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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 7350


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (13:39): I rise to make some comments on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2011. This piece of legislation has now been before the parliament in various forms for some time. This bill provides for the establishment of a national regulator for the vocational education and training sector. It sets out the regulatory framework within which the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator, the NVR, will operate.

The NVR will take over the regulatory functions of state regulators in referring states and territories and, in non-referring states, it will have responsibility for registered training organisations which offer training to international students or which also operate in a referring state.

Certainly, the coalition has been broadly supportive in principle of having a national regulator. There are around 4½ thousand registered training organisations across the country and the coalition certainly believes that it is appropriate that we have a national regulator in place. There has been, though, not necessarily consensus as to how this regulator should operate and, in the past, there has been a divergence of views with regard to this amongst the states, in particular in Victoria and Western Australia.

Interestingly, as I travel around communities, particularly regional communities, the level of awareness of the importance of the VET sector is on the increase. There is absolutely no doubt about that. While we heard a lot about higher education in the past, we have not necessarily heard as much about the VET sector. So I think it is entirely appropriate that there is now a greater understanding out there in the community of the benefit and contribution of the VET sector.

I will take a moment to note the instances of collaboration between the VET sector and the higher ed sector which are starting to emerge. I look at areas such as Port Macquarie and others where they are starting to do pathways through the VET sector to the university sector and I, for one, certainly applaud that. If we look at Charles Darwin University—which is in my good colleague Senator Scullion's part of the world—we see that the entire model is a collaborative higher ed VET model, which is indeed highly appropriate for the instances that we see in the north of Australia. I commend those at Charles Darwin University for the work that they are doing.

With regard to this piece of legislation, the coalition have previously voiced their concerns on record about why we agree to it in principle, that there have been some real difficulties in terms of a lack of cohesion from the separate jurisdictions about the way this regulator will work and about how the regulator will be implemented.

Having said that, over recent times there has been some movement from the states, particularly, as I understand it, from Victoria and Western Australia, which will provide a more cohesive background, if you like, to the regulator being put in place. It is still by no means perfect and, from the coalition's perspective, we would like to see a much more streamlined and cohesive approach to the regulator. There is still the issue of referral powers, and while we think a national approach makes sense we also think the government could have done a better job in ensuring that the path to the implementation of the regulator was done in a more appropriate and streamlined manner. So, while we do have those reservations, as I said at the outset we are supportive in principle of the National VET Regulator and do not oppose the legislation.