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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 8077

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (20:12): I do appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight on the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012. This bill, as we have heard, has come about as a result of the finding by the High Court last week. But we should be in no doubt at all about the value that the chaplaincy program has provided in the years since John Howard initiated it. Certainly within the electorate of Cowan, there has been great value added as well.

Across Cowan there are a number of schools that have benefited from the program and it is certainly the case that the fact the federal program has lacked the appropriate statutory authority required by the Constitution, as found in the decision last week, should be no limit to the continuation of the program and the great work that the chaplains do. At Alinjarra Primary School in Cowan, I acknowledge the long-term efforts of former chaplain Diane Norris. Chaplains are also in Ashdale Primary School, Ballajura Community College, Ballajura Primary School—Larissa is there—Creaney Primary School, Greenwood College, Halidon Primary School, Hawker Park Primary School—Helen is the chaplain there—Illawarra Primary School, Landsdale Primary School, Marangaroo Primary School, Neerabup Primary School, South Ballajura Primary School, Wanneroo Senior High School-with Zoe—Warwick Senior High School, which has Amy Donaldson, and Mandy Morton from Woodvale Secondary College. These are the schools within Cowan that have a chaplain. They do great work, and my office assists in fundraising for the chaplains along with the district councils of YouthCARE.

In Western Australia we have received in the last 24 hours two letters from YouthCARE, the providers of chaplaincy services. They obviously endorse the requirement for the action that the government has brought about with this bill and, as the opposition, we also endorse that action. We realise that despite concerns about some matters within the bill and the way it has been drafted, it is important that tonight, in the case of the House, and tomorrow, in the case of the Senate, we must move through and get these things down and get this bill fixed up to make sure that programs such as the chaplaincy program will survive. There has been mention as well of the amendment that the coalition wants to bring forward on this and that is a sunset clause. I certainly endorse that.

I would also like to raise the second letter that I have received from YouthCARE. YouthCARE have raised concerns about the program which are particular to the state and they have asked me to advance these concerns tonight. They have told me that the new program, the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare program—it is not so new now, it has been around for a while—had:

… 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 that the minimum qualifications imposed by the Commonwealth will create a distinct disadvantage for Western Australian public schools ….

In Western Australia, as we know, it is difficult for employers to secure staff. YouthCARE wrote:

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—

the original program—

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.

The trouble with this is that:

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.

YouthCARE wrote:

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 concerns that chaplains be appropriately qualified, but is satisfied that the steps we have taken meet all these requirements.

Therefore YouthCARE seeks the support of the Australian parliament:

… in pressing home the view that where a state Department of Education has an existing arrangement with a service provider regarding the recruitment, training & development and supervision and management of the chaplains this should take precedence over the Commonwealth's Program Guidelines. These matters are fundamentally about risk- mismanagement and we believe—

as I do—

that the requirements of the State more than adequately protect the risk-concerns of the NSCWSP Program Guidelines.

I notice that the website of Woodvale Secondary College says their chaplain, Mandy Morton, is studying towards a degree in psychology. She already has counselling and other qualifications. That is a great example of someone working towards the qualifications and providing services as a chaplain. I think there is validity in the argument of YouthCARE that there is a requirement for greater flexibility so that schools can continue to receive the great services that the chaplaincy program provides.

It is not my intention to delay the House any longer with my contribution, but I would like to thank Stanley Jeyaraj, the Chief Executive Officer of YouthCARE. My experiences within the electorate of Cowan with over 50 schools, many of which are involved with YouthCARE and have chaplains, mean that I strongly endorse the work of YouthCARE, the work of the chaplains and I look forward to the passage of this bill so that their funding can be guaranteed for the future.