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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1293


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (12:10): I present the explanatory memoranda and I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Introduction

A high quality and high status vocational education and training sector is fundamental to a skilled workforce and a productive economy.

The Coalition Government is overhauling the skills and training system with a package of significant reforms that elevate trades and vocational education to the centre of Australia's economy.

It is a sector that is very important to students, to employers, including small businesses, and to this Government.

It is critical that training is providing future employees with the work-ready skills they need for employment, and is also effectively upskilling those already in the workforce.

We are ensuring that training providers and the qualifications they issue are of the highest quality, maintain their relevance to employment outcomes and can operate as efficiently as possible.

This Government is also taking steps to ensure that training providers operate in a modern and responsive regulatory environment.

The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 is the principal piece of legislation that provides the framework for the national regulation of the training sector through the establishment of the national VET regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, known as ASQA.

The Act commenced in 2011 and is enabled by a text-based referral of powers from participating states and the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory Reform in Vocational Education and Training, agreed by all state and territory Ministers.

The bill supports ongoing VET reform measures, including giving ASQA capacity to respond rapidly to emerging issues, allowing ASQA to more effectively target regulation to higher risk registered training organisations, and technical enhancements to facilitate more effective and efficient regulation.

Turning to the specifics of the bill, Schedule one makes amendments to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act. Schedule two presents transitional arrangements for the amendments contained in Schedule one.

Advertising or representing a VET course without identifying the registered training organisation

The bill contains an amendment to improve transparency in the marketing of training. This measure has come about in direct response to the negative impact of marketing by third parties, often referred to as brokers, in the training sector, and in particular in the VET FEE-HELP market.

A potential vocational student should be able to clearly identify the registered training organisation responsible for the qualification they are signing up for. This new provision will require any person advertising or representing a nationally recognised training course, to clearly identify the provider responsible for the qualification in their marketing material.

This amendment will complement requirements in the revised national standards requiring transparent marketing by training providers, including the requirement that third party arrangements are to be covered by a written agreement.

Under the proposed amendment ASQA will be able to pursue anyone, not just training providers, who does not make it clear who is responsible for the quality of the training, and will have access to a broader range of enforcement options.

In line with this amendment, the bill will also clarify the coverage of 'person' to include organisations that are constitutional corporations for coverage of the civil penalty and offence provisions in Part 6 of the Act. This will enable ASQA to take action against persons in contravention of provisions such as false and misleading marketing.

Introduce a Quality Standard provision

The bill establishes the capacity for the Minister to make standards in relation to quality in the vocational education and training sector.

It is envisaged that the standard making power will be engaged in circumstances where a quick response is required to emerging issues that affect the quality and integrity of the training sector. The Minister would be expected to consult with employers, training providers and the states and territories, in developing any quality standard.

Adherence to the standard will be a condition of registration for training providers.

This quality standard making power provides the ability to respond more rapidly to emerging issues than current structure allow for, and sends a clear signal that, when required, the Government will take action against those who want to undermine quality in the training sector.

Seven Year Registration

The bill contains an administrative amendment to extend the maximum period of registration from five to seven years.

This amendment will allow ASQA to more effectively target resources to higher risk registered training organisations. It will also cut red tape for consistently compliant registered training organisations, as instead of having to re-register every five years they will only have to go through the process every seven years.

In a further reduction of red tape, it will help align and streamline the regulatory requirement of re-registration for multi-sector providers.

Most importantly, the amendment improves the efficiency of the national regulator, allowing it to redirect regulatory effort away from renewal processes and towards better targeted or more random auditing, compliance and enforcement actions against poor quality providers.

Re-registration based auditing has been identified by ASQA as a less effective approach to quality assurance compared with targeted or random audit activities.

Effectiveness of the national regulator

To improve the effectiveness of ASQA to deal with unscrupulous practices, the bill makes a suite of administrative amendments.

For example, currently the Act only allows the regulator to request information from a regulated registered training organisation, not from persons purporting to be a regulated entity. The bill will correct this situation, and allow the national regulator to request information from persons holding themselves out as a registered training organisation.

The bill will amend the definition of VET information and an information disclosure clause so that ASQA can improve its information sharing with other agencies.

The bill will also streamline processes for issuing written directions by amending the Act to remove the need to first issue a 'notice of intention' for written directions, whilst still maintaining natural justice requirements for administrative sanctions.

To ensure timeliness in relation to search warrants, an amendment allows search warrants to be issued by a person employed in a court of a state or territory who is authorised, by law, to issue search warrants.

Other minor administrative measures

Finally, the bill contains a suite of minor administrative amendments that improve the clarity of the Act in relation to reviewable decisions, clarify an immunity from self-incrimination clause, clarify the definition of a registered training organisation, update the definition of Ministerial Council and amend the Act to replace 'Australian Qualifications Framework' with 'VET Quality Framework'.

Conclusion

The amendments contained in the bill continue the Government's work in partnership with students, employers, training providers and the states and territories to reform Australia's national vocational education and training system.

This bill complements quality reforms already undertaken including:

Introducing tough new National Standards for Registered Training Organisations, which require training providers and their brokers to be upfront with students and provide clear information about any VET-FEE HELP loans, state entitlements and subsidy arrangements that they sign up to, and which make training providers ultimately responsible for services delivered by third parties on their behalf.

Providing $68 million over four years to bolster the capacity of ASQA to enforce new national Standards.

Launching a new National Training Complaints Hotline, a joint initiative with the states and territories, to make it easier for students, employers and others with an interest in VET to report, and have actioned, their concerns about quality.

These changes will be further complemented by anticipated reforms to also tackle a number of issues specific to VET FEE-HELP.

These amendments send a strong and unambiguous message to anyone who seeks to undermine VET quality or take advantage of vulnerable students or the taxpayer, that their actions will not be tolerated.

Debate adjourned.