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Thursday, 19 March 2009
Page: 2326

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and Parliamentary Secretary for the Voluntary Sector) (5:49 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—

Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities, and Other Measures) Bill 2009

The Bill amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act) to implement the Government’s commitments to ensure that Australian higher education students have access to appropriate levels of student services and amenities, improve the flexibility of the legislation across the Tertiary sector and enable implementation of announced changes to VET FEE-HELP.

The Bill provides that from 1 July 2009 higher education providers may choose to charge a compulsory student services and amenities fee (the fee).The fee will be capped at $250 per year, with $125 the maximum for the second half of 2009, and will be indexed annually.

Eligible students will be able to access a loan from the Government to pay the new fee under a new component of the Higher Education Loan Program: Services and Amenities-HELP (SA-HELP).

SA-HELP will operate on a similar basis as existing elements of HELP such as HECS-HELP and FEE-HELP. It will ensure that the fee will not be a barrier to eligible students wishing to access higher education. Higher education providers will have to provide access to SA-HELP for eligible students if they are charged a services and amenities fee.

This provision addresses the negative impact of the previous Government’s approach to voluntary student unionism, and reflects an approach that is practical, balanced and consistent with our policy not to return to compulsory student unionism.

The Bill ensures that the current legislative prohibition on compulsory membership of a student organisation remains in place. Students will still be able to choose to join a student organisation if they wish.

The Bill also ensures that the proceeds from the new fee are not to be used to support any political party, or the election of a person to the Commonwealth, State or Territory legislatures or to a local government body. This would include direct financial support or advocacy on behalf of a political party or candidate for election.

This Bill makes amendments to require higher education providers that receive Commonwealth Grant Scheme funding to comply from 2010 with new Student Services, Amenities Representation and Advocacy Guidelines. These will establish the National Access to Services and Amenities Benchmarks that set sector-wide standards for the provision of information on and access to essential services of a non-academic nature.

In addition, these guidelines will establish National Student Representation and Advocacy Protocols to ensure students have access to independent and democratic representation and their views are considered as part of an institution’s decision making.

The guidelines will be made by the Minister as legislative instruments and stakeholders will be consulted on the development of the guidelines.

The Bill also amends the Act to provide enhanced protection of the privacy interests of Australian students and improves the efficiency and effectiveness of the allocation of student places and Commonwealth Scholarships through the higher education system.

Tertiary Admissions Centres (TACs) play an increasingly important role in the Australian higher education system. They are the first contact for most people who apply to become university students. TACs add to the efficiency and productivity of the administration of the Australian higher education system by centralising and co-ordinating admissions procedures on a state-wide basis.

HESA does not currently refer to or acknowledge the role of TACs. This creates the potential for aspects of the necessary functions performed by the organisations to appear to be unauthorised under the Act. This Bill amends HESA to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of TACs are recognised in the legislation.

In particular, the Bill amends HESA to give TACs the same status, and duty of care, as Officers of a Higher Education Provider (HEP) in relation to the processing of student’s personal information. This will ensure that student information may be shared between the Department, HEPs and TACs as appropriate.

In addition, student’s privacy rights are protected by HESA’s privacy protection provisions. The reform will assist TACs in continuing to play a positive role in the continuing development of efficient and smooth administration in the Australian higher education system.

The Bill will also ensure that students wanting to study diploma and above qualifications in the vocational education and training sector are able to access the training they choose without worrying about up front fees.

According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) the number of students training in diploma and advanced diploma qualifications in the public vocational education and training sector has declined in recent years: from 197,300 students in 2002 to 165,900 students in 2007. The only fields of study that have held up to some extent have been health, and more recently in engineering. All governments are committed to lifting Australia’s skill levels and increasing the number of completions at diploma and advanced diploma level is a key element of this commitment. A target of doubling the number of completions of diploma and advanced diploma qualifications by 2020 was identified as a critical target in the Council of Australian Governments discussions.

VET FEE-HELP assists students studying diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate and graduate diploma courses by providing a loan for all or part of the tuition costs. Loans are not subject to income and assets tests and repayments do not commence until an individual’s income is above a minimum repayment threshold. The first students to access VET FEE-HELP assistance will commence early this year.

These initiatives are part of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that higher education plays a leading role in equipping Australians with the knowledge and skills to make Australia a more productive and prosperous nation.

Customs Legislation Amendment (Name Change) Bill 2009

I am pleased to introduce the Customs Legislation Amendment (Name Change) Bill 2009.

On 4 December 2008, the Prime Minister released the Government’s National Security Statement. The Statement outlined the Government’s national security policy and vision for a reformed national security structure.

In the Statement the Prime Minister announced that the Australian Customs Service is to be re-named the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to better reflect its new role of being the lead Commonwealth Government agency on maritime people smuggling issues. In conjunction with partner agencies it will do this by:

  • coordination of intelligence collection across Government;
  • analysis of intelligence gathered on people smuggling ventures and networks;
  • coordination of surveillance and on-water response; and
  • engaging internationally with source and transit countries to comprehensively address and deter people smuggling.

This Bill will amend the Customs Administration Act 1985 to change the name of the Australian Customs Service to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. The Bill will make consequential amendments to a number of other Acts to also reflect the name change.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting 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.