Monday, 19 June 2023
Education Legislation Amendment (Startup Year and Other Measures) Bill 2023; In Committee
I do, Chair. I move amendment (1) on sheet 1965, revised, which has been recently circulated:
(1) Schedule 1, item 25, page 9 (after line 17), after Division 128A, insert:
Division 128AA — Accelerator program course pilot
128AA-1 Accelerator program course pilot
(1) The Minister must cause an *accelerator program course pilot to be conducted.
(2) Without limiting the matters that may be included in the STARTUP-HELP Guidelines, those guidelines must:
(a) nominate at least one, but no more than 2, higher education providers to conduct the pilot (the nominated higher education providers); and
(b) prescribe requirements in relation to the conduct of the pilot; and
(c) provide for an independent review of the pilot; and
(d) prescribe requirements in relation to the conduct of the independent review; and
(e) provide that a report of the independent review be tabled in each House of the Parliament.
(3) A higher education provider (other than the nominated higher education providers) must not enrol a person in an *accelerator program course until the pilot is completed.
(4) The pilot must be completed no later than 2 years after the commencement of this section.
(5) For the purposes of subsections (3) and (4), the pilot is completed when the report of the independent review of the pilot is tabled in each House of the Parliament.
(6) For the purposes of entitlement to STARTUP-HELP assistance under subsection 128B-1(1), the pilot is an *accelerator program course.
This is a very important proposal to provide that, before the Startup Year program is rolled out in full, the universities or the government require the universities to conduct a pilot. In the initial consultation, one of the deep concerns of the universities was, 'We can't see the value proposition, we can't see what discernible benefit this provides to students, we are deeply concerned, and we suggest that a pilot be rolled out first.' The government says that it took into account the scathing criticism that it received in the consultation process. In fact, it was so scathing that the government did everything it could to keep the submissions to the consultation secret, and the opposition needed to secure an order in the Senate to have those submissions made public, as I mentioned in my second reading speech.
One of the principal concerns of the university sector was that they need to understand the efficacy of this Startup Year program, how it will work, how they can assess it. This amendment provides that three higher education providers will conduct a pilot, there will be prescribed requirements in relation it to, there will be an independent review of the pilot and that independent review will produce a report to be tabled in each house of the parliament. This would ensure that there is appropriate accountability and transparency. While the amendment requires that the pilot must be completed no later than two years after the commencement of this section, the bottom line is that the universities are simply not ready to deliver any of these courses. I'm laughing because I'm watching one of the minister's advisers laughing. I probably shouldn't make that comment; I accept that.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Let's move on before a point of order is required.
I accept that I should not be reflecting on advisers. The bottom line is, as the universities have indicated to me, they're not ready because this so-called Startup Year program starts in under two weeks. We don't have the course, we don't have a proposal, nothing has been designed. The guidelines have just been tabled today. The university sector has been blind as to how this program will work, and it will take, based on the advice I've received, a very significant amount of time to design the courses, to promote them and to market them. This could take some 18 months, so this is a responsible and appropriate response to a ham-fisted scheme which will at least ensure that the efficacy of the Startup Year program and this loan scheme can be properly piloted.
The government is proposing to roll out one thousand places. That is not a proper pilot. Just delivering half of the program now is not a proper pilot. We want to make sure that a proper pilot is delivered that will ensure that the welfare and the rights of students are first and foremost. This is about protecting students. I have to say that we went about this with a lot of good faith. We did not oppose this bill in the House. We did seek to pass a second reading amendment, which was very critical of aspects of the bill. But we went about this with a lot of good faith because we recognise that startup courses, accelerator courses and incubators are key to so many young Australians getting ahead and getting the mentoring and guidance they need to start their first business, to come up with a great idea, to develop it, to grow a business and to employ others in their business. As I mentioned earlier, the UTS Startups hub has developed businesses that have a total value of more than $500 million. These courses are incredibly important. If the government, with this crazy idea, now wants to start charging for courses that currently students can do for nothing, then the government should be held to account and this scheme should be properly tested.
So I commend this amendment to the Senate. It also provides that, in relation to designing a pilot, the minister should consult with key stakeholders and peak representative bodies from the higher education sector, as well as organisations currently running accelerator programs. We want the government to work with industry, with those running accelerator programs and with higher education providers to make sure that we have a proper pilot that can be tested on agreed criteria and then properly reviewed with the appropriate accountability back to the parliament.
This will be a very positive measure for students, and, frankly, it could save the government from itself. I'm absolutely certain that a properly run pilot would identify a range of risks and a range of gaps in this program which will give the parliament the opportunity to improve. So I do commend this amendment to the Senate. The opposition is very proud to be standing up for students and putting their needs, their welfare and their best interests at heart first and foremost.