Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (22:17): Tonight I rise to speak about the important role chaplains play in young Australian lives in schools, particularly in my home state of Western Australia. All too often in this place, as we have just heard from Senator Rhiannon, we focus on things that are sad or tragic and are not going well. But the School Chaplaincy Program, I’m delighted to say, is a wonderful program and I thought it was worthy of sharing with everyone in this place tonight. These may be cliches, but I think it’s still true that young people in our nation are the future and it takes a village to raise a child. I believe one of the most important things we can do in this place for young Australians is to provide them with the guidance they need and support through their schools and communities to realise their full potential and become resilient, engaged and compassionate people. But many children, unfortunately, don’t always get that support through their own families or their extended families. And even the strongest of families sometimes need somebody to reach out and provide guidance and support.
As we in this place all know and talk about a lot, quality education is important for students so that they leave school with the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions and goals and contribute to our nation and also to their own families in the 21st century. But, as we in this place all know, a good school experience is so much more than books and academic learning. From my own schooling experience and also from now engaging with many schools across my state, I know that the most successful schools are the ones that graduate compassionate and civic-minded students who have those attributes over and above their academic standards. The best schools teach students to engage with their community but also to engage with our wonderful democracy.
Many parents and schools teach students to think critically, to challenge their own biases and also, importantly, to be resilient. In today’s society it has never been more important that students are provided the opportunity to develop these qualities, compassion and resilience. Sadly, many students in their own homes are not given the opportunity to develop these life skills, and they do require guidance and support throughout their education in their time in our schools. This is where I have seen firsthand, and I believe, chaplains make a huge difference. Chaplains are an invaluable asset to our young people, their futures and their families. Nowhere is this more so than in my home state of Western Australia. Currently, there are 384 chaplains operating in government, Catholic and independent schools in Western Australia. Schools and parents of students are speaking with their feet, because this has upped significantly from 361 last year. Again, they’re providing an amazing support.
YouthCARE alone has 202 federally-funded chaplains in 158 primary schools and 64 public secondary schools in Western Australia. Just last month I was honoured to address these chaplains at a YouthCARE chaplains conference and hear some of their stories and some of the amazing work that they do. YouthCARE received just over $5 million from the federal government under the National School Chaplaincy Program this year.
What have taxpayers, families and students gotten for this relatively modest investment? So far this year the chaplains have had 50,000 individual conversations with students. Twenty thousand of these conversations and sessions were with staff members, and more than 13,000 engagement and support sessions were for parents and children’s carers. In addition to that, over 200,000 meals have been served at breakfast clubs, and 129,000 Western Australian students have attended lunchtime groups. YouthCARE chaplains, in addition to that, have run well over 1,400 social, emotional and physical programs, and 711 community and mentoring programs. That is, indeed, a mighty service for $5 million of Commonwealth investment in the future of our children.
Together chaplains make a significant contribution to school communities right across our state. I believe these benefits will have long-term implications for these students and their families and their emotional and physical wellbeing. These chaplains do, unquestionably, make a wonderful contribution to providing the best possible start to life for our children—often the children who don’t get that support at home and need that extra guidance, support and counselling to get them through their school years. I’d like to thank all of those chaplains for the amazing work they do for our community, and I thank the federal government for its support in this chaplaincy program. We get a huge return on investment in the future of our children, and long may it continue. Thank you.