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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11700

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (18:10): I rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012 but, if you had been listening to events in this chamber over the last half-hour, you would think that we are not debating a Commonwealth bill. You would think what we have been listening to is the member for Corangamite and the member for McEwen reading from the script of the opposition Labor Party in Victoria. They have hardly touched or mentioned the bill before us. All they have been doing is getting the talking points from the Labor opposition in Victoria and reading them verbatim.

I say to the member for McEwen and the member for Corangamite: if you feel so strongly about what is happening in Victoria go to the Prime Minister and say to her, 'Stop cutting the GST receipts for Victoria. Stop cutting the federal government money that should be supplied to Victoria so that they can afford some of these services.' It is all very fine for them to get up here and to read out the talking points from the state Labor opposition but, if they are serious about it, they should do something about it. Victoria is being dealt with unfairly by this federal Labor government. It has had its GST receipts cut, and they will continue to be cut. I have not heard a mention, a peep, a squeak, from the member for McEwen or the member for Corangamite on this. It is about time they stood up for their state if they are serious about having this issue addressed. Stand up for your state, say to the Prime Minister, 'The state you call home—although you call South Australia home as well when it is convenient—needs you to do something to make sure that it is not treated badly when it comes to how GST receipts are issued to the various states.'

If you are going to come in here and talk from the talking points of a state opposition, at least have the decency to say that you are going to try to do something about it. There are some facts that I did not hear from these members. I did not hear that over the next four years the Baillieu government is going to put an extra $1 billion into the TAFE sector in Victoria. That is right, the Baillieu government is going to put $1 billion of extra funding into the TAFE sector over the next four years. I did not hear them mention that fact at all.

I did not hear the member for McEwen 'fessing up that he was a member of the Bracks-Brumby governments—an upper house member—and he was a part of the process which has led to Victoria being on an unstable budgetary projection. I have not heard the member for McEwen 'fess up to this. I have not heard the member for McEwen 'fess up to the fact that they have completed a desal plant, the contract of which was signed by the Bracks and Brumby governments, which means that the Victorian taxpayer has to pay for water even though it is not needed from that desal plant.

The economic mismanagement which occurred under the Brumby and Bracks governments, sadly, is now being felt in Victoria. The member for McEwen was a part of that. He should at least have had the decency to fess up and own that. He also talked about the BER and about how successful it has been. I would not have addressed these issues—I would have been quite happy to stay on the bill before us—but, given that the member for McEwen went there, we need to get on the record just how misleading what he said was.

Let us look at the BER. I have a wonderful example of it in my electorate at a school just outside Hamilton which had a BER project. I will give you just one example of the type of waste that occurred. It is a small example but it shows you the utter, utter disrespect the Gillard government has for taxpayers' money. The school wanted a new water tank and they wanted the water tank to coincide with the colour scheming of their BER project. One Friday afternoon the water tank was dropped off in front of the school when the school was closed and there was no-one there. The colour coding that they wanted for the tank, which fitted with the school and its wonderful natural environmental background, was green. Instead, they got a bright orange one. So they rang up and said that they would like a green one, and a green one was delivered.

But I will give you an example of the contempt. When the orange one was dropped off, it was dropped off on a Friday afternoon when there was no-one there. There was a strong wind blowing that day. The tank was not put upright, it was put on its side and it started blowing down the road. So, one of the neighbours near the school had to ring up the school council president and say, 'Do you realise that the tank that has been dropped off as part of your BER project is blowing down the road?' So, the school committee had to push the tank back out to the front of the school.

Then, when the green tank—the one that had been requested—arrived the following week, they said to the people who dropped it off, 'Do you want the orange one back? Because we don't want it.' They said, 'No, we don't care what you do with it.' A $9,000 or $10,000 tank and they said, 'No, we don't care what you do with it.' So the school got their green tank, which fitted and was what they had ordered, and were left with a bright orange tank, which they did not want, and the contempt to the taxpayers' money was, 'We don't care what you do with it.' That is the BER. The way it was implemented is a gross waste of taxpayers' money. I hope that puts at rest the member for McEwen and the member for Corangamite for the moment—although I would be happy to engage with them further on this debate if they want.

Now, I turn to the bill before us, the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The bill contains amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 that will position the government to deliver timely improvements to Higher Education Loan Program, HELP, schemes, particularly VET FEE-HELP. The amendments will enable the government to act on the recommendations arising from the post implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP scheme final report of September 2011 and its commitments under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, particularly the redesign of the VET FEE-HELP. That is from the introduction to the explanatory memorandum from the government.

In principle, the opposition has no difficulties with the bill, although what we have said is that we would like a Senate committee to look at it and to give us further advice on the bill. The type of advice we would like is on where the bill could potentially create some red tape issues.

I will go to two points in the regulation impact statement which need to be looked at. The regulatory impact statement says:

There was very limited support for the introduction of a reporting requirement for contact hours, as stakeholders identified that a range of variables can result in the same course having different contact hours depending on student choice.

The government has said that it 'will consult further with stakeholders on the reporting of contact hours'. We would like to know what this consultation will be and what it will actually lead to. It says under 'Future directions':

Stakeholders identified additional areas for improvement, including the introduction of a mentoring program for prospective VET FEE-HELP applicants undertaken by current VET FEE HELP providers.

It goes on to say:

While the Government has taken these suggestions for future directions on board, it has no plans to implement these in the immediate future.

I think we need a decent explanation as to why.

They are the types of issues that we need to look at, because we have to make sure when we are implementing legislation that the legislation is actually going to do what it sets out to do. Sadly, as we have seen from this government time and time and time again, so often when it comes to implementing legislation it gets it wrong and so often there is a need for amendment after amendment and sometimes there is a need to actually get rid of the legislation—full stop. Sadly, though, the government often fails to recognise that need.

When it comes to this sector I would like to place on the record the sad, sad state of affairs with the abolition of Australian technical colleges. In 2006-07 we had the introduction of the best vocational training institutions that you could see. Two of these were in my electorate—one in Hamilton and one in Warrnambool. Local industry were behind them. When you went and visited the apprentices who were part of the programs that were being run by these Australian technical colleges, you saw that they could not have been happier with the courses and the facilities in which they were undertaking their training. They felt proud to be doing what they were doing in those institutions. They felt a worth, which meant that what they were doing was equal to what other students who were going to go down the tertiary path were doing.

What happened to those Australian technical colleges? They had the funding ripped out from underneath them. So it is all very well for the member for Corangamite to come in here and talk about having funding ripped from the sector; he had funding ripped from an Australian technical college in his electorate—and, once again, we did not hear boo from him on that issue.

So what now is at stake for the former Australian technical colleges in Warrnambool and Hamilton? The one in Warrnambool, sadly, looks like it will disappear because it has now been subsumed by the local TAFE there. We have to ensure that we can get that technical college back to where it was. The Hamilton ATC has continued to operate, although it does not have any ongoing funding from this government. At the moment it is scraping by in the hope that a coalition government will get back into power and be able to address this area of ongoing need so that we have technical training which is of a standard which means that those people taking part in it feel a real pride in the path that they have taken.

It is my wont and my hope—and something that I will be strongly arguing for—that if we form the next government as a coalition we will look over time, as the budget allows us, to reinstitute those Australian technical colleges. I witnessed what they were doing in Hamilton and Warrnambool, and that is the type of approach we should be taking with this sector.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this bill today. The coalition supports this bill in principle, but obviously the Senate committee needs to look at the detail to make sure that in implementation it will do what it sets out to do. Also, the coalition will not stand by and listen to speaker after speaker attack the state governments when those opposite are responsible in many instances for the lack of funding they have currently.