Senate debates

Monday, 16 March 2015


National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2015; Second Reading

6:16 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This is the second occasion today on which I am pleased to stand and speak on matters educational in this chamber. Earlier in the day we saw a series of questions to the government around the higher education reform bill, which has changed somewhat in shape today but not in intent. As much as I recognise that the bill currently being debated, the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment Bill 2015, is worthy of consideration and that I see it—along with Senator Bilyk, as she has just indicated—as a step forward in redressing the concerns that are very alive in the community, we cannot forget that the Labor and Liberal views about the value of education and the access to education that Australians deserve across this country are very different, as are their views on what that might look like.

What we are seeing here this afternoon, like the backflip we saw on higher education reform, a government responding to incredible pressure because it simply cannot see for itself that it should not be constructing education in the way that it is. This is a government that, through its decision before to completely backflip on its commitment to the electorate regarding Gonski, is completely going back on what it said: 'We are on a unity ticket with Labor. We will fund schools on the basis of need right across this country. You can rely on us.' But the minute they were elected they walked away from that completely because their hearts are not in it. Their ideology is not in it. They simply do not believe in equitable access to education. They do not believe in equality. They believe in creating a two-tier, American system.

In a way it is extraordinary that the government are at the point where they have come forward with this piece of legislation, but it is only because they have changed their minds. Last week, the government voted down Labor's amendment, when we called on the government to act with more urgency to ensure the protection of students. We saw it as an issue that needed to be prioritised. We needed support for tougher measures. We were calling for an investigation by the Auditor-General into the misuse of VET FEE-HELP and we wanted an education campaign to be introduced by the ACCC to look at the sharks that are circling young, vulnerable people and mature-age students, who are also vulnerable and susceptible to the sort of seduction that was outlined by Senator Bilyk in her speech, which preceded mine. Following a common theme we are seeing at the moment, the government back-flipped. Last week they would not do it, but this week they decided to heed our advice. At last, they were dragged kicking and screaming to the legislative table to do something to protect vulnerable people. I will congratulate them on that.

As always, Labor will be happy to support good measures that provide protection for vulnerable people, and we look forward to receiving the details of these new measures. At this stage, there has been an announcement, but I have learnt that we should be a little careful about announcements from this government, because you might get an announcement on Thursday and it can look a whole lot different on Tuesday. We found that out with the announcement with regard to the registration of financial advisers. Education was on the register one minute and, in a press release a few days later, it had miraculously disappeared. So we need to be really careful. The government were not with us last week; they are with us today; let's see what the story is tomorrow. We have the announcement but we have little detail.

The Assistant Minister for Education and Training, Senator Birmingham, who I acknowledge is here in the chamber, announced that the government is going to introduce a rolling—I thought that was an interesting term—campaign of legislative and other changes to deal with rogue training providers and to better protect students. To deal with rogue training providers and to better protect students, and I agree with that, there will be a 'rolling campaign'. Labor has been warning about these dodgy operators for 18 months—


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