Ms BIRD (Cunningham—Parliamentary Secretary for Higher Education and Skills) (10:29): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The establishment of the National Vocational Education and Training (VET) Regulator on 1 July 2011 was a significant milestone. Fragmented regulation across nine regulators has been streamlined and a more nationally consistent and rigorous approach taken to enforcing standards in the VET sector.
The National VET Regulator, known as the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) is established under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulation Act 2011 (the NVETR Act). The new regulatory framework was developed in consultation with those who stood to be most affected by the changes. State and territory regulators, industry and RTOs all contributed their ideas and concerns during the consultation period undertaken in 2010.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed ASQA would operate on a cost recovery basis and ASQA's cost recovery arrangements were subject to extensive consultation in 2011. The feedback from those consultations was extremely helpful in designing the final fee and charge structure and ensuring that the new cost arrangements are appropriate for the sector.
A cost recovery impact statement covering the period from ASQA's commencement on 1 July last year to 30 June 2014 has been publicly available on ASQA's website since April 2011. That statement clearly outlined ASQA's proposed fee and charge structure and the need for the bill I introduce today.
The purpose of the bill I introduce today, the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Charges) Bill 2012, is to support ASQA's cost recovery arrangements by enabling it to recover reasonable costs and expenses related to additional compliance activities that are not application based, including compliance audits and complaint investigations. Application based fees are authorised by the NVETR Act.
I now turn to the specifics of the bill.
One of ASQA's key functions is to encourage and monitor provider compliance with registration standards—training providers must be able to demonstrate compliance at all times.
The main method by which ASQA monitors compliance is by conducting compliance audits. ASQA also investigates complaints it receives about the performance of training providers.
This bill will enable ASQA to recover reasonable costs and expenses associated with these additional monitoring activities.
This is in line with Australian government cost recovery policy and part of ASQA's implementation path to full cost recovery by 2014-15.
It is necessary for ASQA to conduct compliance audits to ensure ongoing compliance with the VET Quality Framework and identify issues relating to the quality of VET.
ASQA conducts a risk assessment on all registered training organisations (RTO) and this risk assessment is used to determine whether to conduct a compliance audit. Providers who have been assessed as high risk will receive more rigorous monitoring by ASQA.
Compliance audits require a significant regulatory effort. This bill provides that, where the ASQA undertakes such an audit, a charge is payable for the audit and—where the audit is conducted outside of Australia—any other reasonable expenses incurred.
Audit compliance charges will represent the resources required to effectively audit a provider.
Complaints provide important information about the performance of RTOs and their compliance with standards for registration.
ASQA's process for investigating complaints against an RTO will improve stakeholder confidence in the VET sector. Students, employers, training personnel, parents, industry or any member of the community may lodge a complaint with the National VET Regulator if they are not satisfied with the quality of training delivered by an RTO.
This bill enables the ASQA to charge RTOs for complaint investigations. Charges only apply where the complaint is substantiated by ASQA. In this circumstance, charges will be payable for the costs and expenses of conducting the investigation; any compliance audit conducted as part of the process; and, if the investigation is conducted outside of Australia, any other reasonable expenses incurred.
The National VET Regulator has been established with the powers to examine quality concerns in all areas of the VET sector. It is important that the National VET Regulator is properly resourced in order to conduct its functions thoroughly and deliver high-quality services. This is needed to ensure more robust regulation which will lead to better training outcomes.
A core function of the National VET Regulator is to encourage and monitor compliance of the VET sector. It is appropriate that the costs of ensuring a quality VET system are borne by the businesses that benefit from the system.