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Motion: International Students and Jobs

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 18 Oct 2017

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Senator Georgiou: Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Government within a month, reports to the Senate, on the number of jobs which would have been available to Australians but were taken by individuals on international student visas."

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (16:07): This motion, while it suggests that there's a concern from One Nation about levels of unemployment, is again a dog-whistling attempt to divide Australians, pit people against each other and turn Australians and people who live in this country against international students. We need to be concerned about underemployment, unemployment and the pressure that they're putting on people. The economy is not working for so many people, but attacking international students is not the way to go. International students actually are a source of cheap labour in this country. I congratulate the unions, who have taken a very fine lead here. They're working with many people from overseas, many of them students, who end up being so exploited. Often they're being paid between $10 and $14 an hour. Many of us would be served by these people when we go to cafes and restaurants, when we buy petrol and in convenience stores. It is a very serious problem, but not in the way it's defined by this motion. This motion is, in fact, very divisive and a real setback. As I just said, I congratulate the unions, who have been working to assist international students who are being exploited. Sometimes these companies are pretty ruthless. They often go belly up because they just want to reinvent themselves as phoenix companies, and the former workers are left with no money—and this can happen overnight. They even lose the meagre weekly income that they have.

There is the Fair Entitlements Guarantee scheme. That scheme was set up to step in when workers are left with nothing. What we find, though, is that they only provide support for people who cannot recover their entitlements and are Australian residents. Again, this is where these international students are so hard done by. They are paid appalling wages, and working conditions are absolutely shocking. Often there's a bit of racism on the side. Often they end up out of work, and there's nobody there to defend them. But, again, some unions have stepped in to fight for their conditions, even though they're often not members of the union.

Their situation with regard to unemployment and underemployment is very serious in this country. And this is what we should be concentrating on: ensuring that there are well paid jobs that are unionised and have good working conditions for everybody. The Unemployed Workers' Union is doing some fine work in this area. From their analysis of the figures, there are more than 725,000 people unemployed and 1,059,000 underemployed. And this is very characteristic of Australia, as it has been for about the last 10 years.

International students are an easy target for One Nation, and that is another disgraceful example of their tactics. There are more than half a million international students in this country—at our universities, at our TAFEs, at the private vocational schools—and many of them need to work. They're legally allowed to work for 20 hours a week. And they have to work, in many cases, because the cost of living is considerable in this country, and it is going up all the time. We know how tough it is to find rental accommodation at any reasonable price—many either have to, because of some of the private colleges they're at, or feel they should pay up-front fees. And so they do get caught up in illegal work. You've got the legal aspects of the work that many of the international students get involved in, and there's the illegal employment market as well.

We depend on these international students. Remember the huge revenue that they bring into our country. And there has been some shocking racism. There was a tragic situation with some Indian students. How we were treating these students here became a very big issue in India in terms of racism when they were studying and how they were treated at work. For the federal parliament to be debating a motion with this type of wording is destructive. It's more than unhelpful. It sends a very bad message not just to the international students themselves but to their communities and to the countries that they come from about what sort of country we are and what sort of people we are. It says that we're not really welcoming here.

Clearly many of these people need to find work. And I want to emphasise that that work should be paid according to award wages. They should have decent working conditions, they should be able to join the union and they should be respected at work. They should not become just a cheap source of labour that allows so many of these companies to profit and to really boost their profits in such a shocking way. They take advantage of the fact that these students, many times, are very concerned that they'll get caught out and so they don't complain. This motion is a destructive, divisive motion and clearly should be defeated.

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