Groundbreaking vote adds to momentum for change on school chaplaincy

Si Gladman / 15 September 2022

Western Australia’s public school communities have voted resoundingly in favour of governments funding the employment of professional non-clinical student welfare officers instead of religious chaplains.

In a groundbreaking result, the state’s school Parents & Citizens (P&C) groups have rejected the current federal and state model of funding religious chaplains through religious labour-hire firms.

At the Western Australian Council of State School Organisations (WACSSO) annual conference on the weekend, the state’s P&Cs supported five motions put by the Maylands Peninsula Primary School P&C.

In July, parents and carers of the Maylands Peninsula Primary School community voted to remove religious-based discrimination in the chaplaincy role within their school and decided to take the matter to the state WACSSO conference.

Speaking with ABC Perth Mornings host Nadia Mitsopoulos today, Ashley Greig, the vice-president for the Maylands Peninsula Primary School’s P&C, said the conference result was proof that momentum was building across the community for the government’s funding arrangements to change.

You can listen to the full interview from 1:37:10 here.

“That’s become pretty clear. I’d say (there was) well over 90 per cent of support on the floor for each motion. And I think in the discussion afterwards a whole bunch of people were just saying, ‘Oh, we didn’t know we could do this sort of thing’. ‘We’re looking to employ someone directly’,” he said.

The result comes as the federal Department of Education continues its evaluation into the National School Chaplaincy Program, with a new Project Agreement between the federal government and the states and territories expected in the new year.

The motions (see below) required that WACSSO would now advocate for the state’s P&Cs in letters to the state’s education minister, Sue Ellery, and to federal education minister Jason Clare.

While Mr Clare has announced that schools would be able to choose a secular worker instead of a religious chaplain, the RSA has warned that him that religious-based discrimination would likely continue because Christian labour-hire firms would continue to dominate the marketplace of providers.

Mr Greig (pictured) told the ABC he was hopeful that the WACSSO result would make it easier for schools to hire secular workers.

“Essentially, we’re hoping this will get the ball rolling to make things easier in the market place to actually achieve, firstly, direct employment, and secondly, open the marketplace to more secular chaplains. It’s very difficult to get one in WA at the moment – and around Australia, but particularly in WA,” he said.

More than 20,000 Australians have signed a petition calling for governments to remove religious-based discrimination that prevents non-religious people from filling the roles and to fund youth workers instead of religious chaplains.

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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

Motions agreed to at the WACSSO annual conference

These motions were put by the P&C of the Maylands Peninsula Primary School.

  1. That the WACSSO President write to the Hon Jason Clare MP, Federal Minister for Education, to congratulate the Labor Government on their move to open the National Chaplaincy Program to give schools a choice to employ a chaplain or professionally qualified student welfare officers, and request the Minister provide further details of the change to be implemented in Australian schools.
  2. That the WACSSO President write to the Hon Sue Ellery MLC Minister for Education and Director General of the Department of Education and request details of how the federal announcements regarding the change to the National Chaplaincy Program will be implemented by current service providers, and when will the changes be implemented and advertised in Western Australian schools.
  3. That WACSSO continues to advocate on behalf of their affiliates that non-clinical student social and emotional wellbeing programs, including service providers, support, resources, and funding in public schools: are evidence-based; meet best practices; and employ, without bias or discrimination, qualified people with the expertise.
  4. That WACSSO inform all affiliate P&Cs of the Chaplaincy program funding for public schools, as per the information provided by the Federal, and State Minister for Education; and that WACSSO highlights that a qualified person of any faith or no faith can be appointed using the funding.
  5. That WACSSO request the Minister for Education to investigate a funding model that would allow public schools to directly employ a professional non-clinical student welfare officer on site, as an alternative to being required to contract out this essential position to a chaplaincy contractor.

All the more reason.