Labor Senators' additional comments

Labor Senators' additional comments

Learning and wellbeing in schools

1.1The Albanese Labor Government is committed to driving real improvements in learning and wellbeing outcomes for school students.

1.2Labor Senators note that student wellbeing has been brought into sharp focus through declining student attendance over the past years. Where in 2015, 77.8per cent of school students attended school 90 per cent of the time, by 2019—before the COVID-19 pandemic—this had fallen to 73.1 per cent of students attending school 90 per cent of the time. In 2022, this fell to 49.9 per cent.[1] These falls in attendance have been seen across the board: across jurisdictions, primary and secondary schools, in the cities and the regions, and in government and non-government schools.

1.3Labor Senators note that, through the Review to Inform a Better and Fairer Education System, the Minister for Education has asked an Expert Panel to advise Education Ministers 'how the next [schools] agreement can contribute to improving student mental health and wellbeing'.[2] The outcomes of the review will inform reforms under the next National School Reform Agreement.

1.4Labor Senators are broadly supportive of the recommendations made in this report. They note that significant investments have already been made to support the mental health and wellbeing of school students, including:

(a)$192 million in additional funding through the Student Wellbeing Boost, with schools receiving on average $20 000 for use in the 2023 school year. This additional funding can be spent on things including extra psychologists and counsellors; camps, excursions and activities that improve students' wellbeing; and proven wellbeing, engagement and mental health initiatives.

(b)$10.8 million for a new, voluntary mental health check tool to enable schools to ensure students get the support they need.

(c)$307.18 million for a new five-year Federation Funding Agreement to deliver the National Student Wellbeing Program, giving schools across the nation the option to choose a qualified Student Wellbeing Officer or Chaplain to support student wellbeing.[3]

1.5Labor Senators note that the Australian Government committed to introducing a national Universal Student Identifier in 2009.[4] Substantial progress was made on this matter in December 2022, with Education Ministers agreeing to a model to roll-out the Unique Student Identifier (USI) nationally to all school students.[5]

Mental health and wellbeing services

1.6The Albanese Labor Government is funding a range of nationally available initiatives targeted at parents, carers, and educators to provide them with the knowledge and tools to understand and support the social and emotional development of children, young people, and students as they grow and develop.

1.7These initiatives include free or low-cost digital mental health services, such as online parenting programs and supports, peer support forums and web chats, email and telephone counselling, and crisis lines. These services are available nationally and seek to reduce barriers to mental health access for school students.

1.8Labor Senators note the significant investments which have already been made to support the mental health and wellbeing of school students, including:

(a)$84.8 million in partnership with states and territories, to create a national network of Head to Health Kids Hubs which will provide multidisciplinary early intervention and prevention supports and services for children aged 0–12 years and their families.

(b)$1.2 billion over the forward estimates in headspace, this is the flagship national platform for provision of services to young people aged 12–25 experiencing, or at risk, of mild to moderate mental illness. There are currently 154 headspace services operating nationally including 84 headspace services located across regional Australia.

(c)$122.88 million to school-based mental health and wellbeing initiatives, such as Be You which is delivered by Beyond Blue.

(d)$1.62 million for the Raise Foundation Student Mentoring Program, which delivers best practice early intervention and prevention mentoring programs to students in years 7 to 9 across Australia. This program prioritises those most at-risk of school disengagement and poor mental health and wellbeing.

1.9Labor Senators acknowledge the relationship between body image and school refusal in young people. Labor Senators note the recent investment by the Albanese Labor government to address this through Body Bright and Embrace Kids Australia. These programs deliver a range of activities including educator resources and training to promote positive body image in developmentally appropriate ways in the early years' settings and online teaching resources for primary and secondary schools.

1.10Finally, Labor Senators note the Albanese Government's commitment to improving equity in mental health services and that the provision of services is informed by independent evaluations.

Senator Tony Sheldon

Deputy Chair

Labor Senator for New South Wales

Senator Fatima Payman

Labor Senator for Western Australia


[1]Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, National Report on Schooling in Australia Student attendance,‌/‌‌‍‌student-attendance (accessed 9 August 2023).

[2]Australian Government, Department of Education, Review to Inform a Better and Fairer Education System, Terms of Reference, p.1.

[3]The Hon Jason Clare MP, Minister for Education, 'Half a billion dollar investment into student wellbeing', Media Release, 2 February 2023.

[4]Productivity Commission, Review of the National School Reform Agreement, Study Report, December 2022, p. 80.

[5]Australian Government, Department of Education, Education Ministers Meeting Communique, 15December 2022, (accessed 9 August 2023).