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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1565

Senator XENOPHON (12:16 PM) —I will give a relatively brief contribution on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Bill 2010 [2011]. I indicate that I will be supporting this bill, subject to some assurances I believe the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations will be giving in relation to further amendments to this bill. Can I assure Senator Back after his very comprehensive contribution that I in no way will seek to emasculate him. Given the definition of the word ‘emasculate’, I will not be seeking to do that.

Senator Back —I’m relieved to hear that.

Senator Mason —He’s a vet.

Senator Chris Evans —There is only one person here who has successfully emasculated something.

Senator XENOPHON —As Senator Evans points out, there is only one person who has successfully emasculated any creature in this place, and that is Senator Back as a practising and eminent veterinarian.

I indicate that it is important that this legislation is passed at these stages for these reasons. Firstly, this legislation establishes a national vocational education and training regulator to be responsible for registering training organisations, accrediting VET qualifications and courses and establishing performance benchmarks. That is unambiguously a good thing which I think has been acknowledged in part by the opposition, by Senator Mason and by Senator Back. We need to have that level of oversight, of benchmarking, of performance criteria at a national level. The activities of this regulator will include registration, quality assurance, performance reporting, risk assessment and audit and renewal of registration and accreditation. I think it is crucial that we have this national approach because current regulation of the sector is dispersed between the states and territories and this bill is following COAG agreement to establish national standards. I note the remarks in relation to Victoria and Western Australia in terms of not coming on board at this stage. I am sure that has nothing to do, Senator Mason, with the fact that they happen to be coalition governments—

Senator Mason —Just a coincidence.

Senator XENOPHON —Just a happy coincidence, Senator Mason. But of course they are entitled to raise concerns and they are entitled to hold out in relation to this. My concern is that the other states that have signed up on this will be missing out on a national scheme which I think is not only good for industry but, most importantly, gives security and some real reassurance to the hundreds of thousands of students who participate in vocational training colleges. It is very important that the consumers, the students, are protected, and this scheme will provide a great deal of protection.

I also note that, in terms of what I believe the minister and the government will be setting out, the key stakeholders, whether it is unions, industry, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Enterprise RTO Association, are reassured that there will be a process in August of this year that brings further amendments. I assume this, and I am sure the minister can confirm it. If that is the case, I think it is important not to hold up this piece of legislation.

This is not a criticism of the coalition, but I note their very considered Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee minority report which was released earlier this month. In that dissenting report, which set out the position of Victoria and Western Australia, coalition senators recommended that the bill not be passed in its current form. They also made a number of recommendations, for instance that the bill be amended to address the concerns identified by the committee and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and if necessary be followed by a new referral of powers to a state. In particular in recommendation 6 coalition senators recommended that the bill be amended to ensure that the National VET Regulator’s powers are exercised appropriately and with due regard for personal rights and liberties and that the Fair Work Act be investigated as a possible model for exercise of entry, search and seizure powers. That was the recommendation. It sounds like a very considered recommendation. I am not sure whether I necessarily agree with it but I would like to hear the arguments for it. Obviously a lot of consideration was put into that recommendation.

As I understand it, the coalition has not moved any amendments. I do not know whether Senator Mason can confirm that. We are not in the committee stage, but my understanding is that there are not any amendments in relation to this.

Senator Mason —Correct.

Senator XENOPHON —I think the coalition will have an opportunity to propose amendments that have not been moved at this stage. Again, this is not criticism of the coalition but there will be an opportunity to move those amendments and for them to be properly considered when this bill comes back in August this year. I think it is important that we have this framework sooner rather than later. It will provide important safeguards and protections for the hundreds of thousands of students that attend vocational training courses in colleges around the country. That is why I think that on balance this is a good piece of legislation, a beneficial piece of legislation, and I look forward to some of the commitments from the minister in relation to this.