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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11568

Higher Education

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (15:04): My question is to the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills. Will the minister please update the House on the government's reforms to improve the integrity of the VET FEE-HELP program?

Mr HARTSUYKER (CowperMinister for Vocational Education and Skills and Deputy Leader of the House) (15:04): I thank the member for Ryan for her question. The member for Ryan is a member who understands the importance of the VET sector to our economy and to our future. But I regret to inform the House that unfortunately we inherited a VET FEE-HELP system that was in a mess. We inherited that from Labor. Labor failed to put in place sufficient controls when they established the VET FEE-HELP program. In fact, the shadow minister, Kim Carr, admitted as much a couple of weeks ago. I quote:

... Labor introduced VET FEE-HELP with good intentions but the scheme contains "fundamental weaknesses" that need to be fixed.

We have a situation where unscrupulous providers were taking advantage of Labor's mistake, but it has been vulnerable students who have had to pay the price of that. Regrettably, we had a situation where residents in nursing homes were being signed up to courses that they did not want or need. We had a situation where people with an intellectual disability were being enrolled in courses that they could not possibly compete in, and we had job seekers at job service providers and we had people at Centrelink being accosted by high-pressure salesmen attempting to sign them up to courses that were going to incur a debt.

This government has acted quickly. Minister Birmingham in March announced a series of eight reforms. He acted quickly to stamp out poor marketing practices to protect students from withdrawal fees and unfair invoices. No longer can people be bribed to undertake a course with the offer of a laptop or a gift certificate. No longer can people be forced to continue in a course simply because they cannot afford to pay the withdrawal fees that providers were charging for that course. The bill that I introduced last week further strengthens protections for consumers. It stops bad enrolments, it provides greater protection for people under the age of 18, it introduces a cooling off period to ensure that people do not sign up for a course on a whim and it sets literacy and numeracy requirements that are appropriate for a particular course. It also lifts the standards required of providers by requiring a longer trading history, and it hits providers with a fine if they do the wrong thing.

Labor introduced a scheme that was poorly thought through, much in the way of pink batts, green loans and cash for clunkers—the typical way Labor introduces programs. We, as usual, are cleaning up Labor's mess.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Chifley will cease interjecting.