Restricting the School Chaplaincy Program; The Government’s unfair Higher Education legislation


KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Yesterday Tony Abbott made incredibly clear that he is going to stubbornly insist that only religious chaplains can operate in schools across Australia. Today we see that there are 452 school communities who currently have a welfare officer or counsellor who will be sacked under the guidelines that Minister Pyne is insisting upon.


This Government needs to explain to every one of those 452  school communities why they can’t choose what is best for their students’ welfare. It should be up to principals and school communities to decide who is best placed to support students’ needs, not to Christopher Pyne and George Brandis to insist that only those with links to organised religion can operate under this program in our schools.


As this stands, this is a disgrace, and today is the time when the Education Minister must stand up and say that these welfare officers who already have close and trusted relationships in our schools will not be sacked under his watch.


JOURNALIST: Does Labor risk dealing itself over the debate on higher education if it doesn’t negotiate at all with Christopher Pyne?


ELLIS: We’ve made incredibly clear that there are principles that will not be sacrificed in this debate and we will not turn but the clock on decades of progress in access to higher education. We will absolutely not see students lumped with the sort of debt which will mean that it simply isn’t an option for people from many families. We will not see an Australia where young people have to make a choice – do they pursue a higher education, or do they start a family and look to get a mortgage? That is not the Australia that Labor believes in, and that is not the Australia that we will let happen under our watch.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)


ELLIS: Unfortunately Christopher Pyne has come up with an extreme package and a damaging package, and we’ve made very clear that we simply will not be supporting undoing, not just undoing years of reforms in higher education, but decades of reform that have opened up the sector and ensured that it becomes more accessible. We simply will not support that.


JOURNALIST: Even if some sectors of the university industry do support some of the measures like deregulation for instance, Kate?


ELLIS: I’m not surprised that when Minister Pyne makes ridiculous threats about massive cuts to research budgets that some people in the university sector get jumpy. But what it is our job to do is to make sure that we make clear that the way to a smarter, more prosperous and productive Australia is not through massively slashing investment in higher education.


JOURNALIST: Is Labor Senator Sue Lines correct when she says that the renewed focus on terrorism over the past few weeks is a distraction from this controversial budget?


ELLIS: I think Labor has made perfectly clear that we know that the number one job of a government is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens. We have made very clear that we will constructively support the Government in this role. We have requested an urgent briefing on these matters from the Government which as yet has not been forthcoming.


And so we will play a constructive role when it comes to national security.


We also know that the community is incredibly concerned about the budget measures. It is concerned about how unfair and extreme Tony Abbott’s budget is and that the Government needs to address these concerns.


JOURNALIST: Would you say that the comments perhaps are unhelpful?


ELLIS: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I certainly wouldn’t have voiced it in that manner. We have made clear that national security of course needs to be the first priority of the Government but this is a dud of a budget and there’s no mistake about that fact.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government is about to get Australia involved in another war in Iraq?


ELLIS: As I said, these are hypothetical situations, we have requested a briefing from the Government so that we can be fully informed of the situation as it stands. To date that hasn’t been forthcoming but I certainly hope that the Government would offer that briefing in the very near future so that we can get some more details.