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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 118


Senator JOHNSTON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (5:39 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—

The Education Services for Overseas Students Legislation Amendment Bill 2007 is the third Bill to implement measures recommended by the independent evaluation of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 (the ESOS Act). The ESOS Act protects the high quality reputation of Australia’s education and training export industry by regulating education and training providers, providing consumer protection and tuition assurance for overseas students, and ensuring the integrity of the student visa programme.

This Bill includes amendments that support the revised National Code of Practice for Registration Authorities and Providers of Education and Training for Overseas Students (the National Code 2007), enhance national consistency, streamline administrative procedures for international education providers and ensure that the ESOS legislation supports student visa conditions and migration regulations.

The evaluation of the ESOS Act and the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories report in August 2004 have recommended that the ESOS legislation be extended to enable Christmas Island District High School to apply to be registered to enrol overseas students. Christmas Island District High School and other representatives of the Christmas Island community have sought this amendment to ensure the ongoing viability of years 11 and 12 at the school and assist the island’s economy. My Department has worked with the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the West Australian Department of Education Services to resolve the policy and operational implications of the amendment. This amendment will enable Christmas Island District High School to seek registration under the ESOS Act to deliver education to overseas students.

My Department has been working with the state and territory governments to review their respective roles and responsibilities in the administration of the ESOS legislative framework. This amendment provides greater flexibility in relation to the investigatory roles to be undertaken by the Australian and state and territory governments in relation to the National Code 2007. Measures made possible by this amendment will enhance national consistency and minimise any perception of duplication in compliance monitoring by the designated authorities and the Australian Government.

An increasing number of both vocational education and training and university courses include an element of study completed with an inter-state partner. Inter-state work-based training opportunities are attractive to providers facing a scarcity of industry places in their state or territory. There is a strong call from providers, industry representative bodies and some states and territories to allow international students to undertake part of their course inter-state. A further amendment will facilitate course delivery by arrangement across state boundaries. This will allow for industry placements and course components to be offered by institutions in other states where the designated authority approves the arrangement and takes on the responsibility for regulation and compliance monitoring.

The National Code 2007 allows international education providers to more effectively manage the educational outcomes of their students. Providers have some discretion as to when they elect to report a student for breaches of visa conditions in relation to attendance, where course progress is satisfactory and compassionate and compelling circumstances exist. The consumer support mechanisms of the provider, such as specified timeframes for access to independent dispute resolution processes, have been strengthened. Consequently, when a student is reported to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for unsatisfactory course progress or attendance, its officers will not look behind the educational judgement of the provider. This amendment will ensure that the provider is responsible for educational issues. The role of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship will be to finalise the student’s visa status.

A technical amendment to the ESOS Act is proposed to reflect the requirement for international education providers to have written agreements with all overseas students. Previously, written agreements with students were optional for providers. This has been revised in the National Code 2007 to reflect the importance of formal agreements for all overseas students.

A technical amendment is also required to allow for the removal of the late penalty payment currently imposed on an international education provider’s annual contribution to the ESOS Assurance Fund. The ESOS evaluation identified that the penalty does not act as a significant deterrent and is not viable on a cost benefit basis.

The ESOS Act and its complementary legislation ensure the quality of education and training provision to overseas students, provide overseas students with consumer protection and maintain the integrity of the student visa system. The amendments contained in the Bill will simplify procedures for international education providers and enhance national consistency in the administration of the ESOS Act. These amendments will be welcomed by the international education industry.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

FAMILIES, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CHILD SUPPORT REFORM CONSOLIDATION AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2007

The Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Legislation Amendment (Child Support Reform Consolidation and Other Measures) Bill 2007 introduces several different measures affecting the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio legislation.

In particular, the bill consolidates the government’s major 2006 legislation that restructured the Child Support Scheme in line with the recommendations of the Ministerial Taskforce on Child Support, chaired by Professor Patrick Parkinson. As is usual following such a substantial legislative task, a follow-up bill is needed to complete consequential amendments and make minor refinements. These consolidation measures will be in place, ready for the implementation of the new child support formula on 1 July 2008.

Most of the consolidation amendments are to provide, in various provisions, further fine detail of the new policies passed by the Parliament, such as in clarifying some of the processes to do with review by the Social Security Appeals Tribunal of child support decisions and the changed arrangements with the courts. Technical details such as how the two child support Acts interact are being addressed, and consequential amendments are being made to taxation legislation.

A refinement is being made to the new formula to make sure the assessment of child support is more appropriate in certain cases in which the children are in different households. The basis of some of the provisions dealing with child support agreements between parents is being strengthened. Remote area allowance under the social security and veterans’ entitlements legislation is being extended so parents with regular care of a child (that is, care of between 14 and 35 per cent) continue to receive the allowance after the 1 July 2008 changes to family tax benefit.

In a further child support initiative, the bill relocates many amendments from the Child Support Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. That bill, which will now no longer be needed, was introduced in late 2004. However, there were many worthy measures in that bill and, now the Taskforce reforms have been enacted, the 2004 measures still required in light of the Taskforce reforms can move ahead.

Among the measures from the 2004 bill are amendments to move into the primary child support legislation certain provisions currently contained in regulations. These allow Australia to meet its international obligations to certain other countries in assessing and enforcing child support liabilities across jurisdictions. Mostly, the provisions are simply being relocated from the regulations. However, after some years of experience with the provisions, the opportunity is also being taken to refine some aspects of the provisions.

The 2004 bill measures also include several amendments to improve equity, between the two parties to a child support case, in access to court for review of any decision about whether one of the parties is a parent of the child in question. Some minor streamlining refinements are also being made to the internal review system for child support decisions generally.

The last of the 2004 bill measures are of a minor policy or technical nature, and are generally to address anomalies in the current system or improve aspects of child support administration. For example, the requirement to give information about an administrative assessment to both parents affected by the assessment is being rationalised to make sure only necessary information is given in each case, while still making sure each parent has enough information to explain fully the basis for the assessment.

This new bill also includes several family assistance amendments, some of them associated with the child support reforms. For example, the maintenance income test provisions for family tax benefit are being refined. This is partly to reflect the new treatment under the child support reforms of child support agreements and lump sum child support. Refinements are also made to certain elements of the formula used to work out the notional amount of maintenance income an individual is taken to have received under a child support agreement or court order where there is an underpayment of child support registered for collection by the Child Support Agency. It is also being clarified that maintenance income received by a payee for one or more children would reduce the payee’s amount of family tax benefit Part A above the base rate for those children only.

Separate amendments to the baby bonus provisions will ensure that under 18 year old claimants are paid the baby bonus in 13 instalments, rather than in a lump sum, will introduce registration of birth as a condition of eligibility for the baby bonus, and will formally rename the payment from ‘maternity payment’ to ‘baby bonus’, in line with most people’s understanding.

Under this bill, the usual 13 week period for full payment of family tax benefit while temporarily outside Australia will be extended for members of the Australian Defence Force and certain Australian Federal Police personnel of the International Deployment Group, who are deployed overseas as part of their duties and, as a result, remain overseas for longer than 13 weeks.

The bill will extend the asset test exemption of principal home sale proceeds from 12 months to up to 24 months. The change will assist people who cannot purchase or build a new home within 12 months due to factors beyond their control. The bill will also extend the current 12 months principal home temporary absence rules for absences of up to 24 months, for people who have suffered loss of or damage to their homes due to a disaster. Cyclone Larry has shown that a year may not be long enough where the rebuilding efforts of a disaster-affected community are stretched.

Lastly, the bill will make minor refinements to the operation of the income streams provisions of the social security and veterans’ means test.


Senator JOHNSTON —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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