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Monday, 31 October 2011
Page: 12211

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (17:11): It is with some pleasure today that I rise to speak on this particular amendment, which amends the National Vocational, Education and Training Regulator Act. This parliament put those through in 2011. Some detailed stakeholder consultation has followed, and feedback from a Senate inquiry into the legislation that the parliament passed.

I might start by recognising the Gordon Institute of TAFE, which is known as 'the Gordon' in the Geelong area. For many, many generations it has trained young tradespeople in the Geelong area and has done an absolutely fantastic job in educating the broader Geelong area. I particularly want to acknowledge the hard work of the CEO, Grant Sutherland, and the board, who have built a first class institution and provided many, many young people with the education they needed to pursue their chosen career in the trades. I think it is appropriate that I do take the opportunity to do that.

Today we are talking about some important amendments that this parliament needs to make to strengthen further Australia's vocational educational system. As I indicated earlier, on 24 March 2011, the Commonwealth passed some very important legislation in the VET sector. This was not only a historic day in reducing the regulatory burden but it also standardised a national system to provide a stronger vocational education system, one which students from Australia can understand. It also, importantly, ensured that we strengthen what is otherwise a very strong reputation overseas in providing a high-quality VET system for Australian students and also for international students.

Indeed, in Australia we are fortunate to have a strong system, but a system that was fundamentally in need of some key reform. That reform in 2011 established a regulator and put in place some fundamental building blocks to deal with the fragmented system that we had in Australia. We had, I think, nine different regulators in this space creating uncertainty. As part of the COAG reform agenda it was agreed that this was an area where the Commonwealth ought to take a stronger role and we put in place the necessary legislation back in March. Having said that, it has come to the parliament's and the government's attention that there is a need to pass some amendments to further strengthen the regulation we put in place.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority has the huge task of putting in place the necessary regulation. It is a task that I am sure that that body is well placed to do. We have many thousands of registered training organisations around this nation, which demonstrates the strength of this sector. When we did not have as strong a set of regulations nationally as we could have had, unfortunately that created some difficulties for us internationally, particularly in Victoria, where some instances have been highlighted over the last few years.

I congratulate the Hon. Chris Evans, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. This is a huge task that we need to undertake. We have been in detailed consultation with the sector in terms of forming not only the body and the legislation that was passed back in March but also the amendments that we are talking about today that further strengthen the regulation in this area. I congratulate the minister for working closely with the stakeholders and for working closely with the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee, which has made some useful observations and recommendations following its inquiry.

National regulation in this area does require cooperation and partnership with other regulators in this space. I am referring to the states and territories in this sense. All of the states and territories have been cooperating with the Commonwealth. I point out that I understand Victoria and WA, instead of relying upon national regulation, have indicated that they will be passing mirror regulation in this space. That will be helpful in creating a standard system across this nation in this space.

Through consultation and submissions that were received by the Senate committee inquiry and stakeholder views expressed, we have agreed to introduce a number of changes to further clarify the role of the national regulator. In particular we will insert a number of objects in the act to assist the sector and the regulatory body we have established. That is to provide national consistency in the regulation of VET, to regulate VET using a standards based quality framework, and then, when appropriate, put in place risk assessments to protect and enhance the quality, flexibility and innovation for which VET has a reputation both within Australia and internationally. As I said earlier, this particular area of the Australian economy is very important; indeed, we rely on many tens of thousands of people making their way to Australia to receive a quality education. I think it is important that we do put in place the necessary arrangements to strengthen our reputation internationally, even though we already do have a very good reputation.

Furthermore, I think it is very important to protect students proposing to undertake VET by making sure that quality services are provided within the system and to facilitate people's access to accurate information relating to the quality of VET. This government has put in place a number of arrangements and tools to enable people to assess the quality of the services they might access from state and territory governments and of course the Commonwealth. MyHospitals would be one of those types of tools and My School another. It is important that there are tools in place that enable consumers to make decisions based on the best information available, because we do want to have a quality system. We want consumers to be able to understand the system, to be able to assess the quality of those VET courses and to be able to understand what it is that they are accessing and, ultimately, buying. That is extremely important.

It is appropriate that we point out the quality work that was undertaken by the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee on this. It is not every day that a government MP praises the Senate, but I think the work that the committee put in certainly assisted the government to put in place the arrangements necessary to strengthen our VET system.

In my electorate of Corangamite and across the broader Geelong and south-west Victorian areas, we have a number of institutions that have contributed very strongly to the development of skills in this sector. Indeed, this government has a very proud track record of investing in vocational education and training skills. I wish to highlight Labor's Trade Training Centres in Schools program—and I am pleased to see the minister at the table now—which will help very much to provide opportunities for young people to access the VET system and will strengthen and provide employment opportunities in various sectors.

For a very long time, many people, particularly those on the conservative side of the political fence, viewed the VET system as a second-class system. That is not how the Gillard government view VET. As I have outlined, we are providing numerous opportunities for young people to enter VET. Australia has a very dramatic, emergent skills crisis, where we do not have enough adequately qualified people, particularly in the domestic trades area and in terms of supporting the mining boom that we are currently seeing. Investing in this area is extremely important and it is important that we have strong regulation over this sector. It is important because we are going to be putting more students through the system in the years to come, not less, and we need to ensure that there is a quality framework in place to ensure that young Australians have every opportunity to access a quality system—a system that is accountable and that is fundamentally transparent, not only in terms of training young Australians but also, importantly, for what has become a very substantial export market with the number of people travelling to Australia to access vocational style education.

Australia has a proud record in this area. I commend the minister responsible and I commend the education minister, the Hon. Peter Garrett, for his efforts in this space as well. This government will continue to support the VET sector. We recognise the important contribution that it makes to the Australian economy and to the lives of individuals, whether it be locally in my part of the world—the greater Geelong area—or, indeed, right throughout this nation. I certainly wish to indicate that the Victorian and Western Australian governments, if they are not prepared to operate within a national system, must as a minimum past mirror legislation in this space to ensure that we do have a national system as best as possible. I commend the bill to the House.