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Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Page: 971

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (7:10 PM) —In following the member for Boothby, who spoke earlier, I will just very briefly make a couple of points in relation to this debate. Obviously the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Assistance) Bill 2008 is a technical amendment to the reforms that were announced by the previous government in the last budget to extend FEE-HELP to the vocational education and training sector. The legislation came in in June and passed through the parliament. There was a technical problem with the legislation and, consequently, the new government is now amending it. I share the views of the member for Boothby, who pointed out quite eloquently that, when the Minister for Education introduced this bill, she seemed to be acting as though the need for a technical amendment to correct an error is something that has occurred one or two times since Federation. I say in a friendly manner—she will know that is certainly my nature—that she should prepare herself for many more amendments in the years to come.

I do not say that with any disrespect to her officials who are here, but bills do get amended. Whilst I can understand the minister hyping up the fact that the amendment is necessary and that there was an error made at the time, and blaming the previous government for that and everything else she can think of on any other issue, it is the case, and she knows it—and let the Hansard show that the minister, who is at the table, is smiling—that she will face many amendments to her own legislation. It might not be for a few weeks or months, but the minister will be back in here, I presume consistently, attacking herself for the technical errors in future bills. We are very, very glad to hear that and we will be the first to give her praise if she does not ever have to pass an amendment to any bill that she introduces, be it in workplace relations, education or social inclusion. We are very glad to hear that there will not be any errors. She made that declaration in the first week of parliament. She looks relaxed; her officials look slightly less relaxed, and I can understand that. They cannot agree, but rest assured that they know that, just as this bill is being amended, there will be many other amendments.

My understanding is that this was perhaps picked up in the explanatory memorandum but not the bill. But the important point that the member for Boothby made was that this was always going to be picked up. In fairness to the departmental officials, who now work for a new government, I certainly believe that this technical error was always going to be picked up with an amendment. It was picked up in good time, because these new measures—which are very welcome and will have a major benefit to the vocational education and training sector—start in the second half of this year, so hyper claims about cost blow-outs and major catastrophes with regard to the need for the amendment do not really apply. We are here in the second week of the sitting in February supporting the amendment, and it will go through very quickly. You will have many months before the new scheme actually starts. By then, I am sure that she will personally be going through other legislation that she introduces—and she has a very busy load with workplace relations, education and social inclusion; we accept that—line by line to ensure that there are no technical errors made or amendments needed.

But these amendments to the substantive bill illustrate the importance of the measures announced by the former minister during last year’s budget which were legislated through the parliament. They will make a major contribution to vocational education and training. They were very much welcomed by the sector at the time. I do not specifically recall the Labor Party, when they were in opposition, demanding that FEE-HELP be extended to the vocational education and training sector—they may well have, but I do not recall that being something that was regularly spoken about by the then opposition. I am glad that they support the initiative that we introduced during last year, that they support it wholeheartedly and that they realise that these reforms, which were the past government’s reforms, will make a very major contribution to the sector. So we are supporting this amendment bill.

We will support the other amendments that the minister will need to bring forward in the future years as well, if they are of a technical nature. We will be happy if they do not come forward—because she has announced that there will never be another amendment. That is fine. But if it turns out that, due to no fault of her own, these things slip through, then we will be there to play a bipartisan role on technical matters.