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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9586


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (11:18): Let me deal with one factual error that is in Senator Carr's argument. He seems to be ignoring the fact that this amendment of Senator Lazarus's is specific to the government's proposal to cap the total loan volume of what a training provider can access. It does not matter what the training provider might be charging for their course under that proposal; the proposal the government is applying is a cap on the total value of the loans that that provider will be able to write. So Senator Lazarus's proposal is for this very narrow, clearly tested exemption to be able to apply.

I think it is scaremongering, Senator Carr, to talk about what a future secretary may or may not do with this provision and to suggest that it might somehow be blown wide open. I think it is also inaccurate to suggest that a cap on fees would negate the need for this amendment. If the government's amendment to cap the total loan value still went through—so think about it here, Senator Carr and others—and, say, your amendment to cap fees went through, but if the aviation college Senator Lazarus is worried about is charging reasonable fees today, and if that were the cap that was set, then you would still have the problem that Senator Lazarus's amendment is trying to fix and address. It is disingenuous to try to conflate the two issues. They are separate issues in relation to how the cap on fees may work and the issue that Senator Lazarus is seeking to fix today.

I understand you want to have a fulsome debate around a cap on fees and, obviously, we will have that shortly. But I think that, in relation to Senator Lazarus's amendment, he is addressing a particular problem that could arise with the government's amendments to cap the total value of loans. The proposal he has put forward is a rational way of dealing with that. The threat of mass exemptions applying is, I think, quite hypothetical and quite unlikely. But, Senator Carr, were it to occur, I have no doubt that the government of the day, the minister and the secretary providing those mass exemptions would be held to account for their reasoning for doing so. With these arrangements where exemptions are applied, they are usually pretty closely scrutinised by all to assess the reason and rationale for those exemptions. The government of the day would rightly be scrutinised as to on what grounds they had determined the national importance of the qualification, and on what grounds they had determined it was right and proper to be able to lift the volume of loans that that provider could offer.