VET Student Payment Arrangements (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2020

Second Reading Speech

Senator RUSTON (Minister for Families and Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate)

I table the explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The VET Student Payment Arrangements (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2020 will assist the Commonwealth resolve outstanding matters under the former VET FEE -HELP scheme and will further facilitate the closure of the scheme. The Bill also amends the VET Student Loans Act 2016 to improve the administration of the VET student loans program.

The Bill formally revokes the approval of remaining vocational education and training providers that operated under the VET FEE -HELP scheme, but provides for the continuing application of the law for the purposes of dealing with any matters that arose while a body was approved under the VET FEE -HELP scheme.

The Commonwealth's obligation to pay amounts of VET FEE -HELP assistance to VET providers in respect of older student data will cease. No student has an entitlement to VET FEE -HELP assistance in relation to units with a census date after 31 December 2018, however a small number of providers continue to lodge old claims dating back a number of years. Therefore, the Commonwealth will continue to make payments to VET providers only if the providers report certain information by specified deadlines. The deadline for reporting information for units with census dates before 1 January 2018 is 1 July 2021, while the deadline for all other units is 1 January 2022.

This will prevent unsuspecting students from incurring VET FEE -HELP debts indefinitely in relation to study they undertook many years ago, potentially dating back as far as 2009. Those students will also be protected by a measure which will discharge their liability to pay to VET providers any amounts relating to tuition fees not reported before the specified deadlines.

Many VET providers are also higher education providers receiving amounts of FEE -HELP assistance under the Higher Education Support Act 2003, or approved course providers receiving VET student loans payments under the VET Student Loans Act 2016. To facilitate the collection of debts owed by VET providers to the Commonwealth under the VET FEE -HELP scheme, the Bill enables the Commonwealth to offset those debts against VET student loans and FEE -HELP amounts payable by the Commonwealth to those providers. This means the Commonwealth will be able to pay a net amount to a provider, rather than make a VET student loans or FEE -HELP payment, and separately invoice a debt under the VET FEE -HELP scheme. This will be both simpler and cheaper, saving the processing of invoices and payments, for providers and the Commonwealth.

The Bill also provides for further circumstances in which the Secretary is not required to pay a VET student loan amount to an approved course provider under the VET Student Loans Act 2016. These circumstances reflect existing provisions in that Act under which a student's HELP balance can be re -credited. This measure makes clear that the Secretary is not required to pay an approved course provider a loan amount in circumstances where the student would then become eligible for a re -credit, and the provider would be required to re -pay the amount paid to the Commonwealth.

Finally, the Bill also contains a measure providing for the automatic revocation of a course provider's approval under the VET Student Loans Act 2016 if it ceases to be a registered training organisation. This measure is appropriate having regard to the requirement that an approved course provider for VET student loans must be an RTO.

The measures in this Bill will make for a fairer, more efficient student loans regime, helping to deliver a skilled and educated workforce to support Australia's economic recovery from the COVID -19 recession.

The PRESIDENT: In accordance with standing order 111, further consideration of this bill is now adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings.