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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1758


Mr PYNE (SturtLeader of the House and Minister for Education) (16:45): I thank those members of the House who have spoken on the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment Bill 2014—from my own side of the House, the members for Ryan, Bowman, Swan, Tangney, Bradfield, Murray and Lindsay; and from the opposition, the members for Cunningham, Perth, Melbourne, Parramatta, Bendigo and Lingiari. From what I can gather, the opposition are not opposing the bill and that is very much a step in the right direction. The bill gives effect to the government's decision to implement the recommendations of the August 2013 independent Review of higher education regulation. The amendments will help higher education institutions to focus their energies and resources on their core business of delivering the highest quality teaching, learning and research. The bill contains a number of measures intended to ensure that the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, TEQSA, is able to deliver its activities in a more streamlined and deregulatory fashion. The measures will enable TEQSA to focus on its core functions of provider registration and course accreditation, and develop more efficient processes around these functions.

To support TEQSA's focus on its core functions, the bill will remove TEQSA's quality assessment function, which enables the agency to conduct sector-wide thematic reviews of institutions or courses of study. The bill will enhance TEQSA's capacity to delegate its powers to appropriate TEQSA staff. This will support swifter decision making and faster turnaround of provider applications. This amendment will also ensure that applicants seeking to appeal a TEQSA decision can access TEQSA's internal review mechanisms rather than always having to seek review through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Furthermore, the bill will improve TEQSA's ability to manage the registration and accreditation processes more flexibly by enabling TEQSA to extend periods of registration and accreditation. As a result, where these have been out of sync previously, institutions will be able to make a concurrent application for both processes.

In line with TEQSA's refined functions and improved efficiency, the bill provides the minister the flexibility to better determine the number of commissioners required to support TEQSA's renewed focus on its core activities. Currently, the act contains a rigid requirement about the number of commissioners and the basis of their employment. In light of the review report, it is clear that this is not appropriate. As such the bill allows for the appointment of fewer commissioners, removes the requirement to appoint full and part-time commissioners and separates the role and responsibilities of the chief commissioner and the chief executive officer. This will give greater flexibility in determining the most efficient and effective structure for TEQSA, consistent with its strategic and operational requirements. To give effect to this, the bill provides for the current commissioner appointments to be curtailed to 21 days after royal assent for the position of chief commissioner and three months after royal assent for the positions of commissioner. This will allow for appointments to be made under the new arrangements. Incumbent commissioners are eligible to apply for appointment to the new positions.

The bill standardises the existing direction power to allow the minister to give a general direction in relation to the performance of TEQSA's functions in the exercise of its powers. The amendments also ensure that TEQSA seeks the minister's approval before making changes to the fees it charges higher education institutions. Finally, the bill provides for a number of technical amendments suggested by TEQSA. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): The original question was that the bill be now read a second time to which the honourable member for Cunningham has moved an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.