department. Because losing your registration has great impact on any provider, it is incredibly important that the communication channels between the department and the provider are open and transparent so that there is no misunderstanding about exactly what the provisions of the charges are and what the time frame involved is so that any penalty that may be incurred is understood and justly given. That particular communication has, I know, been raised at length with different organisations and also through the professional groups.
The annual registration charge is required to be paid by section 23 of the ESOS Act and the amount is to be determined by section 5 of the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Act 1997. Under section 5 of that act, it is calculated at a $300 base amount plus a $25 per student contribution based on enrolments with the provider in the previous year. The annual registration charge relies on an agreement between the provider and DEST on the total enrolments in the previous year. Resolution 88 SENATE Monday, 27 November 2006 CHAMBER of discrepancies can affect the amount to be paid. Automatic suspension for nonpayment by the end of February when DEST is under no obligation to detail the extent of liability could well be seen as unfair. I stress that these provisions must always be based on that open communication process between DEST as the regulating agency and any of the providers. In that way, there can be no misunderstanding and no sense of injustice when it comes down to whether the charges have been incurred correctly or not.
27 November, 2006