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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 1302

Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (18:16): Thank you, Senator Xenophon. As always, it is a pleasure dealing with you. Indeed, perhaps on a more serious note, I do honour the sentiments and the motivations that have encouraged you to bring these amendments, but, alas, as indeed you appear to understand, the government does not accept this amendment.

Senator Xenophon: I don't understand your reasoning, though.

Senator FEENEY: I will do my best to carry you through the government's reasoning. The government has implemented the Baird recommendation on this issue to allow regulators to impose any condition on a provider based on risk, including stopping them from collecting accommodation fees from the student. In addition, this issue has not been raised in submissions to the two inquiries that were conducted into this bill. Thirdly, the travel cost issues, we would submit, are easily managed through normal commercial travel insurance and do not require Australian government provisions. Fourthly, this proposed amendment would have financial implications for the TPS and for providers through the TPS levy. Fifthly, the reforms that the government is pursuing have at their heart the objective to deliver sustainable tuition protection. Your proposal, we would submit, seeks to expand the liability and it is worth noting, I think, that in the last two years the taxpayers of Australia have had to support the ESOS fund by injecting some $30 million into it. Lastly, the government believes this amendment is not straightforward and does not place any obligation on providers to refund a student's accommodation and travel expenses but instead expects the TPS to pick up that cost.

I might add further that the government have done, we would submit, a great deal in order to protect overseas students from unscrupulous providers. This is the third piece of legislation in two years to strengthen regulations under the ESOS. The governĀ­ment undertook systemic reregistration of all providers in 2010—I am sure you will remember that—which led to the removal of some 180 providers from the sector, and the government established two new national regulators for higher education and VET. They are taking over full responsibility for regulation under ESOS from 1 July 2012.

In summary, Senator Xenophon, while the government has resolved to not support your amendment, it certainly maintains that the concerns you have are not only fair, legitimate and, as I say, genuinely held but something that the government believes it has ably dealt with.