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Friday, 26 November 2010
Page: 2379


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (12:45 PM) —I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bills and 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—

National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Bill 2010

The Government is committed to improving the quality and consistency of training across the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. A key step to achieving this is becoming more nationally consistent and rigorous in the way we register, accredit and monitor courses and providers and the way we enforce performance standards in the VET sector.

The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Bill 2010 establishes a National Regulator for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. The National VET Regulator was part of the Skills for Sustainable Growth Package announced in the 2010 Budget

Along with establishing the Regulator that package included the Quality Skills Incentive program, which provides $130 million in payments for the 100 largest VET providers where they meet relevant performance benchmarks. Importantly the National VET Regulator will play a key role in developing those benchmarks.

The establishment of a National VET Regulator is one of the most significant reforms to the sector in years. It has been achieved through strong cooperation between the Commonwealth, states and territories. It will improve the quality of Australia’s training system and increase confidence in the skills of its graduates.

Regulatory arrangements for the VET sector are currently dispersed between eight States and Territory based jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions also delegate regulatory activities to other bodies such as the National Audit and Registration Authority.

There have been several attempts in the past to harmonise the state based regulation systems. National standards against which training providers are regulated were introduced in the 1990s and model clauses for state legislation were introduced in 2002.

  Despite these important reforms, regulation in the VET sector is still fragmented between jurisdictions.  The auditing and monitoring of provider performance still varies from state to state.

To address this, COAG agreed at its meeting in December 2009 on a new approach to national regulation. This approach includes the establishment of a National VET Regulator responsible for registering training organisations and accrediting VET qualifications and courses, and a separate Standards Council to provide advice to the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment (MCTEE) on national standards for regulation.

The introduction of this new approach to national regulation will build on the current quality and consistency in the VET sector and support the labour market and national productivity agendas by:

  • strengthening confidence in the quality and consistency of assessment and training outcomes of VET qualifications which in turn supports confidence in the abilities of VET graduates;
  • maximising consistency in application of national standards and regulatory activity in all jurisdictions
  • maximising consistency in the application of sanctions and the treatment of low quality providers
  • providing clear lines of accountability and responsibility for quality of VET, and
  • ensuring a coordinated response to emerging quality issues in the sector.

Specifics of the Bill

I turn now to a few specific aspects of the Bill.

The National VET Regulator will operate under a referral of powers from most states and will use its constitutional powers to operate in the territories. Victoria and Western Australia, as the two non-referring states, have agreed to enact mirror legislation to ensure a consistent approach to VET regulation. The COAG decision agreed the National VET Regulator would regulate all international and multi-jurisdictional providers and the Commonwealth will use its constitutional powers to achieve this. Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) that operate solely in non-referring states (and are not registered to deliver education to international students) will continue to have their activities regulated by those states.

The National VET Regulator will be run by a Chief Commissioner who will be assisted by two other commissioners. The National VET Regulator will be established as an agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act.

The National VET Regulator will undertake a range of activities involved in the regulation of Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and Accreditation of VET Qualifications. These include registration, quality assurance, performance reporting, risk assessment, audit and renewal of registration / accreditation.

A key mechanism for regulation in VET is the national standards against which RTOs are regulated, currently called the Australian Quality Training Framework. The content of the standards will not be significantly changed, but this Bill strengthens their legal status by making them a legislative instrument.

The standards will continue to be endorsed by the Ministerial Council and will be developed in the future by the new Standards Council which will be established in 2011.

Effective quality assurance of education and training depends upon an effective model for regulation. The introduction of national regulation for the VET system provides an opportunity to establish a regulatory model that can support and assure the quality of Australian VET providers. The National VET Regulator will develop a regulatory model based upon a responsive approach that is both strong and balanced.

The responsive approach to regulation will allow the regulator to focus its activities on those providers most likely to have problems, with minimal intrusions for proven, quality RTOs. Clear and accountable decisions and an escalating approach to sanctions will create a strong incentive for RTOs to comply with the standards.

A key concern with the current system has been the limitations on the tools available to existing state regulators. This Bill establishes a robust set of powers to allow the National VET Regulator to fulfil its functions and effectively regulate the VET sector. This National VET Regulator will have a range of powers with which to effectively regulate training providers, including administrative sanctions, civil penalties and criminal offences. These powers are stronger than those available to existing state regulators and the introduction of civil penalties in particular will expand the range of options the National VET Regulator has when dealing with poor performing providers. Decisions made by the National VET Regulator will be subject to appropriate natural justice and judicial review procedures. The National VET Regulator will have appropriate search and monitoring powers similar to those provided in the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000.

This Bill reflects the Government’s continued commitment to improving the quality of education and training and improving the consistency of regulation across the country.


National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2010

The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Transitional Provisions)   Bill 2010 allows for the transfer of existing registrations, applications and other matters from state regulators to the National VET Regulator with minimal disruption to existing RTOs. Provisions to allow the smooth transition of staff and outstanding legal matters from state regulators are also contained in the Bill.

In conjunction with the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Bill 2010, this Bill reflects the Government’s continued commitment to improving the quality of education and training and improving the consistency of regulation across the country.

Debate adjourned.