The parents behind a petition calling for the federal government to fund youth workers, not faith-based chaplains, in Australia’s public schools say the Albanese government’s proposed changes do not go far enough.
Mark Davies, a spokesperson for the group of five parents, told the Rationalist Society of Australia that the Albanese government’s plan to open the chaplaincy roles to secular workers was a “step forward”.
In June, the new education minister, Jason Clare, announced that, under the National School Chaplaincy Program, public schools would have the option of choosing a secular welfare worker instead of a religious chaplain.
But Mr Davies said the parents remained concerned that religious-based discrimination would continue in the program as secular providers of youth workers would be unable to compete on a level playing field with well-established religious labour hire firms.
“Taking that first step forward and opening up the opportunity to have secular people work in these positions – whilst it’s a solid step forward, chaplaincy is very well established now and has the infrastructure and has been funded very well to create what we now know as the chaplaincy program,” said Mr Davies.
“The next step I’d personally like to see is Labor ensuring that suitable funding and appropriate infrastructure is then put in place to allow for the secular approach to be brought in on a level playing field at the very least.”
Mr Davies said that, ultimately, schools should be empowered to hire secular youth workers directly and not via third-party providers.
More than 20,000 people have signed the parents’ petition – a response Mr Davies said was “overwhelming”.
“I felt that, given that we are only a group of parents, (the petition) found its way quite far and wide. The number of people who signed it was fantastic. It was great to see so many people sharing it and parents participating and signing it,” he said.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman