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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 34

Mr FARMER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Science and Training) (11:15 AM) —It gives me great pleasure to give the summing up speech on this today, particularly because, whilst a lot of people may know me as Pat Farmer, the long-distance runner who ran around Australia and across America and did various things along those lines, they may not know that I am originally a motor mechanic by trade. Can I say as a motor mechanic that we have been crying out for a long time as trades men and women in this country to be recognised as having the same qualifications as somebody who has completed a TAFE course or a university course. It has been noted by all of the speakers on this bill, today and in past times, that we cannot get by without trades men and women in this country. We need more trades men and women, and it is important that we recognise those qualifications to the highest possible level. Without them this country simply cannot survive.

I rise today to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Extending FEE-HELP for VET Diploma and VET Advanced Diploma Courses) Bill 2007. Through this appropriation the government will be able to provide loans to students studying at a registered training organisation such as TAFE to help them pay for their up-front tuition fees. The bill gives full fee paying VET students equality with full fee paying university students. This arrangement will also ensure that VET students get appropriate recognition in any subsequent studies at university and get credit for what they have already done. It will encourage those with trade qualifications already to build upon them. The Howard government is confident that this initiative will raise the status of vocational and technical education and signal the significance that the Australian government and the community attach to high-level technical qualifications. In turn, this will raise the self-esteem of those students undertaking these qualifications.

On behalf of Minister Robb I would like to thank everyone who has spoken on this bill. Whilst the minister may not necessarily agree with all of the comments made, he appreciates the input of all the members who have spoken in the VET FEE-HELP debate.

By far the majority of submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Workplace Relations and Education were supportive of this bill. The government has taken on board the recommendations of the Senate committee and will move an amendment to include the vocational graduate diploma and the vocational graduate certificate in this bill. In addition, some concerns were raised, and I would like to address these concerns now. One view was that fees may rise as a result of this bill. This is untrue. The current circumstances in the tertiary sector, such as low levels of unmet student demand and competition for students in the VET and higher education sectors, provide a market force against excessive fee rises. Provisions in this bill require providers to publish their fees to assist students to choose their study options. They need to publish these fees up-front. The Department of Education, Science and Training will monitor this very closely and will deal with providers on a case-by-case basis if substantial fee rises are detected. This includes fee rises that could come from the states. It is Minister Robb’s view that the bill will not have an adverse effect on fees.

Current FEE-HELP legislation requires providers to be bodies corporate and this is also a requirement for VET providers. Mr Robb has had consultations with the Hon. Rod Welford, the Minister for Education, Training and the Arts in Queensland, concerning the arrangements which will apply while Queensland is in the process of establishing its TAFE colleges as statutory authorities.

Minister Robb has also agreed that Queensland’s first statutory authority TAFE, to be established in early 2008, will be able to act on behalf of all Queensland TAFEs as the eligible VET FEE-HELP provider for a transitional period of 12 months while the new governance arrangements are completed for the remaining Queensland TAFEs. Minister Robb also informed Queensland that the rollout of new governance arrangements must be completed within the time frame; otherwise, he will act to curtail this transition arrangement.

I want to assure the House that this amendment covers full fee paying courses. Governments will continue to support training through public funding. States and territories have stated their commitment to increasing completions in these higher level qualifications and will be expected to continue to provide their current levels of public funding for this training and to not withdraw funds simply because the federal government is supporting their roles.

This bill provides another example of the Australian government’s commitment that VET will remain a world-class training sector. Australian government funding to VET, taking into account 2007 budget measures and the Prime Minister’s Skills for the Future package of last year, amounts to $12 billion over the next four years. Through this bill the government is offering students equity and real choice in the studies they wish to pursue. It says that pursuing a trade or vocational qualification is just as important as pursuing a university education as a pathway to a productive future prosperity. These measures, combined with other initiatives announced and currently being implemented by this government, represent a significant investment in the future growth of Australian industry and vocational education and training. I commend this bill to the House.

The SPEAKER —The original question was that the bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Perth has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation for the bill and proposed amendments announced.