The federal Government is ending the compulsory religious aspect of the $60 million a year National School Chaplaincy Program, giving schools a choice of chaplain or professionally qualified student welfare officer. The voluntary wellbeing, pastoral care and mentoring program for school students was introduced by the Howard Government in 2006. Delivered and managed by state and territory governments through a national agreement, it had been boosted during the COVID-19 pandemic by $200 million to support children’s mental health. But the program’s requirement that chaplains must be recognised or endorsed by a religious institution has caused controversy, even though they are banned from evangelising or proselytising and are engaged to provide “general spiritual and personal advice”.

Education Minister Jason Clare has quickly moved to open the program to give schools the option to choose either a professionally qualified student welfare officer or a chaplain. The program offers just over $20,000 to each of the more than 3000 schools every year to engage chaplains. Along with the ban on proselytising, chaplains must be certified youth workers and must complete a three-hour online course on cyberbullying. However, they are not required to be qualified and accredited counsellors. The Australian Education Union has a long-standing position against the chaplaincy program, regarding school chaplains as not qualified and their use as a “thinly veiled cover for an ideological push to get religion into public schools”. Shadow Education Minister Alan Tudge has said “Of all the issues in schools to deal with, changing the Schools Chaplains Program is surely not the priority.”

Federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said “I know many of the chaplains in my local schools. They are big-hearted, caring people who love and serve their communities. They do so because they are motivated by their Christian faith and a desire to see our kids prosper. But Labor seems more interested in satisfying left-wing activists. This move is a betrayal of Australia’s school chaplains, and the many kids that they help and support.  We are less than 2 months into the Albanese Labor government. These early calls signal a radical shift to the left. We will be watching, and holding them to account.

Source: Canberra Times

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