RSA welcomes ‘good first step’ in reform of school chaplaincy

Si Gladman / 18 June 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia welcomes the Albanese government’s commitment to allow public schools the option of choosing a secular welfare worker under the National School Chaplaincy Program.

“This is a good first step by the new government to address the problems in the school chaplaincy program,” said RSA president Dr Meredith Doig (pictured).

“We’re pleased to see that the new education minister, Jason Clare, has prioritised this issue and moved so quickly to address it.

“We’re looking forward to meeting with Minister Clare to discuss further how the program can be further improved.” 

Despite the good news, the RSA is concerned religious-based discrimination will continue in the program.

While Minister Clare has pledged to provide schools with a choice between a religious chaplain and a secular welfare officer, Dr Doig said that, in practice, there would be little choice if the government continued with existing outsourcing arrangements.

Under current arrangements, the recruitment and selection of chaplains is outsourced to religious labour-hire firms, the overwhelming majority of which are Christian-run and they refuse to appoint non-religious chaplains.

Earlier this month, the RSA urged Minister Clare to remove not only the religious-based discrimination inherent in the program but also the outsourcing arrangements with religious labour-hire firms.

“The Labor Party’s own National Platform policy document commits it to reducing the outsourcing of labour,” said Dr Doig.

“The Albanese government should allow schools and education departments to hire people directly to these welfare and pastoral care worker roles, rather than outsourcing the recruitment process.

“Schools should be able to hire staff best suited to their needs, based on appropriate qualifications and experience, and they should not be allowed to discriminate on religious grounds.”

Alternatively, if the current outsourcing arrangements remain, the government must fund secular labour-hire firms to compete on a level playing field with the well-established religious labour-hire firms, said Dr Doig.

“The Christian labour-hire firms have been benefiting from these outsourcing arrangements since the program’s inception under the Howard government, receiving generous government funding for their administrative costs under the program. As a result, they have a significant advantage over secular providers in terms of their organisational infrastructure,” she said.

“It’s a matter of equal opportunity. If secular providers are not provided with what they need to compete fairly with the religious providers, in reality schools will actually have little choice, and the religious labour-hire firms will continue to require that applicants for the jobs be Christian. 

“A better outcome would be for Minister Clare to require schools and education departments to hire people directly into these roles.”

Learn more about our campaign on school chaplaincy here.

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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

All the more reason.