Preaching to the uncoverted: Abbott's School Chaplaincy Program
Another week, another case of the Abbott government operating outside of the wishes and expectations of the overwhelming majority of voters.
Throwing a quarter of a billion dollars at the National School Chaplaincy Program in its first Budget was bad enough, especially given concurrent cuts to the CSIRO. It almost makes you wonder if you’re living in Australia in 2014 or 16th century Europe where scientists postulating crazy views such as the Earth revolving around the sun were condemned as heretics by the church.
But Labor shares some of the blame here too. They had their chance to end the program when in power but chose instead to also increase funding for it. What Labor did manage to get right, however, was to amend the program so that schools could at least choose to hire non-religious welfare workers under it.
The Abbott government wants that choice taken off the table. The chaplains must be religious. And not just religious – Christian.
Like dames and knighthoods and proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, this is yet another Abbott initiative that has little grounding in public support. According to a recent Essential poll, a miniscule five per cent of voters support the school chaplaincy program being confined to religious chaplains only. Seventeen per cent want it confined to secular counsellors only, 37% want it open to both and 23% would prefer no program at all (18% don’t know).
It seems voters are far less naïve and/or ignorant about the risks of chaplains in public schools than the Abbott government. Officially chaplains are banned from evangelising or proselytising to children in government schools, yet one in Brisbane is under investigation for declaring it was his mission to “disciple” students and their families.
You can’t really blame the chaplains for proselytising. It’s a bit like putting a cat in a closed cage of mice and then blaming the cat when it kills one. It’s just what they do. Blame should lay with the genius who put a cat in a closed cage of mice.
Of course, it’s no surprise some conservatives are prioritising their own agendas ahead of the wishes of voters. To them, public schools are a values-free wasteland, where dangerous ideas such as independent thought, cultural and moral relativism and non-religious ethics are fostered. Sending in soldiers of the God squad is one way to stamp this out.
But it does make you wonder just how much longer the Abbott government can continue to impose its divisive, elitist minority agenda on voters and still expect to be re-elected. Abbott’s already behind Bill Shorten as preferred PM and has Gillardesque approval ratings. There are of course still two years until the next election, but based on current numbers “one term Tony” is a very real possibility.
And if he’s not prepared to govern for the majority, perhaps this is appropriate.