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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1817

Mr COMBET (CharltonMinister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (18:03): I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will introduce a number of measures that will strengthen and streamline the Higher Education Support Act 2003 resulting in more effective and efficient administration of the Australian government's student income-contingent loan programs in the higher education and vocational education and training sectors, namely, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP.

The bill provides for the use and disclosure of information by Commonwealth officers gained through the administration of FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP for certain purposes including to the newly established national regulators in the higher education and vocational education and training sectors, namely the Australian Skills Quality Authority and the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency operating under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011and the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 respectively. This will support consistent decision making across Commonwealth regulatory frameworks.

The bill will also improve the Commonwealth's ability to manage risk to the administration of public moneys and better protect students in the vocational education and training sector by strengthening the compliance provisions for approved VET providers. As provider approvals are issued in perpetuity, the bill makes it explicit that an approved VET provider must notify the minister of events that affect its ability to comply with the requirements to continue to maintain its approved provider status.

Further, the bill includes a transparent provision to make it clear that the secretary may vary or revoke a determination that an advance payment is to be made to a VET provider if the secretary is aware that the provider may not comply with the requirements under the act or may not be financially viable. In deciding to vary or revoke, matters which the secretary may take into consideration have been provided for, such as the nature of noncompliance, the provider's history of compliance and the impact of the provider's noncompliance on its ability to deliver quality education and training.

The bill will also improve the administrative arrangements for application times for higher education providers and VET providers. This amendment will clarify that the minister's authority to decide an application for approval exists beyond the time periods specified under the act.

And, finally, the bill provides for clearer, simpler and improved administrative arrangements for the assessment of an individual's higher education loan program debt. In doing so, the bill enables improved congruity between the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and taxation legislation.

I commend the bill to the House.