Bills Digest 12 1996-97 Employment, Education and Training Amendment Bill 1996


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WARNING:
This Digest is prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments.

This Digest was available from 2 August 1996.

CONTENTS

Passage History

Employment, Education and Training Amendment Bill 1996

Date Introduced: 27 June 1996
House: Senate
Portfolio: Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs
Commencement: Royal Assent

Purpose

To abolish the:

  • National Board of Employment, Education and Training;
  • Schools Council;
  • Employment and Skills Council; and
  • Australian Language and Literacy Council.

Background

Origin of NBEET

In October 1987 the then Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins) announced that there would be a rationalisation of advisory structures in his portfolio. He argued that the creation of the department had brought together an array of advisory bodies and program arrangements that were over-lapping and inappropriate. The changes followed a Task Force report under Mr Charles Halton.

The structure and functions of the National Board of Employment, Education and Training (NBEET) would appear to have been, in part, a reaction to the experience of Governments with both the Schools Commission and the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC). These bodies were different from NBEET in several important ways:

  • their membership was largely representative of the sectors they dealt with;
  • they were responsible for program administration and thus had larger staffs and a greater capacity to set their own research and reporting agendas;
  • the statutory conditions under which they operated also gave them greater scope for independent action.

These characteristics were seen as positive by education bodies and their absence was criticised when the NBEET was established. However, the perspective of Government was somewhat different. Ministers were concerned to receive advice that had some utility in policy terms: this generally meant that the financial implications of the advice did not conflict with the overall Budget strategy. In the mid 1970s both Labor and Liberal Governments felt it necessary to issue the education commissions with guidelines stipulating the overall level of expenditure available for their programs and indicating the broader policy objectives they wished to pursue.

It soon became apparent that if Governments were to define the scope of the major programs (ie. the general recurrent grants) in the annual guidelines, then there was little to be gained by having these programs administered by statutory authority. In September 1985 the responsibility for the general recurrent and capital grants programs was transferred from the Schools Commission to the Department.

In higher education, the abolition of the TEC and the creation of the Unified National System made institutional funding a direct Ministerial responsibility, and established a structure to ensure that institutions were responsive to policy guidelines (the 'education profiles' process). Under this process, individual institutions negotiate agreements with the Department which form the basis for their funding. These agreements must be approved by the Minister.

The new system was open to the charge that it could be subject to political manipulation and a lack of accountability. Unlike Commonwealth funding for schools, which is governed by known formulae and public processes, grants for higher education institutions were to be determined largely in confidential negotiations without the benefit of fixed arithmetic criteria. To safeguard against possible abuse of this process the Senate amended the Employment, Education and Training Act 1988 to require the Higher Education Council to report annually on the operation of the education profiles process after consulting with institutions.

Structure of NBEET

The new advisory arrangements were established by the Employment, Education and Training Act 1988. Their essential features were as follows:

  • a National Board to report directly to the Minister on all related employment, education and training issues taking into account any written directions or guidelines from the Minister on the Government's broad social, economic and budgetary policies;
  • four Advisory Councils reporting to the Board (the Schools Council, Higher Education Council, Employment and Skills Formation Council and the Australian Research Council).
  • unlike previous Commissions, the new Board to have no responsibility for program delivery, which was to be left to the Department.
  • the Board and Councils' main focus to be the preparation of responses to specific inquiries from the Minister. The Board and Councils can initiate work on their own motion, but only if such work did not interfere with Ministerial requests.
  • a community-based membership of the Board and Councils.
  • the Board could refer matters to the specialist Councils for the preparation of draft advice, but the Board was responsible for drawing together and integrating the operations and advice of the Councils.
  • the position of the Australian Research Council was somewhat different to that of the other Councils. It makes direct recommendations to the Minister on the allocation of funds for Commonwealth research support programs, as well as providing policy advice on the same basis as the other Councils (ie. through the Board).

The Employment, Education and Training Amendment Act 1995 added the Australian Language and Literacy Council to the NBEET structure. This body had been operating as a Committee of the Board for several years. Another body within the NBEET umbrella, the Australian International Education Foundation Council, is not a statutory Council but remains a Committee of the Board established under Part IV of the Act.

Funding and Staffing

NBEET is currently funded under Division 222 of Appropriation Act (No.1) 1995-96. Its appropriation for running costs in 1995-96 is $5.949m. According to the Portfolio Budget Statements, its 1995-96 running costs can be broken down into $3.113m for salaries and $2.846 for non-salary costs. Its estimated staffing for 1995-96 was 50.7 Staff Years.

Of the terms of the twelve current members of the Board, eight expire before the end of 1996, three expire in 1997 and one at the end of 1998. Of the terms of Council members, 29 expire in 1996, 12 in 1997 and 13 in 1998.

Abolition of NBEET

This Bill fulfils the commitment made in the Government's Higher Education Election Policy which stated that it would wind up the NBEET, while maintaining the Higher Education Council as an independent body reporting directly to the Minister. The Australian Research Council was also to be restructured as an independent body.

Main Provisions

Amendments to the Employment, Education and Training Act 1988

Item 7 of Schedule 1 of the Bill repeals Part II of the Employment, Education and Training Act 1988 (the Principal Act). The effect of the repeal is to abolish the National Board of Employment, Education and Training (NBEET).

Note: Currently, Part II of the Principal Act contains provisions providing for the establishment, functions, powers, constitution and meetings of NBEET.

Item 8 of Schedule 1 of the Bill repeals paragraphs 23(a), (c) and (e) of the Principal Act. The effect of the repeals is to abolish the Schools Council, Employment and Skills Council and Australian Language and Literacy Council.

Note: Currently section 23 of the Principal Act provides for the establishment of the Schools Council, Higher Education Council, Employment and Skills Council, Australian Research Council and Australian Language and Literacy Council.

Item 9 of Schedule 1 of the Bill repeals section 24 of the Principal Act. Section 24 of the Principal Act lists the functions of the Schools Council.

Item 10 of Schedule 1 of the Bill substitutes a new paragraph 25(1)(a) in the Principal Act which makes it a function of the Higher Education Council to inquire into and provide information and advice to the Minister on:

  • any matter relating to higher education referred to it by the Minister; or
  • any other matter that may reasonably be required by the Minister in conjunction with such information or advice.

Note: Section 25 of the Principal Act provides the functions of the Higher Education Council. Currently, paragraph 25(1)(a) makes it a function of the Higher Education Council to inquire into and provide information and advice to NBEET on any matter referred to it by the Minister or NBEET relating to higher education and in particular:

  • the general development of higher education in Australia;
  • the marketing overseas of higher education programs developed in Australia;
  • the establishment of the priorities to be given in dealing with the needs of higher education institutions and other institutions providing higher education;
  • the funding, planning and implementation of programs aimed at meeting such priorities referred to above as have been, or may be, established;
  • the granting of financial assistance by the Commonwealth for higher education institutions and other institutions offering higher education; or
    • any other matter that may reasonably be required by the Minister or NBEET in conjunction with such information or advice.

New paragraphs 25(1)(e), (f) and (g) are inserted in the Principal Act by item 15 of Schedule 1 which accord the Higher Education Council the functions of

  • preparing reports for the Minister under section 30 (see item 32 below);
  • publishing , or arranging for publication of reports, papers and periodicals on matters dealt with by the Higher Education Council in performing its functions; and
  • collecting, assessing and disseminating information on matters dealt with by the Higher Education Council in performing its functions and promoting and assisting in the collection, assessment and dissemination of such information.

Note: Proposed paragraphs 25(1)(e), (f) and (g) are akin to paragraphs 7(1)(c), (d) and (e) of the Principal Act which impose similar functions on NBEET. Paragraphs 7(1)(c), (d) and (e) are being repealed by item 7 of Schedule 1 of this Bill.

Item 17 of Schedule 1 of the Bill substitutes a new subsection 25(3) in the Principal Act which requires the Minister to table in Parliament reports of the Higher Education Council on Commonwealth priorities in higher education, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme and education profiles.

Note: Currently, subsection 25(3) of the Principal Act requires NBEET to provide the Minister with Higher Education Council reports on Commonwealth priorities in higher education, the Higher Education Contribution Scheme and education profiles, who in turn must table those reports in the Parliament.

Item 18 of Schedule 1 inserts a new subsection 25(4) in the Principal Act which lists specific matters which may be referred to the Higher Education Council by the Minister. Matters which may be referred to the Higher Education Council include:

  • the general development of higher education in Australia;
  • the granting of Commonwealth financial assistance for higher education institutions;
  • the provision of assistance for persons have difficulty in obtaining higher education;
  • the creation and development of educational materials and curricula;
  • the overall allocation of financial assistance by the Commonwealth for higher education; and
  • the promotion of public debate on higher education through involvement of employers, trade unions and the community.

Item 19 of Schedule 1 of the Bill repeals section 26 of the Principal Act. Currently, section 26 of the Principal Act lists the functions of the Employment and Skills Council.

Item 22 of Schedule 1 of the Bill substitutes a new paragraph 27(1)(b) in the Principal Act which makes it a function of the Australian Research Council to inquire into and provide information and advice to the Minister on:

  • any matter relating to national research priorities or the coordination of research policy referred to it by the Minister; or
  • any other matter that may reasonably be required by the Minister in conjunction with such information or advice.

Note: Section 27 of the Principal Act provides the functions of the Australian Research Council. Currently, paragraph 27(1)(b) makes it a function of the Australian Research Council to inquire into and provide information and advice to NBEET on any matter referred to it by the Minister or NBEET relating to national research priorities or the coordination of research policy and in particular:

  • the support to be given to fundamental research and research that will contribute directly to the economic or social development of Australia;
  • the development and implementation of research programs, or the establishment and maintenance of special research centres or key centres of teaching and research, by institutions and funds to achieve an appropriate concentration of research effort in institutions ;
  • measures aimed at enhancing the training of research personnel;
  • measures aimed at improving interaction among the higher education sector, private research sector, government research sector and industrial sector; or
  • any other matter that may reasonably be required by the Minister or NBEET in conjunction with such information or advice.

New paragraphs 27(1)(d), (e) and (f) are inserted in the Principal Act by item 24 of Schedule 1 which accord the Australian Research Council the functions of

  • preparing reports for the Minister under section 30 (see item 32 below);
  • publishing , or arranging for publication of reports, papers and periodicals on matters dealt with by the Australian Research Council in performing its functions; and
  • collecting, assessing and disseminating information on matters dealt with by the Australian Research Council in performing its functions and promoting and assisting in the collection, assessment and dissemination of such information.

Note: Proposed paragraphs 27(1)(d), (e) and (f) are akin to paragraphs 7(1)(c), (d) and (e) of the Principal Act which impose similar functions on NBEET. Paragraphs 7(1)(c), (d) and (e) are being repealed by item 7 of Schedule 1 of this Bill.

Item 26 of Schedule 1 inserts a new subsection 27(4) in the Principal Act which lists specific matters which may be referred to the Australian Research Council by the Minister. Matters which may be referred to the Australian Research Council include:

  • the support to be given to fundamental research and research that will contribute directly to the economic or social development of Australia;
  • measures aimed at improving interaction among the higher education sector, the private research sector, the government research sector and the industrial sector;
  • the identification of areas in which research should be carried out as a matter of priority;
  • the identification of areas of research that will contribute directly to the economic or social development of Australia; and
  • policies relating to the grant of scholarships, fellowships and other research grants under schemes administered by the Minister.

Item 27 of Schedule 1 of the Bill repeals section 27A of the Principal Act. Currently, section 27A of the Principal Act lists the functions of the Australian Language and Literacy Council.

A new section 28 is substituted in the Principal Act by item 28 of Schedule 1 of the Bill. Proposed section 28 provides that where the Higher Education Council and the Australian Research Council are both required to provide information or advice to the Minister on a matter referred to it by the Minister, they may co-operate in providing that information or advice.

Note: Currently, section 28 of the Principal Act provides that where two or more Councils are required to provide information to NBEET on a matter that has been referred to it by the Minister or NBEET, they may co-operate in providing that information or advice.

Item 31 of Schedule 1 of the Bill inserts a new subsection 29(3A) in the Principal Act which requires the Minister to table in Parliament any directions or guidelines given by him/her to the Higher Education Council and Australian Research Council.

Note: Currently, section 29 of the Principal Act accords NBEET power to give Councils directions or furnish guidelines with respect to the performance of their functions. This power is being transferred to the Minister by item 29 of Schedule 1 of this Bill.

A new section 30, dealing with Higher Education Council and Australian Research Council reports, is substituted in the Principal Act by item 32 of Schedule 1 of the Bill. Proposed subsection 30(1) requires the Higher Education Council and Australian Research Council to prepare and give the Minister, each financial year, a report on their operations. A report must include matters referred to a Council by the Minister and matters in relation to which they gave information and advice to the Minister on its own motion [proposed subsection 30(2)]. A Council must also provide such reports on the performance of their functions as the Minister requires and such other reports as the Council thinks fit [proposed subsection 30(3)]. Proposed subsection 30(4) requires Councils to provide the Minister, where directed by the Minister, with reports on matters referred to them by the Minister. The Minister must table a copy of each Council report in the Parliament [proposed subsection 30(5)].

Note: Currently, section 30 of the Principal Act requires NBEET, where a Council gives it advice, to provide the Minister with a copy of the advice, or if NBEET considers it appropriate, a summary of the advice, together with comments in respect of the advice. The Minister is required to table a copy of each advice or summary in the Parliament.

Item 34 of Schedule 1 substitutes a new subsection 32(3) in the Principal Act which accords the Minister power to appoint an Australian public servant to be a member of a Council where he/she believes it would be to a Council's advantage.

Note: Section 32 of the Principal Act deals with the membership of a Council. Currently, subsection 32(3) provides that where NBEET believes it would be to the advantage of a Council to have as a member an Australian public servant, it may request the Minister to appoint such a person. The Minister is accorded power to appoint such a person, or any person who from time to time holds a particular office, or performs particular duties, in the Australian Public Service.

Item 36 of Schedule 1 substitutes a new section 36 in the Principal Act which accords the Minister power to establish committees to assist either or both the Higher Education Council or the Australian Research Council in carrying out their functions in relation to such matters as the Minister approves. The Minister is also accorded the power to dissolve a committee at any time.

Note: Currently, section 36 of the Principal Act provides that the Minister may, where requested to by NBEET, establish a committee to assist: NBEET; such Councils as are requested; or NBEET and such Councils as requested; in carrying out its functions or their functions in relation to such matters as the Minister approves. The Minister may at any time, of his/her own accord or at the request of NBEET, dissolve a committee.

A new subsection 37(1) is substituted in the Principal Act by item 37 of Schedule 1 of the Bill which accords Councils power to appoint, subject to Ministerial approval, committee members.

Note: Currently, subsection 37(1) accords NBEET power, subject to Ministerial approval, to appoint committee members.

A new section 38, dealing with the functions of committees, is substituted in the Principal Act by Item 40 of Schedule 1 of the Bill. Proposed section 38 provides that the functions of a committee set up to assist either or both Council with any matter is to make such inquiries and give such reports on that matter as the Council/s require. Proposed section 38 also accords the Minister power, after consulting with the Chairperson/s of a Council/s, to specify other functions of a committee.

Note: Currently, section 38 provides that the functions of a committee set up to assist one or more Council in connection with any matter are to make such inquiries and give such reports on that matter

Item 44 of Schedule 1 of the Bill inserts a new subsection 55(4) in the Principal which provides the Minister with power to resolve any conflict between any policies determined, and any directions given to the Director by the Councils under subsection 55(3).

Note: Currently, section 55 of the Principal Act provides for the appointment of a Director who has responsibility for providing administrative services to assist NBEET and the Council perform their functions. The Director is an Australian Public Service employee appointed by the Secretary of the Department of Employment, Education Training after consulting with the Chairperson of NBEET. Subsection 55(3) provides that the Director, in discharging his/her duties, must act in accordance with any policies determined, and directions given, by NBEET. References to NBEET in section 55 are being replaced by references to a Council/s by this Bill.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Dr. K. Jackson Ph. 06 277 2416
Ian Ireland Ph. 06 277 2438
31 July 1996
Bills Digest Service
Parliamentary Research Service

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine whether the Bill has been enacted and, if so, whether the subsequent Act reflects further amendments.

PRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1323-9032
© Commonwealth of Australia 1996

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1996.

This page was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated: 5 August 1996

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