Mark Paterson to lead VET regulator amid student loans overhaul

By Stephen Easton

December 12, 2016

Former New South Wales and Commonwealth mandarin Mark Paterson will take charge of the Australian Skills Quality Authority on January 1 to lead the regulator into what the Turnbull government says will be a new era for vocational education and training.

Paterson joined ASQA in May this year as commissioner for regulatory operations and will take over the chief commissioner’s role from Chris Robinson, who has led the embattled regulator since it was established in 2011.

Paterson’s elevation is likely to be interpreted as a signal that the government will pursue a more hands-on relationship with industry to get vocational skills and accreditation running more smoothly.

While Robinson was getting the new regulator up and running in 2011, Paterson was settling in to his second high-profile public service role, as director-general of the New South Wales Department of Trade and Investment. That came to an end when the Baird government abolished the department in mid-2015.

At the time of Paterson’s initial appointment earlier this year, former Vocational Education and Skills minister Scott Ryan said he could “add valuable perspective to ASQA’s leadership” while the current Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews, said on Friday that Paterson got the job on the strength of his “extensive experience across government and industry” and the eight months he had already spent at ASQA.

The minister added: “His appointment comes at a time of important reform for the sector.” The government’s new VET Student Loans scheme, which replaces the much maligned VET-FEE HELP program after years of rorting by unscrupulous training providers, also begins on New Year’s Day.

Mark Patterson
Mark Paterson

The design of the VET-FEE HELP loans program has been heavily criticised — APS head Martin Parkinson refers to it as a “perfectly preventable mess” — and the actual problems in the parlous VET sector under the scheme have been canvassed widely.

ASQA has also been criticised for being an ineffective sheriff in a wild-west industry encouraged by a poorly designed loans program. In a recent academic report on the tertiary education sector, education expert and former public servant Mark Warburton argued that despite the body having significant regulatory power, it appeared “little of it was used” between 2012 and 2015:

“VET FEE-HELP first doubled in 2013 and then again in 2014. It was not until Feb 2015 that 23 ASQA audits were announced. By July 2015, the widespread rorting was public knowledge but there had still not been a single VET provider suspended or cancelled.”

Paterson first became a senior public servant in 2002, when John Howard plucked him from his position as chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to lead the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources.

Former federal attorney-general Michael Lavarch will continue as commissioner for risk intelligence and regulatory support for an extra year after his term ends on April 15, 2017, the minister added.

Robinson’s five-year appointment to the permanent role began on October 1, 2011 and was extended this year for an extra three months. Andrews did not comment on Robinson’s future in her announcement but The Australian reports he is retiring.

No announcement has been made as to who will be the next ASQA commissioner for regulatory operations.

Meanwhile, at the electoral commission

The government has also made three new appointments to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Jeff Pope moves up to deputy electoral commissioner from his position as Australian electoral officer and state manager for Victoria. Special Minister of State Scott Ryan believes he can make the AEC’s internal reform a success based on his experience with the AEC, as well as in policing and criminal intelligence.

Martyn Hagan, currently registrar of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, has been appointed Australian electoral officer for South Australia. According to Ryan, Hagan is also a reformer with “demonstrable experience in driving organisational change in national and state-based organisations” along with his legal background and “significant transformation and risk management expertise, strategic understanding and operational proficiency”.

David Molnar has been confirmed as Tasmania’s Australian electoral officer after acting in the role, based on his “strong understanding of the nature and complexity of the role” and 15 years in electoral management positions, the minister said.

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