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AUSTRALIA has delivered a blunt message to India that it is selling education, not visas, even as the Rudd government deploys its most senior ministers to patch up relations damaged over a series of Indian student assaults.

Trade Minister Simon Crean, whose visit to India this week overlaps that of Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, outlined to the Confederation of Indian Industry yesterday federal government measures to crack down on shonky education and training providers in Australia.

But he said the crackdown could be successful only if similar action were taken in India to close down shonky education and immigration agents running scams to secure permanent Australian residency through student visas.

“Let’s be clear, we are offering a quality education in a safe environment,” Mr Crean said yesterday. “The quality of our education is what we are promoting, not the visa attached to it.

“For this to succeed, we also need the co-operation of the Indian government. The fact that politicians in both countries have been forced to focus on the issue improves the odds of coming up with a better system.”

Ms Gillard is understood to have delivered a similar message during meetings with Indian Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal and, late on Tuesday night, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where greater engagement between the two countries on defence, energy and climate change were also discussed.

Mr Crean denied Australia’s international education industry needed to be remarketed in India, despite the fact it is widely seen — and in some areas promoted — as a pathway to permanent residency.

But he conceded better co-operation between Australian government agencies was also needed to help stem student visa abuses.

What the student issue has done is shed a light on the importance of interaction between Austrade, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and those that market our services in the Department of Education, Employment and Work Relations in the protection of our brand,” he said yesterday.

In just eight days, India will have hosted three of Australia’s most senior politicians, Mr Crean, Ms Gillard and Wayne Swan.

By the end of the year, a total of eight Australian ministers will have graced Indian soil.

The ministerial offensive is aimed at patching bilateral relations, damaged by a recent series of attacks on Indian students in Australia, as well as building trade relations with the emerging Asian superpower.

Mr Crean, who is in India for a two-day meeting of G20 trade ministers ahead of the next Doha round of WTO talks in Pittsburgh later this month, said Australia’s trade relationship with India had historically been “underdone”.

The ministerial visits — which will culminate in a tour by Kevin Rudd later this year — were designed to correct that.

“We understand the fundamental importance of India to our future, just as we do China and the rest of Asia. This is going to be the fastest-growing region in the world for the next couple of decades, it is the place to be,” he said. “Australia fortunately positioned itself for that a couple of decades ago but we have to renew the effort.

“Obviously, if there is a hiccup in the relationship, as there has been here over student safety, of course we have to address it. Visits here are an important part of that.”

Canberra hopes that a successful culmination of the Doha talks — aimed at reducing international trade barriers — will help accelerate free trade agreement negotiations between Australia and India, still at the feasibility stage.

It was also concentrating on building trade ties in infrastructure and energy security areas, with particular focus on investments in gas and coal.

Mr Crean denied that Australia’s refusal to sell uranium to India — a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — would hurt the progress of the talks, despite Mr Singh again raising the issue during his meeting with Ms Gillard.

Source  :  The Australian

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Initial work at the Chevron-led Gorgon gas project could begin before Christmas if final investment is approved by the three joint venture partners.

The proposed development, which was given final environmental approval today, will create as many as 10,000 jobs at its peak and underpin a major expansion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) production across Australia.

Chevron greater Gorgon area general manager Colin Beckett said a few other formal approvals were needed before a final investment decision was made.

He said he did not want to pre-empt the decision, which should be made “fairly soon”.

But Chevron was committed to the project, he said.

“We now need to just turn our attention to finalising a few other formal approvals which will be of much lower profile,” Mr Beckett said.

Once those are out of the way we will be able to finalise our final investment decision.”

Mr Beckett said that once a decision had been made the next step would be to place purchase orders and contracts for project construction.

He said the company had already committed to $2 billion of contracts.

“By Christmas we would be starting to do some of the initial work on Barrow Island while in other places we complete our design and get on with the procurement activity,” he said.

“So we’ll be making early strides there and by the end of next year we’ll be working pretty flat out on Barrow Island itself.”

Accommodation for 3,300 fly-in, fly-out workers will be included in the construction phase, which is expected to create 7,000 jobs for people working on the project and a further 3,000 in spin-off employment.

Mr Beckett said the project would draw labour from across Australia.

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pensioners

Bet and Bob Poole, Coogee

Healthcare and getting by are key concerns for Bet and Bob Poole, who are war veteran pensioners courtesy of Bob’s service as a merchant marine in World War II.

The retired, married couple receives $957.80 a fortnight in pension payments from the Federal Government.

“We’ve been married for 62 years – you don’t get that for murder – and I’ve felt like murdering him a few times,” Bet quips.

“If we have a banana, we’ve got to share it, because we can’t afford two.

“Because you get about $75 extra each if you’re a single pensioner, we know a few of them who are living together and saying they’re separated, which is all well and good as long as you don’t get caught.”

Bet has a heart condition that needs four prescriptions costing $21.20 per month to treat. Bob relies on two prescriptions for another ailment, which cost him $10.60. The couple’s income includes a combined monthly rebate of $10 for prescriptions.
Bet and Bob say any decrease in their combined $11.20 prescription gap would be most welcome.

The couple has private health insurance, which they say they will have to surrender if Treasurer Wayne Swan cuts the 30 per cent private health insurance subsidy.

“If the Government wipes that 30 per cent, I won’t be able to be in it,” Bet says.

“Sooner or later, I am going to have to have my main (heart) valve replaced, and even if I have got private insurance that will cost thousands and thousands to replace.”

Bet says a push by the Pensioners’ League for an extra $30 per week income for single pensioners would not help her or Bob.

“We’re not going to get anything because we’re married, so if I divorce him, I’ll get $30,” she says.

Regardless, she resents that a pay rise for pensioners is even in question when federal politicians have just received one.

“They’re going to give themselves $90 per week and they’re trying to lower that $30 right down to nothing, and that stinks,” Bet says.

Electricity, gas and water prices are going through the roof.

“If we don’t get something in the budget, it means a lot of the pensioners are not going to eat.”

Bob says there should be greater health support for his former comrades injured in war.
www.watoday.com.au

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