Senate debates

Tuesday, 8 May 2018


Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018, Migration (Skilling Australians Fund) Charges Bill 2017; In Committee

12:05 pm

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8394, to the Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 1, column 1), omit "3", substitute "4".

(2)Page 3 (after line 5), after clause 3, insert:

4 Review of operation of amendments

(1) The Minister must cause an independent review of the operation of the amendments made by this Act.

(2) The review must:

(a) start as soon as practicable after 18 months after Royal Assent; and

(b) be completed within 6 months.

(3) The Minister must cause a written report about the review to be prepared.

(4) The Minister must cause a copy of the report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the day on which the report is given to the Minister.

(5) The report is not a legislative instrument.

Before I speak on the substance of the amendments, I'd like to make the point that there is still a long way to go to fix Australia's vocational education and training system. We don't have to look any further than the appalling failures we saw at TAFE SA last year to know that this sector needs serious reform. These bills do not represent that reform. I need to make that clear. The Migration Amendment (Skilling Australians Fund) Bill 2018 and the accompanying Migration (Skilling Australians Fund) Charges Bill 2017 direct sorely needed money towards training and streamline the system for employer-sponsored visas but do nothing for the structural problems affecting the sector.

Professor John Buchanan, from the University of Sydney Business School, put the problem in a nutshell earlier this year when he told the Senate inquiry into vocational education and training in South Australia that the national VET system was too fragmented and disconnected from the labour market. He made the damning report that TAFE 'is a rare asset' that consecutive Commonwealth governments have slowly eroded. Again to quote Professor Buchanan:

Australia's vocational education system used to be the envy of the English-speaking world. We've done a very good job of trashing a great asset.

It is obvious that the Skilling Australians Fund levy is not perfect. It will not in any way fix our broken system, but it is a dedicated pool of funds, an estimated $1.2 billion over four years, going towards 300,000 apprentices and traineeships. Centre Alliance will not stand in the way of that.

I note that the university sector is unhappy to be paying the levy, calling it a tax on knowledge. Universities rely on temporary skilled visas to import talent and do already invest in skilling Australians. They will pay the levy but will, in the main, not be able to draw down on it. I do have sympathy for their argument. I note that the Greens have proposed an amendment to exempt universities and RTOs from paying that levy. However, it is apparent that this exemption will not get through, as there is no appetite amongst the major parties to reduce the forecast $1.2 billion the levy will collect for apprenticeships and traineeships. I understand that too.

At a time when the VET sector needs a boost as well as serious reform, we don't want to whittle down any funds going towards apprentices and trainees. More to the point, we know there are other groups that are concerned about the impact of this levy, but it's not clear whether their fears will come to pass. For instance, we know there is some concern amongst trade trainers that the levy might have the perverse effect of discouraging employers from taking on apprentices. Currently they need to demonstrate that they put a percentage of their payroll into training in order to be able to sponsor a foreign worker. Under this reform, they will just pay the $1,200 fee for each visa, or $1,800 if we are talking about larger employers. Simply put, there may be adverse impacts, but we can't be sure of how deep or where they might bite.

For that reason, we have proposed an amendment for a review of the legislation in 18 months, to look at any unintended consequences on employers paying the levy. Allowing the levy to operate for a year before reviewing its operation should provide better information through which to fine-tune the program. In this instance, I think it will be a better approach than trying to pick winners and losers at the outset, through exemptions. For that reason, I urge fellow senators to support our amendment.


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