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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5936


Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) (4:22 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

HEALTH CARE (APPROPRIATION) AMENDMENT BILL 2002

This bill proposes to amend the Health Care (Appropriation) Act 1998.

That Act was made to permit the Minister for Health and Ageing to determine grants of financial assistance to a State, or to a hospital or other person, for the purpose of providing or paying for, health and emergency services of a kind or kinds that are currently, or were historically, provided by hospitals. As such, the Act provides the legislative basis for the Commonwealth to pay financial assistance under the 1998-2003 Australian Health Care Agreements, including Health Care Grant and National Health Development Fund payments to the States and Territories and Commonwealth Own Purpose Outlays for mental health, palliative care and casemix development.

The Act currently provides that total grants of financial assistance must not exceed $29,655,056,000. This estimate was current when the Act commenced on 30 June 1998.

Since that time, the Commonwealth's financial responsibilities have increased because of Commonwealth Government decisions which have increased the level of funding available under the Agreements and forgone the Government's right to claw back any funding from the States in recognition of increased private health insurance coverage. As a result, the ceiling currently specified in the Act will be reached in early 2003.

The bill proposes amendments which will allow the Commonwealth to discharge its financial responsibilities by increasing the ceiling to $31,800,000,000. As the precise financial responsibilities of the Commonwealth will not be known until May 2003, this amount includes an allowance above the current approved estimates for the five years to 30 June 2003 for unexpected population growth and rounding.

The proposed amendments will also require the tabling of a statement of the total amount of financial assistance paid under the Act as soon as soon as practicable after 30 June 2003, to ensure that public accountability requirements are met.

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HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 2002

The bill currently before the Senate extends the application of the National Protocols for Higher Education Approval Processes to Australia's external territories, on the same basis as they apply in the states and mainland territories. The National Protocols for Higher Education Approval Processes were agreed to in 2000 by the States and mainland Territories and the Commonwealth. The Protocols were designed to ensure consistent criteria and standards across Australia in the field of higher education accreditation. These national arrangements for accreditation give confidence to students, parents, employers and governments that the quality of Australian higher education is being assured.

Under this bill, the Government will strengthen Australia's quality assurance framework by extending the operation of the National Protocols to the external territories. External territories may no longer establish universities or authorise bodies to deliver higher education awards without regard to the National Protocols. The bill proposes penalties, on a similar basis to that applied by the States and mainland Territories, for persons who breach the requirements of the proposed legislation. The bill also provides that applicants in an external territory will be able to apply in writing to the Commonwealth Minister for Education Science and Training, for authorisation in accordance with the Protocols to operate as a university or other self-accrediting higher education institution, or offer higher education awards, in an external territory.

The bill expresses the Government's commitment to a quality assurance system for higher education in Australia that is comprehensive in its coverage. Indeed, it would be irresponsible not to take the measures that this bill outlines. To leave the status quo in place could allow our external territories to become a haven for unauthorised and sub-standard operators wishing to avoid quality assurance processes. We have seen a number of press reports recently on dodgy higher education outfits who trade through companies registered on offshore islands where no accreditation arrangements exist. Through this bill the Government intends to ensure that providers in an external territory are not able to circumvent Australia's accreditation requirements. The bill is framed to prevent sellers of fake degrees from operating on or from an external territory.

It is important to note that the operation of the Greenwich University Act 1998 (Norfolk Island) will be overridden by the bill. Under the bill, Greenwich will no longer be able to trade as a University, or offer higher education awards, until and if it makes an application demonstrating that it meets the requirements set out in the National Protocols. Members may recall that Greenwich University was assessed by a Commonwealth review panel in December 2000 as not meeting the standards expected of an Australian university. Its continued operation with this history has the capacity to damage Australia's reputation as a high quality, quality-assured higher education system. The institution has now had over 18 months to address the deficiencies identified by the Commonwealth review panel and has not demonstrated that it meets the standard for an Australian university. The legislation will prevent it from trading as a university until such time as an independent expert panel provides advice to the Minister that it is operating at such a standard.

Until it has demonstrated that it meets the standard required of a university in the National Protocols, Greenwich University cannot continue to call itself an Australian university or offer higher education awards. Any person contemplating enrolling at Greenwich University should understand that the Australian Government does not vouch for the quality of universities not listed on the relevant register of the Australian Qualifications Framework. Prospective students, employers, tertiary education institutions accepting graduates from another university, or officials assessing applications for migration purposes should be aware that a degree, or any other higher education award from Greenwich University, has no recognised status in Australia.

Finally, the bill contains measures to enable the Minister for Education Science and Training to approve use of the title university in a company or business name in an external territory. This measure will prevent a body in an external territory from registering a company or business name using the title “university” without the Minister's written approval. The immediate effect of this measure will be to require International University of America Pty Ltd on Norfolk Island and any other bodies registered in the external territories with the name `university' to cease using the word `university' in their company or business name.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

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

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.