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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 11166


Ms BIRD (CunninghamParliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (09:40): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill will introduce a number of measures to strengthen and streamline the Higher Education Support Act 2003, resulting in more effective and efficient administration of the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program, or HELP, schemes, namely FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP. The bill will enable the government to act on recommendations made in the post-implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme Final Report 2011 and its commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. It will position the government to deliver timely improvements to the HELP schemes, creating a more accessible, transparent, responsive and robust tertiary sector.

The bill will enhance the quality and accountability framework through new provisions that allow the minister to consider investigation reports from the national and non-referring jurisdiction education regulators when making a decision to approve, revoke or suspend approval under the HELP schemes. The bill will further strengthen the government's ability to manage risk to the administration of public moneys and better protect students by strengthening the suspension and revocation provisions for approved providers. This will ensure that decisions under the provisions of the act to revoke or suspend a low-quality provider can take effect on the day the notice is registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments, offering increased protections to students.

The amendments will also improve the tertiary sector's ability to deliver education and training in a more responsive and flexible manner by moving the census date requirements into the legislative guidelines. This will allow the sector to offer rolling enrolments and be more responsive to student and industry needs without onerous administrative requirements. The bill will also allow for a managed trial of VET FEE-HELP for specified certificate IV level qualifications by amending the definition of a VET course of study.

Further, the bill will reduce complexity and duplication through consolidating and streamlining three sets of legislative guidelines into a single set. In doing so, provider obligations and responsibilities will be clarified and information further streamlined. Delegation powers will be enhanced to allow for the minister and secretary to delegate powers to an APS employee. This will ensure that programs and funding requirements under the act can continue uninterrupted regardless of which department holds responsibility for the schemes.

Finally, the bill will enable a streamlined approach to approvals and administrative compliance for low-risk applicants and providers already approved under the schemes. The amendments will allow the minister to determine a category of providers and financial reporting requirements for low-risk VET FEE-HELP applicants and approved providers. This approach will further reduce the administrative and regulatory burden placed on applicants and providers and encourage increased uptake of the scheme by quality providers, and ultimately students. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.