House debates

Wednesday, 28 November 2018


Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Bill 2018; Second Reading

4:17 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I have said previously, Labor is supporting the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Bill 2018 and has offered an amendment to the House. We all distinctly remember the rorts and rip-offs when shonks in this sector were knocking on doors to get people to sign up to courses that they possibly had no interest in doing and possibly didn't have the capacity to complete. They were getting them to sign onto courses that led to a loan being provided by the Commonwealth. We now know the rate at which that was occurring. We also now know that many people didn't even realise that they had signed up to a course until they got their tax return and saw a debt raised by the Commonwealth to repay that VET FEE-HELP loan. This happened to people in my electorate. One woman contacted my office when she found that she owed the Australian tax office $14,000. She said that she distinctly remembered people knocking on her door but she has no memory of signing up to a course. She never heard anything again about said course until she found that she had had a debt raised. This happened all over the country.

This bill provides a remedy for students who have incurred debts from unscrupulous providers under the previous VET FEE-HELP loan scheme. It does this by amending schedule 1A of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to introduce a broad remedy for students who incurred a VET FEE-HELP debt as a result of inappropriate conduct by a VET provider or their agent—and we know that there were many. This bill provides discretionary powers to recredit a person's VET FEE-HELP debt if the inappropriate conduct occurred at a time before the closure of VET FEE-HELP. In order for FEE-HELP to be recredited, it must be established that the student did not complete the requirements of the relevant VET unit of study and that it is reasonably likely that the VET provider or their agent engaged in inappropriate conduct towards the person in relation to the unit or the course.

This is action taken by the government that is welcomed, as late as it is, by those of us on this side of the House, because none of us want to see these people continuing to be asked to pay for a loan for which they got no product, received no service, certainly received no certificate and certainly received no education. There are 6,000 people who have lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman after being charged VET FEE-HELP for courses they did not undertake. Even more alarming, only a small number of the students who have lodged a complaint have actually received relief from these unfair debts. Debt racked up by dodgy for-profit training providers that went rogue under the coalition government's watch should never have been expected to be paid back by students who were, in fact, ripped off. The fact is that the coalition government is absolutely responsible here, and it is reprehensible that it has taken this long for the legislation to come into the House.

The government knew how much money was rolling out to for-profit vocational education providers, just as it knew the numbers of students that were not graduating from these courses. This happened under their watch, and they need to take responsibility for it. Then education minister, Christopher Pyne, was warned of the gloomy completion rates under the scheme, but the government chose to turn a blind eye as many students were being exploited at the hands of these rip-off merchants. This rip-off demonstrates the importance of investing in a strong public vocational training sector. On this side of the House we clearly understand that and have taken that into our policy directions that we'll be taking to the next election. What's important to note is that, despite reports by the media and despite the government knowing what the completion rates looked like under their watch, this situation continued unabated for at least three years of this government and this government had been in power for five years—nearly six years—before this bill to make sure that students were not lumbered with this debt came into this House.

I think of the days that Labor has filled the speaking lists in this place while those opposite have fiddled. And they have form in this space. 'Why has it taken the government so long to act in this space?' you could ask. I ask: why has it taken them so long to act in many similar situations where vulnerable Australians are being exploited? We only have to look a short distance to see the inaction from this government on its own review and its own recommendation and its own draft legislation in the payday lending space. So they have form here. As we saw this week, they're a work-shy, part-time government going into the future. But it's not new because, even though they may have shown up in this place, they haven't really been doing the work behind the scenes to protect vulnerable Australians, and this is just another example of that. They haven't shut down the rorts. They haven't stopped the scammers who exploit vulnerable Australians. They tarry. They shuffle papers, they shuffle ministers and they fail to act.

We can track when this shonky industry exploded. We don't have to remember the media reports that showed people loading cars and vans with laptops to go and knock on doors in regional Australia, approaching vulnerable people and getting them to sign up with the promise of a laptop. We don't even have to remember that; this government knew. We could see the industry exploding. In five years under Labor, $1.4 billion worth of VET FEE-HELP loans were issued. This government came to power, and in 2014 alone there was $1.8 billion worth of loans. This then jumped to a total of $6 billion in two years. The writing was on the wall, if only this government was showing up to work to check the figures. This money was going overwhelmingly to private providers while public TAFE was languishing.

The coalition has failed in this space, slashing funding from vocational education, leaving prospective students and providers with uncertainty. While they saw the cost of these loans skyrocketing, what did they do in response? Did they do anything to shut this down as soon as they identified the issue? They did not. What they've done is cut more than $3 billion from TAFE, skills and apprenticeships since being elected. So, instead of going after the shonks, they got pen and paper out to ensure that our public TAFEs were underfunded. This coalition government and their cuts demonstrate that they do not value vocational education and skills. The legislation that is before us today shows that finally they will wake up when they approach their sixth year in government.

In many states, this has seen the absolute destruction of public TAFE. I think about my colleagues in New South Wales and what they've been seeing in their state. I think about the state government in Victoria working very hard to turn that around in Victoria and ensure that we've got a healthy public TAFE sector. Meanwhile, the rorters have taken their millions and ridden off into the sunset, leaving the Commonwealth with the debt or the students with the debt. Now the Commonwealth is having to find ways to ensure that innocent Australians aren't paying for something that was never delivered by an industry that was allowed to flourish—in fact, it tripled—under this government's watch. In response to the gouging and rorting clearly identifiable by the increasing loans, did this government close the loopholes? No. In short, they cut funding for public TAFE, for skills and for apprenticeships, while the rorts continued.

This week, having seen the sitting calendar for next year, we know that this government has given up on governing. We know that they would rather sit in their office and twirl a pen than get to work and fix some of the issues facing this country. This legislation and the time it has taken for these issues to be addressed are evidence of that. In contrast, Labor has always championed quality apprenticeships and vocational training because we understand that a skilled and educated workforce is a national economic priority. In my home state of Victoria, we are ramping up apprenticeships by using major projects to ensure that we are getting the skill training we need on the ground for our young people and for our adult apprentices.

We know that we have a skills shortage in areas of this country. We know how important it is to have public TAFE on board to make sure that we get a skilled workforce into the future. Labor will restore public TAFE as the major provider in the vocational education and training system, if elected. I'm proud to be a member of the Shorten team that, if elected, will deliver money and funds back to public TAFE to ensure that we have young people being trained in appropriate courses; that people are able to re-engage with education, no matter where they are in their lifelong learning journey; and that people are going to get quality—that no-one's going to knock on their door and sign them up to a class that won't give them an opportunity for work, or, worse, a course that they may have absolutely no interest in attending or a course that is not necessarily linked to a job at the end of it.

It's an important piece of legislation today. It's important that those 6,000 complainants are given an opportunity to demonstrate that they were ripped off. It's important that those people have an avenue to have their debts wiped. But what is more important is that people in this place learn from this experience that when you're governing you need to pay close attention to the detail, to the portfolio. We need ministers who have an eye on the detail in their portfolios so that the rorters and shonks like we had in this space don't get to ride off into the sunset with millions of Commonwealth dollars, and, more importantly, so that industries aren't allowed to flourish in a space where ministers are looking sideways or out the window, not doing their day job.

4:29 pm

Photo of Ross HartRoss Hart (Bass, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Surprise, surprise. We have contributions from honourable members on this side of the House but not a squeak, not a skerrick, from the other side. They are too embarrassed or too lazy to turn up to justify and support their own legislation. I rise today to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Bill 2018 that is currently before the House. This bill provides a remedy for students who have incurred debts from unscrupulous providers under the previous VET FEE-HELP loan scheme. The bill will introduce a broad remedy for students who have incurred a VET FEE-HELP debt as a result of inappropriate conduct by VET providers or their agents.

Labor welcomes the recrediting of the debts of thousands of students who were ripped off by dodgy for-profit training providers. More than 6,000 students have complained to the ombudsman after being charged VET FEE-HELP for courses they did not undertake. Only a small number have received relief from those unfair debts. Students should never have been expected to pay debts racked up by dodgy for-profit training providers that went rogue under this government's watch. Many students have been saddled with these unfair VET FEE-HELP debts for years. This is another example of this dysfunctional government doing very little to help ordinary Australians who are trying to become valued, skilled members of our society.

The vocational education system has fallen into crisis on the Liberal Party's watch. With five ministers in three years and a blowout in the cost of the VET FEE-HELP scheme, it is clear that this government simply doesn't care about education, much less vocational education, nor do they care about TAFE. The government knew or should have known how much money was rolling out to the providers. They knew that the great majority of students weren't graduating. They knew or ought to have known how much money the shonky operators were making.

What is the extent of the problem? We hear that students have been tricked by unscrupulous providers into racking up massive debts. We hear also that thousands of qualifications in Victoria and elsewhere have been cancelled because, seemingly, they were not worth the paper they were written on, despite the significant debts incurred. Where was the government when all of this was happening? This occurred on a lazy government's watch. How can they possibly justify to taxpayers their failure to do anything about it? Well, the answer to that is clear: they have not fronted up to explain that. This would be an embarrassment to a competent government, but this dysfunctional government has failed to act for more than five years. It now finally acts. Labor welcomes the students getting some relief, finally.

In 2014, the then education minister, Christopher Pyne, was warned of the dismal completion rates under the scheme. However, the government just sat on their hands. Meanwhile, providers continued to exploit vulnerable people and to rip off students. Despite concerns about appalling recruitment practices, in particular, at Careers Australia—these concerns were raised publicly in 2015—the coalition continued to provide and fund loans until Careers Australia eventually collapsed in May 2017. That collapse left thousands of students stranded and thousands of workers without jobs, and that was after milking this coalition government of 600 million of taxpayers' dollars. It is instructive to review the scale of the escalation of malpractice in this area. From 2009, Labor provided VET FEE-HELP scheme loans of $1.4 billion over five years, which was about $280 million in loans per year. Under the coalition, those loans skyrocketed to $1.8 billion in 2014 and a staggering $3 billion in 2015. That totalled to $6 billion from 2014 to 2016. That was overwhelmingly to private providers.

In addition to this, the Liberals have provided no leadership on VET. Ignoring the underlying flaws in the vocational education system, they have instead continued to cut funding and support to skills formation. The Productivity Commission has called the system 'a mess'. The OECD has reported that Australia doesn't have the skills to engage effectively with global value chains. What an embarrassment this government is. A recent independent report authored by Terry Moran, one of the original architects of the national system, says it is fragmented and devalued, there is no effective governance, the funding arrangements are chaotic and there is no overarching national strategy.

It is clear that TAFE has been the poor cousin even within that devalued sector, with the increased reliance upon private providers over the last 20 years. We can't have the situation where the public sector is responsible for the really capital-intensive areas or difficult delivery areas. We can't have a situation where investment in the private sector is supported the dodgy providers, who in turn have been picking the high-value but low-quality areas in our vocational training whilst offering iPads to people interested in signing up to courses without regard to any sort of outcome.

I do emphasise that there are some very good operators, particularly in Northern Tasmania within my constituency, that have been doing some fantastic things, working closely with industry and being very industry responsive. I have met with those good quality providers in person to understand what they see as the drivers of high-quality outcomes in vocational education. But, for all that, I strongly believe our public TAFE needs to be recognised again and supported, not just with fond memories for past days when TAFE ruled vocational training, but with real support and real capital funding. Money needs to be spent on refurbishment and replacement of facilities that are no longer up to standard anymore. There needs to be focus upon technical and further education as being a legitimate alternative to our perfectly appropriate attention to university training.

Our manufacturing sector in Northern Tasmania is particularly used to having thousands of highly skilled and well-paid people. It relied upon the fact they either had a TAFE education or trained on the job, many in the apprenticeship system. There is a bright future based around advanced manufacturing, building things very smartly, rather than volume production. Australian manufacturers can't compete with mass produced goods from overseas but can focus on highly skilled or discrete trades, where we have demonstrated expertise.

I bring to the House's attention a company called Definium Technologies, a local Launceston business that is successfully winning business to build low-volume complex circuit boards, single boards, computers and sensors. This is a highly specialised area of manufacturing, exploiting the internet of things. With computer boards, sensors, communications devices and new technology being manufactured in Northern Tasmania, I see the potential, for example, for substantial employment within defence-related contracting in Tasmania, employment that doesn't necessarily demand a university degree but does demand people that are highly skilled in trades like electronic engineering. These skills may ultimately lead towards a university degree, but the starting point for a future that encompasses well-paid jobs in advanced manufacturing has to, in my submission, be the reinvestment by government in trade and vocational education.

Since they were elected, the Liberals have cut more than $3 billion from TAFE, skills and apprenticeships. In his last budget as Treasurer, now Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut a further $270 million from apprenticeship funding over the next four years. For more than a year, this coalition has failed to spend a cent out of its flawed Skilling Australians Fund on an apprenticeship. All Australian should have access throughout their working lives to the education, skills and training that they need for decent jobs that allow them to live good, productive and fulfilling lives and, above all, to be active members of our communities. Labor believes that no-one should be excluded from access to vocational education and training because of financial disadvantage. They shouldn't be excluded due to course costs, fear of taking on debt or regional disadvantage.

VET, TAFE and apprenticeships are absolutely crucial to jobs and crucial to Australia's economy. A skilled and educated workforce is a national economic priority, and TAFE is the lifeblood of our vocational education and training system. Labor knows that TAFE is the backbone of our apprenticeship and technical skills education system, which is why we took a TAFE funding guarantee to the last election. There are some 28,000 people in Tasmania currently enrolled in TAFE—individuals, all of them who know firsthand the first-class skills and opportunities that going to TAFE can provide to them. Indeed, generations of Australians can attest to the importance of TAFE for our economy and for delivering the skills and knowledge necessary to ensure that Australia remains competitive on the global market.

How obvious this is to those on this side of the House! But it's clear that those on the other side—the Liberals and Nationals—just do not get it. At both the state and federal levels they appear to have an ideological problem with TAFE. This is exemplified by the fact that apprenticeship numbers have been in freefall under this government—down 30 per cent since the government came to power, or 130,000 fewer apprenticeships under the Liberals. Labor will restore public TAFE as the major provider in the vocational education and training system. Labor has always championed quality apprenticeships and will continue to ensure that more Australians can follow that trusted path into decent work.

The Labor inquiry into post-secondary education will also build on the best of Australia's vocational education and training systems, and repair the damage done by unscrupulous, for-profit providers and the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government neglect. This government has clearly failed the VET sector in that they've not done what is best for students, they've not done what is best for industry and they've not done what is best for employers. What they now offer up in this bill is to be welcomed, but it is much delayed.

It's time for an election, so that Labor can restore TAFE. Labor knows that education, in all of its forms—whether it's higher education through university degrees or whether it's technical and further education in the public sector or the private sector—is the key to happy, healthy and vibrant communities. It's the key to the sort of flexibility that will put a young person on a lifelong road towards employment and being able to be re-skilled as opportunities come along. The provision of technical, vocational, creative and semiprofessional skills through VET, TAFE and apprenticeships is absolutely vital to the growth of our economy and to the wellbeing of our local communities.

If we look at the priorities that this government offers, up until recently all it was talking about was a one-point economic plan which consisted of tax cuts—tax cuts which were supposed to trickle down magically and provide greater income or greater economic activity. We on this side of the House know that real investment in education at all levels, starting with the very youngest Australians right through to primary school, secondary school and then to education at a tertiary level in universities and TAFE, will truly drive the transformation of the Australian economy. We cannot have the OECD giving us a black mark for the fact that we have a system which is not fit for purpose. We can do better, we need a government that cares about technical and further education and that's a Labor government, if elected.

4:45 pm

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to commend the member for Bass on that speech. I want to commend him for the fact he actually underscored the fact that TAFE is there for various parts of your career. It is the journey of life, in many ways, in terms of education. I know this from my father, who was an electrician. He studied at TAFE in the 1950s, and then he decided he wanted to go back and get a further qualification and so moved from being an electrician into becoming an accountant. It was TAFE, or technical colleges as they were called then, that trained him as an electrician and it was TAFE technical colleges that trained him as an accountant. That's the beauty of TAFE: it can provide you with an entry point into a career and then it can provide you with a pathway into a new career. It can provide you with an update on your current skills. It can provide an endless range of opportunities throughout the course of your life. As the member for Bass said, it provides lifelong learning opportunities, which is why I am a huge fan. It's not just because of that story of my father but because I did go through the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology myself. I did my second degree there. I was also union president there. I also tutored out at the University of Canberra before I went into politics. Again, I'm a huge fan of vocational education.

Just yesterday, I met a group of 18 amazing young women from regional, rural and remote Australia. They were in Canberra as part of the Country to Canberra 'power trip'. These women had come from all over Australia, from Nhulunbuy, Tasmania, Victoria, remote parts of New South Wales, remote parts of WA and Queensland. I met two young women whose stories really stuck with me. The first was Chloe. Chloe is really excited about taking part in this program. Chloe has been going through her own personal journey in trying to work out what she wants to do. She's in year 11 in north-western Tasmania. She has finally settled on studying hairdressing, and so she's going off to study that. She's choosing to use it as an opportunity to move from her home town and to forge a new path in a new town. I commend her for that. Also, I met Hannah, who works on a fourth-generation dairy farm and naturally wants to go into dairy farming. So, next year, she's also heading off. They are both of them in year 11 and yet they're going on a new pathway next year. Hannah is going off to study a cert and then ultimately a diploma in farming and agriculture, and she's really excited about that. That's the beauty of TAFE: it opens up so much opportunity for people right across Australia.

That is why the Nationals should get behind TAFE and the endless possibilities it provides for those two Country to Canberra women—Chloe from Tasmania and Hannah from down in Camperdown, Victoria. The Nationals should be behind the endless possibilities and range of learning opportunities that TAFE provides. If anyone in this country is going to be behind it, it should be the Nationals.

Labor welcome any opportunity to strengthen the integrity of the vocational education and training sector because we are great fans of VET and apprenticeships. The original intention of the VET FEE-HELP loan scheme was to enable a pathway to higher education for eligible students. We have since learned that lifting restrictions on what type of provider could arrange credit transfers with universities essentially opened the system to the market and made the system vulnerable and, worse, made thousands of VET students vulnerable.

According to the Department of Education and Training, between 2009 and 2015 the number of students accessing VET FEE-HELP jumped from 5,262 to a whopping 272,000. This is a 5,000 per cent increase. In the same period, the average course cost tripled from around $4,000 to $14,000. This resulted in debts to students. It has Commonwealth borrowings blowing out from $26 million to $2.9 billion. They're extraordinary jumps in figures—a 5,000 per cent increase. Because of these impacts, a number of changes were implemented to the system in 2015, including banning the use of inducements to encourage students to enrol in a course—and who could forget the enticement of iPads?—limiting allowable marketing and recruitment practices, clarifying students' rights and obligations, and introducing stricter provider eligibility and charging requirements and a civil penalty regime. In 2016, the VET FEE-HELP scheme was replaced with VET Student Loans, again tightening provider eligibility requirements and lending controls. The new VET Student Loans scheme has shown an improvement in course completion rates of 16 per cent not because of a program name change and not because of whatever government was in charge at the time but because we're starting to get the regulatory settings right.

We still have some way to go, unfortunately. The OECD Survey of Adult Skills examines the strengths and challenges facing the skills system and what can be done to enhance basic skills through education, training or other workplace measures. It's relied on by governments, academics and advocates for research and to inform policy development on skill formation. The outcome from the 2017 survey identified a number of policy recommendations for Australia, and these included increasing women's participation in STEM fields—I know from my own experience in the cybersecurity area that only 11 per cent of the cybersecurity profession are women—addressing underperformance of postsecondary VET students and preventing dropout, improving pre-apprenticeships, enhancing mathematics provision within secondary education and tackling poor access to childcare facilities for young mothers. These recommendations were made using internationally recognised, quantifiable data analysing the literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills of Australians.

But, just last week, Labor shadow minister for skills, TAFE and apprenticeships stated he had received advice that the Morrison government has withdrawn Australia from this Survey of Adult Skills. Why? It's absolutely staggering. If Australia withdraws, there will be no way of benchmarking Australia's skills internationally or assessing whether we are actually meeting national targets. Why would we want to avoid scrutiny on how our skill base is developing, particularly when we have a skill shortage in this nation in nearly every profession? There's a skill shortage, particularly in the trades. I can tell you right now we have a skill shortage of 19,000 in the cybersecurity industry, and that's just for next year.

Why would you want to avoid scrutiny of this skill shortage? We should be getting a greater understanding of how skill bases are developing and identifying areas where target assistance may be required. It should beggar belief but it is so typical of those opposite. Those opposite—and I count the Nationals in on this—have cut more than $3 billion from vocational education and skills, which is just staggering. Those opposite have cut a further $270 million over the forward estimates in funding for apprenticeships. Those opposite, including the Nationals, are now 140,000 apprentices fewer than when they took over government. And those opposite, including the Nationals, have cut 75 per cent from the infrastructure budgets for TAFE. Those opposite closed down the Workplace English Language and Literacy program. They've cut funding to the Skills for Education and Employment program.

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I get your brochures in the mail.

Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks very much for that; I'm talking about VET. Those opposite wasted $24 million on a bungled apprenticeship IT system and failed to meet their apprenticeship targets. For more than one year, those opposite failed to spend one cent of its flawed Skilling Australians Fund on an apprenticeship. Those opposite have provided no leadership on vocational education and training. Those opposite have ignored the underlying flaws in the system and instead continued to cut funding and continued to cut support to skills formation.

Contrast that to Labor—and this isn't just Labor's opinion either—in terms of what those opposite have done, in terms of the decimation of the VET system in this country. The Productivity Commission called the system 'a mess', the OECD has found Australia doesn't have the skills to engage effectively in global value chains, and an independent report by Terry Moran, one of the original architects of the national scheme, says that it's fragmented and devalued, that there is no effective governance, that the funding arrangements are chaotic and that there is no national strategy.

VET plays a vital role in our skill formation system. It is essential—absolutely vital—to Australia's future prospects and to our domestic and international competitiveness. We have an obligation to ensure that VET is excellent. We used to be world leaders on VET. We were one of the few countries that had a really sophisticated VET system going. There was the polytechnic system in the UK, the Germans and us—we were the world leaders. And now this is a world-leading system that has been starved in every way thanks to those opposite, including The Nationals. We have an obligation to ensure that VET provides an environment where students flourish, where they achieve things they've never imagined and where they reach goals they may never have felt possible given their personal circumstances and experiences. This cannot be achieved if, when it comes to cost cutting, VET continues to be treated as the poor cousin of the university sector and the scapegoat of governments.

We need a VET system that equips people more appropriately for a rapidly changing world and encourages people to take part in that world and continue that process of lifelong learning. The way forward will be complex and challenging intellectually and practically. And a clear example of the need to equip people for a rapidly changing world is evident in the area of cybersecurity. As I've mentioned, the cybersecurity industry is only 11 per cent women, and we are screaming out for skills. We will need 19,000 cybersecurity experts for next year alone. There is an international and national cybersecurity skills shortage: six million jobs in cybersecurity globally and only 4½ million people with the skills to fill those jobs next year. We need cybersecurity experts yesterday and we need them in a broad range of fields, from coders to policymakers.

So how do we get them quick smart? We need to think creatively and we need to think laterally. We need to learn from other nations. We need to think about compressing undergraduate degrees into two years, including industry experience. We need to think about intensive degrees, where the student studies throughout the year with no break, completing the degree in 12 months. We need to think about pathway degrees, diplomas and certificates, which can be completed in a summer school. We need to think about pathways through primary school and secondary school to cybersecurity careers, identifying that talent early and fostering and nurturing it through the education process. We need to think about managing the security risk of newcomers awaiting their positive vet: getting them into the workforce but keeping them on less sensitive work until they're cleared, or graduating them up the scale as their positive vet progresses. We need to think about starting the positive vetting process during high school, TAFE or university so graduates aren't stringing a living together through a series of part-time jobs for two years while they're waiting for their clearance. And we need to think creatively and laterally about how we accredit these courses, certificates, diplomas and degrees. Cybersecurity is the new black. It is the Y2K of the 2000s, and there is not a day that goes by where an institution doesn't come up with a new cybersecurity course. But at the moment we only have an assurance mechanism to accredit some of these courses, not all of them, which means we have quite a large blind spot over the skills, quality and readiness of many of our cybersecurity graduates—and I say 'not all' these courses because, while I understand the Australian Computer Society accredits undergraduate and postgraduate ICT courses, the push now is for cybersecurity graduates from multidisciplinary backgrounds, across a range of disciplines—that is, those with a combination of ICT and international law, risk management and coding, or psychology and ethics.

We now have a national curriculum in TAFE on cyber, and that is being rolled out, and I applaud that. That said, we need more of this and we need it now. We also need to be assured that the courses that are rolling out across TAFEs and across institutions right throughout the nation are actually accredited. Labor believes no-one should be excluded from access to vocational education and training as a result of financial disadvantage, course cost, fear of debt or regional disadvantage. The inquiry into postsecondary education will build on the best of Australia's vocational education and training system and repair the damage done by shonky providers and the neglect of those opposite, including the Nationals. Labor has always championed quality apprenticeships and will continue to ensure more Australians can follow that trusted path into decent work.

5:00 pm

Photo of Andrew BroadAndrew Broad (Mallee, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank those members who spoke on the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Student Protection) Bill 2018 and those who came to hear my riveting wrap-up speech! The bill amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to establish a remedy for students who incurred a VET FEE-HELP debt due to the inappropriate conduct of their VET provider or their VET provider's agent. The bill also amends the Ombudsman Act 1976 to allow the VET Student Loans Ombudsman to make recommendations to the secretary of the Department of Education and Training regarding remitting the VET FEE-HELP debts of individual students.

This bill demonstrates a concerted attempt by the government to remove VET FEE-HELP debt incurred by many students through the inappropriate behaviour and rorting of the VET FEE-HELP scheme by some VET providers. The bill allows the secretary to remit the student's debt upon application by the student and at their own initiative. The secretary's power to recredit a student's VET FEE-HELP debt includes debt incurred at any point over the VET FEE-HELP scheme.

In deciding whether to recredit a student's FEE-HELP balance, the secretary must be satisfied that the person did not complete the requirements for the relevant VET unit of study and that it is reasonably likely the VET provider or its agent engaged in inappropriate conduct towards the student, in relation to the unit or course of which the unit formed a part. In response to a request from the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, I now present an addendum to the explanatory memorandum. It provides further information about why it is appropriate for delegated legislation rather than primary legislation to provide for what constitutes inappropriate conduct by providers.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Scullin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.