The Atheist Foundation of Australia strongly condemns the decision by the Federal Government to allocate $245 million dollars to the National Schools Chaplaincy Program in the 2014 budget. The government has spent the last few months claiming that we are in the midst of a budget crisis which simply has to be dealt with immediately. To this end it has delivered a budget with dramatic cuts to education, health, low and middle income families and seniors. Despite the government’s own “independent” review recommending that the chaplaincy program should be cut, it was with great surprise that despite the supposedly dire budget crisis, the chaplaincy program was to be funded to the tune of $245 million dollars over the next 5 years.

The funding model for the NSCP has already been successfully challenged in the High Court by Mr Ron Williams once and he is now awaiting a second decision from the High Court on another challenge. A key modification of the program in the lead up to the first challenge was the opening up of the program to secular social workers. We can only presume that this hastily made change on the eve of the first challenge was to eliminate any potential argument relating to religious discrimination inherent within the program. Now, within a week of the second challenge being heard, Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne, has removed this aspect of the program. Once again, this program is to only be open to religious chaplains. Why is this? They are not supposed to counsel students, evangelise or proselytise. There are no defined outcomes at all. What can a religious chaplain (who is not allowed to preach religion) provide that a secular social worker can’t? If we are going to allocate almost $250 million dollars to assist our kids, why not fund trained child psychologists?

On the question of secular social workers, Pyne said “Counsellors and social workers in schools are really the responsibility of the states and territories”. So he wants the Federal Government to fund religious chaplains but a secular social worker is the responsibility of the states even though they are supposedly doing exactly the same thing? The Australian Education Union – which has long argued funds for the chaplaincy program should be redirected – described Pyne’s justification as “an extraordinary comment”. Peter Garrigan, president of the Australian Council of State School Organisations, which represents the parent bodies of public schools, said the funding was money badly spent. “There is a strong need across the board to be supporting students with disabilities … and putting another $245 million into a chaplaincy program certainly isn’t providing the educational outcomes that we as parents would be expecting.” The Australian Psychological Society described the decision as “appalling”. “There are no reasonable standards of quality of training for people who take on essentially counselling roles in the school situation,” psychologist David Stokes said.

The funding of this program in the midst of a supposed “budget crisis” demonstrates that this is nothing more than religiously privileged pork barrelling. In the 2011 census, the “no religion” category became the second largest single demographic and trends indicate that it will soon be the largest. The Atheist Foundation of Australia would recommend that the Honourable Members of the Senate do not allow this illegal funding as it links to no head of Commonwealth government power and is a slap in the face to all Australians who have been impacted by draconian budget measures.

Michael Boyd

Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 1062
Lane Cove NSW 1595

Phone: (08) 8835 2269
Email: [email protected]

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