Ministerial Statements - Closing the Gap

12 March 2013 Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (20:41): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate in response to the Prime Minister's report to the parliament on the Closing the Gap report for 2012. The annual report to parliament has occurred each year since Prime Minister Rudd offered the official apology to the stolen generation on behalf of the nation in 2007. I was very pleased, as I am sure many of us were, to have been able to be present in the chamber on this very significant and moving occasion. At the time I said: … there is so much that was stolen because of these policies and it is so important that we reach out. We do … through to an ongoing commitment to make sure that Aboriginal people's opportunities in our country are improved. Continue reading

Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment Bill 2013

12 March 2013 Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (17:40): It is my pleasure to sum up this debate, and I would like to thank all the members for their contribution. I do feel a bit like the town crier of birthday felicitations as I spoke earlier in the chamber to wish Wollongong headspace a happy fifth birthday and I have great pleasure in summing this bill up and wishing Canberra a happy 100th birthday today, so it is a great day to be speaking in the chamber. I also acknowledge the two speakers before me, the members for Stirling and Fraser, and I am sure in the great tradition of bipartisan reaching across the aisles they will, in a particularly positive manner, resolve the contentious issue of the member for Stirling as an ANU illustrious alumni in his assessment and make the member for Fraser's list in the future. I am sure they will resolve that matter. Continue reading

Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2012-2013, Appropriation Bill (No.4) 2012-2013 - Second Reading

13 February 2013 Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:29): I am taking the opportunity of this debate on Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2012-2013 and Appropriation Bill (No.4) 2012-2013 before the parliament today to give an update on developments in my own area. Like the previous speaker, the member for Dunkley, most members like to talk about important projects and issues in their electorates. After the budget, I always take the opportunity to report on the initiatives offered to my local area. I can report to the chamber that, since the election of the Labor government in 2007, those budgets have delivered far more and far more effectively, and have been far more welcomed than the budgets of the previous 11 years of the Howard government. In our region, there are some significant challenges and I believe our government have the correct programs and the correct vision for our region and for the nation. I would like to outline some of the programs that were rolled out in the second half of last year in my region. Continue reading

Speech - NDIS

11 February 2013 Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (18:49): I rise to speak on the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill 2012. This bill establishes the framework for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and enables the launch of a scheme that takes an insurance approach to the provision of funding for and support of people with disability. The bill will enable the launch of the NDIS in five sites across Australia from July 2013, benefiting more than 20,000 people with a disability, their families and carers. The bill provides for the launch of a scheme that will support the independence and social and economic participation of those people with a disability who are participating in the launch, and will ensure that individuals with a disability have their reasonable and necessary support needs met. The launch of the scheme is a very important step on the road to Australians having a disability support system that is nationally consistent and easy to navigate. It is intended to ensure that no members of our community fall through the cracks because their specific needs do not fit into existing programs. To manage the scheme, the bill establishes the National Disability Insurance Scheme Launch Transition Agency, an independent body responsible for the provision of support to people with a disability during the launch of the scheme. Continue reading

Speech - Bonacina, Mrs Giulia, Hamilton, Mr David, Steinke, Mr John

5 February 2013 Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (22:24): It is my sad duty to say that over past weeks the Illawarra has lost three outstanding community leaders. It is with great pride that I outline to the House their achievements over their lifetimes, and I do so on behalf of everyone in the Illawarra. Continue reading

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