WA council gives more than $500k to discriminatory chaplaincy program

Si Gladman / 22 August 2022

Ratepayers in a West Australian local government area have paid more than $500,000 in the past 10 years to fund Christian-only chaplains in public schools, the Rationalist Society of Australia can reveal.

Information detailed in a City of Bayswater meeting document shows that the council, located north-east of the Perth CBD, has been giving thousands of dollars each year to the Christian labour hire firm YouthCARE.

This means ratepayers of Bayswater have been funding religious-based discrimination in these roles at three levels – through their taxes at the federal and state levels, and through their rates to their local councils.

Tomorrow night, Bayswater councillors will decide whether to contribute a further $40,000 to the school chaplaincy program for the 2022/23 financial year.

Instead of the money going directly to YouthCARE this time, the motion before the council (see page 617) suggests schools would now “choose whether that be delivered by way of chaplain or a professionally qualified wellbeing worker.”

This change reflects the new federal government’s policy of allowing schools the choice of a secular welfare worker and the state government’s recent move to update its website to open the roles to people of “no faith”. 

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig is calling on the council to require any funding given to schools go to professionally qualified wellbeing workers.

Concerned parents have raised concerns, including in the West Australian last year, about YouthCARE’s chaplains using their roles in public schools to proselytise.

As the RSA reported in August last year, YouthCARE’s own selection criteria for the chaplaincy roles requires applicants to have a “demonstrated capacity to sensitively relate the Christian faith in a secular context”. Also, the training courses chaplains undertake to gain their qualifications contain units focus on evangelism.

“If the City of Bayswater is going to support student welfare in its public schools, then ratepayers will want to see their money spent on ensuring that the people who perform the role are professionally qualified wellbeing workers and the best people for the job, not people who meet the religious requirements of a Christian labour hire firm,” Dr Doig said.

The RSA understands at least 15 councils contribute thousands of dollars to the school chaplaincy program in Western Australia.

A Perth media report last year suggested councils were donating up to $12,500 a year to YouthCARE to support its chaplain activities in public schools.

However, according to the agenda document prepared for tomorrow night’s meeting, City of Bayswater has allocated $40,000 annually to YouthCARE since 2016/17 and a total of $508,000 since 2011.

During most of that time, the school chaplaincy program has required people employed to the chaplaincy roles be people “of faith” and have religious credentials, such as ordination and endorsement from church groups.

Last year, Western Australian’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner John Byrne labelled this practice as “prima facie religious conviction discrimination” as it prevented non-religious people from applying for the public school roles.

Earlier this year, the community of a school located in the Bayswater local government area voted overwhelmingly to remove religious-based discrimination in the hiring practices of school chaplaincy positions.

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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

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

All the more reason.