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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 8047

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (17:59): I am pleased to support the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012 today and the remarks of the Attorney-General. This legislation will allow the good work of thousands of chaplains and student welfare workers working with tens of thousands of students across the country to continue. The Gillard government has acted decisively and quickly to protect the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program, as well as other vital community programs. We are committed to the ongoing operations of the chaplain and student welfare program, demonstrated in no small way through the investment of some $429 million since 2007. This is a program that enjoys widespread community support. School communities value this successful program and are also committed to it continuing. It assists them to support the spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing of their students. In fact, the last round of applications saw the program oversubscribed to by some 30 per cent. In the past week we have heard from schools, students and parents about their concern that the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program might not continue. This bill will make sure that the program is maintained.

Following my announcement on 24 May that the program would be rolled out to an additional 1,000 schools, the program will provide chaplaincy and student welfare services to more than 3,500 schools across the country. Services will be provided from Hobart to Broome, including in some of the country's most remote locations. This program provides wellbeing benefits to the independent, Catholic and government school systems. In fact, three-quarters of all schools in the program are public schools. We are committed to ensuring these services can continue and that new services can be put in place.

A national consultation process was undertaken during 2010 to consider options for the future of the program. We sought the views of key stakeholders representing thousands of school communities. In conjunction, then, with the program's expansion, a new set of program guidelines were introduced building on the good work done over the past five years. This provided greater flexibility for the community, with schools being able to choose a chaplain or a student welfare worker. Around 80 per cent of all schools under the program have chosen to engage a chaplain, with 15 per cent choosing a student welfare worker and others still determining their school community's needs.

These guidelines increase the amount of funding for remote schools, recognising the challenges of providing services in these areas. The new guidelines also ensure the chaplains and student welfare workers are better trained, with a new set of minimum qualification requirements being introduced for the first time as well as support for training up existing workers. The minimum qualification will be a Certificate IV in Youth Work, a Certificate IV in Pastoral Care or the equivalent. All existing chaplains who do not meet any new minimum qualification requirements will be required to complete two units on referral, working effectively in mental health as well. We can assist with the cost of the units and we can assist existing unqualified chaplains or secular workers to enrol in and complete the units if required.

These minimum provider standards are very important as they ensure increased national consistency in the implementation of the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program; greater quality assurance that services provided under the program are delivered appropriately and that adequate controls are in place; and responsiveness to feedback through the consultation process for increased accountability measures. In addition, the complaints procedures will be amended to strengthen the management processes and transparency and to ensure schools are responding quickly to students or parents who are concerned. We are committed to maintaining those minimum standards in the program.

This bill will provide certainty for the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program to continue to provide services to more schools and to more students. The next tranche of payments owed to providers at the end of the financial year is $16.44 million to 160 providers who employ chaplains and student welfare workers working in about 1,674 schools. We must ensure that these providers can continue to provide these important services to our schools. My department has put in place the necessary arrangements to ensure payments to those organisations providing chaplaincy and student welfare support will recommence within 24 hours of this important legislation receiving royal assent.

I finish by noting the proposed amendment of a sunset clause to this legislation as foreshadowed by the member opposite. The government will not accept a sunset clause to this legislation. I make the simple point that the government would not be in a position to negotiate payments that go past any sunset clause period if an amendment of this kind were to pass the House. We believe that this is the appropriate and necessary way to ensure the certainty that is absolutely a part of the business of this government, and to make sure, as successive governments have proceeded on the basis that there is no specific legislative authorisation required for programs, that it is now required by the decision in Williams, and this legislation deals with that matter specifically. I commend this bill to the House.