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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11687


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (17:12): I speak in support of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012. I will deal with what is contained in the bill, then deal with the government's response in relation to higher education needs in this country, whether they be the needs of universities, TAFEs or RTOs, and then with some of the remarks of the member for Farrer in relation to our record on this issue.

This legislation includes a number of measures that will improve the Higher Education Support Act. It will amend the act to provide better administration of the Higher Education Loan Program, commonly known as HELP, particularly VET FEE-HELP. It comes, as the member for Farrer said, as a result of recommendations that were made in the Post implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme: final report in 2011 and through a COAG process, the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, that took place in April 2012, particularly the redesign of VET FEE-HELP.

I mention the April 2012 process because of what has happened in Queensland, my home state, in relation to employment and training. I wonder why the current Queensland government actually went to those COAG meetings, because the Queensland LNP government has gutted and destroyed the training employment that was taking place, including getting rid of the very successful Skilling Queenslanders for Work program. It did that subsequent to the COAG meetings that were a prelude to this legislation. That program was $248 million of money well spent that the Queensland government got rid of on 16 July 2012. A report by Deloitte Access Economics on 23 July—a report commissioned by the Queensland government—said that a program that was supposed to create 26,000 jobs every year actually created 57,000 jobs, including 8½ thousand people who would not otherwise have got employment and would bring in the Queensland economy by 2020, $6.5 billion in revenue, including about $1.2 billion in state government taxes.

So it is interesting that the prelude for this legislation in April was attended by the Queensland government. At the same time as they were going through the process of saying, 'We'll sign up for this particular arrangement with the federal government,' they were determining to get rid of jobs training, which impacted my electorate, particularly in the Ipswich region, to the tune of about $5.4 million worth of funding under Skilling Queenslanders for Work, the Ipswich City Council, Harvest Rain, Riverview Neighbourhood House, the Salvation Army and any number of other local organisations that were skilling people and training people through registered training organisations and the like.

This was a meeting that the states turned up to. There was a COAG national partnership agreement in April 2012 which was geared towards making changes to the VET FEE-HELP. There are a number of amendments in this legislation that improve quality accountability of the whole framework and governance in relation to this, including implementing a risk management approach to approvals and administrative compliance. There is also an improvement to the government's capacity, in the event that any provider is not doing the right thing and public moneys are at risk, to step in on behalf of not just taxpayers but also the students who are using that service. The bill provides for a decision to revoke or suspend the approved provider to take effect from the day that the notice is registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments.

There are some improvements in terms of streamlining and alterations to the HELP schemes through reducing administrative requirements on applicants and providers. There are some further amendments which meet the commitments that were made under the COAG agreement I referred to, particularly in relation to certificate IV-level qualifications and particularly among categories of VET courses that are eligible for VET FEE-HELP.

It is interesting. We had a recent meeting at the University of Queensland Ipswich campus, where I recall evidence coming from DEEWR that students who do certificates III and IV are just as likely to obtain good quality jobs as those students who have bachelor degrees. That was interesting evidence, particularly as there have been efforts by this government to get more students involved in the health sector and the social and community sector in the Ipswich region, as it is growing at a very fast pace.

The background to this particular legislation is, as many people would know, that FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP are available for approved higher education and VET FEE providers to enable students to meet their tuition fees so that they do not have to pay up-front. We provide loans for them, which assist them so that there are no financial obstacles or barriers in their way. Those loans enable students, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to access higher education at institutions such as Bremer TAFE, located in Bundamba in Ipswich, in the same way as the assistance we provide through HECS and arrangements to universities, such as the University of Queensland Ipswich campus and the University of Southern Queensland at Springfield—both located in the electorate of Blair.

We on this side of the chamber strongly believe that every Australian, whether they live in the electorate of Blair or they live in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, should get access to good quality education at university or TAFE so that their skills, talents and abilities can be improved and they can improve their financial security, their productivity and their capacity to meet challenges—not just nationally but in terms of their family's future. I am pleased to see that, with respect to higher education in my electorate—and this legislation is improving it dramatically—the census data shows that an extra 996 students have access to higher education in the Blair electorate. That is because we have some tremendous universities, TAFE colleges and other registered training organisations in the electorate of Blair.

Skills Australia acknowledges that by 2025 a third of all jobs will require a minimum of a bachelors degree qualification. To meet the demand of the high-skill, high-wage workforce in the future, we want to make sure that everyone can get access to those types of training organisations. More young people from regional and rural areas, people from migrant backgrounds, Indigenous people and those from suburbs such as Brassall, Raceview and Springfield in my electorate should get access to the kinds of opportunities that kids who live in Toorak or Vaucluse have for higher education.

I am pleased to see that this government has provided a massive increase in not just funding in the tertiary sector; there are also an additional 150,000 or more students attending university under this government. We have committed $4.454 billion through the Education Investment Fund and we have provided significant funding in not just the university sector but also the TAFE sector. I think the setting up of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency was a good thing to streamline and strengthen higher education regulation. We have provided $38.8 billion in higher education investment over the next four years, including $8.4 billion for the Higher Education Loan Program, and there is about a billion dollars worth of federal government funding for what I would describe as equity in access measures. We have seen $765 million of funding for infrastructure in my electorate. We saw about $2 million for the Bremer Institute of TAFE—the first time any significant federal government funding was provided since the election of this government. Certainly, the previous government had a blind eye when it came to TAFE.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southern Queensland, Professor Jan Thomas, whose university received $49 million from the federal government to expand and enrich their student participation program in collaboration with a number of regional and metropolitan TAFEs in Queensland. That expansion will mean that there is a considerable flow-through effect to TAFE courses and TAFE colleges throughout Queensland. It is a massive injection of funds that this federal government has put in. In contrast, the LNP government in Queensland is proposing, through a recommendation of their task force, to cull TAFE colleges and campuses around Queensland from about 82 to 44. Bremer TAFE in Ipswich, in my electorate, is certainly in the sights of the LNP government.

One of the things that the University of Southern Queensland is doing through establishing the Queensland Tertiary Education Participation Network is partnering with TAFE colleges all around Queensland to cater for local workforce demands. The funding that is being provided by this government and the construction of what they call the Education Gateways—EDGY—Building at the university's Springfield campus is a significant capital investment from this federal Labor government in partnership with the University of Southern Queensland. The University of Southern Queensland's brand promise is: fulfilling lives. I think that is a terrific motto and a catchy motto, but it is what this parliament should be all about: fulfilling the lives, educationally, of young and old people, whether that is at university or TAFE. We have seen a student-demand driven funding system. The cap on student places was removed at universities and there was the opening of opportunities for many young people, as well as older people, to participate in higher education.

I had the opportunity recently to attend the University of Queensland college, a preparatory college at the University of Queensland Ipswich campus, to address the students and be at their awards night. I thank local organisations such as the RSL, the Ipswich City Council and the Edwards family for their contributions, scholarships, bursaries and awards that were given to students in order for them to go through college and university to do the kinds of courses they would like to do, particularly in the areas of nursing and the allied health profession, which are run so well at the University of Queensland. A TAFE qualification or a university qualification is a ticket to greater career choice and highly skilled and highly paid jobs. We are transforming and modernising the focus of government on skills and training.

The member for Farrer was quite critical in her comments of what we are doing with trade training. She took the opportunity in her speech to criticise the federal Labor government's commitment to trade training. This is a critical aspect; it is not just registered training organisations, universities or TAFEs but trade training as well. We have made a commitment. I see that on the ground in my electorate—the $2.5 billion program for trade training centres to help students and, particularly, schools to upgrade their trade training facilities—where there is a partnership between St Edmund's College in Ipswich, Ipswich Girls Grammar School and Ipswich Grammar School for a $3 million trade training centre. You can see it there, built by Hutchinson Builders, doing remarkable trade training in Ipswich. I suggest the member for Farrer has a look and sees what a good trade training centre will do.

However, I forget that those opposite opposed the $2.5 billion program tooth and nail and had the temerity to describe the centres as 'glorified sheds with lathes'. If they went to see the trade training centre at Ipswich they would see that it is far from that—it is fantastic. I was there with the then minister responsible, Simon Crean, on the occasion when he opened it. But trade training centres are not just located for private schools. We will see $5 million for the Ipswich Region Trade Training Centre which will be established at Ipswich State High School in Brassall. That is a partnership with Rosewood State High, Lowood Grammar and Bundamba State Secondary College. We will see another $2.99 million for the Riverview Springfield Trade Training Centre, established primarily at St Peter Claver College in Riverview.

We now see the fruits on the ground across the country. The member for Farrer must be politically blind and naïve to think that trade training centres are not making an impact on the lives of young people at schools. She must be politically blind to say nothing about what is happening in Queensland with the gutting of trade training and funding for skilling Queenslanders for work. She must be politically blind to oppose so much of what we are doing. I am pleased though that they support this particular bill. It really is a novelty to see those opposite say yes for a change because, when it comes to skills and training and higher education, their attitude is often to just say no. Or, indeed, when they were in power they tried to impose Work Choices on the higher education sector. I am pleased to commend the legislation to the House.