Pic source: acci.asn.au
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (13:11): The Education and Employment Legislation Committee, which I chair, yesterday tabled its report on the Higher Education Support Amendment (VET FEE-HELP Reform) Bill 2015. I am incredibly proud of Minister Birmingham's and Minister Hartsuyker's absolute determination to clean up the mess left by the poor regulatory environment that these providers operate under, which obviously was put in place under the previous government. When you open up systems to make them demand driven, you have to put some pretty serious regulation around how those system are going to operate. So, the ALP, in its wisdom, opened up not only the VET sector but also the higher-education sector to make them demand driven, which in both cases has resulted in significant cost to the Commonwealth. We have seen universities—which I might say, Senator Simms, are not-for-profit but whose classrooms are swelling with teaching graduates, with business graduates—seeking to take advantage of the demand driven system and to fund their operations. Similarly, when there is insufficient regulation around demand driven systems for government public money then you are going to end up with trouble.
So it is a pity that we are here once again fixing Labor's mess: surging enrolment, inadequate regulation. All year our government has been focused on fixing this. In the Senate inquiry into this issue we heard time and time again of the absolute unconscionable behaviour of providers in this space. I heard only yesterday of a provider who went to Palm Island and signed up many, many disadvantaged people for business diplomas just so that they could get the funding. I am confident that measures in this bill go a long way to addressing the issue and go much further than those that any minister in the Labor government who was responsible for this area of public spending ever went.
I would encourage the ALP and I would encourage the Greens to help us fix up this mess so that our vocational education and training sector, which is a key export earner and a key provider of skills and knowledge in our community, can regain its reputation and, once again, be able to be held in high esteem for those young people and older Australians who seek to develop their skills and knowledge, in particular in vocational spaces, because we are going to need them going forward.
I commend the bill. I also commend the report of the committee to the Senate. I hope that both the Greens and the ALP will work with us to start to fix up the mess and continue to build on the work that we have already done.