It is undeniably apparent that the Abbott Government is jumping hoops to save their chaplaincy program, reports Adam Cass.
Subtly certainly hasn’t been an apparent characteristic of the Abbott Government. The government’s latest attempt to ram an ideologically motivated school chaplaincy funding model into Australia’s public education system further demonstrates its ineptitude and negligence with regard to developing responsible public policy for Australia.
The Abbott Government announced that, in an attempt to bypass the High Court’s recent invalidation of the school chaplaincy funding model, it will invite the States to administer the program. The program will remain entirely focused on faith orientated chaplains, and secular workers have been completely excluded from the funding model. However, the government has assured us that ‘chaplains would be required to respect other people’s views, values and beliefs’ and has also conceded that ‘a school chaplain may be from any faith’.
“The government believes that school chaplains make a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of students and school communities”, Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Senator Scott Ryan said.
This notion, however, raises a very important question. Why is the Abbott Government so incredibly determined to provide funding exclusively to religious based school chaplains? It appears that despite a High Court invalidation and substantial opposition from the public (91% believe irreligious welfare workers should be hired, according to a Sydney Morning Herald poll), primarily those involved in the public education sector, the Coalition is resolute in its goal to reestablish and reaffirm the program.
While participation by schools and students in the program is absolutely voluntary, there is simply no alternative program for public schools to attain welfare workers. The Abbott Government is essentially pushing public schools into a corner.
Furthermore, concerns have been raised with the generous allocation and size of the $244 million in funding, particularly in a time of supposed ‘fiscal austerity’. Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the school chaplaincy scheme would “undermine the secular traditions of public education”. The $244 million funding over four years should be spent on more urgent needs, such as support for children with disabilities, he said.
It is undeniably apparent that the Abbott Government is jumping hoops to save their chaplaincy program. The government has attempted to alleviate concerns by conceding that the chaplains ‘can be of any faith’. However, why must they be of a faith in the first place? Why is the government aligning itself with religion in such a close, comfortable manner, especially when more qualified secular workers can achieve far more? What also must be asked, is what can chaplains even offer to a student in need of support?
According to ACCESS Ministries, a primary school chaplaincy provider in Victoria:
“Meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of students is important as schools aim to develop the whole person and produce resilient, competent and successful individuals. While a variety of support services are required to meet the diverse range of needs within a school community, a Chaplain or Student Wellbeing Worker plays a distinct role in providing ongoing pastoral care.”
Spiritual needs? Pastoral care? As a student attending a public school that has a school chaplain, I can assure all those concerned that there has so rarely been a case of a student seeking ‘spiritual support’ or ‘pastoral care’. These are apparently the only benefits to having chaplains at schools, and even if these are genuine concerns of students, how can a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jewish chaplain (remember, chaplains of all faiths) provide support to a religiously diverse student? Wouldn’t that chaplain’s specific religious bias come across in advice-giving? And despite that, if there is a true desire among young people to gain spiritual guidance, almost every single community across Australia offers Sunday schooling and other religious support programs.
ACCESS Ministries even concedes that ‘faith-spirituality’ is such a small issue to students in a graph they display on their site.
It’s simple, the Abbott Government’s desperate attempts at implementing the program, which may succeed granted that the states cooperate, is fuelled by a rampant desire to cling on to religious fundamentalism. The systemic indoctrination of young people to religion is dangerous, and is a familiar characteristic of conservative politics.
Secular welfare workers, specifically ones who are qualified mental health workers, should be funded by the government. It’s time that schools are given the choice, not Pyne or Abbott.