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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1751

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Minister for Small Business) (17:10): I thank all honourable members who spoke in this debate. The Higher Education Support Amendment (Further Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2013 provides legislative authority for the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program, or HELP. FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP assist individuals to access higher education and higher level vocational training by providing students with income-contingent loans to assist them in paying their tuition fees. By accessing HELP, students do not have to make any loan repayments until their income reaches a minimum threshold—currently $49,096.

This bill builds on the amendments made in the Higher Education Support Amendments (Streamlining and Other Measures) Act 2012 and supports recommendations made in the Post implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP assistance scheme—final report September 2011. The amendments follow extensive stakeholder consultation and contribute to commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Schools Reform.

The amendments will enhance the quality and accountability framework underpinning HELP by providing for the automatic revocation of providers in specific circumstances where there is a risk to students and public moneys. This will occur only after all appeal and review mechanisms have been finalised. The amendments will also enhance the government's ability to protect the integrity of HELP by improving the range of provider compliance mechanisms available to the government. The existing arrangements for seeking information from the relevant tertiary education regulators will be further enhanced by consolidating these provisions into one general provision. The amendments will also streamline administrative arrangements for changes to business entity names for approved providers. Further, the bill will enable individuals to continue to repay their HELP debt based on appropriately calculated repayment thresholds by updating the calculation of indexation to apply to HELP repayment thresholds. This amendment reflects the move by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from quarterly to biannual publication of average weekly earnings data. Finally, amendments will provide consistency across the tertiary sector by updating qualification definitions in the act to align with changes to the Australian Qualifications Framework. I commend this bill, and its purpose to strengthen and enhance the government's income-contingent loans program, to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

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