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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 8049

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (18:05): I speak on the second reading of the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012 because this is an issue in which I have a great deal of interest. It affects schools in my electorate as well as right across Australia. I point out at the beginning that this is a Howard government program which was initiated successfully into schools. It was then adopted by the incoming Rudd government and, after hearing rumours that it would not be continued—surprise! surprise!—in the last budget it had an injection of cash. We were being lobbied by chaplaincy teachers, if I can call them that, and schools about this program because they feared it was going to be defunded, but I congratulate the government on the fact that it continued its funding.

The reason we are here today speaking on this bill presented by the Attorney-General is as an urgent response by the government to the High Court's decision in Williams v Commonwealth of Australia and Ors [2011] HCATrans 198, which was handed down last Wednesday. We know that, and the decision found that the funding for the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program—in other words, the chaplaincy program, which this side of the House strongly supports—was beyond the executive power of the Commonwealth because it was not supported by an act of parliament. So this is what we are doing here today: we are providing an act of parliament because there is no valid exercising of the executive powers of the Commonwealth under section 61 of the Constitution. All this is correct. One of the flaws which was pointed out by the shadow minister and the member for Stirling was the fact that we have some reservations about the fact that the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth seems, in this legislation, to have awarded himself extraordinary regulatory powers to make decisions under this act, which is why I am going to speak further to the bill as it affects schools in my electorate. I have a letter from YouthCARE, which I received today, regarding the legislation for this chaplaincy program. I can either table it or read it in full. Can I table this letter?

Mr Garrett: You can read it in full, if you like.

Mr RANDALL: I will read it in full at the end of my dissertation. One of the reasons I am here is that this minister having these sorts of executive powers somewhat scares me. I have made representations to this minister for so long about chaplaincy programs in my electorate and I have been thwarted and ignored by him. Whether he gets this message through the House or not—and I have written to him—I want to talk about the Austin Cove Baptist College in my electorate.

Ms Roxon: Is to do with the bill?

Mr RANDALL: This is directly to do with the minister's regulatory powers in this bill. The Austin Cove Baptist College was established in 2011. I wrote to the minister about this school because of the tragic events at the school when it first opened. Lauren Ames passed away following a car accident on the way to Austin Cove school. Another girl, Georgie Spies, aged 13, died tragically in an explosion in Mandurah where her father was having to live in a tent in a caravan park because of extraordinary situations. Georgie, along with her father and her brother, were killed. They were children at the school. The school sought compassionate intervention by the minister to provide them with a chaplain because of the ongoing tragic circumstances that reverberated through the school as a result of these accidents. I went to the funeral of Lauren. It was an event that I could not recommend, because it was so sad. Austin Cove's principal, Orlando dos Santos, has continually asked me to represent him to the minister on this issue. The minister continues to ignore his cries for help on this issue.

The school, having opened just over 12 months ago with 350 students, now has 545 students and it is growing. I have raised this in this House so many times. The first time was Wednesday, 6 July 2011. Minister, I cannot believe you did not show some compassion when I first raised this issue. The school did what it said it would do; it waited for 12 months to apply again. This is what the minister told it to do in some of the correspondence, and he wished it luck. This issue was raised again by me in a statement to the House. As I said, the school is having extreme difficulties providing pastoral care because of some of the tragic events in and around the school after its establishment.

The principal applied for this funding under the National School Chaplaincy Program 2011. Sadly he was rejected due to eligibility prerequisites which required the school to be operational in 2010. Following the rejection, I made several representations to the federal education minister, Peter Garrett, asking for his intervention to ensure that this school receive the funding that it so clearly deserved. I have sent three letters to Minister Garrett: on 16 February 2011, 13 May 2011 and 2 April 2011. I have also raised this issue in the parliament on a number of occasions. I have asked him to exercise his intervention on compassionate grounds, but he has denied this request.

It gets worse. As I said, in the last federal budget this program was extended by $222 million. But is there room for Austin Cove Baptist College in my electorate? No. In the most recent Senate estimates, Senator Mason raised this issue with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations—no answer. Here is a school tragically hanging out and using teaching time to provide welfare for its students. This cold-hearted minister has denied them any sort of relief. Out of its own teaching budget it has to find money to provide the sorts of chaplaincy and support programs to students in the school.

I found out recently that they have again been denied funding under the Nation School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare program. Why were they denied this funding? After having the application rejected, Mr dos Santos contacted the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations to obtain some feedback. He was told that he had failed to provide a letter from the parent body approving a chaplain. In the school's very extensive application, Mr dos Santos provided no fewer than three letters from parents at the school and said that if this were not sufficient the school was more than willing to provide whatever was necessary to ensure the application was successful. The parent body overwhelmingly approved having a chaplain in school. In fact, Austin Cove Baptist College has provided evidence that in the last year the two part-time chaplains at the school have had 104 requests for appointments. Further, 45 year 8 students provided statements saying that the school chaplains were worthwhile, they needed them and they wanted them to continue. At the moment the school is having to sacrifice teaching hours to provide counselling for students.

This is what this program was designed to do, yet this minister continues to reject this request. I think he is doing this because he is offended by the fact that I have raised this issue in this place so many times and asked him to show some compassion. He has not and he obviously is not going to. As I have said in this place before, he made a handy rock star, but he is a very ordinary member of parliament and he is a very ordinary minister. On this occasion I am appalled at the way that he has continually ignored this cry for help from a school in my electorate. I now go to the letter that the minister would not let me table, so I will now read this letter from Stanley Jeyaraj, the chief executive officer of YouthCARE, dated today:

Thank you for your support of YouthCARE. You will have received a letter from me yesterday indicating the schools identified in your electorate that have nominated YouthCARE as the service provider for the delivery of Chaplaincy services. In Western Australia, 98% of public schools that have been awarded funding under the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program (NSCSWP) have nominated YouthCARE as their service provider.

As the Government introduces legislation today to ensure the ongoing funding of the NSCSWP we would encourage you to take this as an opportunity to raise concerns we have about the program that are very particular to our state which should also be of concern to you.

You are no doubt aware that the new program imposed a minimum qualification for those employed as school chaplains under the program. While we are generally supportive of the intention of this provision we believe the minimum qualifications imposed by the Commonwealth will create a distinct disadvantage for Western Australian public schools in both the metropolitan and regional areas.

You will be well aware of the difficulties employers are having in securing staff in Western Australia. When this is combined with a very short time frame and limited access to training providers In some places, we are having very real difficulty in recruiting suitable chaplains who also have the minimum qualifications prior to their employment

A further complication exists for us in relation to a number of schools that were not part of the NSCP but have been awarded funding under the NSCSWP. In these schools, YouthCARE has been providing chaplaincy services for a number of years but officers of DEEWR refuse to allow these chaplains to be regarded as existing chaplains under the program, preventing them from taking steps to meet the qualifications requirements post employment This will deny those schools the services of a chaplain they have known and valued for some time because they do not have the minimum qualifications required by the program.

In the face of the department's inflexibility in applying the program guidelines in respect of pre-employment qualifications for chaplains we would like to offer a solution. YouthCARE has a long standing arrangement with the WA Department of Education that takes these matters into account. We have developed the most stringent selection process of all the states in identifying suitable school chaplains and a comprehensive program of post employment training specifically tailored to the demands of the job in WA public schools. The WA Department of Education shares the Commonwealth's concern that chaplains be appropriately qualified, but is satisfied that the steps we have taken meet all these requirements.

We therefore seek your support in pressing home the view that where a state Department of Education has an existing arrangement with a service provider regarding the recruitment, training and development and supervision and management of the chaplains this should take precedence over the Commonwealth's program guidelines. These matters are fundamentally about risk-management and we believe that the requirements of the State more than adequately protect the risk concerns of the HSCSWP program guidelines.

With a 40-year working relationship with the Department of Education in WA we are confident that many of your constituents have very positive experiences of our work in public schools. With your support this much loved and highly valued organisation will be able to continue providing the highest possible quality school chaplaincy services.

Yours sincerely,

Stanley Seyaraj Chief Executive Officer

This program is a very good program, which, as I said, the Howard government initiated. The schools in my electorate are not only using, as some critics would say, chaplains from particular nominations. More particularly, the chaplains are providing welfare and services well beyond being a chaplain.

Willandra Primary School in my electorate recently sought ongoing funding for a social worker. They were told that their funding had been cut for the program they were currently on and they should apply for a chaplain because it would well and truly fit the bill. YouthCARE in my electorate have pointed out that there are schools in my electorate that do have chaplains. They are Armadale Senior High School, Boddington District High School, Cecil Andrews Senior High School, Challis Early Childhood Centre, Challis Primary School, Clifton Hills Primary School, Coodanup Community College, Dudley Park Primary School, Halls Head Primary School, Kelmscott Primary School, Kelmscott Senior High School and Pinjarra Senior High School.

It is fantastic that the chaplains are in these schools but they need to be in so many more. As a former teacher, I know that quite often teachers are increasingly being asked to provide welfare arrangements not only for students but also for the parents. This is where a chaplain comes in, almost as a social worker, providing this service to people in need. I commend this bill because it will see the program's funding continue. I support the amendment because we do not want to see this rushed legislation go through this House without greater scrutiny once we see it in action.

I say again to the minister: I feel appalled by your lack of compassion about the Austin Cove Baptist school in my electorate, which certainly deserves the support of a chaplain given the tragedies that have happened at that school. I dare say that unless the minister finally stops his vindictive behaviour towards this school, I will continue raising this in this House and at every opportunity I can to point out this minister is not capable of doing his job.