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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 21859


Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:16 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2004

Late last year I introduced into Parliament a package of comprehensive reforms to Australia's higher education system. The reforms now contained in the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and the Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2003, have clearly assured a vibrant future for Australia's universities and will enable the continued provision of world class education to thousands of Australians.

The measures contained in these two vital pieces of legislation will deliver to universities more than 34,000 Commonwealth supported places and $2.6 billion over the next five years. The Commonwealth will provide close to $11 billion in new money over ten years. Just as importantly, this legislation will deliver much needed reform to the sector, enabling the growth and diversification of our already excellent institutions.

The bill now before us will adjust the operation of these acts to make the transition between the current and new funding arrangements as smooth and effective as possible.

The Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 will amend the maximum funding limit for grants made under s23C of the Higher Education Funding Act 1988 to allow for price increases for current programmes and for the creation of new initiatives. It will ensure that the Regional Protection Fund has a sufficient allocation for 2004, in line with this Government's commitment that no regional university would be detrimentally affected in its research funding by the Knowledge and Innovation reforms in the first three years of their implementation.

This increase will also provide $1.5 million this year to enrich Indigenous higher education in the Northern Territory through Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education and Charles Darwin University. A total of $3 million will be provided for this initiative.

The bill will also amend the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to reflect the correct funding to be provided under the Act in relation to the Commonwealth Grant Scheme and Other Grants for the years 2005-07. It will also make some minor technical amendments to HESA relating to the setting of student contributions and tuition fees, the remission of HECS-HELP debts for work experience in industry units, the definition of Equivalent Full Time Student Load, and the notification of tax file numbers by students.

The bill will also allow higher education providers to set in advance the student contribution amounts and tuition fees which will be paid over the life of a course by the students who commence in that course in that particular year.

The bill will provide the Minister with a discretion to approve funding increases under the Commonwealth Grants Scheme in the first year of implementation, where a higher education provider has met some, but not all, of the requirements of the National Governance Protocols by 2004 that they have taken all reasonable steps within their power to meet the requirements of the Protocols and had met the workplace relations requirements. This will enable universities to benefit from additional money in 2005 where delays in amendments to existing individual State laws may prevent them from complying in full.

Finally, the bill will simplify the transitional funding arrangements in the Higher Education Support (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2003 for the University of Notre Dame Australia. My Department has advised me that the current drafting of the transitional provision may create some unforeseen negative consequences for UNDA. Under this amendment, the transitional arrangements will be more effectively managed through the National Priorities component of the Commonwealth Grant Scheme Guidelines. This amendment will streamline administrative measures already in the Act to ensure that UNDA's current HECS-liable students can continue in their courses until 2008.

Full details of the measures in the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum circulated to honourable senators.

By making these adjustments to the Higher Education Funding Act 1988 and by further refining the operation of the Higher Education Support Act 2003, this bill improves the transition between the current and new funding frameworks. It will give Australia's higher education providers the certainty they need to plan for the implementation of the new framework in the coming year. In doing so it further enhances the package of reforms which will be the new foundation for Australia's higher education sector.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Crossin) adjourned.