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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5233


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (18:04): I table the revised explanatory memorandum relating to the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011 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—

Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011

During the height of concerns confronting the international education sector in 2009 the Prime Minister, in her then role as Minister for Education, asked the Hon Bruce Baird AM to conduct a review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act 2000 and its associated legislation that had originally been planned for 2012. A number of amendments to the ESOS Act were introduced to strengthen registration requirements and require re-registration of all providers by the end of 2010. This interim step was necessary to reinforce the integrity and quality of Australia’s international education sector. When those amendments were passed in February 2010 an undertaking was given to come back with further amendments following finalisation of the Baird Review.

The Government released the final report of the Baird Review on 9 March 2010 and indicated a staged approach in responding to its recommendations. The first phase of legislative changes, passed in March of this year, had a dual focus of risk management and more effective enforcement. Those amendments also introduced changes to the Ombudsman Act 1976 to extend the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to include students of private registered providers. Consistent with this staged approach, the Government’s response to the remaining recommendations will be considered in a second phase of legislation to be introduced in the coming months.

The ESOS Act protects Australia’s reputation for delivering quality education services. It does this by establishing a regulatory regime for the provision of international education and training services and through this protects the interests of overseas students through the establishment of minimum standards and providing tuition and financial assurance. The ESOS Act also complements Australia’s migration laws by ensuring providers collect and report information relevant to the administration of the law relating to student visas.

Unprecedented growth in recent years has led to education becoming one of Australia’s largest export industries, generating in the order of $19 billion annually and supporting around 125,000 jobs across Australia. In 2000 the number of international student enrolments in Australia was 188,000 which grew to 619,000 in 2010. Consequently, the growth in the student population has led to significant growth in the number of education providers offering services to international students with over 1,100 providers ranging from large universities and TAFEs, public and private schools, to small private VET and English language providers.

Since its commencement in 2000, the ESOS Act has been amended several times to keep pace with a changing industry and is widely recognised as one of the best legislative frameworks for international education in the world.

The Commonwealth recovers the costs of administering the ESOS Act through compulsory registration fees. These are charged to all providers wishing to be registered on the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students, CRICOS, which allows them to offer courses to overseas students.

The purpose of the Bills I am introducing today is to make amendments to the ESOS Registration Charges Act in response to recommendations from the Baird Review that regulators adopt a risk assessment and management approach to the registration and ongoing monitoring of education providers delivering courses to international students, including the costs to apply at registration and through the period of registration.

The Bills creates a new fee structure focussed on risk to replace the current charging structure for the compulsory annual registration charge payable by CRICOS registered providers. The new annual registration charge is comprised of a $1,300 base fee, a charge of $10 per student enrolment per year together with a $100 charge for each course registered on CRICOS. It also includes provision for a flat fee of $1000 in circumstances where a provider has in the past 12 months had action taken against them for non-compliance under section 83 of the ESOS Act.

Flexibility is afforded for providers that routinely offer courses of less than 13 weeks duration with the introduction of a new provision for each student enrolled in such a course at any time during the year to count as a quarter of an enrolment. This represents a reduction from the current half an enrolment charge for a course of less than 26 weeks, and addresses issues raised in relation to the existing length of enrolment calculation by providers offering courses of a shorter duration to large numbers of students.

The rebased annual registration charge is designed to cover the administrative costs of the registration process and reflect the number of courses offered by each provider, as well as the overseas student cohort, in order to more accurately recoup the costs relative to the size of any supervision, compliance or enforcement activity necessary to ensure that only reputable providers are permitted to operate.

The Bills also introduces an entry to market charge payable for the first three years of registration which will replace the current initial registration charge. A charge of $7,500 will be payable at the time the provider first becomes registered on CRICOS, followed by $5,000 payable at the end of the first anniversary of registration and a further $2,500 at the end of the second anniversary period.

The entry to market charge is designed to recoup the additional costs associated with new applications for registration and the additional supervision required by providers with a shorter history of registration. Evidence suggests that these providers present a greater risk to the sector, so the new entry to market charge will enable better targeting of compliance efforts and shift the regulatory burden to those providers with the greatest risk to quality, the student experience and the reputation of the sector as a whole.

Importantly, these Bills provide a regulation-making power to allow the registration charges to be varied for different classes of providers on the basis of their risk profile. Under this proposal providers deemed to present a significantly lower risk to the market may pay a lesser amount or be exempt from the requirement to pay components of the registration charges. It is expected that any providers qualifying for a variation will be subject to rigorous additional quality control processes.

Overall, the financial impact on providers of a rebased annual registration charge is expected to significantly reduce from its current level. The rebasing of the charge will result in registration charges paid by the sector reducing from $15 million in 2011 to less than $7 million in 2012. As there will be an overall reduction of approximately $8 million in the amount collected from the sector as a whole, the majority of existing CRICOS registered providers will experience considerable relief in relation to this charge. Providers representing a greater risk to the market, such as those with a history of non-compliance and new entrants, may pay more under the new arrangements.

Protection and enhancement of Australia’s reputation for providing reliable and high quality education is crucial for both providers and their international students who rely on the strength of an Australian qualification as they further their careers, both here and overseas.

These Bills continue the Government’s support for the industry and its place in the economy through a strengthened regulatory framework for Australia’s education and training export industry. This follows directly from the Baird Review recommendation and will ensure the long term integrity and viability of this key export industry.

The Government looks forward to bringing the final phase of our response to the Baird Review recommendations later this year.

Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011

The Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011 contains necessary consequential provisions to manage the transition to the new registration charges framework which will give effect to the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill.

The registration charges contained within this Bill will take effect from 2012.

Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011

The Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011 and its two companion Bills will provide a mechanism for the horse industry to meet its obligations under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement, and respond to future emergency disease outbreaks affecting the industry.

Governments and industry beneficiaries have a shared interest in ensuring that an emergency animal disease is brought under control as quickly as possible.

The Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement is a world-first cost sharing arrange­ment that enables Australia to respond quickly and efficiently to emergency animal disease outbreaks.

It sets out the roles, responsibilities and cost-sharing arrangements for its signatories. Current signatories to the Agreement are the Com­monwealth, all state and territory governments, Animal Health Australia and eleven livestock industries.

Being able to respond quickly minimises the potential impact of an emergency animal disease outbreak on Australia’s agricultural production, valuable exports, the environment and public health.

Livestock industries also receive considerable benefits from a response to an emergency disease in terms of trade and market access, and through minimisation of livestock and production cost losses.

If an emergency animal disease outbreak occurs and it is agreed that a national response is required, the Commonwealth will initially meet a signatory industry’s cost-sharing obligations on the basis that the industry will repay the Commonwealth within a reasonable time period.

Most livestock industries have statutory levies in place to enable them to fund their share of costs of national emergency responses. An emergency animal disease response levy is usually set to zero and only activated when an emergency animal disease incident occurs.

Some industries have chosen to set a positive operative levy to provide the industry with a fund to respond quickly on its cost-sharing requirements, or to invest funds to increase their biosecurity.

The Australian Horse Industry Council, Equestrian Australia, Harness Racing Australia and the Australian Racing Board signed the Agreement on behalf of the horse industry in March 2011.

To enable it to meet its obligations under the Agreement, the horse industry submitted a levy proposal to the Commonwealth. The proposal requested that zero-rated levies be imposed on manufactured horse feed and worm treatments for horses on the horse industry.

In developing the proposal, the horse industry undertook extensive consultation, and a range of levy options were discussed at the national, state and local levels of the horse-owning community. The horse industry decided that the simultaneous application of levies on worm treatments and manufactured horse feed would provide the most equitable coverage of the horse industry.

This Bill and its companion Bills provide the framework for these levies to be imposed, and are an important step in enabling the horse industry to manage future emergency animal disease outbreaks.

Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2011

The Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Bill 2011 is a companion Bill to the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011. This Bill will provide authority for the Australian Government to collect and administer the horse disease response levies.

A separate Bill is necessary as the Australian Constitution requires that provisions dealing with the collection and administration of a levy must be in legislation separate from that which imposes the levy itself.

This Bill also includes provision for periodic review of the levy mechanisms. It requires the Minister to ensure that the mechanisms are reviewed every 5 years, unless the levies are active at the time the review is due. If this occurs, the Minister has the option to postpone the review until the levies are set back to zero. The Minister will seek advice from affected parties before determining whether the review should be postponed.

Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011

The Horse Disease Response Levy (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 is a companion Bill to the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011. This Bill will make amendments to the Australian Animal Health Council (Live-stock Industries) Funding Act 1996.

These amendments will allow for the Australian Animal Health Council, also known as Animal Health Australia, to hold and manage funds raised by the levies on behalf of the horse industry. It will also authorise Animal Health Australia to meet its own costs in managing the funds.

This arrangement will be similar to arrangements that other livestock industries have in place to fund their liabilities under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the Education Services for Overseas Students (Registration Charges) Amendment Bill 2011and the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment (Registration Charges Consequentials) Bill 2011 be listed on the Notice Paper as one order of the day, and the Horse Disease Response Levy Bill 2011 and two related bills be listed as one order of the day