Economics Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 15 February 2012
Australian Skills Quality Authority
- Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research; Leader of the Government in the Senate
- Mr Robert Griew, Associate Secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
- Mr Christopher Robinson, Chief Commissioner, Australian Skills Quality Authority
Senator RHIANNON: Is it fair enough to say that ASQA’s main job is to reduce duplication and complexity of the VET regulation?
Mr C Robinson: Certainly prior to ASQA’s establishment there were eight different main regulators covering the VET sector around Australia in each jurisdiction. The focus has been to get a sharpness into that regulation and to have a consistent approach across the country. As the minister mentioned earlier, two states have not referred their powers to the Commonwealth to allow a totally national approach, but under the arrangements where states who have not yet referred but are intending to, by the time ASQA is fully established it will have responsibility for over 4,000 of the 4,900 RTOs, or registered training organisations, in Australia.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it still on track to be operating on a full cost recovery basis within two years?
Mr C Robinson: No, it is not. That has not been the intention. It is the intention to ultimately operate on a full cost recovery basis. It is anticipated that we will reach 85 per cent of full cost recovery by the end of the forward estimates period.
Senator RHIANNON: One hundred per cent?
Mr C Robinson: That has to be set in the future forward estimates.
Senator RHIANNON: So, you just have not worked on that? Do you have a plan for it?
Mr C Robinson: We are about 60 per cent this coming budget year. We are moving over two or three years to that 85 per cent. A fairly sharp growth pattern is planned for.
Senator RHIANNON: Have any RTOs requested exemption from any of the national standard requirements?
Mr C Robinson: No. RTOs are not able to be exempted from being compliant around all the national standards.
Senator RHIANNON: That is just not possible?
Mr C Robinson: No. In the process of regulation, if there were some minor matters that the RTO was working on, the commission would take account of that in its regulatory work, but essentially RTOs are obliged and required to be compliant at all times with the national standards to be able to maintain their licence.
Senator RHIANNON: When you say ‘minor matters’, could you define what they are and is that just on a temporary basis or could they get exemption for minor matters?
Mr C Robinson: No, it is absolutely on a temporary basis. We rarely would make a decision to allow people to continue to be non-compliant. In fact, ASQA is taking, I think, a much tougher line on this issue than previous regulators did. There was much more of a focus in previous arrangements to have a dialogue with providers and give them quite long time periods to become compliant, but that strategy has tended not to produce the compliance that is needed. We are taking the approach of requiring them to be compliant to continue to operate. In some cases, they might not be compliant in relation to one part of their training delivery, not their whole training delivery, and so they might have a suspension in relation to being able to offer that particular course.
Senator RHIANNON: I would like to just pick up on the issue of Victoria and Western Australia. Considering they are not in yet, are you interacting with them to help get them in, and could you explain how that is working?
Mr C Robinson: On 1 July the providers in Victoria and Western Australia that either have overseas students or operate in other states that are referring are all required to come under ASQA and did so on 1 July. So, around half of the providers in Victoria came under our jurisdiction on 1 July and around a third of those in Western Australia have already come under our jurisdiction. We have developed transition agreements with both the Western Australia and Victorian regulator, and we are in the process of developing more ongoing agreements with them to make sure we have a streamlined approach in how we do our business vis-a-vis they do theirs, because sometimes a provider will change their status. For example, they may intend enrolling international students when they did not before, and so they will change from the state regulator to us in that circumstance. We have arrangements in place to work with those providers to make that as seamless a process as possible. The issue of their coming under ASQA fully is a matter for their governments.
Senator RHIANNON: Is it true that they have mirroring legislation? Are they looking to manage it themselves on a state basis?
Mr C Robinson: Prior to ASQA commencing and the legislation being proclaimed, each state had legislation governing regulation of VET, and Victoria and Western Australia have legislation in place that continues the processes that they had in place prior to the commencement of ASQA. But they do relate to the national standards for VET and so there are some similarities in what they are doing and what we are doing.
Senator RHIANNON: Minister, could I ask you to come in on this? Are there discussions with your counterparts in Victoria and Western Australia to sort this out?
Senator Chris Evans: No. I hope that both states will see the benefit of one national regulator, and I think in the fullness of time they will, but at the moment it has become a bit of a states’ rights argument. To be fair to the states, they run their own TAFE systems and so there is a sense that they fund those and they want to regulate them. I think what we have seen, particularly through the international education experience in recent years, is that having one national regulator able to deal with these issues is a huge advantage. I do not think there is any immediate prospect of their coming across, unless we have had some better and later information, but to be frank I think in the fullness of time they will join and delegate their powers.
Senator RHIANNON: Considering there is the federal funding component, when the negotiations occur around federal funding are you linking this issue of regulation with that?
Senator Chris Evans: No.
Senator RHIANNON: Have you made the decision just to be hands-off and leave it up to them when they are going to come on board?
Senator Chris Evans: Mr Griew might be able to answer whether or not it has come up at all, but this is a decision for them. We have the capacity to regulate in respect of international students, even though they are in those states, and we have the capacity to regulate if an operator operates between two states, but that has been a separate negotiation. Mr Griew, I am not sure what has been raised in the context of the national negotiations with the new agreements.
Mr Griew: As to the focus of the discussion so far, the Commonwealth on behalf of the government has continued to prosecute the argument with both of those jurisdictions that the best outcome would be for a referral from their parliaments, from their governments. Their governments’ positions are public and well known and their officers are not showing any particular sign there that they are going to change rapidly, so the conversation has been more about how we can make sure that the regulators work together effectively under the current situation where there are dual regulators in those jurisdictions and also that the other issues—and you raised several when you were questioning the department before—are being taken up and sorted. So, there continues to be a stand-off, if you will, a disagreement, but that does not mean there is not good work happening between Mr Robinson’s agency and the equivalent agencies in their two states, as far as we are able to coordinate and where we are getting quite a lot of cooperation in following through the other quality issues that you have raised and we have talked about.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Minister.