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Chaplaincy saga continues as Abbott throws more weight behind removing secular counsellors

Chaplaincy saga continues as Abbott throws more weight behind removing secular counsellors

LAST UPDATED // Friday, 29 August 2014 16:27 Written by // James Findlay

New Federal Government documents show 620 school welfare workers might end up without a job if the states and territories take on Tony Abbott’s directive of administering the School Chaplaincy Program.

In June, the High Court ruled the $244 million of funding for chaplains was unconstitutional for a second time, which forced the Abbott Government to take another look at how the funding was structured.

Instead of continuing with the former Labor Government’s changes to allow secular social workers to have access to the funding, the Coalition decided to shift the responsibility to the states and territories, allowing them to administer the funding to chaplains only.

However, the Opposition has hit back with the Shadow Minister for Education, Kate Ellis saying:
"The only thing these dedicated, qualified and professional counsellors have done to deserve the sack is not have formal links to a religious institution.

"It should be up to school principals and communities to decide what support is best for their students – not [Education Minister] Christopher Pyne.

"It is entirely unjustifiable for the Abbott Government to ram its ideology down the throats of school students across Australia and disempower local school communities who know best what supports are needed for their students."
The document also reveals that many Catholic schools around the country prefer and employ secular social workers instead of religious chaplains.

So far the ACT and South Australian Departments of Education have voiced their concern over the changes, saying schools should have a choice whether they host secular social workers or chaplains.

"We will be happy to negotiate with the Commonwealth but have no interest in administering the scheme unless the schools have choice for a secular welfare or counsellor," ACT Education Minister Joy Birch told the ABC.

"If the Commonwealth Government was serious about empowering schools and empowering local decision making of schools, this should apply to the funding opportunities open to schools.

"That means that if a school chooses a secular appointment, that should be supported by state and territory governments and Commonwealth governments."

However, the Victorian Government said it will cooperate with the Federal Government plan.

"We will work with the Commonwealth Government to ensure federally funded programs can continue to support Victorian schools and students,” a spokesperson for Education Minister Martin Dixon told MCV.

Parent and campaigner Jacqui Tomlins told MCV the Victorian Government should carefully consider the implications of the chaplaincy funding.

“Young people in our state high schools deserve to have access to qualified professional counsellors and psychologists who can help them negotiate the myriad complex issues they face today,” she said.

“Chaplains – however well-meaning – simply aren’t qualified to do this. If the Victorian Government agrees to work with the Commonwealth in ensuring that only religious chaplains are employed in high schools, young people will not get the support they need, and qualified school counsellors will lose their jobs.”

Ron Williams, the Queensland father of five who took the Federal Government to the High Court to fight the chaplaincy scheme, has slammed the moves and called for a Senate inquiry.

"Look, I think it's all pretty disgraceful, the callous arrogance being displayed by the Federal Government on this," he told the ABC.

"They seem to regard it as some bizarre kind of game of ‘whack a mole’ or something that every time the High Court makes a decision, the next part in the game is to try to circumvent it.”

The Queensland and Western Australian Departments of Education have said they welcome the Chaplaincy Program, and cooperate with the Commonwealth.


James Findlay

James Findlay

James Findlay is a Melbourne-based journalist and broadcaster who has worked in community media for many years. He has won awards for his work on The Naughty Rude Show on SYN, and can be heard on JOY 94.9's breakfast program, Triple Threat, and Hide and Seek - exploring sex, sexuality and self. He is currently completing his Master of Public Health specialising in Sexual Health at Melbourne University, and a tutor in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University.

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