PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Mr TUDGE (Aston) (10.49 am)—In 2007 the Howard government introduced a new, school based program called the National School Chaplaincy Program. This program provides up to $60,000 over three years to each school to enable them to employ a school chaplain at their school.
The program has been, as you may be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, an outstanding success. Over 2,680 schools have now been funded to provide a school chaplain—that is, 28 per cent of all schools across Australia—and a survey in 2009 found that 97 per cent of schools were pleased with the results and the unique spiritual guidance that a chaplain can offer.
In my own electorate of Aston, in outer eastern Melbourne, I have heard nothing but outstanding feedback from parents and the school community in relation to the school chaplains who are working there and doing very important work in supporting individual children and the broader family and assisting the school community to stay harmonious and cohesive.
I am a very strong supporter of the School Chaplaincy Program, as is the entire coalition, and I was very pleased, on the eve of the 2010 election, when Prime Minister Gillard announced that she would continue the School Chaplaincy Program if she were re-elected to government. Of course, that matched the commitments that the coalition had made. However, two weeks ago the government released a discussion paper on the future of the School Chaplaincy Program, which asked for feedback on various aspects of the operation of the program.
Along with many local residents in Aston, I am concerned that the government, through this discussion paper, is gearing up to change the fundamental nature of the program—to change it from a school chaplaincy program to one that is more a welfare based program.
I have no problem with schools that need them having more welfare officers in the school and I would support any initiative that provided funding to do so, but it should not be done at the expense of school chaplains. So I come here today to encourage all members of parliament to read this discussion paper and understand what the government might be coming to in relation to the School Chaplaincy Program.
I also encourage all members of the community who are supporters of the School Chaplaincy Program to have a look at the discussion paper and to respond to the government and let their views be known, because I believe this is a terrific program and it should be continued as it is. (Time expired)
NOTE: Copies of the Discussion Paper are available by contacting Alan’s office on 9887 3890.