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What could a Dutton Coalition government mean for international students?

James Davis

Peter Dutton’s challenge to the Turnbull leadership could mean more than just internal disarray for the Coalition. International students could pay the price.

The recent, repeated challenges to Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal-National Coalition this week by Peter Dutton have given way to some controversial questions. Who’s really in charge? Is the government still fit to operate? Will there be an early election?

Here on PostgradAustralia however, our biggest concern is with student well-being. In the midst of issues like these, it’s a topic that’s easily swept under the rug and forgotten, but we don’t think that’s right. The question we want to ask is, how could a Dutton government affect university student bodies around the country? To understand this problem, we must consider his history.

Peter Dutton displayed some strikingly conservative views as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection between 2014 - 2017. In 2016, he revealed his belief that Malcolm Fraser was mistaken in letting many migrants into the country, particularly those from African or Middle Eastern nations. “The reality is that Malcolm Fraser did make mistakes in bringing some people in the 1970s and we’re seeing that today,” he said in reference to Lebanese muslim migrants.

The comment was made during an interview with Andrew Bolt regarding young Sudanese men and their alleged responsibility for a ‘crime wave.’ The fact this interview took place two years ago is frightening considering modern accusations of a similar nature. Malcolm Turnbull made a similar claim in July this year regarding, “real concern about Sudanese gangs”, without offering any statistical backing. A more daring author might suggest the two aren’t as dissimilar as one might assume from current political pageantry.

Dutton is responsible for more than one idle comment on these matters, particularly regarding the muslim Lebanese community. “The Australian Lebanese community is not political fodder,” said president for the Lebanese Muslim Association Samier Dandan in 2016 regarding Dutton’s views. “Mr Dutton is accountable for his divisive rhetoric and we would remind him that he and his government’s responsibility is to preserve our successful multicultural country.”

There are yet more communities Peter Dutton has expressed dissatisfaction over regarding their inclusion into Australian society. “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that,” he once said in response to calls for increasing refugee intake. “...They would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.” However, 2015 statistics revealed that of our refugee population, only 24% of males aged 18 or over had never undergone work experience and only 33% didn’t understand English. The percentages were much higher for females given the cultural landscape of their countries of origin. The rest could not only understand English, but had the will and means to work. The sad thing is, Peter Dutton had access to these statistics well before making these comments.

This sort of rhetoric has understandably caused international students to feel concern. If Dutton won the leadership, what would that mean for students from these countries who one day want to live and work in Australia? Fortunately, current students have access to Temporary Graduate visa 485, which allows them to do just that after graduating. It helps our economy by feeding skilled labour into under-served industries while simultaneously giving graduates from Australian universities the standard of living they want and expect. It can even be inclusive of graduates from foreign universities so long as they provide relevant skills. They can then bring their families over and enjoy the comforts of our country while serving it well.

So, contrary to what Dutton said, no jobs are being ‘taken’ from locals per se because locals aren’t serving those positions. If they were, then workers and graduates from other countries wouldn’t have been admitted because they wouldn’t have been needed. Current visa schemes already prioritise local labour over international. What else could a Dutton Coalition want? Tighter borders? More vigorous use of detention centres? These are the extremes of speculation of course, but they wouldn’t be too far fetched given prior scepticism of migrants and refugees.

Current international students shouldn’t have anything to fear, however. It takes a great deal of time and debate to make any significant changes to current visa programs, university courses and funding. Even if all our wildest presuppositions about a Dutton government were true, it would be exceptionally difficult to halt the much-beloved admittance of international students in Australian universities. Even if he were entirely xenophobic, he’d be compelled by the economic benefits to stay his hand because international students are charged 400% more than domestic. This almost certainly isn’t fair, but it is indeed a fact. Simply closing the borders and preventing work or study-based migration would not only cut off an important part of the labour force, but also an economic boon to the Australian higher education industry. He’d be shooting the nation in the foot.

So then, what could a Dutton Coalition government mean for current international students? Probably nothing at all. As for future international students, they may have concerning times ahead.