Wednesday, 17 June 2020
National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020; Second Reading
The original question was that the bill be read now a second time. To this the honourable member for Cooper has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question before the House is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
I thank all members for their contributions to this debate. Delivering excellence in training lies at the heart of the Australian government's skills agenda and that can only be achieved with a regulatory approach that is fair, transparent and effective and with a regulator that is willing to continually evolve, build organisational capability and engage with the vocational education and training sector.
This bill ensures that the national VET regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, has a more effective, modern and fit-for-purpose governance structure. It responds to both the Braithwaite and Joyce reviews, which called on ASQA to adopt a greater educative role and improve its regulatory approach. Further, it aligns with findings from the rapid review of ASQA governance, culture and processes undertaken by regulatory experts and announced by the government in October 2019. The government released the final rapid review on 30 April 2020.
The reforms will ensure ASQA is well positioned to support the VET sector to navigate the current COVID-19 environment and, more importantly, to guide the sector's recovery and regrowth once the pandemic abates. In this context, on 12 April 2020 the Australian government announced measures that provide regulatory fee relief for the VET sector. Certain fees and charges between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2021 will be waived and relevant fees already paid will be reimbursed. This will assist the financially viability of registered training organisations, supporting business operations during the crisis and fostering recovery once travel and operational restrictions are relaxed.
The revised governance model in the bill will also assist as it draws on best practice for Commonwealth regulators and will enable ASQA to better allocate and clarify operational roles and responsibilities and improve regulatory decision-making.
The existing three commissioner model will be replaced by a single agency head to be known as the Chief Executive Officer, or CEO, of ASQA who will lead ASQA's strategic direction and improve efficiency. Starting reform at the top and working down ensures a positive impact on the agency's culture and supports a revised and revitalised organisational structure anticipated as part of the agency reforms.
Further, the bill establishes a statutory advisory council consisting of diverse, multidisciplinary experts who will provide ASQA with access to strategic guidance and direction. For example, members of the council will be drawn from those with experience from public and private training organisations. Significant reform is anticipated in the VET sector over the coming years, and these changes will position the CEO to make the necessary changes to ASQA's internal practices, enhance its educative role and address future challenges.
The information-sharing provisions in the bill support the disclosure of data collected by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to a range of bodies. It is the intention of the bill for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to be able to disclose information to state and territory departments with responsibility for Vocational Education and Training even where they are also listed on the national register as a registered training organisation. Enhanced information-sharing helps governments and vocational and educational training regulators so the diverse needs and requirements of all Australians are considered in policy, funding and regulation.
This bill is further evidence of the government's commitment to VET sector reform. It is the next stage of measures that will strengthen ASQA to engage more effectively with stakeholders while continuing to improve its regulatory approach and enhance student outcomes. A strong national regulator supports access to quality vocational educational and training.
The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills in its Scrutiny Digest 3 of 2020 requested the minister's advice related to a no-invalidity clause and significant matters in delegated legislation. In relation to the invalidity clause, the committee sought advice about section 157(6) of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011. The act, which, when amended, would operate so that the failure of the national VET regulator to comply with advice provided by the new advisory council does not affect the validity of the performance of the regulator's functions. The minister advised the committee that the amendment is necessary to achieve the desired policy settings for the creation of the new independent expert advisory council.
New section 157(5)(a) makes it mandatory for the CEO of ASQA to consider the advisory council's advice, including reports. However, the amendment to section 157(6) proposed by item 34 in the bill ensures that the decisions of ASQA will not be invalid merely on the basis that the CEO did not have regard to a relevant advisory report or advice. The CEO of ASQA must consider, although not necessarily follow, that advice and information in specific circumstances which is the right policy setting for the advisory council's reports.
The committee also requested information regarding why in relation to schedule 2 of the bill it is necessary and appropriate to leave safeguards for the disclosure of information to delegated legislation. They asked for consideration of whether safeguards can be included on the face of the primary legislation or at a minimum provide that the minister must take the information safeguard rules rather than make them. The minister advised the committee that the information safeguard rules add an additional layer of protection to those already included on the face of primary legislation. The protection of personal information is a serious matter and, if unforeseen issues were to arise over time, the minister could quickly respond to emerging issues in an appropriate manner to the circumstances. The government committed to making the information safeguard rules following the passing of the bill, which also requires that the minister seeks agreement from the Council of Australian Governments skills ministers.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights in its Humanrights scrutiny report No. 3 of 2020 requested more information to assess whether the information-sharing measure in schedule 2 of the bill is compatible with the right to privacy. The committee considered the gathering of identifiable student data to develop policies which respond to the changing needs of students within and emerging from the VET system as an important and legitimate objective with sufficient protections to safeguard the right to privacy. The committee considered it may be useful to update the statement of compatibility to include the information the minister provided in her response. This action has been taken with the tabling of an addendum to the explanatory memorandum for the bill. I thank the committee and appreciate the time taken to review the bill. I commend the bill to the House.