Questions Without Notice: Private Registered Training Organisations

QUESTION WITHOUT NOTICE — Sue Pennicuik to ask the Minister for Training and Skills.

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My question is for the Minister for Training and Skills, and it relates to something he mentioned in his response to Mr Finn. The minister is aware of the arrest of three men in Melbourne yesterday in regard to the exploitation of overseas students in their subcontracting business with Australia Post.

One of those men, Mr Singh, has been listed as a registered training provider for St Stephen Institute, which has allegedly been set up as a sham registered training organisation (RTO), providing false training qualifications. My question to the minister is: was he aware of what has been occurring in regard to this particular RTO before the arrests yesterday?

Mr HERBERT (Minister for Training and Skills) — I thank the member for her question. It is a good question. No, I was not aware of the federal police activity personally, but I will use this opportunity to provide a bit of information relevant to the question I have been asked.

I am advised that the alleged fraud relates to the delivery of training of international students, as Ms Pennicuik will know, by St Stephen Institute and Symbiosis. I am also aware of media reports that a third provider, TK Melbourne Education and Training College, may also be the subject of these investigations. I am informed that the charges do not relate to Victorian government-subsidised training. However, I am also advised that my department is working with the Australian Federal Police in its investigation.

Whilst the regulation of education providers and the student visa system is a commonwealth responsibility, we take it seriously. As I have said, we have cracked down on providers that get Victorian Training Guarantee (VTG) funding. In regard to the first two organisations mentioned, I am advised that they did have a Victorian Training Guarantee contract in 2014 for domestic students but that they do not have a contract this year with the Victorian government.

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — The minister would be aware of the bill that was passed in December 2009, the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Overseas Students) Bill 2009, which was designed to hopefully stamp this practice out. Way back then, five and a half years ago, we had the issue of private colleges operating on the back of exploitation of students. The chief executives of these colleges knew nothing about education, and they were managed by people still in their 20s who did not keep proper records and who threatened to have students deported unless they paid fees in advance of the due date. That was the situation we had five and half years ago, and it is the situation we seem to have now. I understand that this issue has a lot of federal ramifications, but it is all happening here in Victoria, so my question is: what confidence does the minister have that the system operating between the federal and state regulators is actually working to prevent this situation?

Mr HERBERT (Minister for Training and Skills) — I am not quite sure that there is a scale of confidence I could refer to. If there is one, I am happy to do it.

International education is incredibly important to Victoria. It is incredibly important in terms of not just the mix of our society but the $5 billion worth of revenue and the 170 000 students, and their wellbeing, their welfare and the industry rely on us ensuring that they are not exploited.

The member will know that in the budget we have just brought forward $4 million for international student welfare grants, which are about to go out, and we have the Study Melbourne Student Centre and a range of other supports. So I take it very seriously.

As to Ms Pennicuik's substantive point, in terms of the domestic provision, with the VTG, as she knows, we have cracked down substantially. We have a $9 million blitz going on top of the regular $5 million or $6 million that we fund in compliance activity in Victoria; and we are implementing 19 recommendations which have come through recently from a high-level report on quality provision.

Thursday, 6 August 2015