Let me start this post by saying I am sure many of the chaplains involved in the Chaplaincy Programs in Australian schools do fantastic work, but money spent by the government, raised by all tax payers regardless of their religion, race, sexuality etc, should not be used for funding for particular religious groups to take the place of qualified mental health professionals or social workers in schools where ALL our children go, not just those of Christians.
There were many cuts in the budget this year that irked many of us, but some of the biggest were to health and education costs, if all goes to plan for the Government they will save $80 billion over 10 years by withdrawing the funding from the states that it provides for services in these two areas.
In terms of education, Tony Abbott’s government will not continue with the fifth year of Labor’s Gonski School funding reforms. This means that rather than increasing school funding by 4.7%, the Abbott government will increase school funding in line with inflation instead. What this means in reality in that they will spend about $130 million less on schools in 2017-18 than the previous government promised.
On top of this there are fundamental changes to University funding and student loans, referred to by Treasurer Joe Hockey in his budget speech as “once-in-a-generation reforms, the government will help build a sector that is more diverse, more innovative and more responsive to student needs”
So while we are on the subject of diversity in the education sector, and being more responsive to what students need, relative to other cuts made, how on earth does the government justify the continued federal funding of the Chaplaincy Programs in Australian schools?
Some of the organisations in the program have clear connections to homophobic campaigning and yet they will continue to benefit from the government funding. The proposed budget has allocated nearly $250million to this program over four years; it offers schools up to $24,000 per year to pay for a chaplain approximately two days a week.
ACCESS Ministries is one of the key providers of chaplains, providing approximately 330 schools in Victoria with “Special Religious Instructors”, yet it has been revealed that they have distributed homophobic materials that the Victorian Education Department’s own investigation concluded was “inappropriate and offensive”.
Rob Ward who is General Manager of Development and Communications at ACCESS Ministries, and the former Victorian State Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, has campaigned against same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption and is on record as not wanting non-heterosexual orientations as being seen as ‘normal’. When the “Fair go, sport!” program, an initiative aimed at increasing awareness of sexual and gender diversity in sport, was launched he said “The suggestion that the aim is to have the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and transgender sportspeople…so public that it’s normal, so people don’t think about it is very troubling.”
In addition, Darren McMahon the Director and Presenter of Your Dream Incorporated in Sydney that runs chaplaincy programs through NSW, has significant ties to Hillsong Church, which has had a contentious relationship with the gay community regarding their involvement with the Mercy Ministries and the Living Waters Australia, which both ran ex-gay and conversion camps.
It is a documented fact that LGBTI youth have higher rates of suicide and depression than their heterosexual counterparts and as Jacqui Tomlins, a founding member of the Australian Equality Party, has said “Young people, especially those who might be questioning their sexuality or sexual identity, need access to good, non-judgemental counsellors who can provide advice and guidance that is not based on any religious foundation”, yet it is via the Chaplaincy Program that these children would be dealt with.
To make matter worse the Abbott Government has changed the conditions to prevent School Principals from being able to elect a secular student welfare worker instead of a chaplain, non-religious student welfare workers could get access to funding under the previous Labor Government.
So just how Mr Hockey does the government propose to ensure we build a sector that is more diverse, more innovative and more responsive to student needs with this program?
Not only was I annoyed enough to write this blog post but I also signed this petition: https://www.allout.org/en/actions/australia-budget-thanks