3rd Reading National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2015

 

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

 

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (09:37): by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2), as circulated in my name, together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 6, page 6 (lines 4 and 5), omit the item, substitute:

6 Subsection 17(5)

   Omit "more than 5 years", substitute:

      more than:

   (a) 5 years; or

   (b) if the application is to renew the registration of an NVR registered training organisation that the Regulator has rated as low risk (using the Risk Assessment Framework)—7 years.

(2) Schedule 2, item 2, page 16 (line 11), omit "registration, including renewal of registration", substitute "renewal of registration".

The opportunity to discuss these matters in the previous debate on the second reading of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2015 gave me the opportunity to outline the reason that Labor has put this amendment forward in the consideration in detail section—and I just want to reiterate it in the few minutes in this part of the debate. I indicated that Labor recognises that the vast bulk of this bill is intended to provide really sensible amendments to the powers of the regulator and the government in order to increase or improve definitional terms—for example, as many members indicated, the fact that the original bill's RTO strict definition was hampering and tying the hands of the regulator with respect to some of those purported RTO activities that were going on in the market—and to provide some significant quality assurance improvements, particularly the ability for the minister to act more speedily to address some of the things that had emerged in the market. We absolutely endorse many of those.

The message from those amendments is particularly important and useful for the general public at the moment—and that is why I commend the government for them. It is clear to see day by day from media reports the very unscrupulous behaviour that is going on in the VET market. Only this morning, I opened my own paper the Illawarra Mercury to see another story about more students, with very significant debts, who felt that they had got a very poor outcome and were potentially misled or given misinformation about their enrolments. This is out there in our communities. I listened to as many of the second reading speakers as I could, not only on our side of the House but on the other side of the House, telling very moving and concerning stories about their constituents who had been to them with great concerns about their children or vulnerable people they were caring for who had been caught up in this scandalous scam behaviour in the community.

The bill, in its vast bulk, is exactly on message. It is saying exactly what should be said. We should be strengthening the arm of the regulator; we should be strengthening the arm of the minister to respond—and that is why we endorse it. This is why I am a bit bemused and why I really want to take this opportunity to at least put my amendments on the record to give those on the opposite side—and I do not know that I have convinced them—the chance to also support them on the record in the public debate.

The particular section that I want to amend now puts in place a change to the registration period. Previously, when registering under ASQA, an RTO was given a registration for five years. The proposal is to move that out to seven. In normal circumstances, in a well-regulated market operating as it should, and not as we are seeing at the moment, these things might be quite logical. The regulator outlined at Senate estimates how they want to shift from a focus of doing known audit processes, where people are able to plan well in advance of the audit—therefore limiting its effectiveness—to a much more intelligence-based, risk-based intervention system. I think that is a good thing to do. Their argument is that the move from five to seven years actually will free their resources up so that they will be doing fewer renewals of registration and can focus on these high-risk ones—and I do understand that as well. The other argument, which I also understand, is that TEQSA, which regulates the university sector, has seven-year time frames. There are quite a few people operating across sectors, so for them it is a logical thing to have a seven-year period.

My problem is that I think now is exactly the wrong time to have included this clause in the bill. I am proposing in my amendment that it becomes an earned capacity—that is, once an RTO has been registered and has earned the reputation of being a low-risk, reliable provider, then, on renewal, they can then get a seven-year period. I think it is a sensible strengthening of the message that the government is attempting to put in place through this bill. For that reason, I commend the bill and I hope those opposite find the ability to support my amendments.