Albanese govt backs chaplaincy program for five more years, says Christian hire firm

Si Gladman / 29 November 2022

The Albanese government has committed to extending the National School Chaplaincy Program for another five years, according to the head of Christian chaplaincy provider.

In an interview published by the Chappy Chats podcast last week, Peter James, Group Chief Executive Officer of Scripture Union Australia, said the new federal government’s commitment to the program gave chaplaincy providers “some certainty”.

“I’ve been in Canberra a lot this year, with the transition of government to the new federal government, trying to make sure that we landed a program for next year, because it was up for renewal – which has happened now. And it’s for another five years, which is good. That gives us some certainty. We need more money. The need in schools is huge,” he said.

No official announcement has been made in regards to a new Project Agreement for the program. With the current four-year agreement due to end in the middle of next year, the federal government and states and territories are expected to reach an agreement soon.

As part of that process, the federal government recently held a two-week public consultation as part of a review of the school chaplaincy program – a consultation the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) labelled as insufficient.

Although federal education minister Jason Clare has pledged to open the program to secular providers, RSA president Dr Meredith Doig has warned him that, without reform to the existing outsourcing arrangements, continued dominance of religious-based labour-hire organisations would leave schools with little choice in who they employ.

Dr Doig has also warned Mr Clare and his state and territory counterparts that religious-based discrimination, preventing non-religious people from becoming chaplains, would also likely remain in the program. 

Earlier this year, Scripture Union in Queensland – the largest provider of Christian chaplains to public schools in the state – admitted to operating in breach of anti-discrimination laws by hiring only Christians for the roles.

In a submission to the Queensland government review into the Anti-Discrimination Act, Scripture Union said that “it must have the ability to recruit Christian employees” in order to deliver the services of school chaplains, but that under the Act it was unable to do so.

“SU QLD’s inability to preference Christian candidates under the AD Act imposes more onerous obligations on religious organisations than non-religious organisations (i.e. political parties),” it said in its submission.

While the legislation bans religious discrimination in hiring, Scripture Union continues to advertise school chaplain jobs as being open only to Christians.

The RSA has written to the Queensland education minister Grace Grace and the Human Rights Commission to ask what they will do to stop the ongoing religious-based discrimination in the school chaplaincy program that prevents non-religious people from working in the roles.

A number of other states – Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia – also have anti-discrimination laws that should prevent hiring based on religious grounds in the chaplaincy program.

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Image: Jason Clare (Facebook)

All the more reason.