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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 3943


Mr CHESTER (11:39 AM) —I join other members in extending my condolences to the New Zealand mineworkers, their families and friends. This enormous tragedy has touched people right throughout New Zealand and Australia.

I would like to present a petition which has been signed by 452 of my constituents and has been found in order by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions. This petition deals with concerns over the government’s failure to fund the Step to the Future program, therefore threatening the future operation of this important event for years 10, 11 and 12 students in Gippsland.

I would like to begin my comments by congratulating the principal petitioner, Renae Hyde, from Traralgon. Renae has taken a personal interest in this issue and has been the driving force behind bringing her school community’s concerns to the attention of the parliament. Renae wrote to me after attending a Step to the Future program in July this year with about 50 other Traralgon Secondary College students. She said they all got a significant benefit out of the program. In the Renae’s letter to me, she said:

I find it difficult to express in words the value myself and my fellow students got from listening to the excellent speakers provided by the program this year. I hope to one day have the same positive effect on young people within our community.

For those who are not familiar with the program, perhaps a bit of background from the Step to the Future Foundation website is in order. The program is ‘a youth initiative which is aimed at inspiring young people to build confidence in themselves so they can take the initiative to reach their goals in life’. The program started in 2002, and it ‘aims to provide young Australians with positive role models, motivation and the opportunity to share the life experiences of a diverse group of individuals, representing business, politics, entertainment, sport and the general community’. It works by the schools across the country designating a year group to attend this day, which is put on the school calendar as an important school event, and a student organising committee brings it all together.

It does sound like a very rewarding program, and certainly the 452 people who have signed this petition believe it is worthy of ongoing government support. This government does talk a lot about education revolutions and investing in the future of our children, but this is a real opportunity for us to step up to the plate. It is all about helping young people to achieve their full potential in the future. As I understand it, the foundation was previously in a position to fund 30 forums a year and now, due to a lack of ongoing funding, it is down to four forums.

In addition to presenting this petition to the House, I have written to the Minister for Sport, Senator Arbib, to seek support for the Step to the Future program. I acknowledge that he may not be the right minister, but there is a bit of confusion about who actually has had responsibility for this program in the past. I am also forwarding my speech today to the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. The confusion comes about because the funding for this program has come from different sources in the past. The former Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson—who was a man, I believe, who was always keen to invest in the future of young Australians—originally provided funding, and I believe there was also some funding at one stage from the Department of Defence. I believe that last year the former Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, managed to provide some funding for a one-year extension of this program, but since then the government has not been in a position to fund the future of the Step to the Future program. So I apologise for any confusion over which minister should be held responsible for this program, but I do urge the government to consider this petition very seriously. It is about making a difference in young lives and it is about community building. It is a long-term investment in the future of our communities.

In the time that I have left I would like to briefly reflect on the role of the petitions committee in the presence of the new chair of the committee, the member for Reid. As a member of the committee myself, I believe that the petitions process is an important one because it allows people like Renae Hyde, the principal petitioner in this case, to have direct access to the parliament, to have her views heard as the principal petitioner and also to have her views supported by the more than 450 people who share her concerns. It is a good process that has been developed in recent years. I think it is a better process than was in place in the past. Under the current process, the petition is not simply banished to a back room to gather dust; it is referred to the minister for a formal response. Once that response is received, the principal petitioner will receive a copy of the minister’s letter and can then consider their next course of action. I believe we have added more rigour to the petitions process with the petitions committee in the House.

On occasions, petitions have resulted in some positive outcomes and a change of direction in a decision in favour of the petitioners. I refer for one example to the Traralgon Post Office and the great concern that was raised about that issue during the Gippsland by-election, where thousands of people signed a petition which eventually forced Australia Post to reconsider its position on the issue. I do encourage those members who may be new to the place, who have not been involved in the petitions process, to get involved and to urge their constituents to take the opportunity that presents itself through the petitions process in the House.

In closing, like other members I reflect on the Christmas season which is almost upon us—it is hard to believe—and extend my best wishes to all members, to their families and to their staff for the work they do on behalf of their constituents. To the staff here at Parliament House: I thank you for your support and the work you do for us in this place. Sometimes you even make us look half decent! I urge you all to have a peaceful Christmas season and look forward to seeing you all back here next year. Have a very safe and merry Christmas.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

PETITION

The Petition of the residents of Gippsland

Draws to the attention of the House the failure of the Federal Government to continue to fund the “Steps to the Future” program therefore threatening the future operation of this important event for Gippsland year 10, 11 and 12 students.

We therefore ask the House to call upon the Federal Government to reinstate funding to the “Steps to the Future” program to ensure this event continues into the future.

from 452 citizens

Petition received.