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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1384


Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Minister for Small Business) (09:07): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill will introduce a number of measures to further strengthen and streamline the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act), resulting in more effective and efficient administration of the Australian government’s Higher Education Loan Program, or HELP, specifically FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP.

The bill builds on amendments made in the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Act 2012, and further supports recommendations made in the Post Implementation Review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme Final Report 2011. The amendments follow extensive consultation and contribute to commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform.

The bill will enhance the quality and accountability framework underpinning HELP by providing for the automatic revocation of providers in specific circumstances where there is a high risk to students and public moneys. Those circumstances will apply where a provider’s registration with the relevant tertiary education regulator ceases, or if a winding-up order is made by a court against a provider. Importantly, provider protection measures have been included in the bill as it is a condition that automatic revocation action cannot occur before all review or appeal action by an Administrative Appeal Tribunal or court has been finalised.

The bill will strengthen the compliance framework underpinning HELP by enabling the minister to issue a provider with a compliance notice. This will enhance the range of provider compliance actions available to the government in circumstances that present risk to students and public moneys where suspension or revocation action is not warranted.

The amendments will also provide for the streamlining of administrative arrangements to allow the government to amend a provider’s approval when informed of a change in business entity name, in a more efficient manner.

The existing arrangements for seeking information from the relevant tertiary education regulators are further enhanced by consolidating these provisions into one general provision. This amendment will also have the added benefit of reducing the complexity of the act.

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, the bill will improve consistency across the tertiary sector by updating qualification definitions in the act to align with changes to the Australian Qualifications Framework.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.