House debates

Wednesday, 22 March 2023


National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023; Second Reading

5:00 pm

Photo of Jenny WareJenny Ware (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023. It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of this legislation. In Australia the vocational education and training, or VET, sector delivers outstanding education and training through a variety of institutions, through both public TAFE and private registered training organisations, or RTOs. This service is delivered within universities and also through schools.

In my first speech in this place I mentioned how important education is to me personally, and I quoted those immortal words of Nelson Mandela—that education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world. At that time I said that we need a national curriculum that is relevant, is empowering and builds in our children a lifetime love of learning and that we need a TAFE and university system that is first-class, leads the world and provides students with job-readiness skills. That is why I'm always happy to support reform and improvement to our VET sector. The VET sector is a dynamic and responsive sector. It supports millions of students each year to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in an ever-changing economy. It provides flexible opportunities for individuals to engage in education and training as a starting point to a career pathway or as a solution to upskill or reskill.

In my electorate of Hughes we have an excellent public TAFE, located at Loftus, where courses on offer include remedial massage and massage therapy, commercial cookery, hospitality, English language, retail services, fitness, sport coaching, accounts administration and, very importantly, early childhood education and care. I also make mention of Gymea TAFE, which is in the electorate adjoining mine, but many students from my electorate attend Gymea TAFE.

As background to this legislation: these reforms commenced under the previous coalition government in order to better facilitate the ability of government to collect and report data extracted from the vocational education and training system. So, it's about how we collect that data. The reforms were an aspect of the heads of agreement for skills reform that was agreed to in July 2020 between the Commonwealth and the various state and territory governments. The bill's stated purpose is to improve data collection as part of the VET data streamlining reforms by imposing an obligation on RTOs to report data under that act. And it does seek to implement some of the recommendations outlined in what we call the Braithwaite review, which was a review of the national VET system. Commissioned by the previous coalition government, the review responded by supporting, in principle, recommendations that are relevant to this legislation. I'll just mention four of them here.

The first one, recommendation 11, is that the Australian government prioritise the improvement of policies and systems that allow for transfer of real-time data for timely use by other agencies with regulatory responsibilities for identifying and responding to emerging sectoral and provider based issues. That recommendation has made its way into this legislation. The next recommendation, which is known as recommendation 13, is that the legislative framework be amended to enable the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to make the RTO level data it holds publicly available and identifiable. Thirdly, it was recommended that changes be made to support the way VET activity data is collected and submitted by the various RTOs. Fourthly, to modernise the way that VET activity data can be accessed and used by authorised users. To that end, I note there are currently data lags of up to 20 months in national VET activity data collection which is published annually. Therefore, the current data lags make it difficult for government to respond effectively to emerging skills shortages or other policy and funding issues as they occur.

In terms of this legislation, it's anticipated that VET data streamlining will introduce more modern technology; an updated VET information standard; and updated regulatory, legislative and government settings that will support the stated objective of better data, faster. In all of these circumstances, I believe that these VET data reforms are important and they will, if enacted, enhance the transparency of changes and developments in the VET market; make VET student activity data reporting simpler; reduce reporting pathways for training providers; and reduce the time delay between the collection, availability and reporting of VET activity data.

To conclude, for all of these reasons I support the proposed legislation that is currently in this place. It was commenced under the former coalition government and has come about as a result of the Braithwaite review. It is uncontroversial, but it is a key step in modernising the collection and use of VET activity data. As I said in opening, I will always support any reforms that will help to improve our education system overall, whether it's VET, university, primary or preschool education. So for all of these reasons, I commend this bill to the House.

5:07 pm

Photo of Carina GarlandCarina Garland (Chisholm, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to speak on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023. The purpose of this bill is to better support data collection and other related measures being implemented as part of the Vocational Education and Training Data Streamlining program. This will make it much more efficient to assess how effective our investment in VET will be. Our investment in VET is, of course, so critical to our communities and to the nation.

The VDS program will modernise the VET data system and reduce the time delay between the collection, availability and use of activity data, which under the current 25-year-old data system can be up to 20 months old when released. This will enhance the government's ability to assess the effectiveness of their investment in VET. It makes sure we are tracking data in a much more up-to-date fashion and modernises the systems we use. If we want our skills sector and our industries fit for the future our data regime needs to be too, and that's why it is so important that we introduce this bill to support the skills and workforce needs of the nation now and well into the future.

This bill will mean that Australia is more agile to respond to what we need for skills, jobs and industries for the future—again, another demonstration of the forward thinking, optimistic government that we have in this country. Currently, the information needs of students, training providers and decision-makers in much of the VET sector are not being met. We can do better than this and that's what this bill does. It commits to doing better for the entire VET sector. And as an extension, all of our communities across the nation who rely on skilled workforces and VET institutions will be better off.

In my own electorate of Chisholm we have several TAFE campuses, including Holmesglen—and many of my constituents attend the Box Hill Institute. The VET sector is incredibly important to me. TAFE is very important to me. I know I've raised this on several occasions, but I do so because it is a great source of honour to me that the first visit Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made to Melbourne after the election 10 months ago was to Chisholm. It was to a TAFE campus in my electorate. It was to the Holmesglen Drummond Street campus, which is home to the world-leading Victorian Tunnelling Centre. It is a vital institution ensuring that we have a local skilled workforce to do the incredibly important infrastructure work that is underway now in Victoria and that will continue thanks to the critical investment our government is making in the big projects that are truly transformative for our nation, such as the Suburban Rail Loop project. The first part of this project, the Suburban Rail Loop East, will in the most part be in my electorate. As a long-time resident and commuter across the south-eastern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne that this project will connect, I know just how valuable this project is.

A skilled workforce is central to ensuring this important job and many other jobs done across the nation. Labor's always invested in skills. We have always seen the value of vocational education and training and TAFE, and supporting the modernisation of data collection in the sector is another example of this. The care sector, of course, is very important to our nation. It was wonderful to be able to visit the Glen Waverley campus of Holmesglen and meet with early childhood education students who had already, while still studying, been snapped up with great, well-paying, secure jobs because the work that they do is in such high demand at the moment. Also on my visit to Holmesglen in Glen Waverley I visited some floristry students, who very kindly made me a lovely bouquet that really brightened up my office in Burwood.

I also visited the Box Hill Institute recently with Minister O'Connor and the state vocational education and training minister, Minister Tierney, to meet with culinary and electrical students. What was really interesting about our conversations with a number of the students was that they had started their education pathways post secondary school at university. They had then found that that wasn't quite for them so, instead, they decided to embark on an educational journey in the vocational education and training sector studying electrical engineering which, I think, is a really great story, demonstrating the importance of TAFE and of vocational education and training to progressing careers for so many in our communities.

Our government is delivering on our promise to elevate the sector, and TAFE is at the centre of the sector. We are determined for Australia to maintain our position as a global leader in VET. We are delivering 180,000 fee-free TAFE and VET places, upgrading essential TAFE infrastructure through the $50 million TAFE technology fund, and supporting new energy apprenticeships for a modern economy. For these innovations to succeed it is really critical that we can respond rapidly to emerging challenges, address skill gaps and take advantage of market opportunities. The ability to harness the power of information through modern systems and a new information standard will be key to achieving this goal. We can't track things properly if we don't have the best information and data. It is in the national interest that we modernise the way that we collect data, the way we use data and the way we make decisions about the kind of country and workforce that we are going to support in the future. I am really proud to be able to be part of the government to bring this bill to the House. I commend the bill to the House.

5:13 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023, which the coalition supports in principle. However, before I do that I want to take a moment to tell the chamber about one education provider in my electorate who is doing extraordinary work in this space—that is, the Sunshine Coast Technical and Trade Training Centre based in Caloundra. This is a centre which partners with Caloundra State High School, Beerwah State High School, Kawana Waters State College and Meridan State College to deliver vocational education and training with high-quality industry based work experience. In 2022 alone, students completed a total of 11,500 hours of structured workplace learning, with the highest graduate apprenticeship and employment rate the centre has seen to date. In 2020 and 2021 they were named Fisher Education Provider of the Year at my annual Fisher Community Awards, and in 2019 construction trainer Rob Reid was awarded Fisher Educator of the Year for nearly 10 years of trade skills training. In 2020 and 2022 the centre was a finalist for the School Pathways to VET Award at the Australian Training Awards, and on five occasions the centre was named Construction School of the Year by Construction Skills Queensland.

This is a training institution that is getting it right. They offer programs in aviation that prepare students to operate drones and have partnered with CQUniversity to provide training in basic aeronautic knowledge and in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. They offer a program in built environment and design—

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Members, a quorum has been called for in the House.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to keep going. It's a quorum call.

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

You're happy to keep going. Can we continue?

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll keep going until I'm told otherwise.

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Member for Fisher.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The trade training school offers a program in built environment and—

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Member for Fisher—a quorum has been called for in the House. Proceedings are suspended in order for honourable members to attend the quorum. Proceedings will resume when the chair of the Federation Chamber is resumed at the conclusion of any quorum bells.

Sitting suspended from 17:16 to 17:20

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, the trade training college offers a program in built environment and design, covering residential construction, communication and building design. They deliver training in construction, automotive mechanics, electrotechnology, retail cosmetics, plumbing and beauty services. These are programs which students can directly articulate into further education, higher education and employment, and they prepare well-rounded graduates who have not been plunged through enormous class sizes or online webinars.

I think of Joshua Skogvold, who was named the 2022 Student of the Year. Josh completed his Certificate II in Electrotechnology whilst he was completing year 12 at Siena College. He is someone who has not only completed his secondary education but now has a career start as an electrical apprentice. Blaise, a 2022 graduate, says of his experience: 'I made great friends with the trainer and students and also got an apprenticeship with the help of my trainer. My work placement out with an employer also really helped as it gave me heaps of knowledge in the automotive industry.' Once again, there's a graduate who is engaged in formal training and equipped for meaningful employment. Shellie, one of the mums who's son Matthew also completed training at the centre, said: 'My husband and I are so grateful for the opportunities this year at Sunshine Coast Technical Trade Training Centre gave Matthew and know that it has set him up for his future. He had amazing support and guidance.'

The Sunshine Coast Technical Trade Training Centre is a phenomenal example of what can be achieved when industry and education partner together to engage and equip young people for a trades based career. It's not a university. It's not a school. It's not a TAFE. This is a collaborative industry-centred training facility which is changing young peoples' lives. That's why I was so disappointed—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 17:23 to 17:44

That is why I was so disappointed to see very little mention of industry-led and collaborative community-based training providers. Don't get me wrong: I absolutely support a strong and well-funded TAFE system. In fact, I'm a product of the TAFE system. The member for Chisholm was talking earlier about Holmesglen College of TAFE. That's where I went to TAFE. That's where I did the schooling component of my carpentry apprenticeship. I am a huge supporter of TAFE. TAFE is incredibly important. Often on this side of the House we get criticised as being unfriendly towards TAFE. But as someone who has actually been through the TAFE system and done an apprenticeship, I wonder how many of those opposite have actually gone through an apprenticeship.

Gone are the days of Labor of old, when you could say absolutely that the Labor Party was full of blue-collar workers. But that is no longer the case, unfortunately. The minister has this emphasis on TAFE, in my view incorrectly. It's not putting TAFE at the centre of our education system. It's not putting university at the centre of our education sector. It's not putting private providers at the centre. The centre of our education has got to be our students. Students must be the focus. If you go and enrol in a cert IV in training and assessment right now, that is what our vocational trainers and assessors are taught, because if we want a skilled workforce in the trades based sector then graduate outcome and employability must be the No. 1 focus.

One of the common criticisms I get and have heard over successive governments, whether it was me as a builder or when talking to colleagues who are solicitors, is that our current education system is not training people for the jobs of today or the future. When I've gone and spoken to groups, particularly university students who are just about to graduate, I congratulate them and say: 'Well done! You've worked hard for four years, and at the end of your four years you're going to get this little piece of paper, and this little piece of paper is what I call your licence to learn. After four hard years of slog, blood, sweat and tears at university, you can now take that piece of paper to an employer and say, Please can you now teach me; I have a licence to learn.'

That is what a degree gives you, and I can say that now, as someone who's been through the trades sector and as someone who's done a law degree. What you learn at law school and what you do as a practising lawyer are poles apart. That's what I hear in just about every other industry as well. So, we have to get a lot smarter in this country about how we teach our young people, particularly in the vocational education and training sector.

I'm calling on this government to change their language and change their approach. When Labor were in power in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, we had a fundamental change to the way vocational education and training was viewed, because every young person was encouraged to go to university. But do you know what? Not every young person is destined to go to university. Not every young person should go to university. The old Labor government, in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, particularly under Prime Minister Gillard, established this sort of culture that if you wanted to be someone in life you needed to go to university, you needed to get a higher education. As a parent, I sucked that up. I fell for it. I was a tradesman back then, and I wanted my kids to do better—so called—than I did. I wanted them to go to university. It's really funny. If you look at carpenters, electricians and plumbers now, they are laughing their heads off about what they earn compared to what lawyers earn. When I used to go to Master Builders nights in my days as a builder, you'd pull up at a local pub and the car yard would be full of utes and vans, and there might be one or two Mercedes from the lawyers coming to teach them. Then 15 or 20 years later, it was an absolute complete swap; it's the tradies that are now driving the Mercedes-Benzes and the lawyers that are driving the utes.

The fact is that we had this cultural shift in this country which denigrated—and I don't use that term lightly—trades. We denigrated trades. As someone who was in the trade, we denigrated trades. If you were a tradesman you were a second-class citizen. That was the story. That was the message that was being told, and it's fundamentally wrong. If you are a tradesman, the world is your oyster. The training that many trades receive in this country, particularly in years gone by, can take you just about anywhere in the world. There is a problem with that now; unfortunately we are not seeing the same sort of quality of trades coming through. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. But we have developed this culture, and what we are seeing is a lack of tradespeople now as a result. If your toilet gets blocked, ring a plumber. Try to get a carpenter. Try to get a bricklayer these days. There is an absolute dearth of trades, and that is because of the cultural shift that happened under that Labor government.

Let me tell you about when we were in government. The Liberals and Nationals cleaned up Labor's mess when it comes to vocational education. Since my first day in this role, I have bemoaned the fact that tradespeople were really denigrated by that lot over on the other side. This has impacted productivity, the availability of a skilled workforce, as I said, and industries that rely on skilled workers, including manufacturing, construction and technology. I'm pleased to have been part of a coalition government which invested record amounts into the Australian skills system, totalling $13 billion since 2020 alone.

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Could the member for Fisher pause. We have hardly any members in the Chamber, so let's hear the member for Fisher in silence.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We saw the highest number of apprentices on record thanks to policies like the Australian Apprenticeships Incentive System, a $2.4 billion program which focused on boosting apprenticeship completions. We were able to support businesses to employ and train apprentices and trainees with programs like the Skills and Training Boost, which supported small and family businesses with a fee deduction and a bonus deduction of 20 per cent in the cost of external training delivered by registered training providers. During the COVID-19 pandemic we protected those businesses and 530,000 apprentices with a crucial wage subsidy program, saving jobs, protecting employers and supporting Australia's productivity at a time at which it was most at risk. We supported jobseekers and young people with low-fee or fee-free training through the $2.1 billion JobTrainer Fund. This created 478,000 training places in crucial skilled sectors, including aged care, to which 10 per cent of places were directed. I could go on about our successes in government, but I am running out of time.

To the bill itself, there are a number of things the coalition will support. The coalition is in step with the government's commitment to resolving the situation in national VET activity data collection, which can see data lags of up to 20 months. Whilst in government, the coalition also sought to address the issues. Once again, this is a bill which continues important reforms that the coalition started. Specifically, the bill gives effect to some of the recommendations outlined in the Braithwaite review. This was a review commissioned by the coalition when in government, and, naturally, we support in principle those recommendations as laid out in this legislation. We do so in good faith and expect that the government will subject this bill to a thorough committee examination to ensure that the issues raised by the sector are aired and addressed. I'm pleased that the government has agreed to make that commitment.

5:55 pm

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the member for Fisher for his speech. There were some things that I agree with and some things that I disagree with. My father is a fitter and turner, and, for the record, I studied AutoCAD at TAFE, so there you go!

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Good on you. Well done.

Photo of Zaneta MascarenhasZaneta Mascarenhas (Swan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The thing that I'd also point out is that the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023 has bipartisan support, which is wonderful. I love it when the parliament can work hand in hand, improving our nation together. It's a shame that we can't talk about all the positive things that we're doing together and we had a bit of sledging just then.

I will say that I am proud and will take this opportunity to highlight the Albanese Labor government's strong track record in the vocational education sector. We are a party that recognises the importance of tradespeople—I note the use of the word 'tradesmen' in the previous speech, but I will say 'tradespeople', because there are lots of trades that people do where you could be any gender really. Some of the highlights include broadening our commitment to TAFE by introducing 480,000 fee-free TAFE places. For 2023, we introduced 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, including 18,800 fee-free TAFE places and VET places offered in my home state of Western Australia. These extra training places have been intentionally selected to be delivered in critical skill shortage areas. These include aged care, early childhood education, health care, disability care, technology and increasing digital skills, hospitality and tourism, and construction and agriculture, while also increasing our sovereign capability in areas like manufacturing and defence. We've also committed $2 million to a new commercial kitchen at South Metro TAFE in my home electorate o Swan. We've also committed $95.6 million over nine years to support 10,000 new energy apprentices. The program will see eligible apprentices receive up to $10,000 over the course of their apprenticeship to assist with the cost of living.

I want to see the vocational sector grow from strength to strength, and a part of this is around good data processes. Twenty-five years old sounds quite young for maybe a man or a woman, but for a data system it's very old. In fact, I would call it geriatric. Currently, the existing geriatric 25-year-old data system, which is associated with the VET sector, can take up to 20 months to upload the data before students, governments and regulators can actually get this information. It's archaic; it's clunky; the system is not fit for purpose for the year 2023. Good organisations have good data management systems. You know the old adage: if you're not measuring it, you can't manage it. So this is a part of improving the processes. This is the first step in broadening the VET data streamlining program, which is designed to speed up and modernise the collection and use of VET data. The truth is that we're looking at data in ways that we haven't in the past. We need to have good systems in place so we can start to have a look at the trends and see what's happening.

Under the existing data standard, which was developed 25 years ago, data on VET students and training activity took 20 months to update before it was available to students, governments and regulators. This data is crucial for program administration. It supports providers to deliver high-quality training and is key to implementing policy priorities effectively. That activity data is currently collected under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Provision Requirements) Instrument 2020. Currently, the act requires that any changes to the data provision requirements be agreed to by the ministerial council, which includes all the Commonwealth, state and territory skills ministers. This creates unnecessary administrative burden for skills ministers and makes the data standard less responsive than it should be.

This bill contains four important elements. It allows the ministerial council to agree to appoint another person—for example, a senior bureaucrat—from each jurisdiction. They can then agree to specific changes of the data provision requirements. Once these are passed, the ministerial council could make an agreement which includes stating the circumstances or procedures by which a specific person or body can agree to changes to the data provision requirements. This will allow changes to the data provision requirements to be made more rapidly and flexibly and will allow VET data streamlining to be implemented responsively. A reflective and responsive VET sector that can be efficient is one that will better meet the needs of Australian students in the long term. I will use COVID as an example. Organisations needed to be flexible and pivot, and this is something that we can't do with the current system.

It will allow the national VET sector regulator, ASQA, to make administrative decisions, primarily in relation to granting exemptions from certain data for registered training organisations. Currently, under separate policy, ASQA grants exceptions to RTOs from reporting data in specific circumstances—for example, when training relates to national security or where reporting related data would jeopardise security. This change will allow exemptions to be granted under the act rather than under a separate policy. In our changing strategic environment we will require decisions to be made quickly, and these changes acknowledge that.

It also allows the secretary of the Commonwealth department with responsibility for skills and training to release the data under the data collection provisions to the public when agreed to by the ministerial council. This removes an existing ambiguity in the act which treats the release of data provision requirements data differently to other data. It also permits the secretary to authorise ICT operators, by legislative instrument, to access and use VET data while contracted to build a new VET data system. In my previous role, I sat on the board of the South Metropolitan TAFE governing council, and data management and data governance were really important. This will be an important step to improving that. This will ensure that those involved in handling information collected under the data provision requirements are authorised to do so.

To ease the burden of the new requirements, the bill will insert a new schedule into the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Transitional Provisions) Act 2011 to support registered training organisations to transition across to new reporting arrangements over two years. It's important that we're also giving our registered training organisations time to adjust to the new regulatory system.

Our world is dramatically changing and the role of digital data systems in all that we do has grown drastically in the last three decades. CSIRO's Our future world megatrends report notes:

The rapid adoption of digital and data technologies in recent times has meant that many sectors and organisations have experienced years' worth of digital transformation in the space of months. … While this progress has been significant, experts predict that this is just the tip of the iceberg, with the vast majority of digitisation yet to occur.

This bill updates our data management processes in the VET sector to meet the changing ways in which society is using data for community benefit. When I worked at Energetics, big datasets and collection mechanisms were essential for carbon accounting, and we were doing this because we were responding to global market conditions which required decisions to be made quickly and accurately. This legislation is effectively about updating our 25-year-old data system processes. This will enable better decision-making and ensure a high-quality VET sector student experience. I welcome the support of the crossbench and the opposition in passing this legislation and I hope to see positive impacts of the change under this legislation soon.

6:05 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just like to add some brief remarks on this legislation, which of course we're supporting, as has been indicated. I think it's really just an opportunity for us to reflect on this bill. Obviously it's going to improve the ability for data to be captured and collected from RTOs and give more flexibility around how that occurs.

I can speak specifically to my home state of South Australia. There is an enormous amount of bureaucratic complexity around the way the VET sector is structured, and, frankly, I think that's crept in over decades. We've obviously got multiple levels of government that are involved in funding. We've even got local government, particularly in regional areas, that often is very engaged with the local TAFE campuses and the like. I think that this is obviously an opportunity to dramatically improve the data collection, and, hopefully, we also treat that better quality of data as an opportunity for more reform around VET.

In the coalition, we're very supportive, if not passionate, about as much flexibility in the VET sector and empowering RTOs, particularly industry led RTOs. We had a terrible situation in South Australia a few years ago—it was 2015, from memory—where the industry RTOs were cut out of the state government funding to support and hardwire that funding exclusively to TAFE. We lost a lot of really good industry led providers through that process. The AHA was significantly affected, and the MTA et cetera. So the flexibility that we get through that RTO system is really important. Good quality data is obviously going to drive an ability to look for reform. I certainly think with so many different hands of government engaged in this area—across workforce planning, across funding, across accreditation and the like—there's got to be further opportunities that this might bring about for us to streamline.

I also want to put on the record the opportunities specific to the AUKUS announcement last week in my home state of South Australia and how important the VET sector is going to be in making sure that we are training the workforce that we need. There's a big risk around not getting that right, because there are two other countries involved in this AUKUS opportunity and their businesses will gobble up the opportunities where they see them if we haven't properly trained a workforce for businesses in our country to take this opportunity, particularly in the supply chain.

I'm very passionate about supply chain opportunity. We won't struggle; we'll get it right where we train the workforce we need in the shipyards. That is a fairly straightforward mapping exercise to understand what the needs are. I'm not suggesting it's not a very significant body of work, but I'm paying a compliment to the people that will be engaged in that and know that we'll be able to identify what we need in the shipyards. But the more lucrative economic element of shipbuilding is through the supply chain. Whilst the shipyards are significant, that's really putting together the finished product. A lot of what is inside that pressure hull is not manufactured at the shipyard. It comes to the shipyard from other businesses, and the workforce element of that is going to be vitally important. It's an opportunity hopefully, for our businesses to supply into the UK supply chain for their AUKUS submarine build, and I hope that the government is very focused on achieving opportunities for Australian businesses to supply into the UK program. And, for all the investment we've committed to to go into the UK, I sincerely hope there is a significant economic dividend from that.

A division having been called in the House of Rep resentatives—

Sitting suspended from 18:09 to 18:29

Without repeating myself, I think I have articulated those important points about the naval shipbuilding opportunity in South Australia and how vital the VET sector will be to that. I hope this bill will provide an opportunity for the sector to strengthen and for the government to be in possession of information that is of higher quality and that can lead to future reform opportunities in the sector.

6:29 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Skills and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to thank all members for their contributions to this debate. I thank the members for Farrer, Hughes, Fisher, Chisholm, Swan and Sturt, who have spoken on the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023.

The Australian vocational education and training sector delivers outstanding education training through a variety of institutions, public and private, and registered training organisations within universities and schools. It is a dynamic and responsive sector that supports millions of students to obtain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a modern economy. It provides flexible opportunities to engage in education and training as a starting point to a career pathway or as a solution to upskill or reskill.

The government understands the importance of the VET sector to the Australian economy, which is why it is delivering 180,000 fee-free TAFE places in 2023, upgrading essential TAFE infrastructure through the TAFE technology fund and supporting new energy apprenticeships for a modern economy, among other policies to uplift the VET sector. However, the needs of students, first and foremost, along with training providers and decision-makers in much of the VET sector, are not currently being met when it comes to information and data.

In order for the VET sector to be dynamic and responsive, the implementation of VET data reforms is crucial. The amendments in the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator (Data Streamlining) Amendment Bill 2023 are required to help address these issues. The Australian government is working with the states and territories and the National Centre for Vocational Education Research to improve the availability and quality of VET data. The VET data streamlining program will implement measures to simplify reporting pathways, improve data quality and decrease reporting times across the VET sector, with a focus on improving outcomes at a national level. This will reduce the delay between the creation, collection and use of national VET activity data, which will enable governments and other VET data users to be more responsive to the needs of the VET sector.

The government, along with the states and territories, has consulted widely with stakeholders on data provision requirements in VET. Consultations with these stakeholders, including peak bodies, regulators and training providers, showed support for improving the timeliness and quality of VET data for all stakeholders. I'm happy to say that when I raised this matter as an agenda item at the last ministerial council it was unanimously supported by all ministers and all jurisdictions present, which really shows how much support there is for these reforms.

For Australia to maintain its position as a global leader in VET training it is critical that we can respond rapidly to emerging challenges, address skills gaps and take advantage of market opportunities. Our ability to harness the power of data through a strong governance framework, modern ICT capabilities and an updated fit-for-purpose VET information standard will be key to achieving this goal. Comprehensive and timely VET data is important. It supports a strong VET system that is relevant and responsive to employers and students. It instils confidence in the quality and value of VET, and it ensures that students and employers can access suitable information and training. In addition, VET activity reporting provides transparency to enable scrutiny of the competitive delivery of VET. This scrutiny stimulates research and provides evidence to inform governments on how best to invest public resources to get the best returns for the sector.

The amendments in this bill will support necessary VET data reforms to improve the timeliness and quality of VET data and deliver on the government's commitment to enhancing the quality and relevance of VET reforms, such as through fee-free TAFE, the TAFE technology fund and other pending reforms. Once again, I thank all members for their engagement with and contributions to the debate on this important bill. I appreciate the fact that the opposition have supported this bill. Some of the work on this bill commenced prior to the election, so I note the work that was undertaken by those opposite, and I acknowledge the work of the NCVER, state and territory governments, sector regulators and the VET sector more broadly in advancing these important VET data reforms.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.