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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13227


Mr TUDGE (AstonAssistant Minister to the Prime Minister) (12:37): I rise to give the summing-up speech on the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015. I start by thanking all those members who spoke on the bill. This bill amends three pieces of education legislation and achieves important changes. The government has chosen to group together a suite of six education legislation amendments. These expand eligibility for funding support, resolve uncertainty, streamline requirements and secure funding.

Passage of this bill will amend the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to allow certain New Zealand special category visa holders to access the Higher Education Loan Program scheme from 1 January 2016. This will assist a number of New Zealand citizens who moved here as children and deserve the same support as Australian students to undertake higher education. It will also add Torrens University Australia to the list of table B providers in the Higher Education Support Act. This will enable Torrens University to be eligible to apply for the same funding support as other private Australian universities, including research block grants. In addition, the bill will ensure that the Higher Education Support Act reflects the change of the name of the University of Ballarat to the Federation University Australia.

It will confirm the relevant heads of constitutional power that other grants of the Higher Education Support Act rely upon, in addition to the effect that part 2-3 otherwise has. The bill will also amend the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 to streamline and clarify the reporting responsibilities of TEQSA following the passage of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. This removes duplication and reduces the regulatory burden.

Finally, the bill will amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001 to add funding for the financial years starting on 1 July 2017 and 1 July 2018, and also to apply indexation against appropriations for existing schemes. This amendment provides certainty and security of funding for the Australian Research Council until mid 2019. In addition, the bill will remove the requirements in the ARC Act requiring the development of an annual operating plan. This will remove duplication while ensuring the ARC, like all other Commonwealth departments and agencies, remains accountable via an annual corporate plan.

The measures in this bill have been welcomed by higher education institutions, the Australian Research Council, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, and other key stakeholders. I thank the opposition for its support of this bill. When Minister Hartsuyker introduced this bill last month, Senator Kim Carr moved quickly to convey his approval, noting that all six of these measures are 'non-controversial measures that enjoy bipartisan support'. He acknowledged that it would provide 'certainty to researchers and scientists across the country' and that it would 'come as a relief to thousands of students'. I thank Senator Carr for his expressions of support.

The New Zealand citizens amendment is particularly anticipated by many young New Zealand citizens and their families who have made Australia their home. These young people deserve better access to higher education through eligibility for student loans. We want them to approach their tertiary education with confidence. The extension of the HELP scheme to New Zealand citizens who have grown up here provides these long-term residents with support that will enable them to achieve their higher education goals. It will also ultimately enable them to contribute to the Australian economy and workforce to the best of their capacity.

It is important that this bill be passed this year. Some of its measures are time critical because they change eligibility for funding support for the 2016 calendar year. Delay in passage of this bill would mean that a significant group of New Zealand citizens would be denied the option of deferring their tuition fees through the Higher Education Loan Program in 2016. These are people who, because of their visa status, do not currently have a practical pathway to Australian citizenship.

In conclusion, the passage of the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015 will ensure these New Zealand citizens who have called Australia home for at least 10 years are not left out of our student loan scheme. The bill will enable Torrens University, which is a successful private Australian university with a proven track record, to join table B of the Higher Education Support Act. This will enable the university to be considered for research block grant funding and funding to award Commonwealth postgraduate scholarships to its research students.

Finally, the bill provides certainty to the Australian Research Council regarding ongoing funding through to the end of the 2018-19 financial year. This vital recurrent funding stream supports the council's highly regarded National Competitive Grants Program. This program builds our national research capability, creates and sustains momentum in research partnerships, and enables promising careers to thrive. The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2015 reflects the Australian government's ongoing commitment to the ARC, its programs and funding recipients. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.