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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5153


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (3:55 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Education exports have grown phenomenally in recent years. As Australia's fastest growing export service sector, international education contributes over $4 billion annually to the economy. Australian education has a global reputation for its high quality and innovation. These attributes, combined with competitive tuition fees and a lower cost of living than its major competitors, make the Australian education and training services export industry a thriving, expanding and vital sector in the Australian economy.

This Government is committed to protecting this valuable industry and assisting its development through strong policies and supportive legislation. This Amendment bill supports the Government's objectives to provide a strengthened regulatory framework for Australia's education and training export industry and protect its integrity and long-term viability.

Since the introduction of the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000, this industry has flourished with many new providers becoming registered to teach and train overseas students in Australia. It has also seen an increase in the number of students and a broad spread of countries represented by these students.

The Government is committed to having the best possible regulatory framework to enable this industry to grow. The need for these amendments results from the interpretation and implementation of certain provisions of the ESOS Act since its introduction. Ambiguities will be removed and greater clarity provided with regard to certain sections relating to Commonwealth powers and sanctions of the ESOS Act. These measures all contribute to providing greater certainty for the Australian education and training export industry.

The financial impact of this bill will be minimal and no additional budget funding will be required. It is important to note that there will not be any increase in costs to either the Commonwealth or to industry, and that the bill is revenue neutral.

As these amendments are of a minor, technical nature, there will be no impact or additional requirements placed on businesses and industry and there is no change in overall Government policy. In addition to these technical amendments, a review of the ESOS Act, to commence by December 2003, will provide the scope for a detailed, more policy-based inspection of the legislation. If required, more significant amendments could be introduced at this time.

The administrative amendments contained in this bill include such items as improving the clarity of the definition of “registered provider”. These changes will reduce ambiguity for the industry, particularly when sanctions are imposed. The bill also makes it clear that a registered provider who provides or promotes any unregistered course in any State or Territory is in breach of the ESOS Act and is liable for sanctions.

These amendments will also enable refunds of course monies paid on behalf of a student to be returned to the person who made the payment, such as in the case of a sponsor. This measure will allow for greater certainty for foreign governments, multi-lateral organisations and multinational corporations who sponsor large numbers of overseas students to Australia each year. A person merely acting as agent of a student would not be entitled to a refund under this measure.

The bill will provide greater flexibility for the Commonwealth to impose sanctions against a provider for non-compliance with the ESOS Act or the National Code. The Commonwealth, through the Department of Education, Science and Training, will have the option of imposing less severe and more suitable sanctions than are currently possible. The bill will allow for the suspension or cancellation of one or more specific courses offered by a provider, where the situation warrants such action. Only more severe sanctions are currently available under the Act.

Further, the amendments will allow the Commonwealth to take a more flexible approach to providers believed to be in financial difficulties. The Commonwealth will have expanded powers to impose conditions, in addition to suspensions and cancellations, where it is deemed to be appropriate thereby giving providers greater opportunity to trade their way out of trouble.

These final two measures are included in the interest of protecting overseas students studying in Australia and working to ensure that they receive the high quality education they expect and for which they have paid.

This Amendment bill will strengthen the regulation of the education and training services export industry in Australia. While the continued effectiveness of the ESOS Act is evident, these minor technical enhancements will ensure that this important export industry is protected into the future and continues to benefit Australian business.

I commend the bill.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.