Thursday, 13 February 2020
National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I am pleased to rise to speak on a matter of education when we have a group of students sitting up in the gallery. From here, they look quite young—probably still in primary school. I'm sorry if I have just offended you by calling you primary school students. All of you have the options when you leave school to follow vocational education or higher education, to get an apprenticeship or to go out into the workforce. You live in a wonderful country and you've got opportunities available to you. So I hope that you realise that you do live in an absolutely wonderful country.
I'm really happy to speaking in support of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2019. Australia's capacity to grow, compete and thrive in an increasingly global economy is dependent on employers and all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances, being able to access and use the right skills at the right time. A strong VET sector, sitting hand in hand and alongside a strong higher education sector, is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce opportunities of today and the future. Equally important—I would actually say more important—is having the opportunity to acquire useful skills and to be able to pursue employment and work opportunities using those skills. That is vitally important for individual and societal wellbeing. Australia and Australians cannot afford to be left behind in this time of rapid change, a time of escalating digital transformation and disruption. We need to be adaptable and we need an accessible high-quality VET sector that is innovative, robust and responsive to industry needs and ever-emerging gaps.
The size and significance of the VET sector was highlighted in the Braithwaite report of 2016. There are 4,500 RTOs delivering 1,400 qualifications to around 4.2 million students. Private RTOs deliver VET to approximately 58 per cent of students, TAFEs deliver to about 18 per cent and community education providers deliver to nine per cent. VET is also provided by universities, schools, enterprise providers and combinations of providers. In response to the Braithwaite report of 2016, the government fully acknowledged the importance of the VET sector in Australia and for Australia. And, in a suite of actions since then, the government has undertaken the steps of implementing the recommendations from the Braithwaite report and the later Joyce report. A number of those recommendations were in relation to the VET regulator, ASQA.
This bill picks up on the recommendations regarding amending the legislative framework to ensure that the regulator works with the RTOs to lift quality in the sector, while placing only a proportionate regulatory burden on them. Of course, this is all to ensure that our RTOs are of the highest quality and are able to deliver desirable student outcomes. The changes proposed in this bill are part of the government's $18.1 million commitment to supporting reform of the national VET regulator, including its engagement with the sector, and to ensure that its regulatory approach is fair, transparent and effective.
The bill includes a number of provisions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of regulation, including strengthening registration requirements by requiring organisations to demonstrate a commitment to and capability of delivering quality training. Obviously this is key to the sector. It also clarifies that the standards in relation to VET accredited courses are ongoing standards that must be met the entire way throughout the registration period —not just at the beginning, not just at the end, not just at the time that you are audited. The bill also facilitates electronic sharing of data with prescribed bodies and streamlines sharing of data between ASQA, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research and tuition assurance scheme operators. It also—and this is a critical element—enables the Secretary of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to release information to the public about training by registered training organisations and the outcomes and experiences of students attending RTOs and employers of those students. This is an initiative that has been introduced successfully into the higher education system and is actually a vital element of transparency and a very important tool to enable students, before they make a choice as to where they go, to ascertain what other people are saying about that particular course and that particular provider. The bill also increases transparency in other ways by making public the release of audits by the regulator, so the regulator can make audit reports available.
The minister and assistant minister have been meeting with state governments and VET providers across the country and have undertaken an extensive consultation process to listen to the issues that are of most importance to providers, to industry and to students. In fact the assistant minister recently joined me in my electorate of Curtin for a roundtable dialogue with a number of VET providers who are located in Curtin. He had the opportunity to discuss their views and listen to their feedback. The government has responded to concerns raised throughout this consultation process, and this bill has responded to and addressed some of the concerns which have been raised.
One such concern raised by some stakeholders was the potential that, if ASQA released audit reports, this would have a negative impact on the sector. They queried whether the audit reports are suitable for the public domain. Because of earlier consultations with states and territories on this, care has been taken in the bill to ensure that ASQA is not required to immediately publish audit reports once the amendments in the bill commence. The government is going to continue to work with stakeholders on identifying appropriate information to include in published reports. Audit reports will be published only after this consultation phase has occurred.
Another concern stakeholders raised, which was actually based on a misunderstanding, was that a provider's registration would be able to be cancelled with immediate effect. This is not correct. The amendments in the bill do not change the natural justice requirements in the act that ensure providers are notified of ASQA's intention to cancel and that provide time for RTOs to respond to the notice. The amendments provide ASQA with flexibility and discretion in determining when cancellation would take effect, so as to minimise the impact on students, because it must be student-centric and student-focused in this regard.
The coalition government, as I said earlier, is committed to ensuring that Australians have the right skills for the workforce of today and tomorrow. We are committed to ensuring that we are equipping Australians with the skills they need for good, secure jobs. In 2019-20 we are investing over $3 billion in VET, which includes $1.5 billion given to the states and territories every year through the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development; $1.1 billion to fund the government's own skills program, including employer incentives and support for apprentices; and $0.175 billion to the states and territories via the Skilling Australians Fund to support increased apprenticeship and traineeship numbers.
The government's skills package is contributing to an increase in Commonwealth funding to VET over the budget forward estimates. Funding under the NASWD is going to grow to an expected $1.6 billion in 2022-23. Funding for the Commonwealth's own programs is expected to be about $1.3 billion by 2022-23, and funding for income-contingent VET loans is going to be about $0.6 billion in 2022-23.
I am extremely passionate about VET pathways for our students and ensuring that we have a strong and responsive VET sector. In my electorate of Curtin we have over 16,000 people undertaking VET qualifications. This is likely to continue as people look to upskill, to reskill and to adapt to changing times and needs. We need to make sure that we provide them with the pathways they need to succeed, and this bill forms part of the considered, comprehensive and vital changes being implemented by this government. We are committed to and excited about the future of VET in this country.