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Thursday, 19 September 1996
Page: 3620

Senator TIERNEY(12.16 p.m.) —I present the report of the Employment, Education and Training Legislation Committee on the Employment, Education and Training Amendment Bill 1995, together with the submissions received by the committee and transcript of evidence.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator TIERNEY —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to have the tabling statement incorporated in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The tabling statement read as follows

I table the report of the Senate Employment, Education and Training Legislation Committee on the Employment, Education and Training Amendment Bill 1996.

The Committee recommends that the Bill be passed without amendment.

The Bill represents the first step in the process of changes to the education advisory mechanisms set out in the government's policy statement on higher education Quality, diversity and choice. The Higher Education Council and the Australian Research Council will continue as independent Councils, with similar functions, and with their membership unchanged, reporting directly to the Minister. The Councils will also take responsibility for promoting informed public debate and for granting financial assistance for innovative projects. There is also provision for the Councils to cooperate to provide advice to the Minister.

The National Board, which was established by former Minister Dawkins in late 1988, took some years to settle into its role, and appears to have had difficulties ever since gaining the full commitment of the various players in the education and training sector. While it has contributed to a cross-sectoral view of policy matters, it has also been yet another layer of bureaucracy filtering advice from the expert Councils. The government's intention to replace NBEET with more streamlined advisory mechanisms has been on notice for quite some time.

The overall thrust of the evidence received by the Committee argued for the importance of portfolio advisory mechanisms being independent and publicly accountable. The requirement for independence ensured that government departments and agencies did not monopolise the advice available to the Minister. Accountability turned on the need for the activities of advisory groups to be open to public scrutiny, and in particular that their reports should be tabled in Parliament. The Committee has so recommended.

The Committee is of the view that diverse and independent sources of advice to the Minister and to the Parliament are to be encouraged, and that any future advisory framework should be expedited. The Minister has indicated that the government has already embarked on the relevant consultations with a view to ensuring that appropriate alternative advisory arrangements are quickly established..

The government will take advice from a range of bodies such as the Ministerial Council (MCEETYA), and will commission specific reports from appropriately tailored expert committees and from existing research organisations. The government believes that such an approach will provide flexibility, an efficient advisory process, and will avoid the necessity for retaining a fixed overarching structure through which advice must be filtered.

Public accountability will be achieved through the requirement that reports commissioned by the Minister will be tabled in Parliament. Accountability will also reside in the State and Territory Parliaments, especially for the schools sector. The Committee acknowledges that there will be an interim period of adjustment to the proposed new arrangements, but this is no more than the standard impact of structural adjustment. Schools, universities and training colleges will not be impeded in their day to day work during this interim period.

Legislation for the Higher Education Council and Australian Research Council will be introduced in the 1996 Spring session of Parliament, once the government has had an opportunity to examine the responses to its Discussion Paper.

I commend the report to the Senate.