Federal Parliament - Immigration (Education) Amendment Bill 2020

December 08, 2020

Dr ALY: I'm not going to speak for too long on the Immigration (Education) Amendment (Expanding Access to English Tuition) Bill 2020, primarily because we do support an increase to the 510-hour limit. It is appropriate, and it's particularly appropriate when new migrants come to Australia with an ASLPR, Australian Second Language Proficiency Rating, of zero or one, with limited or no literacy. Tuition of 510 hours is simply not enough to get them up to functional English, which is currently assessed at ASLPR2 across all four macro skills.

But there are a number of issues with the bill as it stands, as the member for Scullin, the shadow minister, has outlined. Some of those issues are around eligibility for the AMEP in the first place. Currently, if someone arrives in Australia and tests at or above ASLPR level 2, they are not eligible for the AMEP. Does this mean that the eligibility criteria will change?

The bigger issue, from my experience—and I speak as somebody who was an AMEP teacher and who has a Master of Education, with a thesis in this very area—is that, even at ASLPR2, even with functional English, those who graduate from the AMEP, having achieved that level of English across all four macro skills, go into higher education and are unlikely to successfully complete, whether it's a certificate III or a certificate IV or even a bachelor's degree. There is a gap between an ASLPR2—a functional level of English—and the level of English necessary to complete a degree or acquire a skill of some sort.

One consideration may be to allow people who have reached an ASLPR2 to utilise the rest of their English-language provisions for scaffold learning in a mainstream higher education course—to utilise some of that increase in the 510 hours to enable people who have ASLPR2 to continue to access English-language tuition while, at the same time, also accessing a certificate in, for example, aged care or child care.

I urge the government to listen to the providers. They know what they're doing. AMEP teachers are very well versed in how to assess people in the English language but also in the English-language level that is required not just to function in Australian society but to flourish in Australian society. I take it at face value that the government's purpose in introducing this bill and increasing the 510-hour limit is to enable the full economic and social participation of all new migrants to Australia. I hope that is the case. If that is the case, I reiterate my call for the government to talk to service providers, to talk to English-language teachers, to talk to people from the sector about how effectively we could utilise this increase in the 510-hour provisions and deliver the best possible outcome for people who will have those provisions available to them.

That said, I will conclude on my support for the amendment moved by the shadow minister. I also lend my support to the issues raised by the shadow minister, particularly the point that the increase to the 510 hours of English language needs to be taken in the context that the AMEP has been neglected by this government over a number of years. While it's good to see that this is now getting some attention, I hope that that attention results in better outcomes for new arrivals and new migrants, who in my experience—having taught in the AMEP—all want to make a contribution to the country that they chose to come to, Australia. They all want to make an economic contribution; they want to get jobs; they want to work; they want to be a part of our society. The best that we can do is facilitate that for them and help them to do that. We all recognise in this place that having a good grasp of English language, not just a functional grasp, is essential to that. We have within our power the tools to ensure that the AMEP is an effective part of the settlement process. I urge the Government to listen to the service providers and the experts in this field.