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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11706


Ms BIRD (CunninghamParliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:39): I thank everybody for their contributions to the debate on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The Higher Education Support Act 2003 provides the legislative authority for the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program—HELP as people have referred to it—namely, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP. These schemes assist individuals to access higher education and higher level vocational education and training by removing the upfront financial burden associated with studying by allowing students to defer payment of upfront tuition fees.

This bill will enable the government to act on recommendations made in the Post-implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme: final report of September 2011 and on its commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. The amendments in the bill position the government to deliver timely improvements to the scheme and in doing so create a more accessible, transparent, responsive and robust tertiary sector. The amendments enhance the quality and accountability framework underpinning the scheme through new provisions. These allow the minister to consider information from the national and non-referring jurisdiction education regulators when making a decision to approve, revoke or suspend an education provider under the HELP schemes. The amendments also strengthen the government's ability to protect the integrity of the schemes and minimise risk to student and public moneys. Specifically, the amendments enhance the existing provider suspension and revocation provisions for approved providers. Further, the amendments enable the tertiary sector to deliver education and training in a more responsive and flexible manner by moving census date requirements to the legislative guidelines. This will allow the sector to be more responsive to student and industry needs without onerous administration. The bill also allows for the managed trial of VET FEE-HELP for certificate IV-level qualifications. Finally, the amendments strengthen a number of provisions to better support access to and administration of the schemes. The amendments reduce complexity and duplication by consolidating three sets of legislative guidelines into a single set of guidelines. Importantly, the amendments will also allow the minister to determine a category of providers and financial reporting requirements for applicants and approved providers that represent a low risk to the government.

Improving access to tertiary education, including vocational education and training, is a hallmark of this Labor government. Streamlining and improving access to VET FEE-HELP is just one of a range of reforms the Labor government is driving to help more people get the skills they need to improve their job prospects and get better pay, a more rewarding career and a better future.

Obviously, as some of the speakers have indicated in this wide-ranging debate on this bill, this approach is in stark contrast to the efforts of some of the Liberal state governments, which are intent on cutting funding to public vocational training providers, cutting staff and closing facilities that are for many communities, particularly regional and rural communities, the only places local people can get a vocational education or learn a trade.

While the Liberals in Victoria damage their public provider, the federal Labor government has invested $224 million in Victorian TAFEs over the last four years to upgrade facilities and equipment in 19 institutions across 37 campuses. This is on top of the $360 million in funding provided on average each year. As we now know, the Baillieu government's cuts to TAFE in Victoria reflect the approach the Liberal government is taking in New South Wales and potentially in Queensland—we are seeing a similar attack in those states on education services.

As another example of this government's desire to help rather than hinder Australians get the skills they need I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.