Senate debates

Monday, 24 August 2020


National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020; In Committee

5:56 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

It's my pleasure to rise this evening and move Labor's amendment to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Amendment (Governance and Other Matters) Bill 2020 on sheet 8900, which is:

(1) Schedule 1, item 41, page 15 (after line 24), after section 177, insert:

177A Membership—TAFE sector and union representatives

The membership of the Advisory Council must include representatives of the following:

(a) public technical and further education (TAFE) sector;

(b) trade unions.

The purpose of our amendment is to ensure that there is TAFE, union and employer sector representation on ASQA's advisory council. Labor very much believes—and we look for the chamber's support on this issue—that it is critical that there is a public provider at the table and that the legislation before us today should mandate that this is so. Given the important role this council will have in providing strategic advice about regulatory matters, it is indeed an imperative that the council represents a cross-section of the sector while also providing essential expertise.

We know that TAFE, as the public sector provider, plays an absolutely critical role, and it should be properly represented on the council. TAFE is the mainstay of our VET education across the country. We need strong institutions in the VET sector, and it is TAFE that provides that institutional strength, and indeed TAFE should be directly represented on the ASQA Advisory Council. It is the pillar of quality in vocational education, and its advice and guidance will be invaluable to ASQA. So it does not benefit anyone in our nation to have the expertise of TAFE educators sidelined in the event that TAFE does not have a recognised seat at the table. I understand that TAFE appointments could be made, but they might come from a diversity of places, a diversity of TAFEs. But it's really important that someone is seen to be mandated as a TAFE representative on ASQA. People in this sector can wear many hats, and in my view it's critically important that TAFE is formally recognised as being represented at the ASQA advisory council.

We also want an advisory council that is not unduly weighted to representing private providers. We very much believe that this could undermine ASQA's regulatory approach. Equally, trade union representation, balanced also by representation from employer groups, is vital. Labor understands this, on both sides, from hard-earned experience in the sector. Regarding the voice of trade unions, trade unions work very hard to understand and represent their professions when it comes to regulatory advice and, indeed, advice regarding our skills agenda and ASQA. What's critically important here is that skills relate not just to the skills being taught today but to the existing skills of people who are already in the workforce and who have already acquired that education. As ASQA regulates, it needs to not only look to the current and future skills but also look back to the skills that people already hold and how they interface with each other. Trade unions are in an excellent position to assist in doing that.

Industry, of course, is central to the operation of an effective skills formation system. Unions and employers have an important role in providing feedback and advice on the regulator's activities and rules, and we really want to see employers and industry directly represented on the advisory council of ASQA also. Union members—the workers—are at the coalface of training, and they know the system and its problems all too well. Union representatives get these issues fed through to them, so unions are indeed in a good place to be able to contribute that to ASQA. Indeed, trade unions, through union representation through the ACTU and other employment groups, are very good at triaging information from a diversity of points across unions, just like employer representatives do. They can triage the information that comes across the sector up into the representative advisory council of ASQA.

Unions have been at the forefront of developing occupational standards, career path, safety and the quality of skills development in workplaces. Again, they deserve a place at the table. I would like to say to the chamber and to the government: to not have a voice for those at the coalface of work and training—that is, the people being trained and the people who hold qualifications that come from the sector—would diminish any work that ASQA do. I commend Labor's amendment to the Senate.

6:02 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As I highlighted in my second reading contribution, the Greens will be supporting Labor's amendment. The amendment requires the minister to include representatives from TAFE, from unions and from employer groups on the advisory council that is established by this legislation. This will make sure that the voices of our public training providers, as well as our workers, are heard in any VET policy that is made.

6:03 pm

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business) Share this | | Hansard source

The government will not be supporting the amendment that has been moved by the opposition. The 2020 rapid review recommended that members of the advisory council be appointed based on their experience and/or their knowledge, rather than representing a particular stakeholder interest. This approach is consistent with best practice regulation in similar settings. The national VET regulator needs to be supported by experts to ensure continuous improvement, strategic advice and meaningful sector engagement. Choosing a representative from a stakeholder group, whether that stakeholder group be an employer group or a TAFE, is no guarantee of individual experience or knowledge of TAFE, as is envisioned by the legislation. The mechanism for choosing members outlined in the bill is appropriate and will lead to an independent skills based advisory council with members who bring expertise across a range of disciplines. This will ensure that the CEO of ASQA is provided with high-quality advice.

The CHAIR: The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 8900 revised, moved by Senator Pratt, be agreed to.