No taxpayer funded $700M religious National School Chaplaincy Programme beyond 2018

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Note: The movie above contains an example of a student being water baptised by a Commonwealth funded chaplain, having been been recruited for conversion via a chaplain organised church 'self esteem' programme at a public school.

As plaintiff in Williams v Commonwealth I & II, I direct this petition to Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham on behalf of Australian parents, caregivers, and concerned citizens who believe that the nation’s public schools should be completely secular. Furthermore, we consider the presence in public schools of the exclusively religious Commonwealth-funded National School Chaplaincy Programme to be extremely inappropriate, and a blatant breach of the separation of church and state.

Although Commonwealth funding for the controversial National School Chaplaincy Programme will cease at the close of 2018, Fairfax reported in March 2018 that Liberal MPs had petitioned Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham to extend the National School Chaplaincy Programme permanently beyond 2018 at an increased cost of $75 million per year.

Mr Birmingham, we strongly suggest that more funding be directed toward states and territories to provide an urgently needed boost to the number of professional education department employed social workers, school counsellors, school psychologists, and student guidance staff working tirelessly in our public schools.

Since its introduction by John Howard in 2006, the National School Chaplaincy Programme has cost Australian taxpayers almost $700 million.

John Howard: $160M, Kevin Rudd: $50M, Julia Gillard: $222M, and Tony Abbott: $244M.

The National School Chaplaincy Programme has never demonstrated, or ever been required to demonstrate any measurable outcomes whatsoever.

The June 2014 High Court decision in my favour ruled that:

“Providing at a school the services of a chaplain or welfare worker for the objective described in the FMA Regulations is not a provision of "benefits to students" within the meaning of s 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution.”

This ruling prohibited direct payment by the commonwealth to religious chaplain employers including Scripture Union, Access ministries, and Generate ministries.

However, not to be outdone, In August 2014 the Abbott government announced that the High Court’s June section 51 ruling would be circumvented by laundering prohibited direct commonwealth payments to the church ministry employers of chaplains via individual states and territories.

This would be the same constitutionally “of no benefit to students" chaplain programme as before, except for two disturbing points.

  1. Commencing in 2015, employment of non-religious secular youth workers would cease.
  2. The commonwealth would completely abandon all previous responsibility for administration and oversight of the National School Chaplaincy Program.

Consequently, since January 2015, at a cost of $60M per year, the federally funded National School Chaplaincy Program has exclusively employed religious chaplains and can regularly be observed operating as a fully functional evangelical ministry within Australian public schools.

The programme has been allowed to operate completely unfettered by state or federal legislation, without any enforceable constraints, disciplinary procedures, or any form of central guidelines, code of conduct, or complaints process.

All responsibility for the administration and oversight of this federally funded and conceived religious programme, has been left to Australia’s individual states and territories, each with their own, often ambiguous policies.

And here is the problem. Under the post 2014 arrangement, where individual state and territory chaplain complaint processes exist, schools are encouraged to resolve all grievances at school level, suggesting that resolution be sought between the principal and the school’s chaplaincy employer such as Scripture Union or Access ministries. It is almost impossible for complaints to go beyond this closed loop.

This was confirmed in April 2018, when the Guardian reported that since the commonwealth abandoned, apart from funding it, all responsibility for the National School Chaplaincy Programme in 2015:

  • No state has kept records of chaplaincy complaints.
  • No state records the faith or denomination of the thousands of federally funded religious chaplains across Australia.

Describing how the current National School Chaplaincy Programme would operate, then Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on ABC JJJ:

“Well, the chaplaincy programme was established under the Howard government as a chaplaincy programme, and Julia Gillard changed it to chaplaincy and social workers or school counsellors. Our view is that school counsellors or social workers should be provided by state and territory governments should they choose to do so, but we want to return the chaplaincy programme to its original intention, which is one that involves a religious element. We think that school counsellors and social workers are properly the responsibility of state governments, and our chaplaincy programme should be exactly what it was supposed to be, which is a chaplaincy programme.”

Therefore, if the roles of ‘school counsellor’ and ‘social worker’ are not duties of federally funded religious chaplains, the majority of whom are provided by evangelical church ministry organisations, it could reasonably be concluded that their sole purpose is to be messengers of their faith.

Mr Birmingham, as stated above, we strongly suggest that more funding be directed toward states and territories to provide an urgently needed boost to the number of professional *education department-employed social workers, school counsellors, school psychologists, and student guidance staff working tirelessly in our public schools.

Surely our children deserve no less.

 

 

*Typical mandatory requirements for professional education department employed social workers, school counsellors, psychologists, and student guidance staff:

  • Current full registration or current provisional registration with eligibility for full registration, as a teacher in Queensland.  Information on registration requirements is available at qct.ed.au 
  • A minimum of two (2) years full-time, supervised experience working with children and young people in an education, child protection or counselling environment;

AND one of the following:

  • One year (minimum) full-time (or part-time equivalent) coursework Masters, majoring in guidance and counselling.

OR

  • Full registration as a psychologist through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) Psychology Board or a fourth year qualification in psychology that will enable general registration as a psychologist through the AHPRA Psychology Board following completion of the board approved internship or accredited sequence of study. 


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