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Thursday, 15 May 2008
Page: 1979


Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (10:59 AM) —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—

HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT AMENDMENT (REMOVAL OF THE HIGHER EDUCATION WORKPLACE RELATIONS REQUIREMENTS AND NATIONAL GOVERNANCE PROTOCOLS REQUIREMENTS AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2008

The Bill amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 by repealing section 33-17. Currently, this section of the Act requires that higher education providers meet the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements and the National Governance Protocols as a condition of their Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding. The Commonwealth Grant Scheme provides funding for a higher education provider’s student places.

Currently, failure to meet the Requirements and the Protocols results in a reduction of a provider’s Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding. This Bill will amend the Act to remove that condition.

The Bill will also make minor, yet important technical amendments that will improve the operation of the Act.

A real benefit of removing the Requirements and the Protocols is that it will provide additional funding certainty to the higher education sector. It does not reduce a provider’s Commonwealth Grant Scheme Funding. Rather, it removes the current condition on that funding. Importantly, it will also clearly convey the Government’s commitment to abolishing Australian Workplace Agreements.

It is clear that these requirements have impinged upon universities’ autonomy and their removal will be welcomed. By cutting this unnecessary layer of red tape, higher education providers will be freed from restrictive, bureaucratic requirements and practices that have diverted attention and resources away from where they are most needed - the development and delivery of high quality higher education.

Moreover, the amendment to the Act contained in this Bill is timely, as the next enterprise bargaining round in the sector commences shortly. Twenty-four providers have collective agreements with a nominal expiry date before 31 August 2008.

This Bill, by providing the sector with certainty in relation to the standing of the Higher Education Workplace Relations Requirements, will assist the agreement-making process for all parties involved, allowing them to negotiate the terms and conditions that best suit them.

The Government believes that universities should be subject to the same workplace relations laws as all other employers. These amendments give effect to that policy.

While the National Governance Protocols will be removed as a condition of funding, the Government will continue to encourage universities to pursue good governance practices and increase productivity and efficiency.

This will include pursuing options for a non-legislative focus on governance standards. These can be considered in the light of the forthcoming report of the review of the Protocols, by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

In addition to these timely changes, a number of technical adjustments have been made in this Bill.

In relation to the approval of higher education providers, this Bill amends the Act so that the approval of a provider that no longer meets certain criteria may be revoked.  For example, if the provider no longer has its central management and control in Australia, this Bill enables for its approval to be withdrawn.

The Bill also amends the arrangements for quality auditing of higher education providers. Under current arrangements, the Australian Universities Quality Agency is the only specified quality auditing body. This Bill amends the Act to allow the Commonwealth to designate additional bodies to perform this role, such as State and Territory Government accreditation authorities. Further, the amendment will enable the Commonwealth to specify the higher education providers that those bodies can audit. This includes the class of provider and the state or territory where their accreditation lies.

Importantly, the Bill also includes the addition of a transitional mechanism so that existing funding commitments made to providers under the Collaboration and Structural Reform Fund can be honoured now that the new Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund has been established.

This Bill before the Senate is a clear expression of this Government’s strong commitment to abolishing Australian Workplace Agreements and reducing the constraints upon universities’ autonomy.  It will also further improve the operation of the Act.

The Government is committed to a strong and vigorous higher education sector that is capable of making an essential contribution to our national development. The Government will be introducing further measures to implement our Education Revolution in relation to higher education in due course.


VETERANS’ ENTITLEMENTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2007 ELECTION COMMITMENTS) BILL 2008

I am pleased to present legislation that demonstrates this Government’s commitment to Australia’s veteran community.

The measures in this legislation represent another significant step towards fulfilling the Government’s pre-election commitment to deliver better services to the ex-service community--and a fair go.

The Bill will extend income support supplement to war widows and war widowers who are under qualifying age.

The measure removes the requirement for war widows or widowers who are under qualifying age, to have a dependent child, be permanently incapacitated or be the partner of a person receiving an income support pension, before they can receive the income support supplement.

This measure will immediately benefit approximately 1400 war widows or widowers who are under qualifying age and not currently entitled to income support.

It should be noted that the payment of income support supplement on the grounds of permanent incapacity will be retained, so that incapacitated war widows or widowers under age pension age will continue to receive their income support supplement as a tax free payment.

This measure provides additional support for war widows and widowers to help them meet the cost of living.

The Bill will also extend, in respect of certain single disability pension recipients, the disability pension bereavement payment. Currently, this payment is only payable in respect of partnered disability pension recipients.

Under this measure the bereavement payment will be extended to cover single recipients of the special rate and extreme disablement adjustment disability pension who die in indigent circumstances.

The bereavement payment is a one-off payment equivalent to 12 weeks of the special rate or EDA rate of disability pension.

The bereavement payment will help the families of veterans to meet the costs of a funeral.

Finally, the Bill will extend the automatic grant of war widow or war widower or orphan pension to the widows, widowers and eligible children of veterans and members who, immediately before their death, were in receipt of temporary special rate or intermediate rate disability pension.

Australians are justifiably proud of our veterans and our ex-service men and women.

This Government believes that the provision of robust services and support for the ex-service community is a sincere way to show our gratitude and recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of these Australian men and women.

The measures in this Bill clearly demonstrate that the Government is serious about its pre-election commitments to better look after those in the veteran community--and their families.

Debate (on motion by Senator Sherry) adjourned.

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