“It’s a matter of political will”
WORDS BY SANDRA BUOL
Pulp: What’s the government’s argument for not giving International students travel concession? What’s the law behind it? Could it be challenged on discrimination grounds?
Daniele Fulvi: First of all, I’d like to mention that NSW is currently the only state in Australia where International students do not have access to any type of travel concessions, despite the fact that more than one third of the landwide total of International students are studying in NSW (in 2017 hitting a new record of more than 300’000).
That said, the Opal card policies are regulated by Transport NSW, a branch of the NSW Government. The actual eligibility criteria say that tertiary students can get travel concessions only if they are Australian citizens or permanent residents, and full-time students. So, I think it can be considered a fully-fledged form of discrimination, since the only reason why International students are excluded from travel concessions is their nationality.
Transport NSW officially says that granting travel concessions to International students would have an excessive impact on their budget and the only solution to cover the cost would be to increase fares. But I have also heard people saying that International students don’t deserve travel concessions because “They stay in Australia just for a couple of years, complete their degrees and then go back to their home countries with no benefit for Australia”.
I think that both those arguments are false. Indeed, even if granting International students travel concessions will have a cost, that cost could be covered with an increasing use of public transport by International students themselves, as cheaper fares would encourage them to get around more by buses or trains. Moreover, since transport in NSW is still publicly owned, some managers could simply lower their sky-high salaries and let that money be used for increasing the quality of transports.
Plus, it is absolutely false that International students are not beneficial for Australia, even if most of them stay here for a limited amount of time. Indeed, the academic work of International students is fundamental for Australian universities in order to maintain a good position in the international rankings – for instance, the University of Sydney is currently ranked in the top 100 universities in the world. In fact, every time an International student publishes an article or a book, or wins a prestigious award, the university they belong to have a direct and critical benefit from that, which results in a higher ranking and more funds.
Therefore, it is just a matter of political will: namely, International students are not granted any travel concessions because the NSW Government prefers treating them as milking cows and preserve the profits of a small number of rich managers, rather than treat them equally and without discriminations. Needless to say, this makes the lives of International students so much harder and doesn’t allow them to study and work in the best possible conditions, and unfortunately this has a negative impact on the whole country, for the reasons I mentioned above.
Pulp: Who’s behind the petition? How long has it been running? How many signatures are needed? What happens if all the signatures can be collected? Is there a realistic impact to be expected from the petition?
Daniele Fulvi: The petition has been discussed and approved by the Bankstown Student Campus Council of Western Sydney University and immediately adopted by lots of other students’ collectives at Western Sydney, UNSW and Sydney Uni.
The official launching of the petition was during this semester’s O-weeks in different universities in NSW. The reception has been astonishing so far: we collected more than 1’000 signatures in just one month. So, if you consider than 10’000 are needed to raise the issue within the NSW Parliament, I would say that the petition has got off to a great start! Also, I expect the petition to be soon endorsed by every university in NSW, so I feel that we will be able to reach 10’000 signatures by the end of this year or by the beginning of 2019.
At that point, the Parliament will be forced to discuss the issue. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they will in fact change the eligibility criteria, but I’m sure that if we succeed in collecting enough signatures, there will be a relevant shift in public perception. Indeed, as things stand today, most people don’t even know that International students cannot access travel concessions.
Pulp: Is there any support from the universities’ managements?
Daniele Fulvi: Yes. The current Vice-Chancellor of Western Sydney University, Barney Glover, has immediately shown sympathy for the petition. Also, in his former role of Chair of Universities Australia, Barney Glover already raised this issue and declared himself in favor of including International students among the beneficiaries of travel concessions. That’s why I hope that other Vice-Chancellors will follow his example and officially come out in support of the petition.
Moreover, the petition is being supported also by some politicians, including Senator Lee Rhiannon and David Shoebridge from the Greens, Jason Clare from the Labor Party, and the Socialist Alliance.
Pulp: International students are such a large part of the university. In your opinion: why are they not more resistant to unfair treatment?
Daniele Fulvi: It’s simple. In most cases their universities don’t want them to be politically active and try to prevent them from becoming aware of current issues. But, according to my personal experience, I can say that when someone talks to them and explains what’s going on, most of them will decidedly stand up for their rights and against discrimination and unfair treatments.
To give an example, most of the International students don’t even know that their university fees are higher than domestic students, just like they have no idea that they can’t get travel concessions until they arrive in NSW. The problem is that when they realize they are being discriminated and treated unequally, it is too late, and this obviously discourages them from taking action to change things.
But again, once they become aware of these issues and feel they can make the difference, they will not hesitate to stand up for their rights.
That’s the most exciting thing about our campaign, namely the fact that International students are leading it, but at the same time it is being supported by a huge number of Australian students.
Finally, we also launched a Facebook page – called “International students need travel concessions” – to spread the voice and keep people updated about the campaign.
Pulp: Thanks for the chat Daniele.
Daniele Fulvi is from Italy and moved to Australia in August 2016 to commence a PhD in Philosophy at Western Sydney University. Last year he also was one of the Student Representatives in the Bankstown Student Campus Council (BSCC) at WSU.
Before coming to Australia, he studied Philosophy at the University of Florence and was involved in left-wing student activism.
Regarding the campaign, Daniele is one of the developers behind the petition that has originally been approved by the BSCC and officially launched this semester all over NSW.