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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1850


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (12:17): I table a statement of reasons justifying the need for this bill to be considered during these sittings and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech and statement of reasons incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech and statement read as follows—

The Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012 clarifies the application and operation of indexation arrangements in the Higher Education Support Act 2003. It updates the definitions for 'course of study in dentistry' and 'course of study in veterinary science' and updates the Melbourne College of Divinity's name in light of its approval to operate under the title MCD University of Divinity.

The Bill also allows for technical amendments to the calculation of the voluntary repayment bonus to resolve rounding issues.

There is ambiguity in the Act about the application of the indexation provisions to amounts in the Act on 1 January 2011. The Government is making it clear that indexation should have been applied to amounts in the Act on 1 January 2011, and that the amounts that are indexed on 1 January 2012 are the 2011 indexed amounts.

The terms 'Course of Study in Dentistry' and 'Course of study in Veterinary Science' are used to determine which students are eligible for the higher FEE-HELP limit of $112,132 in 2012.

The Bill would amend the definitions for 'course of study in dentistry' and 'course of study in veterinary science' to clarify that only students undertaking courses of study in dentistry or veterinary science that satisfy the minimum academic requirements for registration as a dentist, veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner are eligible for the higher FEE HELP limit.

The Melbourne College of Divinity has been approved by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority to operate under the name MCD University of Divinity until 31 December 2016.

Students can make a voluntary repayment towards their HELP debt to the Tax Office at any time. Voluntary repayments of $500 or more currently attract a 5 per cent bonus on the payment amount.

When calculating the effect of a person making a voluntary repayment of his or her HELP debt, the Act provides for a person to obtain a 5 per cent bonus and includes rounding rules in calculating whether a person has repaid their debt and the amount of debt repaid if it is only a partial repayment.

Currently, the effect of the rounding rules is that:

(a)   When making a full repayment, the person benefits from the rounding because the amount of payment required to pay off their debt in full is reduced because the cents are rounded down; and

(b)   When making a partial repayment, the person is disadvantaged because the value of the reduction to the outstanding debt due to a payment is rounded down.

The Bill amends the Act to provide that when calculating the effect of a person making a partial repayment towards his or her HELP debt, the amount would be rounded up to nearest dollar. The cents would continue to be rounded down to determine the amount required for the full repayment of a person's HELP debt amount. Effectively, the rounding rules will now always benefit a person making a voluntary repayment.

The Bill reflects the Government's continued commitment to improving Australia's higher education sector and expanding opportunities for Australians to obtain a high quality higher education.

STATEMENT OF REASONS FOR INTRODUCTION AND PASSAGE IN THE 2012 AUTUMN SITTINGS

HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1)

Purpose of the Bill

The bill will make policy changes as a result of the implementation of the demand driven funding system. It will update the definitions for 'Course of Study in Dentistry' and 'Course of Study in Veterinary Science'.

The bill will also update the Melbourne College of Divinity's (MCD) name in light of their approval to operate as a specialised university with the title MCD University of Divinity. The bill makes technical amendments to the calculation of voluntary repayment bonus to resolve rounding issues.

The bill will also make amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to clarify the application of indexation provisions.

Reasons for Urgency

To urgently clarify the indexation provisions of the Act.

Debate adjourned.