Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024



Education and Children's Services (Sports Vouchers) Amendment Bill

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:04): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Education and Children's Services Act 2019. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:05): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Education and Children's Services (Sports Vouchers) Amendment Bill 2024. The bill seeks to enshrine the current government's Sports Vouchers program into law, ensuring its continuity and expansion for the benefit of all South Australian students. Currently, the Sports Vouchers program offers a modest $100 per year to school students, ending after year 9. While this initiative has undoubtedly had a positive impact, it is time to take a bold step forward towards ensuring its continued effectiveness and accessibility.

The bill seeks to elevate the program by increasing the minimum voucher amount to at least $200 for all students, extending its availability until the completion of their schooling journey. Crucially, the program will remain accessible, like I said, to all children irrespective of their family's financial circumstances, ensuring equitable access to the benefits of sports participation.

Unlike means-tested programs that often overlook critical factors such as family size, the proposal ensures every child enjoys the benefits. Furthermore, the flexibility of the voucher will be enhanced, allowing it to be split among multiple providers, and empowering families to tailor sports activities to their children's interests and schedules.

We cannot ignore the current cost-of-living crisis faced by many families—in fact, we talk about it in here all the time—where difficult choices have to be made on a daily basis. The proposed increase to $200 is a very small way of acknowledging the significant financial costs associated with children's sporting participation, where one season of sport can cost upwards of $500, and that is before you start considering things like uniforms and equipment, and match fees and match-day fees.

The benefits of sports for children extend, as we know, far beyond the physical health and fitness benefits. They also foster valuable life skills such as teamwork, discipline and resilience. Participation in sports has been shown to have a positive impact on academic success, with reduced absenteeism, better performance in terms of attention and working memory, and higher numeracy and literacy scores observed among participants.

It makes no sense to me, and to the parents I have spoken to who have taken advantage of this program, that the current voucher only extends to the end of year 9. It makes no sense that some families are actually choosing or having to enrol their students up until year 9 purely by virtue of the fact that this scheme exists, only to yank them out of that activity in year 10 because there is not a sporting voucher system there to support their ongoing physical activity. We know that regular physical activity is crucial for teenagers' overall health and wellbeing.

I gave credit to the Malinauskas government when they increased funding for laptops and home internet—and we talk about this all the time, and that is a very critical element of what this government has done—but the reality is that most of us are trying really hard to reduce screen time and get our kids into physical activity, and parents use this scheme as a means of doing just that. It does reduce screen time. It offers constructive outlets for stress and anxiety, and as a mum of an eight year old I challenge anyone to try to convince me otherwise, because they are, I am sure, the challenges that many parents face on a daily basis.

Extending the Sports Vouchers program from ending at the completion of year 9 to the culmination of a student's schooling journey is a logical decision, and it was the number one overriding factor that I heard from parents about when I flagged this and asked for some input.

I will acknowledge, obviously, that this program commenced under Labor. It is now in its 10th year. Overall, almost 600,000 vouchers have been redeemed, providing more than $48 million towards helping kids participate in sports and recreational activities. That is extraordinary. This year alone more than 33,000 vouchers have been used. That equates to about $3.3 million.

It is a successful program, and the Labor government ought to be commended for introducing it in the first place. The opposition ought to be commended as well, because the Marshall Liberal government doubled the voucher to $100 in 2018 and extended its reach from the end of year 7 to the end of year 9. Last year, the program funded something like $9 million worth of sporting activity for families in South Australia.

It is a great program. We all know it is a great program, and it is apparent that everyone thinks it is a good idea to increase the funding and indeed the eligibility criteria. I guess the point of this bill is to signal to the government that we do not have to wait for another election to roll around before we offer a vote-winning sweetener to South Australian families.

Let's get on with it. Let's get it done now. Let's provide some extra relief to families in the midst of what we know is a cost-of-living crisis. We know that the first things to go during-cost-of-living crises are the things that we can least afford, and, unfortunately, for many families across South Australia, sporting activities for their kids is one such activity that many families are having to forego because they simply cannot afford the costs.

So I am urging the state government to get on board. Let's not wait for the next election before we make a great announcement. Who knows? It might just turn out that voting for a bill which actually enshrines this in legislation and ensures its continuity is a vote winner for the government and the opposition if they were to support it.

With those words, I urge members to take what is a good scheme that has had the support of both major parties in this place, make some changes to it—they are tweaks around the edges—bring it in line with current day funding that applies in other jurisdictions and make what is a good scheme a great one.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. B.R. Hood.