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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9603

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (12:17): I thank Senator Xenophon for his remarks, but I do think I need to deal with some of the comments the minister has made to try to rebut these propositions. I do not intend to spend a lot of time on this. First of all on the question of timing: this is an amendment that the Labor Party have canvassed for some time. There have been two Senate reports and two Senate inquiries that led to those reports. We established the first inquiry back in October 2014 and it reported earlier this year. The evidence before that inquiry dealt specifically with this issue and this matter was a subject of that report. I remind the senator of the advice from Bruce Chapman, Peter Noonan and others who participated in the public debate about this question. This is not something that has been dropped at the last minute. We canvassed this specifically in the second report, which was tabled on Monday, and I have publicly made numerous interventions in support of this proposition. So for the minister to say, 'we only just heard about this' defies logic, as he says.

If we deal with the issue of price capping as a principle, I think this is significant because the government does not actually like the idea of controlling the costs, which is an essential element. There is a very important philosophical difference. We say these amendments are additional measures, insurance measures, for allowing the Commonwealth to contain the costs of vocational education under this scheme. We know that unless you control the costs—and that is what all the education experts point to—you will not be able to contain the rorting that has been going on. So the government's approach has been inadequate because of a philosophical question about the role of the private sector, and this is why it has dragged the chain so much in all of this. The idea that a panacea will be arrived at by student choice has been demonstrated to be completely wrong. Students have very little choice in this because the fundamental premise of the scheme is that 90 per cent of them will not actually ever have to pay back the loans. It is predicated on the assumption of incredibly small success rates.

The minister suggests that the vocational system is somehow different from universities. Let me tell you, Minister, I am sure you would be aware of this. Your officials will tell you this. There are probably over 10,000 university courses operating at the moment, and they seem to be able to manage with the three broad brands of student contribution being set in regulation. There are in fact 10,000 or so university courses and there are only 6,300 vocational courses. There is actually more activity in the universities, more diversity than in the vocational system. There are 750,000 domestic university students. You say, 'It doesn't regulate in regard to non-university providers.' The truth is that they do not get the level of subsidy so they do not get the Commonwealth supported places subsidies that the universities get. That is all the more reason that you have got to regulate costs of provision. That to me is a really big question, because you are forgetting that in the vocational system there is an additional subsidy that is provided and that is by the states

They are crying out for this. My conversations suggest to me that states are demanding controls on the prices.

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator KIM CARR: They are providing a subsidy. A huge number of VET FEE-HELP providers also get a state subsidy; they are not relying entirely on Commonwealth monies. Why is it that in Victoria probably up to 10,000 qualifications have had to be withdrawn on—

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator KIM CARR: Because they get state subsidies as well. When it comes to the question of confidence, Minister, you said the same in March when you announced these changes. Much was said about confidence, and we know that the rorting and malpractice continued.

Labor's amendment is fair, reasonable and necessary. It is necessary to protect the Commonwealth; it is necessary to protect students; and it is necessary to restore confidence. This is where real confidence is required—not by the government but by the public in our VET system. The public needs to be confident that we have reputable, quality provision of training that leads to real qualifications of high standing and real jobs. That is what is lacking at the moment.