Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012 - Second Reading Speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:39): I thank everybody for their contributions to the debate on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012. The Higher Education Support Act 2003 provides the legislative authority for the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program—HELP as people have referred to it—namely, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP. These schemes assist individuals to access higher education and higher level vocational education and training by removing the upfront financial burden associated with studying by allowing students to defer payment of upfront tuition fees. This bill will enable the government to act on recommendations made in the Post-implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme: final report of September 2011 and on its commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. The amendments in the bill position the government to deliver timely improvements to the scheme and in doing so create a more accessible, transparent, responsive and robust tertiary sector. The amendments enhance the quality and accountability framework underpinning the scheme through new provisions. These allow the minister to consider information from the national and non-referring jurisdiction education regulators when making a decision to approve, revoke or suspend an education provider under the HELP schemes. The amendments also strengthen the government's ability to protect the integrity of the schemes and minimise risk to student and public moneys. Specifically, the amendments enhance the existing provider suspension and revocation provisions for approved providers. Further, the amendments enable the tertiary sector to deliver education and training in a more responsive and flexible manner by moving census date requirements to the legislative guidelines. This will allow the sector to be more responsive to student and industry needs without onerous administration. The bill also allows for the managed trial of VET FEE-HELP for certificate IV-level qualifications. Finally, the amendments strengthen a number of provisions to better support access to and administration of the schemes. The amendments reduce complexity and duplication by consolidating three sets of legislative guidelines into a single set of guidelines. Importantly, the amendments will also allow the minister to determine a category of providers and financial reporting requirements for applicants and approved providers that represent a low risk to the government. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (09:40): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. The bill will introduce a number of measures to strengthen and streamline the Higher Education Support Act 2003, resulting in more effective and efficient administration of the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program, or HELP, schemes, namely FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP. The bill will enable the government to act on recommendations made in the post-implementation review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme Final Report 2011 and its commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. It will position the government to deliver timely improvements to the HELP schemes, creating a more accessible, transparent, responsive and robust tertiary sector. Continue reading

Private Members' Business - Dementia Awareness Week

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:45): I rise to support the motion before this chamber tonight put by the member for Newcastle, and commend her for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. In particular, I acknowledge that it came as no surprise to me that she would do so, because she has a long history of advocacy for people in many circumstances where they suffer from disadvantage or disability, but this is an important one too. I also want to endorse the comments of the member for Brisbane. And I am sure that in regard to my colleagues the members for Shortland and Ryan, who are in the chamber to speak on it, I will be able to endorse their comments in advance, because I know that both of them are people well committed to the issues that confront those dealing with dementia as well. The motion that has been put before us from the member for Newcastle, starts by noting the extent of the problem as it confronts us as a nation, and it is true that dementia is a significant chronic disease. It is the third leading cause of death in Australia—that is, after heart disease and stroke. There are one in four people over the age of 85 who have dementia, and the number of people living with dementia is expected to grow from 269,000 people today to almost one million by 2050. It is important to realise that around 52 per cent of all aged care recipients have some form of dementia. Continue reading

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (12:16): I rise to support the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Declared Fishing Activities) Bill 2012. There has been much conversation and debate about how we got to this point and a lot of casting of aspersions on motives. I think, at the end of the day, good policy requires us to address the content of the legislation. Rather than question why we are here and whose motives contributed what to that process, it is a matter of what legislation is before the parliament, what the intent of the legislation is, whether it will be achieved and whether it is something that as a nation we seek to support. On those bases—not on the basis of all the spurious mud-slinging we have heard from the other side—I support the bill before the House. As a local member I have had representations from people in my area about their concerns. So I am pleased to support the bill today, and I wanted to recognise the significant number of representations that have been made to me and to local people who have expressed their views to me on the matter. I want to acknowledge the important work of our ministers in finding an appropriate way to deal with what is an important issue. The minister for the environment said on 11 September, only this week: If we get this wrong, there are risks to the environment, to commercial operators and to everyone who loves fishing and they are risks I am not prepared to take. Continue reading

Matter of Public Importance - Education

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (16:23): I rise to address what is obviously a very important matter of public importance. I will go to a few of the comments made by the member for Aston. I will first draw the House's attention to the fact that, as a Victorian member, he did not once mention TAFEs in his contribution on education. Given what has happened to TAFEs in Victoria, I am not at all surprised. I very much look forward to other Victorians' contributions and their attempts to explain the drastic cuts of the Baillieu government to TAFEs in Victoria. Mr Tudge interjecting— Mr Tehan interjecting— The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The member for Wannon is disorderly by interjecting outside of his place in this chamber. He will find himself out of the chamber if he does it again. Ms BIRD: I would point out to my colleagues on the other side that despite extreme provocation during the contribution of the member for Aston I did not once interrupt his contribution. I would appreciate a similar courtesy. I have followed with great interest other MPIs in the debate that has been occurring about the Baillieu government's cuts to TAFE in Victoria. I have noticed that, on each occasion, they have failed to get Victorians to stand up and speak on them, by and large. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (09:39): I move: That this bill be now read a second time. The Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) to update the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships and to authorise wider use and disclosure of personal information collected for the purposes of the act. The maximum amounts for other grants under section 41-45, and Commonwealth scholarships under section 46-40, of the act are being updated to provide for indexation and other variations to funding amounts and to include the next funding year. The bill will allow the minister to determine, by legislative instrument, the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships from 2013 onwards.   Continue reading

Matter of Public Importance - Asylum Seekers

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (15:53): There is a question to be answered in this place today as we deal with this MPI: what interest do those on the other side have in continuing a debate on one of the most difficult issues that this nation and indeed countries internationally face today—that is, the movement of people around the world, particularly in our region? Those on the opposite side continue to talk about this issue because they believe it is in their political interests. The first two speakers talked about what they called a changing position of the government and completely ignored the fact that they have been all over the shop themselves. They ignored the deals they offered to the Greens, for example, in the last round of discussion on the legislation the government had put before the House. We could go around and around in circles in what I would argue is a fairly pointless point-scoring political activity and say that we need to debate this in this House. Even when we make a position clear about finding a good outcome that would work to stop people-smuggling, they shift their position again. That is the reality of what we face in this debate. Before parliament got up for the winter break, as outlined at the beginning of this debate, people came into this chamber devastated by the fact that we have faced 400 cold, lonely, desperate, terrifying deaths at sea. That was the reality which so many on this side had struggled to deal with—to come to a policy position which we felt would stop drownings from occurring. It was not easy for many people on this side of the House to come to a policy position that really challenged competing principles and priorities, but we came to a position which acknowledged that the regional challenges we all face as nations dealing with the movement of people who are in desperate circumstances required a regional cooperative solution. That is what we had worked on as the government. It reflected the reality. Continue reading

Statements on Indulgence: Vietnam Veterans Day

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:20): I rise today to add my comments to the statements made by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister for Defence and the shadow minister for defence to the parliament on Monday and to commend the contributions made by my colleagues, the members for Fowler and Paterson, immediately before my contribution today. Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated in Australia on 18 August each year. It is a time to reflect in particular on the battle of Long Tan and the Australians who served during the Vietnam War and it is an opportunity to remember those who, most sadly, did not come home. At the request of the South Vietnamese government, a team of 30 Australian military advisers were sent to Vietnam during July and August 1962, 50 years ago this year. This was followed in August 1964 by the Royal Australian Air Force, sending a flight of Caribou aircraft. Australia sent the first battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, 1RAR, in June 1965. As hostilities escalated, the Australian government introduced the National Service Scheme, which saw conscripts involved in that conflict as well as all nine RAR battalions over the period of the war. Public opposition to the war eventually led to the Allied political leadership announcing the gradual withdrawal of Allied forces from 1971, and the Australian commitment ended in June 1973. Continue reading

Statute Law Revision Bill 2012 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:30): On behalf of the Attorney-General, I thank members for their contribution to the debate on the Statute Law Revision Bill 2012. This bill may not be the most controversial to have been introduced in this term of parliament, but it is a testament to the dedication and attention to detail of government drafters to make sure that the Commonwealth statute book is free from error or ambiguity. I am encouraged that such bills continue to attract bipartisan support in this parliament and applaud the speakers for digging deep to find some interesting components of these largely technical changes. The government is proud to facilitate and support the passage of statute law revision bills, which perform a vital service in improving the quality of Commonwealth legislation. The regular review of legislation by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel enables minor errors in the Commonwealth statute books to be efficiently addressed and improves the accuracy and usability of Commonwealth acts. These improvements reflect the government's commitment to creating clearer and more accessible Commonwealth laws, an important component of our agenda to improve access to justice. We have seen this in other recent bills, including the Legislative Instruments Act (Sunsetting Measures) Bill, which will assist in the removal of thousands of redundant regulations over coming years, and the Access to Justice (Federal Jurisdiction) Amendment Bill, which will reform court discovery processes and better define and deal with vexatious litigants who clog up court time. Continue reading

Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 - Second Reading

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (20:41): Tonight I reaffirm my intention to support the Marriage Amendment Act 2012, introduced as a private member's bill by my colleague the member for Throsby, which aims to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples. Over recent times, I have sought the views of my constituency on this issue and have received arguments both for and against the change. Indeed, over 1,500 constituents contacted me, some on multiple occasions, by various methods, including petitions, standard email campaigns and personally written emails and letters. I came to the debate undetermined about my own views on this issue. I have a significant appreciation of the special nature of marriage for those with various religious affiliations. I have also spent much of my adult life arguing that people in committed relationships who are not married deserve to have that relationship given the same legal and social acceptance and recognition as those who are married. I also have a profoundly held belief that gay and lesbian individuals and couples should not face harassment, discrimination or denial of rights extended to other Australians. For that reason, I welcomed the significant legislative reforms put in place by the new Labor government when we came to office in 2007. Since I was genuinely undetermined about my own views, I read with an honestly inquiring mind all the submissions made to me. I received personal representations both in my electorate and in Canberra from groups wishing to explain their views on the legislation. In large part, these interactions were well considered and respectful and I appreciate those who argued their case passionately but without attacking the other side of the argument—or indeed me—in a personal way. Sadly, this was not universally the case. But those who resorted to personal attacks simply wasted an opportunity to influence my views. Continue reading