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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12204


Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (16:37): I rise to speak on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. The amendments in the bill will supplement legislation passed earlier this year to create the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator, which will be responsible for the registration and audit of registered training providers. The National VET Regulator was put in place to ensure national standards were being met and to ensure the quality of qualifications and skills issued by RTOs.

I support the concept of national regulation of the VET sector, primarily because of the need for consistency and quality across the states. There are approximately 4,500 registered training organisations operating in the VET market. Placing these RTOs under a national reporting and regulatory system will go some way towards ensuring that there is consistency within the VET sector. I note that the move towards the National VET Regulator has been supported by the coalition. However, many issues have been raised since the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee inquiry into these bills, and these concerns have been recorded within the coalition senators' dissenting report.

My main concern is that the system in place is not a national one with Western Australia and Victoria maintaining their separate regulatory systems. Additionally, Queensland's state system will continue to operate until such time as the Queensland parliament passes referring legislation. I understand that this is yet to happen. Consequently, parallel systems will operate in Western Australia and Victoria. So RTOs that operate across borders will have to comply with dual systems. This will potentially place additional costs on RTOs that offer courses across state borders. I refer to the coalition senators' dissenting report to highlight this issue:

… the evidence presented to the committee is that the NVR Bills have the potential to undermine national regulation. While Victoria and Western Australia have indicated they are prepared to introduce mirror legislation in their state parliaments to give effect to this aspiration, Western Australia has advised that it is unable to do so on the basis the NVR Bill as currently drafted …

The NVR has since been introduced even though the coalition strongly disagreed with the government pushing it through without all of the states willing to refer their powers. This is a concern for the coalition because what we have here is a national VET system that will maintain different qualifications between the states, with an overlapping bureaucracy. However, the amendment bill I speak about here today does show some improvements to the original bill's form and includes some of the recommendations set out by coalition senators in the dissenting report.

According to the explanatory memorandum, the amendments being debated here today will introduce an objects clause to the act in a new section 2A. The objects of the act would be: to provide for national consistency in the regulation of VET; to regulate VET using a standards based quality framework and, where appropriate, risk assessments; to protect and enhance VET quality, flexibility and innovation as well as Australia's domestic and international reputation for VET; to provide a regulatory framework to encourage a VET system that is appropriate to meet social and economic needs for a highly educated and skilled population; to protect students undertaking or proposing to undertake Australian VET by ensuring the provision of quality VET; and to facilitate people having access to accurate information relating to the quality of VET.

The bill also amends the act to allow for immunity from certain state and territory laws for those RTOs that operate within the Australian Skills Quality Authority. However, registered organisations will still be required to adhere to a variety of state and territory laws. The Australian Skills Quality Authority will also be allowed to amend VET accredited courses on its own initiative if it is considered reasonable in the circumstances. The bill will also clarify provisions that discuss cancelled qualifications, the imposition of a civil penalty and the discretion of the national VET regulator to appoint authorised officers.

One of the key amendments in the bill aims to protect and enhance Australia's domestic and international reputation for VET. For education institutions on the Gold Coast, this is a very important issue. The Gold Coast is a region with low higher education participation rates, as illustrated by the data from the 2006 census where only 18 per cent of the Gold Coast population aged 25 to 34 were degree qualified compared to the national average of 29 per cent. Considerable work needs to be done to increase participation rates at all levels and to ensure that our education sector remains viable and capable of producing a skilled workforce for the future.

The Gold Coast is already established as an education city, with four universities, over 160 RTOs and a wide range of public and independent schools. Today I would like to focus on the VET sector, highlighting how the Gold Coast is already well developed, with further opportunities for growth. As I have already stated, there are over 160 RTOs on the Gold Coast, both public and private. We have the Gold Coast Institute of TAFE, which is one of Australia's leading vocational education and training providers and makes a valuable contribution to the Gold Coast from both an educational and an economic perspective. There are six TAFE campuses on the Gold Coast, including the Coolangatta campus within my electorate of McPherson. I have had numerous discussions with TAFE regarding future developments on the Gold Coast and I look forward to a working closely with TAFE into the future.

We also have numerous private RTOs including EIM Training, which has a campus at Robina, also within the electorate of McPherson. EIM Training offers a broad range of courses, including in business and management, children's services, financial services, manufacturing, training, management and hospitality. I support training providers in the marketplace as they provide diversity and choice for our students. There is also an alternate model for trade training on the Gold Coast that is provided by the Australian Industry Trade College, which I am proud to have located within my electorate. The AITC was established in 2007 with the objective of giving students the opportunity to pursue a career in industry while completing the final years of their schooling. The unique learning structure at the AITC gives students the opportunity to commence a school-based apprenticeship in a trade of their choice and graduate with a Queensland certificate of education. Over 530 school-based apprenticeships have been achieved by the college in over 50 different trade qualifications, and around 95 per cent of students graduate with a Queensland certificate of education each year. These numbers are impressive when compared to the conventional schooling senior certificate rate of only 75 per cent.

Around 92 per cent of year 12 graduates from the AITC were employed as apprentices in 2010. At any one time there are around 300 students at the college working towards the same goal of an apprenticeship in their chosen trade. In order for the AITC to be able to offer such a unique opportunity for their students, they have formed relationships with local RTOs to facilitate the training plans for their students to get them through their school-based apprenticeship qualification. I would like to see more institutions offering flexible learning options, as the AITC are, to encourage a future skilled workforce. They do a wonderful job getting young people qualified and ready for work, and I commend them for their work.

By improving the existing VET sector through appropriate regulation and reporting and by adopting these amendments today, we are working to ensure those in the VET sector who pride themselves on their high-quality qualifications and reputation continue to prosper and grow. Meanwhile, those who have given the sector a bad reputation for poor quality will be prompted to make the necessary changes to their operations and training to ensure they keep up with the national standard. In closing, I reiterate that I support the concept of national regulation of the VET sector as consistency and that quality needs to be assured across the country.