Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

SHARON BIRD:  I rise to indicate my support for the Education Services for Overseas Students Amendment Bill 2013. The bill seeks to make amendments to empower the Tuition Protection Service to better protect students, and therefore Australia's reputation as a country offering the highest quality vocational and tertiary education. Firstly, this amendment bill seeks to ensure the Tuition Protection Service has the power to force the refund of prepaid fees where a provider fails or a course is cancelled. Secondly, this bill is designed to ensure that the Tuition Protection Service has the power to force a refund of prepaid fees where a visa for a prospective student is refused. The Tuition Protection Service is a great reform of the previous Labor government. It emerged, as many would be aware, from the crisis in our international education sector due to the lax immigration rules of the Howard government in relation to student visas. These lax rules had led to unsustainable volumes of international students, and the failure saw the entrance into the market of some providers running what could only be described as immigration scams. This led to serious questions being posed about the quality of an Australian education and the soundness of education providers. This was clearly very damaging to the entire Australian education sector. I quote one comment of the time to give a taste of what was being said. In the Monthly in November 2010, journalist Margaret Simons described the situation as such, saying: Most of our big export industries do their business out of sight of city dwellers. Mines are dug and ore extracted without stirring the dust on suburban streets. There is one such industry, though, whose major commodity is visible in our capitals. That commodity is human beings. They are the confused young people trying to serve us in low-rent fast food outlets. They are the lonely kids on city streets or sharing rooms—and even beds—in crowded houses in the suburbs. They are an underclass in the labour market, with working conditions that undermine those for all lower paid workers. Dodgy colleges had sprung up like mushrooms for the single purpose of providing students a piece of paper that was the pathway to residence. Instead of delivering the skilled workers our country and other countries needed to compete, those Howard government policies had resulted in Australia gaining migrants whose qualifications would not stand the test. It was a crisis for our immigration program and our education system. It was imperative that the Labor government act to clean this up, and we did. We cracked down on dodgy colleges, we cleaned out the migration agents and we tightened the rules. Not acting on this situation challenging the sector's potential for sustainable growth was simply not a viable option. Education courses had become linked to migration outcomes. Following the Baird review, we acted to improve regulation of the sector. This involved higher entry standards for colleges, and more information for and more care of the students. Also, this is where the Tuition Protection Service came into existence. The service's establishment was one of a suite of measures to restore integrity and quality to our international education market. Its purpose was to act as a single point of placement for students who were affected by provider default, with adversely affected students either being placed in an alternative course or paid a refund from the Overseas Student Tuition Fund. This money comes from an annual Tuition Protection Service levy. This levy is placed on all registered providers of international education including vocational training providers and private and public higher education institutions. In 2013-14, this levy collected $6 million for the Overseas Student Tuition Fund. In 2012-13, nine providers closed, according to the annual report of the TPS. These closures affected 907 students. In these circumstances, 498 students sought assistance from the Tuition Protection Service. Of these, 64 were placed in alternative courses and 218 students received refunds. From this history, we can see there is clearly a great need for the Tuition Protection Service. Its annual report reveals that the TPS fears that up to 22 providers with around 4,400 student could close in the coming financial year as a result of things such as business failures or regulatory action. There is clearly a great need for the continued operation of the Tuition Protection Service. It works quietly and effectively to help to protect Australia's billion-dollar international education sector. The effect of the amendments in the bill before us is to clarify its powers in relation to prepaid fees. Clearly these are not minor matters for those who are affected. International education is our fourth largest export industry, after iron ore, coal and gold. It sustains more than 100,000 jobs and generates some $15 billion in annul revenue. Prospects for sustained growth are good. The OECD estimates that by 2020 there could be three million more students worldwide seeking an offshore education. Asia will continue to be a source of growth in student numbers for years to come. However, we face profound challenges to retain Australia's market share in international education. Competitors are vigorous, especially those in North America and Europe, where they are making up for a shortfall in revenue following the global financial crisis through a renewed emphasis on international education and especially students from Asia. Continue reading

Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2013

Ms BIRD: (Cunningham) (12:16): The opposition will be supporting the bill before the House. The purpose of the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2013 is to amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001 for two purposes. Firstly, to apply indexation to the appropriation figures that are already set out in the act and, secondly, to add a figure for the last year of the forward budget estimates for the financial year commencing 1 July 2016. It is a fairly standard procedure for updating those figures in the act. Of course, the Australian Research Council itself is a statutory authority and its purpose is to advise the government on research matters. It manages the National Competitive Grants Program and has responsibility for the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative. The act sets out the maximum amount of funding that can be provided to approved research programs in each financial year. Currently, the latest year referred to in the act is the 2015-16 financial year. The bill will increase the funding cap for the financial years commencing 1 July 2013, 2014 and 2015 by the application of an indexation formula. Then it will also insert the funding cap for the financial year commencing 1 July 2016, as the additional year. The funding caps are indexed annually to maintain the value of the base funding for those approved research programs. I want to take the opportunity to make a few brief comments in addressing the bill about the context of the Australian Research Council. I would point out to the House that, under the former Labor government, the Australian Research Council was restored to its position as an independent authority, awarding peer reviewed grants. Under the Howard government, which preceded the Labor government, projects were rejected by the minister for research. Under Labor's period in government, no projects were rejected by the minister for research. The Australian Research Council was an independent authority and we respected the peer review of the grant application process. Australia's researchers are entitled to the very best research infrastructure the country can afford. The country, in exchange, is entitled to answers to the big challenges of our time. We need researchers to be working in partnership with our industries and our communities on that task. In order to support what is very important work, Labor in government put in place a number of measures to assist this work. We, firstly, boosted investment in science, research and innovation to record levels, including $3 billion over four years for CSIRO and $3.6 billion since 2008 for research funded through the Australian Research Council. We put research in universities on a sustainable footing, with more than $8.7 billion paid in university research block grants since 2008. We invested $1.5 billion in research infrastructure through the Education Investment Fund, attracting a total investment of $3.5 billion. We supported over 800 of our best and brightest midcareer researchers with Future Fellowships worth over $844 million. Also, to much great excitement and I am sure this will play out in future years with a great deal of interest across the community, we secured the Square Kilometre Array for Australia, a multibillion-dollar global investment. We also opened up research and development tax incentives to more firms, and boosted the available benefits. Importantly, and I go back to the comments that I made at the beginning, we guaranteed research freedom through compacts with universities and independent research agencies. Labor will continue to champion the nation's scientists and will make the most of their potential. We are concerned to bring research and business together in new innovation precincts, of the scale to attract the attention of investors all over the world. We are keen to see the work of our best and brightest in Australia build on the momentum of the Square Kilometre Array. Continue reading

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013

Ms BIRD: (Cunningham) (13:26): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Consumer Protection) Bill 2013 today and to indicate that I will be supporting the bill. I will briefly reflect on the comments of the previous member about the broad purpose of the bill before us, which is to put in place three amendments related to consumer protections in the telecommunications sector. The first amendments are, obviously, to improve the efficiency of the Do Not Call Register Act. Can I put on record at this point my congratulations to former Speaker Anna Burke, who originally started the process to establish a Do Not Call Register, doing a lot of work as a backbench member of the opposition at the time. The purpose of the Do Not Call Register Act was to regulate unsolicited and unwanted telemarketing calls. It is well recorded—and indeed the previous member made this point—that vulnerable people were particularly harassed by those sorts of unsolicited calls. The register provides that a person must not make, or cause to be made, a telemarketing call to an Australian number if that number is registered on the Do Not Call Register, and the call is not a designated telemarketing call. The explanatory memorandum to the bill indicates that a problem had arisen, and this amendment seeks to redress that. To use the direct words, it says: In some instances, the ACMA has encountered difficulty in establishing evidentiary links between the first person and the other party providing the telemarketing and/or fax marketing services. This has commonly arisen because agreements between the parties relate to the sale and/or marketing of the first person’s goods or services without any specific reference to the means by which the goods or services are to be sold and/or marketed. Amendments are proposed to address that problem. Amendments are also proposed to streamline the process for developing and amending industry codes under part 6 of the act. This is to be achieved by: firstly, enabling industry codes to be varied rather than requiring that they be wholly removed; secondly, extending the application of the reimbursement scheme for developing consumer related codes so that it also applies to varying such consumer related industry codes; and, thirdly, requiring code developers to conduct transparent and accountable code development processes, specifically by publishing on their websites draft codes and variations, and any submissions received about them. The amendments also go to the improvement of the operation of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme, by providing greater clarity about the ombudsman's role and expected standards of operation, by requiring the TIO scheme to comply with standards determined by the minister, and by requiring periodic public reviews of the scheme conducted by a person or body independent of the TIO and the telecommunications industry. The protection of consumer rights is very important, particularly in a very fast-developing sector such as telecommunications. I know the shadow parliamentary secretary at the table with me, the member for Chifley, has put a lot of his own time and energy into looking at this issue. It is an issue that is very pertinent to people in all our electorates, so I want to take this opportunity to talk about an area of telecommunications service on which I—and, I am sure, many members of this House—have received significant complaints over time, but particularly since the election: the provision of broadband services. With the member for Throsby, I was particularly concerned to see, not so long ago, that there had been a significant change to the information provided on the NBN Co. site about the progress of the rollout of the national broadband network. People in many suburbs in my area had been able to look on the map on the NBN Co. site and see where they sat in terms of the framework rollout—whether they were in the area for programs to be commenced within one year, in an area which would commence within three years, or in an area which would be commenced post that time: more than three years but within the overall build time. I was lobbied by lots of people who were not in the one-year or the three-year programs, saying that they wanted to be fast tracked. People were very supportive of the construction rollout and just wanted to see it happen even more quickly in their areas. In some sort of Machiavellian interpretation of the word 'transparency', everything has now disappeared. As I said before, it is as if the government believes that invisibility is the ultimate form of transparency. It is actually completely the opposite. Not providing any information is not being more accountable to the population, and I have had quite a lot of complaints. Whole suburbs across my area—Woonona, Russell Vale, Corrimal, Bellambi, Tarrawanna, Fairy Meadow, Fernhill, Towradgi, Balgownie, Kembla Grange, Wongawilli, Horsley, Marshall Mount, Penrose, Dapto, Wollongong, West Wollongong, Mangerton, Mount Keira, Keiraville, Gwynneville, Mount Saint Thomas, and Coniston—were previously on maps, so that residents could see where the construction was programmed to start, and hold me accountable as the local member for that commencement going ahead. Now they look at the map and they see nothing. They have no idea what the current proposal is. As a result of this, as members may be aware, there has been a national petition underway, online. It has been run by the NBN defence group. Many residents came to see me about this in late November. I think it was on 26 November. They brought to me a copy of the petition which, at that point, had 270,640 signatures from across the nation. A freelance graphic designer—one of my local constituents, Marina Varda—came along with a number of other constituents to present the petition to me and to ask me to raise the matter in the parliament. I am absolutely happy to do so on their behalf today. The petition was set up by a 20-year-old student Nick Paine through change.org, and it is to Minister for Communications, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, asking him to consider the coalition's policy. I acknowledge the former member for Gilmore, who is in the gallery—in the heavens above us. It is lovely to see Joanna Gash, again. Continue reading

Rural Clinical Schools

Ms BIRD (Cunningham— Shadow Minister for Vocational Education) (13:28): Thank you for the opportunity to briefly add to this debate. I am very pleased to be able to support the intention of the motion that was moved by the member for Murray. To take up the point made by my colleague the member for Parramatta, I will talk about the ongoing commitment that the previous Labor government gave to the work of establishing the training opportunities for young people in rural and regional Australia so that we could aim to keep workforces in those areas. As one example, when I was the Minister for Higher Education and Skills in May this year I was very pleased to announce $59 million for the La Trobe Rural Health School. That was designed specifically to ensure that rural Victorians would benefit from up to 1,700 extra health professionals that would be produced by that rural health school over the four years. We were also announcing new facilities that were being built at that particular facility. The school was a boost for the local community, obviously, and for regional Victoria more broadly. It will bring new students into the area and provide training and education opportunities for young people who already live in the area. It is specifically aimed at addressing regional Victoria's need for more allied health professionals. It was a great joy to be at that particular announcement and it was very welcome. In fact, we were told that, in the range of fields that the students would be studying, they are significantly more likely to stay in a regional area having studied in a regional facility. The same was true at La Trobe. The university's Vice Chancellor Professor John Dewar said that 71 per cent of graduates from the campus choose to continue to work in regional Victoria, so it is an issue that the previous Labor government continued to give a great focus to. One of the important parts of that particular initiative was also the provision of funding for student accommodation, and I was very pleased to be able also to attend the new housing that we had funded in areas like Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga in order to provide accommodation for students when they were doing their placements. Under the Education Investment Fund we put significant money into those sorts of facilities. I also want to take the opportunity to recognise my own university in my hometown of Wollongong, which has a medical school as well. They have very strong links with GP services across regional and rural New South Wales, again with a view to having students from those areas recruited into the courses and to sustain their links with their regional hometowns to be able to do placements in those areas and to be supported by the university in doing that. Again, it is exactly targeted at providing a workforce. It is such an important issue for our rural and regional areas. I particularly want to acknowledge that the Pro Vice Chancellor of Health from the University of Wollongong is a fantastic man called Professor Don Iverson. Sadly we have just been informed that he will be resigning from his position at the university. He was appointed the Dean of the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences at the university in July 2001. In December 2006 he was made executive dean of the faculty, and in June 2009 he was made Pro Vice Chancellor (Health). He also functions as the executive director for a very important medical research facility at the university, the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, and the money for that was announced by the previous Labor state government. He had an extensive and illustrious career in the US and Canada before he came to Wollongong. The partnership that he leads in medical research between the university and the South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service has been very strongly focused on creating partnerships with community; with professionals working in our community, particular in the area of cancer research, as well as with many of the local community organisations who fundraise and work to support people in our local area. Don Iverson is loved across the community. It is not often that you come into a huge place like the University of Wollongong and have a whole community know who you are, and that is absolutely the case with Don. He has been a huge asset to our university and to our region. I want to pay a great tribute to the work that he has done, to wish him all the best in his future endeavours and to assure him that he will always be welcome to address health issues in Wollongong at any time—to come and knock on my door, it will always be open to him. I pay tribute to his community service. Debate adjourned.

Higher Education Support Amendment (Savings & Other Measures) Bill 2013

  Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:57): The bill before the House is in fact a second-rate deal for students. Labor will not support the coalition's cynical move to go ahead with the $2.3 billion in savings from higher education when they have abandoned the plan that they were designed specifically to fund. The original purpose of this funding was to contribute to the $11.5 billion in funding that would make a once-in-a-lifetime change to schools and students through the Better Schools Plan. It was a difficult decision but it was clearly in the context of the funding of the Better Schools package. Indeed, I would refer the House to the official statement put out by the then Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research on 13 April 2013. The very first paragraph of the statement says: Today the Government announced savings in the higher education portfolio that will contribute to the funding of school education reforms designed to ensure that all Australian school children get a flying start in life. These are cuts that the coalition disparaged while in opposition but have embraced in government. Their hypocrisy on this is truly breathtaking. Indeed, in introducing this bill, the Minister for Education repeatedly stated it was a bad bill for universities. I can take members to the exact words of the minister's speech. He said: These are Labor's cuts. These cuts of April came on top of repeated attacks by Labor on support for universities, for students, and for research. These cuts show just how damaging to the university sector the previous government was. They show clearly that Labor is no friend to universities. They show that Labor is no friend of students or higher education. On the basis of that, the minister then proposed to implement those very same cuts. He repeatedly said that they were bad for universities, and in the only explanation he provided for introducing the bill he blamed the previous, Labor government—indeed, he made the extraordinary claim that he had no choice but to introduce it. He is the minister, they are the government; this is their call and their bill, and these are their cuts. The proposal that Labor put forward at the time was to put together a funding package for our Better Schools commitment. This was a six-year, $11.5 billion plan, and it was the result of the most comprehensive review of school education ever conducted. The Prime Minister at the time, previously the Minister for Education, had identified a serious issue in this nation—inequity in access to education. We had a long tale of disadvantage that we were not addressing in our school system and, as a result, we had Mr Gonski and his panel undertake extensive consultation and a review to produce the report that is now known as the Gonski proposal. It was designed to see, for the first time, a student-centred model of funding, additional funding for students with additional needs—what we described as needs based funding—and better teacher training, a national curriculum, and individual school improvement plans in a locally led, national model. Perhaps most importantly, there was a guarantee that states would increase their funding for schools so that all schools would be better off. To me as a former teacher and to many of us in this place, it was a truly historic point, where we had moved beyond the old divides between systems and between students, and said that we wanted a system of funding that ensured that all our young people had access to highpquality education, regardless of their circumstances in life—where they lived, whether they were in a small country school, where they were born, whether their family was from a low SES background, whether they had a disadvantage, such as a disability or a particular learning difficulty. It did not matter what their circumstances were, we as a nation, federal and state governments together, were committed to addressing that disadvantage by all putting additional funding into the system and implementing a range of reforms. That was the heart of the Gonski proposal. The government, on the other hand, have been entirely cynical on this issue—entirely cynical. They have walked away from the Better Schools Plan and what they have actually done is gut it. Yesterday's political stunt changed nothing. Who would seriously trust this government to maintain and deliver any commitment they make on schools? The absolute debacle we have witnessed this week shows that, above all else, the Abbott government cannot be trusted on these matters. They cannot, they would not, guarantee that no school would be worse off. The Minister for Education has refused to repeat his pre-election pledge that no school would be worse off because of the changes. The minister and the Prime Minister spoke directly to schools and their families before the election. Their clear intention was to assure those families and those schools that nothing, not a single aspect, would be any different for their school if an Abbott government were elected. They had gone from saying that they did not support the Gonski proposal to saying that they were absolutely in lockstep with the then Labor government on the Gonski proposal. They did that with purpose and they did it with words such as 'unity ticket' which were designed to present a clear political message that we now know could not be trusted—and they still cannot be trusted. The Prime Minister tried to get around the issue with weasel words. He said: As you would know the states in the end apply the model, but what the Commonwealth is doing means that no school, state or territory, can be worse off because of the Commonwealth's actions. That was on 2 December 2013. However, Senator Abetz—helpfully, no doubt, to those opposite!—revealed the truth yesterday, the same day, in the Senate, when he said: … you might actually find that some schools are worse off, courtesy of various state government decisions. The Abbott government have no guarantee that the states will not continue to do as they have in the past and cut funding from schools. In fact, they are subsidising state budgets with this money that they are proposing, with no guarantee of benefits to students in return. Unlike under Labor's plan, the coalition's hasty, last-minute, rushed deal puts no obligations on the Queensland, Western Australian or Northern Territory governments to maintain, let alone increase, school funding. The Abbott government has in fact rewarded the WA, Queensland and Northern Territory governments for not putting additional money into their schools. What's to say they won't just take the money and then cut funding to schools as they have done before? It is very clear that the reason that Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory governments did not sign up to Gonski originally was that they are planning more cuts to education in their own jurisdictions. In July last year, the Queensland government cut $23 million from its education budget. Queensland's commission of audit or, more accurately, 'commission of cuts', proposed closing 55 schools. The Queensland education minister announced that six schools would close on 17 September 2013. In this year's budget, the Western Australia government cut 500 teaching jobs and capped teacher numbers for 2014 at present levels. They cut the student support program resource allocation, which tackles behavioural issues, and literacy and numeracy, by 30 per cent. Extra time allowances were cut. An additional levy on schools was introduced and a 1.5 per cent efficiency dividend was imposed. At the end of October, it was revealed that the Northern Territory government is cutting 71 jobs in schools. They have not committed to the six-year plan; they have adopted, and this government has signed off on, a no-strings-attached model. They talk about it as if it is some great benefit. In fact, it just provides no details as to where money would go. Continue reading

Climate Change Debate

Ms BIRD: I just want to take this opportunity in the debate today to indicate that I am supporting the position put by both the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister supporting the amendments that the shadow minister has proposed to the House. This side of the House, the opposition, went to the election with a very clear position. Our position was to abolish the carbon tax and to introduce an emissions trading scheme. I have been very strongly supportive of that position, and our proposition before the House absolutely carries through on the commitments that we took to the election in that way. The government claims that these bills are about, and much of their contribution to the debate has been about, the component that abolishes the carbon tax. However, the bills before us do much more than that—hence our problem with them. Firstly, the bills remove the legislated cap on carbon pollution. So, in effect, they take away any of the discipline that it is required to deliver what is supposedly a bipartisan target—and one which the previous speaker for the government again confirmed to this House that they support. Secondly, the bills abolish the entire framework for an emissions trading scheme and so are completely contradictory to the position we took to the election. Thirdly, they abolish the Climate Change Authority. Heaven forbid you should have an independent expert in existence providing advice to this government, because if there is one thing they are consistent on it is that they do not like anybody who is an expert in their field. Finally, as many government speakers, including the previous speaker, have confirmed, they break promises that those opposite made to their communities in the election campaign by abolishing tax cuts for households in future years. Our responsibility is to come to this place and stay true to the commitments we made to our communities in the election campaign; that is how a democracy works. A mandate means you have mustered the numbers on the floor of this chamber, and the government may well muster the numbers on the floor of this chamber for the bills that they have put before us. Our mandate is to stay true to the position we took to our electors and which they returned us on. And I am absolutely of the opinion that the amendment put forward by the shadow minister meets our mandate from, and our commitment to, the people who were elected us and so returned us to this place. Indeed, I contested the 2007 election with the ALP's policy of ratifying Kyoto and introducing a carbon pollution reduction scheme. I will not again go through the fact, which is well documented, that those on the other side, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister, John Howard, were very keen to see us have a carbon pollution reduction scheme, to be a world leader, as the then Prime Minister said, and were eloquent in outlining the great advantages to our economy and our environment for the future by acting on climate change. Of course, that was flipped on its head when there was a change of leader on the other side. But we have been consistent. I contested the 2010 election where we had a commitment to introducing an emissions trading scheme and which, post election, with the hung parliament, resulted in the introduction of the initial fixed price period. I contested the most recent, 2013, election with a commitment to scrap the fixed price period—that is, as we have described, to scrap the carbon tax—and move to an emissions trading scheme. I am happy to be a member of a party that has stayed consistent on our responsibility to the future and to the people who will follow us. As decision makers in this place, we stood up and took responsibility when it was required. We did not put it off for future generations to solve. This is our children's future. It is not only their future in terms of the environment in which they will live and the challenges they will face with that environment as we see increasingly problematic weather conditions. It is also about the future of their economy and their jobs, because early movers, whenever there is a major shift in the economic foundations of the world, are the ones who do best in that time period. The early movers in the industrial revolution were the most advanced nations of recent times. The early movers in a carbon-restrained future will be the most successful nations in the longer term. This is what we should be doing. This is our responsibility in this place. As was said at the beginning of this debate—and I remember many across both sides of the House making this point before the 2007 election—the cost of action is less than the cost of inaction. Business as usual is not an option. Despite the emus on the other side wanting to put their heads in the sand, business as usual is not an option. Those opposite have shifted with the winds of the leadership struggles within their own party on this most important challenge. Even former Prime Minister Howard now claims that his own avowed, well-argued, often-outlined position on the need to act and for Australia to be a world leader was, he tells us now, only a rather cynical political position. And it was much more easily abandoned because a more popular position emerged. That is not leadership. That is not responsibility. That is not taking up our task in this place on behalf of the generations that will follow us. The current Prime Minister went to the last election promising to scrap the tax, and we are available to support that. But he also retained a commitment to the targeted carbon pollution reduction, and he has claimed that, when all of those actions are reconciled under the direct action policy, they will have an impact on the reduction of carbon. That in itself is an inaccurate claim, and is the basis of much of our problem with the position put by the government. The impacts are real. The science is settled. The choice we face here is how and when to act. The new Prime Minister has a fundamental problem taking the advice of anyone with expertise in the field, not only the scientists but also the economists. Continue reading

Adjournment - Mrs June Sands and Mr Chris Lacey

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:50): I want to take the opportunity in the House today to pay tribute to two local constituents. Firstly, and very sadly, we recently lost a very dear and valued member of the Bulli-Woonona-Helensburgh branch of the Australian Labor Party, Eileen June Sands. She was known to many as Eileen but to us in the Labor Party branches she was known as June. I want to extend my sympathy in this place to her older sister, Betty, and her younger siblings—Norman, Wally, Stephen and Julia. She sadly lost her husband, Owen, in 1986. She very much loved her sons, Steve and Nick, and that love extended to their partners, Kate and Laura. Her grandkids—Emily, Rose, Henri and Lily—were the light of her life. Indeed, Emily spoke beautifully at her nan's funeral, relaying stories of sleepovers at Nan's, spinach pies and Keno at the pub. June was passionate about politics. She was passionate about the left of politics and she was a passionate unionist. Above all, she desired an Australia that was fair to all. She was a formidable opponent, as I know, in any political argument. She was very passionate and she could not see how anyone else could have a different and less compassionate opinion than her own. She will be very sadly missed by members of the Bulli-Woonona-Helensburgh Branch, particularly by branch secretary, Alison Byrnes, who loved the collection of newspaper articles that she believed had unfairly criticised Labor and which she brought along to branch meetings each month, demanding that something be done. She was very passionate about animals and she dearly loved her little dog, Mattie. Many residents of Helensburgh fondly recall Betty, her sister, and June walking their lovely little dogs through the streets of Helensburgh. One of my fondest memories of June was when she and Betty met with Peter Garrett at a Labor Party function in Wollongong. I will seek your indulgence with a prop here, Madam Speaker. It will make it clear to you why it brought so much laughter and joy to people at the funeral. June and Betty fit very snugly under Peter Garrett's arms and it was a lovely occasion to see them all together. Peter is obviously known for his height and June and Betty not. The photo was a very valued one for her . She was an active member of WAVES, the local Widows and Veterans Entitlement Service, and in retirement she also taught English and life skills to refugees. She marched against the Vietnam War, the privatisation of electricity and Work Choices legislation. It was mentioned in a eulogy that June may have been tiny but she was going to use every inch of her height to fight, as she said, to keep the bastards honest. Her son, Nick, says that she died during a ubiquitous news bulletin, so much a part of June's waking hours. It was showing a smiling Mr Abbott being sworn in. Nick has said that she was no doubt thinking, 'Well, if that guy's definitely in I'm definitely outta here!' We pay great respect to June, who will be sadly missed by all of us. Continue reading

Address in Reply

Ms BIRD: I appreciate the opportunity, as we do when we come back to this parliament, to deliver an Address in Reply speech. It is one of the great pleasures at the beginning of each term to be able to listen to your colleagues deliver their first speeches to this chamber. It was a more fulsome pleasure in past years than this year, I have to admit, having to observe that from the opposite side of the chamber. There is a really encouraging group of MPs across both sides of this chamber delivering their first speeches to the parliament. I look forward to engaging with all of them over the coming parliamentary term. I take the opportunity today to, first of all, extend my own thanks. It is an enormous privilege and responsibility to return to this place on behalf of the electorate that you represent and it is the case that I have had the great privilege of the support and faith of my own local area since I arrived at this place in 2004. I thank them for their ongoing commitment to the task of the nation and their belief that I am the right person to achieve that for them in this place. I only wish that more electorates had the foresight and wisdom of those in my electorate but that was not to be the case on this occasion. I want to outline some of the issues that have arisen in the electorate of Cunningham over the previous term and some of the issues that I hope to pursue during this term of the parliament, particularly in light of the contents of the address provided by the Governor-General to all of us. During the last term of the parliament, as many members would be well aware, my area had a fairly difficult and traumatic period of time with a major announcement by BlueScope Steel about a restructure that had the result of a significant number of local people losing their jobs. It was the case that the federal Labor government under the leadership of Prime Minister Julia Gillard took a very active role in helping our region address the challenge that we faced as a result of that restructure. It was not new. We are a region that has been going through a transformation since probably the mid-1980s. We have been through a number of mining crises that that industry sector tends to experience—the ups and downs that go along with that—and indeed some of my uncles in the mining industry reckon they have had more experience writing CVs than mining because that is the reality of that industry. Obviously, major manufacturers like the steel industry also are undergoing the challenges of the modern international economy. I am an optimist about the manufacturing sector. Having lived in a region that has gone through those sorts of transformations since the mid-1980s, I know that there is a great legacy in the Australian character that, in particular in the manufacturing sector—and others may have experienced it in other industry sectors that are predominant in their region—there is a characteristic that has innovation at its heart. The original tradesmen would put together a new piece of equipment just to solve a problem that they saw in the workplace and create a whole new level of innovation productivity as a result of that. That ethos where you see a problem, apply your mind to it, pull together whatever it is that you can find and create a solution is profoundly reflected in the trade history in Australia. It is certainly the reason I am so passionate about skills development in this nation. It has been a comparative advantage for our nation for a long time. It has driven the fact that we punch above our weight. It has been transformed over recent decades in the experience of the university sector where we see a lot of innovation. But I believe that at its heart it grew out of the men and women on the tools from previous generations. Indeed, it is reflected in the culture and traditions of the early settlers and the farming sector. It is a part of our character that has driven an innovative spirit and it is reflected in our manufacturing industry. That is why I am optimistic about its future. It will be a different type of manufacturing. We will compete in a value-added chain. We will compete in an innovative, problem solving sector of the manufacturing international challenge. It is something where I think we will do well. In our region, we have also diversified and it is no surprise, as is often the story, that the service sectors, education, health and aged care, are the growth sectors that are providing far more employment than was previously the case. Indeed, places like the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra are major contributors to that. Given all that, in the last term of government we identified some things that the region could particularly benefit from in terms of government support to progress that transformation, particularly around creating jobs for the future so that families have security and the support of regular work and a decent wage with safe conditions. I think that should be the foundation of every family and every community. In response to those challenges and in support of our region, the federal government took some decisions about some significant investments in our region. The first one I want to touch on is the National Broadband Network. Our region was targeted as an early rollout site in order to support the diversification of businesses. In our region, the National Broadband Network became a major transformative piece of infrastructure. A lot of work was done across the government and the private sectors to look at how we could take up this new infrastructure and transform our economy and our society. We are an hour south of Sydney. We are a beautiful place to live. There are lovely people there, and the minister at the table, Minister Billson, quite rightly identifies that. We are well serviced with university and TAFE facilities. It is increasingly the case that people want to relocate out of Sydney and live in our region for the great lifestyle and the proximity to the major capital city and the airport. Part of making that real and therefore creating new businesses and jobs around that is to have a lifeline out of the region into the capital city, into the neighbouring regions and, increasingly in the modern world, to the rest of the nation and internationally. The National Broadband Network had the capacity to completely transform regions, to make the tyranny of distance meaningless between regions, capital cities and the world. It provided the capacity for businesses to be based outside capital cities and participate in the international economy. To me, that was the most significant effect of the rollout of the National Broadband Network. Not only should it be a national broadband network; it should be a network that takes fibre to the premises. The reality of the future is the delivery of services by small and micro businesses such as those that support the aged in their homes, and by the 'mumpreneurs' who are trying to establish themselves. And I am sure the Minister for Small Business would be well aware of this. I know my colleague the member for Ryan did some work on the committee where we met many examples of this. Home based businesses where people are being very creative and establishing their own small businesses rely on fibre to the premises. It is not just about broadband download delivery. That will not be a model to build a business upon in the long term. It is about upload as well. This is why it is so significant to have fibre to the premises and why it is so disappointing that the government has walked away from that. I obviously await the outcome of the review with great interest. There was outstanding evidence to say to the government that fibre to the premises is more than a luxury; it is actually a need of a modern economy, particularly for our regions and for emerging small and micro businesses across the country. As the former Minister for Regional Communications, I follow some wonderful Twitter feeds from people who are real advocates of the importance of fibre to the premises. Many of them are home based businesses. Many put up information and run blogs talking about why that technology and infrastructure was so critical for them, and it was critical for our region. My colleague the member for Throsby and I were very disappointed to discover overnight that whole suburbs across the Illawarra had simply disappeared off the NBN map. It seems, as I have reflected to others, that the new version of transparency from the Minister for Communications is invisibility. I think someone should explain to him that invisibility is not the ultimate form of transparency; it is exactly the opposite of transparency.   Continue reading

Australian Citizenship Amendment (Special Residents Requirements) Bill 2013 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (13:12): I thank members for their contributions—the member for Hindmarsh and other members who have participated in the second reading debate on this bill. I remind the House that the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Special Residence Requirements) Bill 2013 amends the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 to give the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship a discretion to provide a pathway to citizenship to a very small number of people in very exceptional circumstances where it would be of benefit to Australia for them to be Australian citizens and to represent Australia in their field of expertise, be that medicine, research, the performing arts or sport. The bill builds upon the existing special residence requirements in sections 22A and 22B of the act. It allows the minister to substitute alternative residence requirements on a case by case basis for certain people who need to become an Australian citizen to engage in an activity of benefit to Australia, or for people whose work requires them to regularly travel outside of Australia. These categories of people are defined by a legislative instrument made under section 22C of the act. The bill maintains the integrity of the citizenship program by requiring the minister to be satisfied that the applicant meets all the other requirements for citizenship by conferral, including their age, their identity, that they are of good character and, where relevant, that they have passed the citizenship test. Continue reading

Questions Without Notice - Vocational Education and Training

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills. How is the government working to make sure that thousands of trainees, apprentices, students and workers have the skills and training they need to get better jobs and build a stronger economy? Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Minister for Higher Education and Skills) (14:41): I thank the member for Makin for his question. I have had the great opportunity over many years to have conversations with the member for Makin about how important education and training is in his electorate and I am well aware of the understanding that he has about how significant it is for the people of Makin. In fact, only recently I was able to visit the University of South Australia with the member for Makin. We were there to announce additional funding for the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, which is a tremendous organisation. They are going to be providing 750 Indigenous students across South Australia with mentors. The member for Makin and I were able to join their initial session and to see the great program roll out. I know the member for Makin will be continuing to stay in contact with those students, who were very enthusiastic about the opportunity. Continue reading