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Speech: International Students'

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 13 May 2020

In the last few weeks, there have been disturbing videos shared on social media channels showing queues of international students lining the streets of Sydney. These students are not lining up to wait for transport or go shopping. These students have been queuing to be given free food from restaurants and charities because they have no other way of eating. These are students who we welcomed into our country, many of whom are now facing nothing less than poverty, starvation and homelessness. Hundreds of international students have contacted my office over the last few weeks since they have been left destitute by the coalition government. There are over 550,000 overseas students currently studying in Australia, and every last one of them has been thoroughly let down by this government. None of them have access to the jobseeker payment, JobKeeper, youth allowance or the coronavirus supplement. Many have lost their jobs and incomes. Their families in their home countries are also suffering with the effects of the economic downturn due to COVID-19, as many countries are undergoing extensive shutdowns and lockdowns. Money that once would have been sent to Australia as family support is simply not coming.

I would like to take the opportunity tonight to share some of the stories and messages of international students and put them on record so the Senate is made fully aware of how exactly international students are hurting right now. These are direct quotes from emails sent to me. One student wrote: 'I have lost my job at a company here, where I have worked for about three months as a casual worker for 20 hours a week. With this, it was easy for me to pay my expenses here in Australia: food, rent and travel. Although our university fees come from our home country, now it has become very difficult for them to send me money for my expenses here as there is complete lockdown in India as well. This is the current situation of almost all international students.' Another wrote: 'Usually, my parents support me mentally and financially; nowadays they stop sending money because their business is totally shut down in Bangladesh due to COVID-19. As well I used to work in a restaurant to arrange my living expenses. Two weeks ago, I lost my job. I don't know how I will survive here. I thought I will get minimum support from workplace or government. Unfortunately I'm not getting any support from workplace and government.'

Another wrote: 'I have been doing face-to-face sales since August 2018, but, as of the crisis going in the world, my job has been cancelled as it falls under non-essential business. I have lost my job since two weeks and all my savings were gone a month back as I had to renew my visa and pay the university fees. I pray and hope the government will provide some kind of subsidy to the international students in this time of crisis.' Another wrote: 'With the current situation, we have to use up most to all of our savings, up to the point where some of us have started to sell our personal belongings just so that we can still have enough money to pay for all those necessities. I have seen some students actually have to come to local restaurants that provide free meals since they have been out of a job and are just barely surviving with the current savings they got.' And there is another and another and another. Hundreds of thousands of international students have been left out and left behind.

States and territories are, thankfully, now stepping up, as are universities and other education providers. But the reality is that the federal government has responsibility for higher education and has clearly dropped the ball here. The government must change its course on this, must come to the table and provide the support that international students so desperately need. It's not too late to extend much-needed financial assistance and income support. The welfare of hundreds of thousands of students is literally in their hands.

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