Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (11:31): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Australian government is committed to improving the transparency and responsiveness of the vocational education and training sector. More Australians than ever are entering training to expand their knowledge base, improve their skills or get a better job.
Australia's continued prosperity will depend in large part on the skills and knowledge of our people. The Australian economy relies on a strong, highly skilled workforce, and this government is committed to taking the steps required to ensure that all Australians have the skills we need to drive economic growth.
As bodies like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency have noted, the diversity and flexibility of training on offer is one of the strengths of Australia's national training system, along with its capacity to satisfy many different needs at different points in people's lives.
As students complete different types of training throughout the course of their lives and their careers, it can be difficult to keep track of their training records. Gathering evidence of prior learning when entering a higher-level course later on, or bringing together a comprehensive record of their study undertaken over time, can be problematic. As the number of career changes during an individual's lifetime increases, this will be a growing problem.
In April 2012 the Council of Australian Governments agreed to the introduction of a national scheme to enable students to track their VET achievements throughout their life using a student identifier in order to address this problem.
The student identifier scheme will seamlessly link the information about a student's VET achievements from January 2014, giving them better access to and more control over their educational information.
The scheme will make it easier for students to find and collate their VET achievements into a single nationally recognised authenticated transcript. This VET transcript can be provided to employers as proof of their qualifications when applying for a job or to a training provider when seeking recognition of study previously undertaken. Students will also be provided with the option of creating an extract of their authenticated VET transcript so that it can be tailored to be fit for purpose.
The student identifier scheme will provide better information about the pathways students take through the VET system, including the progress of disadvantaged students. The scheme will also provide a greater understanding of VET enrolment and achievement at a student record level. It will assist in developing evidence based programs that effectively target skills shortages and the skill needs of Australian industry, and it will better support the management of government funded subsidy programs.
Specifics of the bill
I would now like to turn to the specific aspects of the bill.
The Student Identifiers Bill 2013 provides for the introduction of the scheme for students undertaking nationally recognised training in the VET sector. It provides for the assignment of student identifiers and for their collection, use and disclosure.
While student identifiers will be mandatory for students undertaking VET courses once the scheme commences, there will be provision for the Commonwealth minister to make exemptions under the scheme by legislative instrument with the agreement of the Standing Council on Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment. These exemptions will only be granted in limited circumstances. To ensure that this legislation does not conflict with the laws governing national security operations, an exemption may need to be issued in relation to training with national security implications.
A key principle underpinning the scheme is that individuals will have control over their student identifier and can determine who can have access to their personal and educational records associated with it. The protection of an individual's student identifier—and the personal and educational data that it links to—is paramount, and the bill provides important safeguards to protect the privacy of individuals.
The privacy framework for the scheme is intended to complement and work in conjunction with existing Commonwealth, state and territory privacy provisions which will continue to operate in relation to personal information as they do now.
Additionally, the bill provides specifically for a confidentiality scheme in which a student identifier must not be collected, used or disclosed by any entity if they are not the individual, or if the collection, use and disclosure is not authorised in the bill or in regulations made under the bill. There is also a requirement that any entity that has a record of a student identifier is to protect that record from misuse or unauthorised access.
An individual's privacy is further protected by the bill requiring that any personal information collected solely for the purpose of applying for the student identifier is to be destroyed after the application is made.
The Australian Information Commissioner will be the key regulator of the privacy and confidentiality aspects of the bill outlined above and will have the capacity to conduct audits, undertake investigations and impose a range of sanctions.
The bill establishes a new Commonwealth statutory authority, the Student Identifiers Agency. It is envisaged that the agency will be established in July 2013 to enable the scheme to be operational by 1 January 2014. The bill provides for the Commonwealth minister, in consultation with the Standing Council, to appoint the agency's CEO and give directions to the CEO in relation to the performance of their functions.
The CEO will be responsible for assigning student identifiers to individuals who apply for one and for providing authenticated VET transcripts upon request. The bill also requires the CEO to submit an annual report to the Commonwealth minister for presentation to the parliament and to provide a copy to the Standing Council.
The agency will be funded from an existing allocation to the National Training System Commonwealth Own Purpose Expenditure program, with the amount of the allocation to be agreed by the Standing Council in accordance with the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development between the Commonwealth, state and territories as is in force from time to time.
The introduction of the student identifier will be supported by the inclusion of additional requirements to the standards for RTOs under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 and mirrored in the Australian Quality Training Framework.
The Australian government believes that the introduction of the student identifier will enhance the transparency and responsiveness of the VET sector. This scheme will strengthen the sector by providing a clearer picture of our skills base, confirming that future training can be targeted to meet the needs of industry and the economy. A strengthened VET sector will play a key role in our productivity growth in the years ahead.
I commend the bill to the House.