Release type: Op-Ed


Laws to clean up training


The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP
Minister for Skills and Training

Last year former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon delivered a sobering report highlighting some serious problems in our vocational education and training (VET) sector. 

The Rapid Review into the Exploitation of Australia’s Visa System found that a small number of non-genuine registered training organisations (RTOs) were taking advantage of overseas students and in the most severe cases, funnelling them into criminal activities, including human trafficking for sexual exploitation. 

The Nixon Review followed the 2018 All Eyes on Quality: Review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulatory Act 2011 (known as the Braithwaite Review) which flagged serious issues relating to integrity in the VET sector.

These identified integrity issues - as well as the size of the VET sector - have left the regulator, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), with an enormous task.

Earlier this month I introduced legislation to parliament to give ASQA greater powers to crack down on dodgy RTOs using their business as a veil of legitimacy for fraudulent activity. 

The legislation will cause an RTO’s registration to lapse automatically if it has not delivered any training or assessment for 12 months, denying dormant RTOs the ability to use their registration for non-genuine or fraudulent purposes.

It will strengthen registration requirements to prevent new RTOs from expanding their course offering for at least two years and empower me as the Minister, with the agreement of state and territory Skills Ministers, to determine that ASQA need not, or must not, accept or process new RTO applications, allowing the regulator to manage risks to integrity and harmful or unsustainable influxes into the sector.

The legislation expands offence and civil penalty provisions to cover a broader range of false or misleading activity by RTOs – such as lying about their facilities or operations to entice students.

Financial penalties that ASQA can seek for egregious conduct will also be increased five-fold, to a maximum of almost a million dollars, to deter unscrupulous RTOs that currently see penalties as a risk worth taking or just a “cost of doing business”.

The legislation builds on changes we introduced last year, which are already having an impact on the VET sector. 

As part of a $37.8 million investment last October, we supported the establishment of an integrity unit within ASQA, significant upgrades to ASQA’s digital and data systems and a tip-off line to report inappropriate or illegal activity in the sector.

Since 1 July last year, ASQA has taken steps to cancel or suspend 28 providers. 

Around half of those actions were supported by intelligence received through the tip-off line, which has so far received more than 800 calls. 

In the midst of skills shortages, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades, we cannot afford to let unscrupulous RTOs take advantage of students.

A strong VET sector is essential to a strong economy.

And all apprentices and trainees deserve a high quality VET sector that keeps them safe and sets them up for well-paid and secure work. 

This opinion piece was published in The Daily Telegraph on Friday 23 February 2024.