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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3370


Senator TAMBLING (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Development)(11.10 a.m.) —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—

The various provisions of the bill should be seen in the context of the Government's commitment to quality, diversity and innovative change in the higher education sector.

A number of amendments provide supplementation for price movements. This supplementation covers items such as superannuation expenses, teaching hospitals, special capital projects, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support funds, 1996 expenditure for grants to open learning organisations and operating grants in respect of the years 1996, 1997 and 1998.

The Government is committed to providing flexible funding for research projects in higher education institutions. To achieve this objective, amendments are to be made to subsection 23(1) of the act to broaden the range of research proposals that the Minister may approve including research training.

Amendments to section 20A of the act will create a facility for providing advances of operating grants for a wide range of purposes. This will increase the overall flexibility of funding arrangements for higher education institutions. Subject to parliamentary scrutiny, the Minister will be able to issue guidelines that will establish the overall amount to be paid as advances as well as the type of activities that will be funded.

The bill provides for the streamlining of administrative procedures of the Open Learning Deferred Payment Scheme. The concept of "semester" is replaced with "study periods" to reflect the structure of the open learning scheme.

The bill also makes amendments to subsection 106AA and subsection 106AB. Currently an open learning agency will process an application for the deferred payment scheme without the inclusion of the client's tax file number. The amendments will mean that clients will be ineligible for the deferred payment scheme if they do not provide a tax file number.

An amendment to section 106E broadens the current obligation of the agency to provide information to the minister to include statistical and other information relating to clients undertaking units of study. The amendment will result in the agency being subject to the same obligation as higher education institutions. These amendments will enhance the Commonwealth's ability to monitor the scheme's effectiveness and ensure proper accountability.

The bill will provide funding to trial the development of an Indigenous University Network. The framework will include improved student support services, up to four Indigenous teaching and research centres, an Indigenous electronic network, and the development of open learning style educational packages for Indigenous people in correctional institutions and other places with restricted access to higher education.

Other amendments to the act will:

.   Remove the requirement for taxpayers to include the amount of HECS debt when lodging their income tax return. The Australian Taxation Office already has access to this information;

.   Update the definition of "qualified accountant" in section 3; and

.   Update table A and B of section 4 of the act to accurately reflect current higher education institutions recognised for the purposes of the act.

This bill reflects the Government's commitment to a relevant, high quality education system which is striving for excellence and innovation in teaching and research.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Carr) adjourned.