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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3164

Mr GARRETT (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (11:31 AM) with an addendum to the replacement explanatory memorandum, and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In a globalised knowledge economy the skills of Australia’s workforce are critical to our ongoing economic success. We need to ensure that Australia’s vocationally qualified workers have access to the best training available to allow them to compete on a global scale. A key step to achieving this is becoming more nationally consistent and rigorous in the way we register, accredit and monitor courses and providers and the way we enforce performance standards in the vocational, education and training sector.

The bill establishes a National Regulator for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. The establishment of a National VET Regulator is one of the most significant reforms to the sector in years. It has been achieved through strong cooperation between the Commonwealth, states and territories. It will improve the quality of Australia’s training systems and increase confidence in the skills of its graduates.

There have been several attempts in the past to harmonise the state based regulation systems. National standards against which training providers are regulated were introduced in the 1990s and model clauses for state legislation were introduced in 2002.

Despite these important reforms, the auditing and monitoring of provider performance still varies from state to state.

To address this, COAG agreed at its meeting in December 2009 on a new approach to national regulation. This approach includes the establishment of a National VET Regulator responsible for registering training organisations and accrediting VET qualifications and courses, and a separate Standards Council to provide advice to the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment on national standards for regulation.

The introduction of this new approach to national regulation will build on the current quality and consistency in the VET sector and support the labour market and national productivity agendas by:

  • strengthening confidence in the quality and consistency of assessment and training outcomes of VET qualifications which in turn supports confidence in the abilities of VET graduates;
  • maximising consistency in application of national standards and regulatory activity in all jurisdictions;
  • maximising consistency in the application of sanctions and the treatment of low-quality providers;
  • providing clear lines of accountability and responsibility for quality of VET; and
  • ensuring a coordinated response to emerging quality issues in the sector.

Specifics of the bill

The National VET Regulator will operate under a referral of powers from most states and will use its constitutional powers to operate in the two non-referring states of Victoria and Western Australia. Victoria and Western Australia, as the two non-referring states, have agreed to enact mirror legislation to ensure a consistent approach to VET regulation. The COAG decision agreed the National VET Regulator would regulate all international and multijurisdictional providers and the Commonwealth will use its constitutional powers to achieve this. Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) that operate solely in nonreferring states (and are not registered to deliver education to international students) will continue to have their activities regulated by those states.

The introduction of a National VET Regulator is strongly supported in the VET sector. Stakeholders across the board have supported this initiative including training providers, employers, industry skills councils and unions.

The Senate Committee for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations conducted an inquiry into this bill and the related bills and recommended that they be passed in their current form. The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills also provided some comments and suggestions about this bill and the other related proposed legislation.

Despite the broad support for a National VET Regulator, some stakeholders have expressed concerns about the consultation process and some specific aspects of the bill. As this bill is part of text based referral of powers and the New South Wales parliament passed this bill as part of its referral late last year, amendments cannot be made to the bill without overturning that referral, and it is worth noting that the mirror bill was passed by the New South Wales parliament with the support of the coalition. However once this bill is passed by the Commonwealth parliament in its current form, the Commonwealth can then amend it without impacting on the referral powers from New South Wales.

The government therefore agrees with the recommendation of the Senate committee to introduce further legislation to amend clauses 61 and 62 after passage of the bill and its related legislation to avoid any constitutional issues. In addition, the government has amended the explanatory memorandum and provided an additional addendum to clarify points raised by that committee and the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee.

The government remains committed to establishing the National VET Regulator on 1 July 2011 and therefore is committed to the passage of the bills associated with this this week. To further ensure that any remaining stakeholder concerns are addressed, the Minister for Tertiary Education and Employment has asked his department to hold a consultation process with stakeholders through April and May this year. This consultation process will allow amendments to the act to be identified and considered before the government introduces an amending bill in August 2011.

These amendments would include a number of those identified in the Senate committee report, including:

  • to more narrowly define the circumstances in which the regulator may make amendments to accredited courses under clause 51;
  • to clarify beyond doubt that under clause 62 the person using a cancelled qualification will only commit an offence if they have knowledge of the cancellation;
  • to clarify that the use of force in executing a warrant under clause 70 is to be recorded by video and does not extend to force against a person; and
  • to identify the qualifications, level and/or training for appointed authorised officers, as raised by the standing committee.

This consultation process would also be an opportunity to seek agreement with stakeholders on the NVR’s approach to risk management in the VET sector and the standards that would apply, noting these standards are endorsed by the ministerial council, with the aim of aligning arrangements between the NVR and TEQSA, the authority.

In response to these commitments, the TAFE Directors Association, which represents TAFEs around the country, issued a statement supporting the passage of the bill in its current form. The association representing private training providers has also issued a statement calling for the bill’s passage.

In addition to the support of the training sector, this bill also has had broad support from industry stakeholders, including the Minerals Council, the Master Builders Association and many others.

This is an important initiative for the future of the vocational education and training sector and reflects the government’s commitment to ensuring that high-quality training is delivered to both domestic and international students. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Ley) adjourned.

Leave granted for second reading to resume at a later hour this day.