Matters of Public Importance

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (15:50): I start by thanking the member for Lyne for putting this particular item up as a matter of public importance and it is, indeed, a matter of importance. As I reflected in a debate on legislation yesterday, he and I have spent quite a bit of time on the education committee of this parliament and from that experience I know of his personal commitment to education and training, given that we reflect similar areas for young people who need access to vocational education and training to transform their lives. I will acknowledge in particular that the member in his contribution, which I listened to closely, made the point about the national partnership and that it should be used for good and not for evil. I can assure him that this government uses everything for good and not for evil. It is a standard operating practice for this government across all portfolio areas and I would argue none more so than in the education area. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012 - Consideration of Senate Message

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (16:30): I move: That the amendments be agreed to. Before us is the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2012, which has been returned to the House from the Senate. I want to speak about the context of the bill and deal with the amendments. It should be clear to all in the House that the purpose of the bill is to provide legislative authority to the Australian government's higher education loan programs, which are commonly known and referred to as the HELP programs. There are of course two main streams—FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP. The purpose of the schemes is to assist individuals to access higher education and higher level vocational education by removing an up-front financial impost so that it does not act as a barrier for people when they are considering undertaking further study. In particular that is done by deferring those up-front tuition fees in a way that enables people to undertake to repay the fees when they are earning a level of income that would make that a manageable situation for them. I think it has stood the test of time as a way of managing the shared costs of higher education between government and individuals. Continue reading

Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 - Second Reading Speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (12:38): I thank the members who have spoken on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and the member for Fowler for the tone of his contribution about the importance of education, which is certainly reflected in the broad agenda of the Gillard Labor government. This bill sits within that context. The bill before the House amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to update the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships. It also authorises wider use of disclosure of personal information collected for the purposes of the act. The bill also amends the Australian Research Council Act 2001 in order to provide administered funding to allow the ARC to continue their support for highest quality fundamental and applied research and research training. Continue reading

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