Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 21 March 2017) . . Page.. 800 ..
MS FITZHARRIS: I thank Ms Cheyne for the question. Indeed I can, and it is potentially a devastating effect. As members know, Canberra has a growing international reputation as a centre of excellence for higher education, research and training. Students in tertiary or vocational education and training benefit from studying at some of the world’s best higher educational facilities right here in Canberra. But the city also benefits from having students from around the country and around the world learn and live right here in our nation’s capital. An important part of their contribution is in supporting the city’s services sector, particularly on weekends and in the evening when demand in the hotel, retail and food beverages sector is high.
The 2014 Australian work and life index survey found that more than half of the surveyed participants in retail and food services worked weekends and evenings, citing penalty rates as being the greatest motivation for doing so and claiming reliance on penalty rates to support their living costs. This includes thousands of students here in Canberra. Many of these student workers are typically low paid employees who rely on minimum pay rates and rely entirely on penalty rates to top up their wages to a reasonable level. They often give up their weekends and work hard for penalty rates so they can support themselves and put themselves through university or a training course. If weekend penalty rates are cut, students will be significantly disadvantaged and will need to work additional hours in order to receive the same income. No doubt this will lead to less time for study and less time to spend with family and friends.
Madam Speaker, penalty rates are not red tape, as members opposite have previously described them. Penalty rates are a longstanding right for our workforce. That is why this Labor government will not accept any cut to penalty rates.
MS CHEYNE: Minister, what specific impacts will cuts to penalty rates have on international students?
MS FITZHARRIS: It is worth noting the specific impact that a cut to penalty rates will have on international students. Of course, we have seen examples across the country of international students having been subjected particularly to not only cuts in penalty rates but also non-payment of penalty rates at all. International students are expected to complete their course within the times specified in their visa, which requires them to enrol at a 100 per cent study load each semester.
There are more than 14,000 international students in Canberra. In addition, under most visas, international students can work no more than 40 hours a fortnight. What this means is that international students generally need to work on weekends when they benefit from penalty rates to top up their income.
The financial requirements placed on those seeking student visas are quite stringent, but research suggests that students are quite commonly given loans by their family members to meet the financial requirements to be granted a student visa to study in Australia in the first place. After approval of the visas, students are often required to return the borrowed money to their parents and their extended family.