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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4661

Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (13:52): I rise to speak in favour of the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012. I understand that the opposition has a role to oppose, but what I find so hypocritical is for those people opposite to come in here now and play politics over an issue that is so important. It is important to our community, but particularly important when it comes to the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program. What we are doing with this piece of legislation is ensuring that the funding continues and that there is no interruption to providing the services that are so necessary within our communities.

Senator Brandis: The legislation won't work!

Senator POLLEY: You can talk about 'We need to have more time'. The reality is that the High Court brought down its decision on Wednesday.

Senator Brandis: No, last Wednesday. Have you read it?

Senator POLLEY: Last week. Here we are now, at the first opportunity we have had to bring it into the chamber, and I would have thought that in the past, Senator Brandis—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—that those people opposite—and I know that there were some good senators, including a former senator from Tasmania in Guy Barnett—were very supportive of the chaplaincy program. It is with great interest that I will watch the debate because I can assure you that I will write regularly, as I normally do, to the chaplains around the Tasmanian community. It will be very interesting to see how those people, particularly Senator Bushby and others, vote on this very important piece of legislation.

Senator Brandis: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I think you will find that it is against standing orders for a senator to cast reflections upon an upcoming vote in the chamber and to cast reflections upon the motives of a senator in casting their vote. As the spokesman for the opposition I made it perfectly clear that the opposition is supporting the expedited passage through this parliament of the legislation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Marshall ): Order! We are now moving to debating the point of order.

Senator Brandis: I come back to my point of order: it is about reflecting upon a senator's motives in casting a forthcoming vote in this chamber. All opposition senators will be voting in favour of the bill even if our amendment fails. The senator is out of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, you have identified your point of order and, unfortunately, I have to confess I was conversing with the Deputy President about business of the Senate and I did not hear the comments. On that basis I would simply remind senators of the standing orders.

Senator POLLEY: This program continues—

Senator Wong: Your amendment means we can't enter into the contracts. There is no point of order.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator Wong: It's about running costs and the Solicitor-General's advice. You'd better go out and tell 900 chaplains that they won't have jobs next year.

Senator Brandis interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Polley has the call!

Senator POLLEY: Mr Acting Deputy President, you can see the people on this side of the chamber are very passionate about ensuring that this chaplaincy program is continued and is funded without any interruption. That is our responsibility here today in this chamber, to pass this legislation. I know that the Greens, for instance, have had problems, and that they do not support the program. But the reality is that this program has been put in place and it has been funded in the forward estimates in the budget. So I am asking people to put the interests of these young people first and foremost.

Of 1,000 new schools, 65 per cent have applied for the services of a chaplain and 35 per cent for a student welfare officer. In fact in the last round of applications the program was oversubscribed by 30 percent. I would just like to share with the chamber a comment from the acting principal of the West Launceston Primary School in my home state of Tasmania, Bev Shadbolt—and I would have to say what a wonderful principal she has been over a long period of time. She said:

We are delighted to learn that our application to seek funding for the appointment of a Chaplain has been successful. In 2012 our school has identified the building of greater community connections as a school priority. We see the Chaplain as working with students, their families and with staff. He/she will be a wonderful conduit for building connections and enhancing relationships across the school community.

I think this appropriately reflects the importance of the scheme to our schools and our community in general.

The High Court determined that the funding agreement between the Commonwealth and Scripture Union Queensland for the provision of the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program and the payments by the Commonwealth to Scripture Union Queensland under that agreement were invalid. Therefore, the way that the funding was provided, and not the program, was invalid. I think it is very important to make that distinction.

I know that a lot of schools, parents and service providers in the community have been concerned about the future of this program, which is why the government has acted so swiftly to ensure the protection of this good program. The government has taken action which it believes is an appropriate response in the light of the reasons that the High Court found the agreements and payments under the program to be invalid. This means that payments that were due to some service providers by the end of this financial year can go ahead. That is why it is so terribly important that this piece of legislation is supported, and it is.

As I said before, I know that there has been opposition from the Greens in the past, but I sincerely hope that the strategies of those opposite of trying to be obstructionist—as they so often do when they come into this place—will not come to the fore here today. I would urge people in this chamber, before they vote, to consider the real value. There were changes, but we have to remember that this was a program that was introduced by the Howard government. It was then supported by the incoming Rudd and Gillard governments. There have been some modifications to it, which have reflected what has been requested by the community.

I draw people's attention to the necessity and urgency of supporting this piece of legislation, and I endorse the bill.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.