Morrison Government faces backlog of problems

Prime Minster Scott Morrison has a hefty to-do list. Picture: AAP Image/Brian CasseySource:AAP


The Coalition government of Scott Morrison has been tied down since the May 18 election by the urgent need to fix serious problems it has inherited.

That is, inherited from itself.

The latest sign of this is the review of the National Disability Insurance Scheme launched today by minister Stuart Robert.

But the to-do repair list is much more extensive, and includes, water policy, aged care and education.

The NDIS review is merely one instance of the Coalition needing to fix matters that have been under its care for more than half a decade.

By September 18, the Coalition will have been in office for six years. Mr Morrison has been in cabinet all of that time, four of the six years either as treasurer or prime minister.

If Mr Morrison wants to blame anyone for shoddy or tardy work, he would have to be among the culprits.

There are several other instances of overdue repairs beyond the NDIS review.

One of the biggest is the royal commission into aged care, which will uncover case histories most voters will find shocking and will worry the growing voter cohort of the elderly.

It will also worry Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who has been commissioned with producing a Budget surplus, no matter the legitimate spending demands the government faces.

The aged care royal commission report will come with a hefty price tag.

There is another royal commission report planned on treatment of the disabled.

The government is also taking a critical look at skills shortages with a review of vocational education opportunities and quality of training.

This sector was not well treated when Julia Gillard was education minister but the time has long passed for the Morrison Government to blame Labor.

The Prime Minister and premiers have agreed to pep up vocational education and training (VET) with Mr Morrison saying, “We all want students, whatever age they are, they could be 21, they could be 61 and going through a career change … to have confidence that that system is going to help them with their future intentions and their future careers.”

He might be able to draw on a report into VET which he commissioned in November last year.

There also now is an inquiry into management of water resources and the Murray-Darling Basin, the domain of the Nationals’ for most of the six years.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will examine the water market in the Murray-Darling Basin. One reason for this is the savage drought that has hit farmers and pastoralists.

But another is the ability of companies to hoard water as a valuable commodity rather than releasing it for food growing, environmental health or household use.

Another big issue is energy policy — or the absence of one.

There once was a National Energy Guarantee, which went through cabinet a was three times approved by the Liberal party room but could not survive a coal-favouring rump of backbenchers.

The consequence was it was never implemented, Australia’s carbon emissions are rising and the certainty sought by business is being denied.

And while wind farms are being attacked as “satanic”, any guarantee of lower domestic power prices is muted at best.

So there now is another inquiry — into nuclear energy.

Former banking inquiry royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne noted the traffic jam of investigations in a speech given last month but made public recently.

He suggested government’s only concentrated on putting out political “spot fires” rather than long-term matters, which has weakened voter faith.

“Instead, we need to grapple closely with what these calls are telling us about the state of our democratic institutions,” Mr Hayne said.

“Trust in all sorts of institutions, governmental and private, has been damaged or destroyed.”


One more technical institute in Australia with hundreds of Nepali students faces deregistration

Many vocational and training institutes in Australia are facing regulatory actions for failing to meet quality.

Yet another wing of the Australia Institute of Business and Technology with hundreds of Nepali students has been deregistered by the country’s regulator for the vocational and training sector for failing to meet the admission compliances.

The Australian Skills Quality and Authority (ASQA), the regulatory body, which had deregistered AIBT in February, now has taken similar action against its international wing—the AIBT-International.

The institute, along with two other vocational and training institutes—NSW Business College and Zarah Institute of Education—faced the action with effect from June 19. The business college and Zarah institute have few Nepali students, but a majority of around 1,200 students at the AIBT-International are Nepalis. The regulatory body said the institutes were deregistered as they were found not to be abiding by the existing education rules.

The AIBT has been running two institutes targeting international students, mostly Nepalis, where students were enrolled in diploma courses on nursing, IT, community service and accounting.

“We are in a dilemma. The college has asked us to continue classes but we are worried about our future,” an IT student from the institute told the Post requesting not to disclose the identity because he feared action from the college administration.

In recent times, many vocational and training institutes (VET) in Australia are facing actions from the regulatory agencies for failing to meet quality and to demonstrate fair marketing practices.

Representatives of the Council of International Students Australia, an organisation of international students in the country, say some 200 such training institutes faced actions in the past year.

However, unlike AIBT, others have very few Nepali students.“Hundreds of international students including from Nepal are going through a tough time following the ASQA’s action,” Bijay Sapkota, president of the council, told the Post. “We are taking some legal steps to seek a permanent solution to this problem.”

The AIBT authorities told the Post that there was no need for the students to worry as they have already taken legal steps against the ASQA’s decision.Every institute can seek a review of the decision from the regulatory body.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been set up to hear such cases, but the AIBT has directly filed a case at the Federal Court of Australia, which is the superior court of record and a court of law and equity of the country, calling for declaring the decision invalid and directing the regulatory body to revoke its decision.

“The court hearing is likely early this month. By then, we hope that we can deliver good news to our stakeholders and valued students,” Fiona Kee, head of compliance at the AIBT, told the Post in an email interview.

The representatives of the education consultancies also say students don’t need to worry even if the institutes are closed, as their credit transfer and fee protection will be taken care of.

“The students should not stop attending classes as long as the institutes function,” said Rajendra Rijal, vice-president of the Education Consultancy Association Nepal, an umbrella body of the country’s educational consultancies.The incidents of Nepali students getting in trouble at their foreign academic destinations, mostly in Australia, are increasing as their numbers have gone up significantly in recent years.

Records at the Ministry of Education show only 16,504 students had acquired ‘No Objection Certification’ letters, which are required to study abroad, in the fiscal year 2013-14.The number increased fivefold last fiscal, with 62,800 students acquiring the certificate to study in 72 countries.Among them, some 32,200 students got the certificate to study in Australia.Nepal is currently the third largest contributor of international students to Australia. Rijal said the Australian authorities have started saying that this is not an “organic” growth.

“I think the time has come for us to reconsider before sending students for the VET programmes,” Rijal told the Post.

“The Australian authorities also have started tightening visas for such programmes,” he said. “Visa rejection for such programmes is around 70 percent at present.”

Call for foreign student clamp to ease ‘burden’

Crowds at Town Hall station, Sydney. Picture: Christian GillesCrowds at Town Hall station, Sydney. Picture: Christian Gilles

Tougher English-­language and financial requirements should be imposed on overseas students to ease the “burden’’ created by immigration on major capital cities rather than ­“fiddling’’ with the ­nation’s permanent migrant entry program, a leading demographer says.

Bob Birrell, in a new report, finds the influx of overseas students to Australia has overtaken other categories as its main source of net migration.

Just a month after the Morrison government’s decision to cut permanent migrant visa numbers from 190,000 to 160,000 a year, Dr Birrell concludes that pushing the formal program “up or down a bit” is not a significant issue because overseas students are a “far more important contributor to Australia’s population growth”.

The detailed study of migration figures by Dr Birrell, who heads the Australian Population Research Institute after an academic career at Melbourne’s Monash University, found overseas students now accounted for 44 per cent of the nation’s net ­migrant intake — based on the difference between annual arrivals and departures.

Overseas students accounted for 104,987 of the 236,700 intake recorded for net overseas migration in the 2018 financial year. Growth in net migration of overseas students has also outstripped growth in other categories such as for visitors, workers or permanent entrants — up from 25,700 in 2012 to last year’s 104,987.

Analysing figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Home Affairs Department, Dr Birrell found overseas students were the biggest source of population growth in inner Sydney and Melbourne, and “thus major contributors to each city’s congestion crisis”.

He recommends “only one clear-cut answer” for the ­federal government to reduce the “burdens” on Australia’s ­migration intake — reverse a ­watering-down of English-­language and financial requirements for overseas students. As universities competed for overseas students, Dr Birrell said the quality of higher education had been adversely affected because of lower university entry standards and English-language requirements.

“Australia’s universities have had to create learning enclaves, mainly in business and administrative courses,” he said. “In these enclaves, the standards for ­English-language skills, academic preparation and learning outcomes have all had to be adjusted downwards in order to attract and cope with overseas students.”

But Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, said the university community was “fed up” with Dr Birrell using migration figures to attack universities and overseas student numbers.

“His research flies in the face of a report by the Department of Home Affairs and Treasury last August, which found that 87 per cent of international students return to their home country,” he said.

“If 87 per cent are going back, I don’t know where he gets this 44 per cent from.”

Mr Honeywood accused Dr Birrell of “looking narrowly” at the issue without considering the benefits overseas students brought to Australia’s economic growth.

“He never acknowledges the $34 billion injection into the economy. They have a good experience while they are here, and they are important to our international ­vision.

“If they come back, it’s ­usually as tourists, or for other ­reasons, not to live here. Those that do, what’s wrong with that?”

Andrew Norton, the Grattan Institute’s higher education program director, said Dr Birrell was right about overseas students being the biggest source of net migration, and also their concentration in big cities, especially Melbourne and Sydney — but there were positives to consider.

“There are substantial economic benefits as well,” he said. “There are tens of billions of dollars spent in fees and living expenses, and the flip side is that there is a large labour force as well in areas where there’s demand for it — cleaning, hospitality and Uber driver jobs.”

Dr Birrell said overseas students contributed most to population growth in Sydney and Melbourne because of the Gillard government’s “reform backtrack” in 2011 that watered down rules on English-language and financial requirements following the Knight student visa program review. Easing of previously tough conditions allowed many more overseas students to not only enter but also gain permanent residency visas while here, he said.

Contrary to popular belief, Department of Home Affairs figures showed the largest category of migrants issued permanent visas by the government in the 2017 financial year — 42,541 or 22 per cent — were those previously with higher education or vocational training visas, and those who were partners or family members.

The proportion of this ex-­student category gaining permanent residency fell slightly to 18.7 per cent last year because Home Affairs Minister Peter ­Dutton tightened some provisions.

Dr Birrell said the high overseas student intake had a bearing on unemployment in Sydney and Melbourne because local low-skill, low-income jobseekers were displaced. He claimed these overseas students had then become an exploited new “underclass of workers”.

The immigration debate has focused mainly on the number of permanent residency visas issued to offshore entrants — prompting the government’s recent cut — because of the widely held belief that these migrants have been the main source of population growth and contributed most to problems such as city congestion and job shortages.

Dr Birrell disagrees, based on his research. He found that while the government had reduced permanent entry numbers, and ­explored ways to ease congestion by directing such migrants to ­regional areas, the “far more important” issue of overseas students has been “overlooked” or ­“neglected”.

Dr Birrell identified “two distinct markets” of overseas students entering Australian cities in much greater numbers since 2011.

The first was the “Chinese market” attending Australia’s “Go8”-leading research universities that charged fees of $40,000 a year or more. Contrary to past years as China’s affluent class grew, most returned home after completing their courses because their ­degrees and experience in an ­English-language country provided a pathway to employment with good prospects back home.

From ABS data, he found the number of offshore student visas issued to Chinese nationals had increased from 22,638 in 2013 to 47,794 last year with most enrolment growth in Go8 universities.

The second market, Dr Birrell said, was a large group of “Indian subcontinent” students from India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who attended mainly “non-Go8” universities and were charged $20,000 a year for courses including business, administration and IT.

From ABS data, he found the number of offshore student visas issued to these students had increased from 14,110 in 2013 to 51,305 last year.

“The main attraction to subcontinent students appears to be the access they gain to the Aus­tralian labour market, and to the possibility of obtaining a permanent resident visa,” he said.

Overseas students often rolled over their visas, then moved to a 485 visa as a pathway to seeking permanent residency while still in Australia.

Last year, 46,711 overseas students were granted a 485 visa.

Delivering more apprentices for South Australia

TheMorrison Government will partner with the Marshall Liberal Government to createan additional 20,800 apprenticeships and traineeships in South Australia overthe next four years.

Ministerfor Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education, Senator the HonMichaelia Cash has today announced the extension of the South AustralianSkilling Australians Fund (SAF) to 2021-2022.

Theextended SAF agreement confirms more than $200 million in joint funding towardsnew apprenticeships, traineeships and other employment related training.

MinisterCash said “The Liberal National Government is committed to creating newapprenticeships and traineeships to ensure a pipeline of skilled workers forSouth Australia.”

“I ampleased that thousands of South Australians have already commenced anapprenticeship under the Skilling Australians Fund. Today’s announcement willboost South Australia’s apprentice and trainee workforce over the next fouryears.”

“OurGovernment is committed to creating more apprenticeships and traineeships andthe new funding invested through the SAF aims to do this so that SouthAustralian business and industry have the pipeline of skilled workers they needto grow the economy into the future.”

“Theagreement, signed with the South Australian Government, will see more fundingflow towards specific local projects which have been agreed with theCommonwealth.”

MinisterCash said the SAF is just one measure that supports skills and training inSouth Australia.

“SouthAustralia also receives over $100 million annually in Federal Governmentpayments to support skills through the National Agreement on Skills andWorkforce Development, among other Government initiatives,” Minister Cash said.

“Apprenticeshipsand traineeships have a crucial role in fulfilling the needs of industries inSouth Australia that rely on a skilled workforce to drive innovation andgrowth.”

“Investingin growing South Australia’s skilled workforce is an investment in thefuture.”

/Public Release. View in full here.