Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019

24 August 2020

Centre Alliance supports the intention of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019, which is to inhibit cheating services. These services threaten the quality and integrity of the higher education sector, which has been a source of significant employment and export earnings. The bill does this by imposing penalties for providing or promoting cheating services. These penalties can be very severe—500 penalty units worth $105,000 and up to two years imprisonment. The severity of these penalties is designed to act as a deterrent and I'm confident that they will have the desired effect.

However, we do not support the other offences created by the bill, such as that which criminalises non-commercial cheating and imposes a penalty of 500 penalty units. To be clear, non-commercial cheating refers to assistance from a friend or family member without a financial benefit where the assistance forms a substantial part of the assessment. I think we can all agree that cheating is wrong and that it is desirable for students to act honestly and complete their work. But, when a student is struggling and their mother ends up helping them with an essay, is it really appropriate to label that behaviour as unlawful and, potentially, impose a fine of as much as $100,000?

Every university in the country already has rules against cheating, and, for extreme cases, prosecutions can be brought for existing serious offences such as fraud or dishonestly obtaining an advantage. So what is to be gained by the creation of this new offence? Certainly, it does nothing to reduce commercial cheating services, which is the very point of this bill. The government may say that it has some deterrent value, but that assumes parents and siblings and neighbours and friends are aware that such an offence exists. There may be some media coverage on this measure if it passes into law, and so some people would become aware of it, but I imagine it would not be many, and so it would do little to change people's behaviour.

The government's original proposal was for a civil penalty of 1,000 penalty units—more than $200,000. In response to stakeholder feedback, they acknowledged this was excessive and reduced the penalty to 500 units. But this is still excessive. Centre Alliance will be moving an amendment to the bill which removes the non-commercial offence. We believe this is a sensible, reasonable change that will not inhibit the government's efforts to crack down on commercial cheating services.

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