Marino supports chaplaincy program funding

I also rise to speak on the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2012. I do have real concerns, which is why I support the sunset clause that has been proposed by the member for Stirling.

I do not necessarily have a lot of confidence that the government has got this particular piece of legislation right and I do not have confidence that there will not be unintended consequences.

We have seen this frequently with this government with various pieces of legislation, and certainly one that is being rushed in the way that this one has been, gives me great concern. Some of the powers that are contained in it do bother me.

Even though we have in this particular instance heard that the only Commonwealth program the High Court’s decision invalidated was the chaplaincy program, we do know that there are about 11 different types of Commonwealth financial assistance grants and 416 different programs providing for the payment of Commonwealth moneys that we have been provided with as part of the draft regulation that goes with this bill.

I am concerned that we are expected to accept this bill without the shadow Attorney-General being provided a copy of the Commonwealth’s legal advice. I find that refusal by the Attorney-General extraordinary.

When you are seeking our support to get this particular piece of legislation through, I would have thought that would have been the appropriate course to follow. There are reasons that I have my concerns about the bill and about the process that this government is using.

The other part of this that does give me great concern is the fact that all programs can be identified in the regulation but it does not have to be made by a minister. It can be, but it can be delegated to an officer of any agency. That is a major concern and deserves far greater scrutiny.

It can be made by a decision by the minister or can be delegated to any officer of any agency. We should be discussing this in detail—what the implications of that are and how that will work in a practical sense—but we are not being given that opportunity.

Will this overcome the Constitutional problems identified in the Williams’ case? Given the timeframe here and the fact that the shadow Attorney-General has not had access to that legal advice, we cannot have that level of confidence.

The amendments we have proposed in these circumstances should certainly be accepted by all parties concerned and particularly the government. There are 400 categories of grants and payments to which it applies and we have not really had any opportunity to look at this in detail.

We have not had the opportunity to examine the legal advice at all. The government has not engaged the opposition at any time earlier in this and it has not given us any opportunity to consider what response we should be making with any level of care.

It has just been passed through to us very quickly. We certainly will not stand in the way of what the government is attempting to do, but I have genuine concerns about this and, as I say, there will be unintended consequences. I have no doubt about that at all, particularly given this government’s history.

The government should not take this, and our support of this, as support for every single program that has been specified as part of this.

The amendment and the sunset clause are very valid. I think that is reasonable particularly in the circumstances that this bill has come to us and, more particularly, the fact that the shadow Attorney-General has not had access to the legal advice.

That is a real concern to me and I am sure to all members on our side of the House. The sunset clause is extremely reasonable in those circumstances. I think the government should be supporting these amendments moved by the member for Stirling.

Equally, I want to get onto the chaplaincy program itself. Part of the reason I am concerned here is that I know the government has not always been supportive of the National School Chaplaincy Program.

We know that it was introduced by the former coalition government. I can remember being in what is now the Federation Chamber and hearing some statements being made by Labor members at the time. It was clear to the member for Canning and me at that time that the government in the lead-up to that particular budget was considering getting rid of and not funding the chaplaincy program.

I can very well recall the comments from the then member for Fowler who said, ‘”Praise the Lord and pass the Ritalin” is no substitute for well-resourced and professional intervention where children face a home life often dominated by alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and family tragedy.’

I knew right then that we had to work hard to make sure that the School Chaplaincy Program was still available because the government was considering not funding it. The amount of pressure that was applied certainly made sure that the government had to change its mind.

Anyone like me who deals in a regional area knows how important school chaplains are.

They offer so many different forms of care and support and guidance not only to students but also to the school community in general. Anyone that has direct access, who actually goes to see what these chaplains provide to students and families and even the teachers and support staff within the schools, cannot question the type of support that chaplains provide.

In my particular electorate I have schools like Allanson Primary School and Australind, Parkville, Augusta and Bunbury schools.

These demonstrate the level of need and the work that the chaplains do and why it is so important and why I say to this government: do not ever consider cutting this program in the way that you were previously.

There are also Bunbury Senior High School, Carey Park primary and high schools, College Row, Maidens Park, Newton Moore High School and the ed support centre, Busselton Primary School, Geographe Primary School, West Busselton, Cornerstone Christian College, Capel Primary School, St Brigid’s, Amaroo—the list goes on—Collie, Fairview, Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School, and Manea College.

The list is endless. That is how important it is. When I go and talk to families and students they always tell me how important it is.

I know that in 2009 there was a report done on the effectiveness of chaplaincy by Dr Philip Hughes of Edith Cowan University and Professor Margaret Sims of the University of New England.

They found that the effectiveness of the chaplaincy could not be questioned and that 30 per cent of the time that a chaplain spent was informal or in care of students in class activities; in other school activities such as breakfast programs; in pastoral care of families and staff; in school events, camps and crises, and with welfare and connecting agencies in the referral of students.

I know that many students have many challenges in their lives. Chaplains have to deal with a wide range of issues, often and most frequently with behavioural management and social relationship issues, including anything from anger, peer relationships, loneliness and bullying. I would have to add cyberbullying into that mix. Many of our young people have family relationship issues and they commonly discuss these with a chaplain.

One of the other things chaplains do very well is help develop a sense of self, a sense of purpose and a sense of self-esteem. They also assist in mental health issues. Often they assist with social inclusion.

They certainly work to integrate Aboriginal students and immigrant groups into the school communities. I have seen this work first-hand in many of the schools in my electorate. The principals are extremely supportive of the chaplain program. They know how important the work of the chaplains is in building relationship skills.

There are many roles for school chaplains. The welfare that is provided by a school through a chaplain is different to any other form of support in a school. They deal with grief and loss, mental health, school authority issues, alcohol and drug use, physical and emotional abuse and neglect, self-harm and suicide.

The chaplains help families. What I really like about the chaplaincy program is that it is not just for the students but for the broader school community and the chaplains work very hard in this sense. One of the chaplains referred to in this report worked on a building bridges program that was a student self-development and discovery program. There are so many ways that chaplains add value in school communities.

I want to touch on the YouthCARE issue that was raised with me as well as with the member for Canning. It is very specific to Western Australia where the new program requires a minimum qualification.

YouthCARE is supportive of this. However, in Western Australia there is great difficulty in securing staff, specially with the short time frame and limited access to training providers in some areas. There is real difficulty for YouthCARE in supplying and recruiting the chaplains required by the Commonwealth with the minimum qualifications prior to their employment.

YouthCARE has been providing the chaplaincy services over a number of years, but the offices of DEEWR, according to a letter sent to me by YouthCARE, refuse to allow these chaplains to be regarded as existing chaplains under the program even though they have been doing this work previously. I am concerned that this will deny many schools in Western Australia, and even in my electorate, access to the services of a chaplain.

I have mentioned how important they are. I would say to the department and to the minister that this really does need looking at in relation to Western Australia.

In this letter YouthCARE has said it has had longstanding arrangements with the Western Australian Department of Education that take all of these matters into account.

They 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 a Western Australian public school.

The Western Australian Department of Education does share the concern of the Commonwealth that chaplains are appropriately qualified, but it is satisfied that the steps that YouthCARE has taken will meet all those requirements. So I call on the Commonwealth to look at the situation in Western Australia. We do not need our schools to be without school chaplains.

As YouthCARE has said, the Department of Education has an existing arrangement with a service provider regarding the recruitment, training, development, supervision and management of the chaplains. That should take precedence over the government’s program guidelines.

YouthCARE has had a 40-year working relationship with the Department of Education in Western Australia.

I would say to the minister, the Commonwealth and the department to look at the level of service provided by the chaplains with the support of the department in Western Australia because the last thing we need is for any school in my electorate and throughout Western Australia to not have access to the services that they currently receive, or for new schools to the program, who have demonstrated a real need for the services of the chaplains under this program.

I finish by saying that the broader value to the community of the school chaplain program introduced by the coalition back in 2006-07 should not be underestimated and it has certainly helped many young people, the school community and the broader community.

I support the amendments made by the member for Stirling. This piece of legislation has been rushed and the shadow Attorney-General has not had access to the legal advice. It is on that basis that I support the sunset clause.