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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6189

Mr PYNE (4:21 PM) —I rise today to comment on the School Chaplaincy Program, which the previous government introduced and which has proved to be one of its most successful and popular programs. The School Chaplaincy Program has been rolled out in hundreds of schools across Australia. The school chaplains in both denominational and non-denominational schools make an enormous difference in supporting young people, particularly those who are sometimes looking for someone who is not a family member or a close personal friend to talk to about issues that they find challenging in the 21st century. Whether the issue for young people is drugs, school work that they might be finding difficult or sexuality, the School Chaplaincy Program has been a very important safety valve in many, many schools. In fact, a survey was conducted of the schools with the School Chaplaincy Program and it found that 97 per cent of school principals with a school chaplain funded by the government believed that the program was both valuable and important to continue. The tragedy, of course, is that the current government is cancelling the School Chaplaincy Program from the end of 2011.

The government has not committed to the program being a permanent fixture in high schools across Australia. That is a tragedy for young people and a tragedy for those school communities where a school chaplain has made an enormous difference. In my electorate, this has been particularly the case in the government high schools that previously did not have access to a school chaplain. In many of the denominational schools, of course, a school chaplain is part of the staff, but not in government schools. That is why it is so important that the School Chaplaincy Program continue.

The coalition has committed to the school chaplaincy program well into the future. We have funded the School Chaplaincy Program to the tune of $165 million through to the end of the current forward estimates in 2014, and that will continue beyond 2014. The government, on the other hand, has cancelled the School Chaplaincy Program from the end of 2011. In fact, the Prime Minister was asked about this last night at an event held by the Australian Christian Lobby. He said:

We’ll go through our own evaluation as to whether it’s worked everywhere well but I’m pretty confident this program is going to continue.

On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition said:

The coalition has promised to continue funding for the School Chaplaincy Program through to the end of the current forward estimates period in 2014.

So the difference between the two parties could not be more stark. In giving this short speech, I present the petitions signed by people from my own electorate and across South Australia in support of the School Chaplaincy Program, which has been through the correct processes.

The petition read as follows—

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

This petition of certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House the National School Chaplaincy Program, built on the excellent history of school chaplaincy in Australia, which was introduced by the former Coalition Government in 2007/08 with a commitment of $165 million for its first three years. It was endorsed by Prime Minister Rudd who said “they (Chaplains) actually are providing the glue which keeps school communities rolling”.

The program offers pastoral care and spiritual guidance to all. Chaplains necessarily have religious beliefs which underpin their work. These beliefs are representative of the school communities the chaplains work in and they do not hinder chaplains from working with those of other beliefs or none. It operates in 1915 schools and enjoys strong support among principals, schools and in the community generally.

The Rudd Government has extended funding for the program, at a reduced level, until the end of 2011, after which time there may be no more funding despite the program’s social benefits, sound administration and strong community support. Malcolm Turnbull has announced that if elected, the Coalition would continue funding the program in its current form, at its current level of $165 million over 3 years.

We therefore ask that the Rudd Government continue funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program in its current form.

from 52 citizens

Petition received.

(Time expired)