7 January 2011


The writs against the Commonwealth were issued concerning the funding of Chaplains in State Schools on Wednesday 22 December. Below are excerpts from an article from David Marr entitled ‘Chaplains in schools are inadequately supervised’ from the Sydney Morning Herald of New Year’s Day 2011. 


Chaplains in schools are 'inadequately supervised'

THE schools chaplaincy program is being investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman after a highly critical report of its operation in the Northern Territory. At the same time, a High Court challenge has been launched by critics of the scheme to which successive federal governments have committed $437 million.

Paying for chaplains in schools began under the prime ministership of John Howard but during the last election campaign Julia Gillard promised to double the money available for the program. This windfall will allow chaplains to work in 3700 schools in Australia by the end of this year.

The Prime Minister said in August:

 ''Chaplains and pastoral care workers provide general personal advice, comfort and support to all students and staff. Chaplains can help build the sense of community in the school, support the school ethos and provide additional support for vulnerable children.''

But critics have argued since the program began that chaplains are not professionally qualified to counsel children; that schools cannot effectively supervise their work; that they are evangelising in the playground; and that public funding undermines the separation of church and state.

In a report published in November, the NT Ombudsman, Carolyn Richards, found problems with the national design and the local administration of the program.

After investigating complaints about the chaplains made by a number of parents in rural schools she concluded: ''In many areas, policies and procedures associated with the chaplaincy service were found to be inadequate or non-existent.''

She condemned the federal guidelines for providing no practical and ''nationally consistent'' criteria for a person to be called a chaplain.

She criticised the access they had to classrooms and to sensitive information about children. Ms Richards questioned the capacity of schools to supervise the chaplains. But her chief recommendation was to ban one-on-one pastoral care sessions after she found chaplains were going further than providing ''a listening ear'' to children experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

''In one instance a psychologist who later treated a student was of the opinion that the chaplain had provided psychological services without the required qualifications,'' she wrote. ''The most salient point is that nobody knew what services were provided during one-on-one sessions, nor the appropriateness or quality of those services.''

On her recommendation, the Commonwealth Ombudsman has agreed to examine the national supervision of the program by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

This investigation will focus on the department's procedures for keeping track of funds, monitoring compliance with guidelines, verifying information and handling complaints.

The program is under question on a number of other fronts. The Queensland activist Ron Williams has begun a long-anticipated action in the High Court to test the legality of the scheme. The case is backed by the Australian Secular Lobby, advised by the leading Sydney silk Bret Walker and funded by public subscription.

Williams versus the Commonwealth of Australia will be the first big test of constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state since the DOGS case 30 years ago allowed federal funding of church schools.

One proposed line of attack is that no legislation has been passed to authorise the program. Chaplains are paid for out of the Education Department's kitty.

Meanwhile, a departmental ''consultation process'' announced in August 2009 to ''develop options for government consideration of the future of the program'' continues to limp along. A discussion paper promised in October-November has yet to appear.

A spokeswoman for the Schools Minister, Peter Garrett, said the paper was ready but was being held until the New Year when ''everyone concerned can participate in the discussion''.

DOGS believe that, like the public funding of religious schools, the chaplaincy program contravenes Section 116 of the Constitution.

Religious men and women have always had the right to go into State schools and provide denominational education to the children of their adherents. But this was a voluntary activity and received no payment from the State. It was for the benefit of children of the faithful and was an offence to none.

But now, with the contravention of the principle of separation of church and state, Christian chaplains are confronted with the spectacle of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim chaplains demanding some of the religious ‘jobs for the boys’ funding cake.

The program only ever succeeded with religious men and women dedicated to their belief.

But throughout Australian history, religious men have wanted power and money as well as the right to teach their peculiar doctrines to the children of their followers. Hence the establishment of  ‘religious’ schools and the demand for taxpayer funding.  Now, in 2011, surprise, surprise, Australia is confronted with thousands of sectarian schools dividing our children. This division on the surface is along tribal and religious lines. However, we are now discovering through international testing like the PISA tests that Australia is systematically, at enormous expense, educating a race of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. For sectarian education offers not only the first class ticket to ‘heaven’. Tribal networks also offer that first class ticket to the good job. For the satisfied, justified by their belief in middle class welfare and respectability, the devil can take the rest !

To add insult to injury, rather than engage in shepherding the children of their dwindling flocks on the pews of half-empty churches on a voluntary basis,  religious men now demand the right to enter the secular State system and be on the State payroll at the same time.

Oh ye of little faith!


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