The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) is calling for a comprehensive parliamentary review into the federal funding of the flawed National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP).
In Tuesday night’s Budget, the Morrison government committed another $61.4 million each year through to the 2024-25 financial year.
RSA president Dr Meredith Doig OAM is calling for a full parliamentary inquiry, saying the program is failing to meet the wellbeing needs of schoolchildren and is actively discriminating against people of minority faiths and people of no faith.
The chaplains who work in government schools as part of the NSCP are hired through outsourcing arrangements with Christian supplier organisations who will only hire Christians for these roles.
A number of state human rights and equal opportunities commissioners agree with the RSA that the discriminatory hiring practices are legally problematic.
Earlier this year, Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner John Byrne said the practice of restricting chaplaincy positions to Christians constituted “prima facie religious conviction discrimination”.
Queensland’s Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall told the RSA he would write to the Department of Education to “suggest changes [to the school chaplains program] addressing potential contraventions of the [the state’s Anti-Discrimination] Act”.
Victoria’s Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said “we agree that the program may be in breach of [Victoria’s] Equal Opportunity Act 2010”.
Since the program was introduced by the Howard government in 2006, federal Coalition and Labor governments have spent well over $1 billion on the program while providing no measure of its effectiveness.
Dr Doig says taxpayers expect the public school education system to provide secular and appropriately qualified mental health and youth workers.
“Religious chaplains do not have the necessary training to support vulnerable children with the complex problems that they face today, especially children who identify as LGBTIQ,” she says.
“A parliamentary review is required to look at the appropriateness of ongoing federal funding and the nature of the National School Chaplaincy Program itself.
“Since taxpayers have already poured more than $1 billion into this program, we think it’s well overdue for members of parliament and senators to bring some accountability to this wasteful and discriminatory spending.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND INTERVIEWS
Dr Meredith Doig OAM
0403 246 544
NOTES FOR EDITORS
The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) is the oldest freethought group in Australia, promoting reason since 1906. Members and supporters hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world.
The RSA, along with a number of freethought organisations, is supporting the #DontDivideUs campaign against the Religious Discrimination Bill.
Photo: Olivia Snow (Unsplash)