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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7634

Senator MASON (2:52 PM) —My question is to Senator Carr, the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Given that the Rudd government refuses to commit to continuing the School Chaplaincy Program and given that local school communities are being forced to raise the funds required to retain their school chaplains, will the Labor government now recognise the vital role chaplains play in the school community and, if so, commit to funding beyond 2010?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank the senator for his question. As the senator is aware, the School Chaplaincy Program was introduced by the previous government with a funding commitment of $165 million over three years. Across Australia, some 2,700 schools have received funding under the program. As the senator is only too well aware, the program was designed and announced as a three-year program, with the initial agreements concluding in July 2010. All 2,700 agreements will be concluded by December 2011. While no further funding rounds are planned at this stage, the government may consider funding in the context of future budget processes. The minister has received terrific feedback from local members of parliament and a number of schools and parents organisations about the value of the program.

Senator Abetz —You are cancelling it.

Senator CARR —It is not being cancelled, Senator, as you are only too well aware. The previous Howard government introduced this three-year program, and it was announced at the time as a three-year program.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! If people wish to debate this question, the time to debate it is at the end of question time.

Senator CARR —The government are determined to ensure schools are supported in ensuring the wellbeing of their students, and we will continue to do just that.

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the comments of Gayle Walters, school president of Patricks Road State School in Brisbane’s north, who said chaplains services were ‘vital’ because:

It’s someone they can trust ... it relives the pressure for the teachers and other students.

Why is the Rudd government determined to see the death of a program that is so vital, particularly to our most vulnerable children?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason has sat through many hours of estimates on these issues, so he knows that what he is saying to the Senate is a gross misrepresentation. I would have thought that Senator Mason should actually be on his feet making a personal explanation at this point for wilfully misleading the Senate as to what he understands to be the situation with regard to the National School Chaplaincy Program.

Senator Brandis —You are playing the man.

Senator CARR —I am not playing the man. It is a fact of life that Senator Mason has some understanding of these issues, unlike you, Senator Brandis.

Senator Parry —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Minister Carr is not answering the question. He is not being directly relevant. That is the first point. Secondly, the point of order relates to the way he was reflecting on Senator Mason. Senator Mason asked a very specific question. Mr President, can I also direct you to a definition of ‘directly relevant’. For ‘directly’, the Macquarie Dictionary says, ‘in a direct manner, straight, without delay, immediately’. Senator Carr has gone on for 40-odd seconds without even attempting to answer the question and he only has 22 seconds left. ‘Relevant’ means in a state of fact or fact of being relative. Mr President, can I ask you to direct the minister to answer the question directly, to be relevant and not to be disparaging against Senator Mason.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Minister, you have 22 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator CARR —I understand that Senator Mason—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It is to reflect on a senator to assert that they are ‘wilfully misleading the Senate’. They were the words spoken by Senator Carr and they need to be withdrawn, and I invite you to require him to do so.

The PRESIDENT —Minister, if you have used those words, you will need to withdraw them.

Senator CARR —I withdraw. Senator Mason understands the nature of this program. He understands that it is a gross misrepresentation of the government’s position. He knows a great deal more about this than Senator Abetz. He understands that it was a terminating program announced by the previous government. A three-year program— (Time expired)

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that recent research has shown that over 97 per cent of school principals believe the chaplaincy program is effective and important, and in a Senate estimates just last week the department recognised the feedback on the program had been resoundingly positive, will the minister explain to school communities why the government can find billions of dollars to cover blow-outs in its education programs and the building of school halls, and $2.6 billion for pink batts, but cannot find the money to fund this worthwhile program and make that commitment?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I will strenuously defend the government’s commitment to schools and education. The fact is we are supporting 10,000 schools across the Commonwealth in a manner in which the previous government failed to do. I will also assert to you, Senator, that we are in the business—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I know people are getting excited but I need to hear Senator Carr.

Senator CARR —Once again, Mr President, I would seek advice from the Liberal Party as to which schools they do not want to fund. Which programs do you wish to cut back? Which groups of students do you wish to deprive of public support, which is what is being argued at this point? You are suggesting that we should not support school communities in the manner in which—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Shouting across the chamber is disorderly. Senator Carr, your comments should be addressed to the chair and not across the chamber.

Senator CARR —Mr President, through the chair, I would like to know which schools the Liberal Party do not support. Which schools do they wish to undermine by their vicious assault upon education in this country?

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, on a point of order: would you explain to the minister that question time is for him to answer questions not for him to ask questions.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Carr, you have 10 seconds remaining.

Senator CARR —This government is proud of the support it has provided to students of this country. It is proud of the support it has provided to education in this country. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on that positive note I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.