Public schools sanitary products program

2 March 2021

Mr DULUK (Waite) (15:24): My question is to the Minister for Education. Can the minister please provide an update to the house on the rollout of the public schools sanitary products program, and how this will benefit my community of Waite?

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (15:24): I thank the member for the question. This is an important opportunity to talk about this valuable program, which was trialled last year across a number of schools (15, from memory) in the public education system. Of course, most if not all schools with girls and young women from about year 5 up—so that's all of our secondary schools and, indeed, the overwhelming majority of our primary and R-12 schools—had some sort of process in place previously. This was identified by the children's commissioner in her 2019 report on a range of matters.

One of the things she identified at that time, which was brought to her attention, was about those schools which may have had a process—or some may not have but those schools in particular which may have had a process—where products could be supplied upon request, if there was an emergency or if there was a student whose family for whatever reason was not helping the student have the product they needed. It wasn't necessarily always done in the most dignified manner or the manner that was most suitable for that student.

Some students identified that they didn't want to go to school if they thought they were going to have to ask a teacher or a receptionist, or indeed put it to the staff at the school, in an environment where others might be talking about it and their own personal lack of having tampons or pads might be brought to people's attention.

The children's commissioner, and it may have been described in this way earlier, described it particularly as period poverty. Indeed, in this parliament, we have had discussions about this matter over the last year and a half. At the beginning of last year, I worked with the education department to seek to improve the opportunities around South Australia, but we needed to understand what was the missing link. At some schools, the teachers and principals were identifying that they felt like they were offering a sufficient arrangement.

Indeed, many of our schools already engage with local shops which provide product free of charge. Some of our schools engage with non-government organisations, charities, which have supported those schools. A couple of our schools were trialling vending machines, for example, where students may be able to attend that vending machine and get the product.

But some of the feedback came that those even weren't necessarily appropriate either because, if they were in a public communal space, potentially in the reception area of a school, if a student had to go there to get the product from a vending machine, then that might not be what was their preferred way of doing it. Vending machines, of course, are also expensive at thousands of dollars and have a maintenance cost that then has to be borne by the school as well.

A lot of the schools provided us feedback. When we did this trial in particular, we encouraged them to talk to their student body, and that is one of the most important parts that is now rolling out across South Australia in the work that we are doing. Schools are being asked to take the resources they currently have, supplemented by a modest grant from the government to enable them to have a trigger to ensure that they can access extra supplies if needed, and have a conversation with their students.

Many of them now have committees, social action committees, or girls committees or young women's committees or whatever the situation is, SRCs, resupplying stock in bathrooms, which is often the safest and most dignified place to get it. But the key thing is that the school needs to have that discussion with their students. We will supplement them with a modest grant and we will be doing a survey of all of our schools in term 3 to identify how those conversations have gone, what extra supports are being provided and whether schools have all the support they need. If there are refinements to the policy, then we will be rolling them out before the end of the year.

This has been welcomed by schools, students, non-government organisations and the whole community. I am proud to be part of a government that is delivering for girls and young women, indeed all students, in South Australia.