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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11695


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (17:42): Madam Deputy Speaker, I am glad we were both able to stay awake during that contribution by the member for Paterson. By crikey, that was absolutely amazing! It was written and paid for by the Liberal Party but actually mentioned nothing about the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012—not a thing.

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: I was here the whole time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Owens ): Order! The member for Paterson will leave the chamber quietly.

Mr MITCHELL: The member for Paterson once again just waffled away and forgot the many things that happened during his time in the former Howard government. They want to forget the dark years when education and training were almost made horrible words. They did not want to talk about it and they did not want to do anything about it. We saw the cuts in education.

The member for Paterson said we have a skill shortage in certain areas. When they were last in government we had skill shortages across every area because they never invested any money at any time in education to support that. As we said when we came to government, it is going to take time—and it is taking time—to address the widespread skill shortage that is a hallmark of the Howard government. As the member for Paterson said, it is only in certain areas now as we are still working to support people who want to take on higher education.

I am very pleased to support the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012 because education is one of the Gillard government's priorities. We have been taking action to ensure Australians have every opportunity to fulfil their potential and succeed in life. This bill will result in measures to deliver improvements to the HELP schemes, schemes like FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP, and make them more accessible by creating a more transparent and responsive administration of the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program.

The bill acts on the recommendations from the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme final report 2011 and on the arrangements from the April 2012 COAG meeting, which led to the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. The higher education support amendment will allow the government to strengthen its ability to better protect public funding by managing risk and to better protect students by strengthening the suspension and revocation provisions for approved providers. It will make sure that decisions to revoke or suspend low-quality providers, made under the provisions of the act, can take effect on the day notice is registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments, offering increased protection to students.

The legislation will allow for enhancing the quality and accountability framework. These new requirements will assist the minister by allowing the minister to consider investigation reports from the national non-referral jurisdiction education regulators when making a decision to approve, revoke, suspend or suspend approvals under HELP schemes.

Other measures of the bill will improve the responsiveness and flexibility of the tertiary sector's ability to deliver education and training by moving census date requirements into the legislative guidelines. This will allow the industry to be more responsive to students and the sector's needs by offering rolling enrolments without arduous administrative requirements. The bill will see a managed trial of the VET FEE-HELP specified certificate IV level qualification by amending the definitions of a VET course of study. The Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill will assist with the streamlining and strengthening of administrative procedures, ensuring a more effective and efficient system resulting in reduced complexity and duplication, by consolidating three sets of legislative guidelines into a single set. That will reduce red tape, which we know the education sector fully supports. This will make it a lot easier for providers to understand and clarify their obligations and responsibilities by further streamlining information. The improved deregulation powers will permit the minister and the secretary to delegate powers to an Australian Public Service employee. So regardless of which department has responsibility, the schemes, programs and funding requirements under the act will be able to be continued uninterrupted.

This bill intends to reduce more of the administrative burden placed on providers, and encourage the uptake of the scheme by more quality providers, by streamlining the 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.

Only Labor, and a Labor government, will continue to build confidence and fairness into the education system. We already know that the Liberal Party's attitude to higher education is that it is a privilege and that students should not complain about fee increases. It is no secret that the Leader of the Opposition wants to charge students more for university degrees and to introduce a cap on places. But, as with so many areas of the opposition policies, he has failed to release their higher education policies for scrutiny and costings, probably because he knows it is going to contribute to the $70 billion black hole in their costings at present. What we know from leaked reports over the last couple of months, from multiple sources in the coalition, is that they are looking for a 25 per cent increase in university HECS fees, pushing higher education beyond the reach of students from poor backgrounds, and particularly those from regional Australia. Other details of the opposition's plans suggest that HECS fees will jump 10 per cent in the first year of price deregulation, should Australia be forced to suffer under a coalition government. This should not be a surprise at all, because the Leader of the Opposition was the chief draftsman of the coalition's 1993 Fightback! policy—a policy which sought to wind back HECS and return to a system under which only the rich could afford full fees and would be able to attend university. When the coalition came to power in 1996, they almost doubled HECS directly.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: You would not want to talk, given your history on education in regional areas. The evidence is already available to see what an Abbott government would do with education. Just have a look at what they have done in Victoria. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker Owens, that in your home state there are a lot of people reeling from the attacks that they get from Liberal-National governments on education. What we see in the state is a glimpse of what we will see should we be forced to have an Abbott-led coalition government. In Victoria alone, $481 million has been cut from education. That is stripping schools of the opportunity to pay for things like excursions, pencils for children from low-income families and uniforms. Taking their pencils is just appalling, but that is what happens when you get an LNP or Liberal-National government. Every TAFE across Victoria is suffering because of the $300 million that has been ripped out and the sacking of staff.

Mr Tehan interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: Have a look: the member for Wannon sits there, smiles and laughs. He must be really proud to go to TAFEs in his electorate and see the damage that has been done. GOTAFE, or Goulburn Ovens TAFE, over in my electorate, is a great TAFE that has been building and building and building. There is a bloke there who shares the same last name as the member for Wannon. There is only one difference: he cares about education and this clown does not. He wants to grow the TAFE, bring in more courses—

Mr Tehan: Madam Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: I just want the member for McEwen to refer to me by my proper title. His uncouth way of referring to me, I find, is against the standing orders, and I would like him to—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Wannon is entirely correct in what he is saying, and I ask the member for McEwen to be more careful with his language, please.

Mr MITCHELL: I certainly will. The member for Wannon, who comes in here and carries on, just sits there shyly. I remember we had the debate—

Mr Tehan interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Wannon will have his chance to speak in the debate shortly. I ask the member for McEwen to continue his remarks but not in a way that invites interjections from the member for Wannon.

Mr MITCHELL: Yes, I understand the embarrassment that they face opposite because of what they are doing with education. They have scrapped the school start bonus in Victoria. These are Liberal-National governments. The bonus was designed to help parents out to meet the cost of uniforms and the expenses of taking kids to school. The National Party, of course, do not resist their senior partner. They are the little lap-dogs there, because it is directly in regional areas that these offences on TAFE are happening. I think it was the Minister for Higher Education and Skills in Victoria, Peter Hall, who said that TAFEs were a little empire-building program—an empire-building program that is cutting the skills shortages and delivering education in regional areas where people live.

In 2003 the Victorian government did a parliamentary inquiry into how to keep kids in regional areas, because they are the future of the communities. It found strongly that educational opportunities in local communities were the key to that. That is why we have been doubling the investment in education infrastructure. That is why we have the Building the Education Revolution program, which has delivered in every single school. In my area we have an $11½ million trade training centre. That is delivering right across the bushfire-affected areas and surroundings to keep those kids in their communities and stop them having to travel to Melbourne.

But the Liberal-National government in Victoria see fit to cut that, and in fact they have even cut the school bus routes between rural communities. It is an absolute joke that they can sit there and talk about education while at the same time they have cut $481 million out of education and stopped the schools rebuilding program. In fact, Minister Hall has been to a school in my electorate, Sunbury College, three times to do an emergency audit on school facilities. I said before and I will say again that you can go 100 times but just going and visiting is not going to fix the problem. You actually have to inject the funds to fix the maintenance issues that are regarded as urgent. Woodend Primary School is another one that was listed to be rebuilt under the former Victorian government. The LNP got into power and cut it. The school has no proper disability access. In fact, the pole for the basketball ring fell down—fortunately, during the school holidays—because it had rusted through and because the Liberal and National parties have stopped school maintenance and investment in infrastructure. Again we see the big smile there from the member opposite. I will not name him, because we know how precious he is. They think it is funny. It is not funny.

Mr Tehan interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: I would refer you to what most people do, but it would be unparliamentary to swear.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for McEwen will not answer the interjections. Please continue.

Mr MITCHELL: Certainly, Deputy Speaker. We also have Gisborne Secondary College, another school which was promised to be rebuilt. That has been scrapped because those opposite have absolutely no interest in or care for education. They are quite happy to take the idea that you have to be rich to afford to go to university. This government sets out its agenda, and it has been delivering on that agenda, for how we will make sure that every kid gets every opportunity to take those opportunities and reach their maximum potential. Those on the other side consider that the only way you can have potential is to have deep pockets. I wish this bill a speedy passage.