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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5078

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (19:49): I am not surprised the opposition is not supporting the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Charges) Bill 2012 before us tonight because the one thing that this opposition does is oppose everything. It does not look at anything from a commonsense point of view. The other thing that does not surprise me is that when regulation relates to the business side of the equation, the opposition oppose it, but when regulation relates to the people that are undertaking those training courses, the opposition supports it. So it is a very one-sided approach to operating registered training organisations, which is what this legislation is about. It is about ensuring that training organisations comply with the provisions of their contract to make sure they do they what they say they are going to do.

What this legislation does is put in place cost recovery in providing the audits that are associated with it. It is very simple. It is not about targeting small business. It is not about making the life of small business difficult. It is about ensuring that small businesses that provide training actually provide the training they are supposed to provide. I know that practically every member in this House will have been confronted with a constituent that has been enrolled in one of these training courses only to discover that it does not deliver what they have been told it will or that the course is padded out in one way or another. Under the Howard government some really ludicrous situations existed. We had training organisations enrolling unemployed people. They would do the course, be placed in a job for about a week and then would no longer be employed. They would then be recycled back and do the training again—the training, the job, the training, the job. All the time these training providers were milking the system; they were taking money away from the system. I want to put on the record here that that is the exception, because most registered training organisations are there because they believe in providing good, high-quality training to Australians who need skills to fill the positions that are available in the community and give Australia a skilled workforce.

This legislation before us tonight will enable the national VET regulator, known as the Australian Skills Quality Authority, to recover reasonable costs and expenses associated with additional monitoring activity. The previous speaker was not at all happy with the term 'reasonable'. Her objections were very one-sided. If 'reasonable' relates to something that she supports, she will accept it; if 'reasonable' does not fit in with her picture of the world, she will not. There will be fees and schedules put in place with this legislation. If 'reasonable' fits in with regulation in relation to ensuring that the business delivers what it says it is going to, she objects to it. But if 'reasonable' fits in with reasonable compliance for an unemployed person to undertake training and if they do not fit in with the requirements, then she objects very strongly to it. I think on this side of the parliament we have a much more balanced approach. We accept that business plays a very, very valuable role in training and providing services, and we also accept the fact that there is a need for reasonableness to be associated with those people who are undertaking training.

The cost-recovery arrangements are consistent with the Australian government's cost-recovery guidelines, and include fees and charges for the regulatory activities undertaken.

The main method by which ASQA will monitor ongoing compliance of RTOs is by conducting compliance audits, which is a very reasonable way to ensure that RTOs are doing the right thing. The RTOs that are at high risk—high risk in terms of their long-term performance—are the ones that will be assessed on a more ongoing basis.

There has been widespread consultation on the legislation. As the previous speaker indicated, the Senate has looked at the legislation. The speech from the member of the opposition really showed that she has no understanding of the way RTOs work and no understanding of the system that is in place. She really needs to go and visit some of these RTOs. She needs to talk to people who undertake training. The first thing that is important is that the training provided is quality training. The next thing that is important is that there are linkages between the training and employment. Also, the government needs to be confident that these RTOs are doing the right thing.

The new national VET regulator will have the power to examine quality concerns in all areas of the VET sector and exercise its responsibility based on a robust framework of the legislation and standards. That is what I think should be the expectation of this parliament and the expectation of the Australian people. Providers must comply with registration standards at all times. Noncompliance jeopardises registration, and so it should. For any member of this House to argue that an organisation that does not comply should be allowed to continue operation in the way it currently does is not really considering the interests of our workforce.

The bill empowers ASQA to charge for monitoring activities additional to application based activities, including compliance audits and complaint investigations. This will act as an incentive for providers to improve quality, and that is something that we on this side of the House are very keen to see happen. It is all about the quality of training. When you provide quality training then you skill people up so they can fill the skill shortages that exist in the community.

There are many skill shortages that remain. If I look at the Skill shortages—summary for 2011 I see that employers only filled 62 per cent of their vacancies and attracted 1.7 suitable applicants per vacancy. That is slightly higher than the 61 per cent of 2010. The hardest occupations to recruit in were engineering professions, automotive trades and construction trades—areas where RTOs can provide a very valuable role. But as a government we need to know that the role played by the RTOs is based on providing the skills to address the shortages that have been identified, that they are providing quality training and that the people who undertake the training will be able to find employment at the end of it. This is one of the most important areas of government, so it would be irresponsible for it not to be regulated, not to be monitored and not to have cost recovery in place. I urge those on the other side of this House to move away from their oppositional position. I urge them to look at the legislation, see what it is about and see how monitoring, ensuring compliance and undertaking audits can prevent abuses of the system. You need regulation to ensure that the right thing is done. The majority of RTOs do the right thing instinctively, because they are committed to the development of skills and to training. But there are some that are not, and there is a litany of examples—particularly those that came to light when the Howard government was in power. We need to ensure that that situation does not go unchecked.

This legislation goes together with a number of other initiatives that have been introduced by the government. It is very good legislation and it should be supported by all members of this House.