WA council pulls funding from religious chaplaincy provider

Si Gladman / 01 October 2022

Councillors voiced concerns about religious-based discrimination in the hiring practices of a West Australian chaplaincy provider as the Bayswater council in Perth decided to pull its funding from YouthCARE.

As the Rationalist Society of Australia previously reported, the head of YouthCARE appeared before a meeting of the City of Bayswater on 13 September to urge councillors to continue funding the labour-hire firm to recruit chaplains for public schools.

Chief Executive Officer Tamsyn Cullingford had told council that YouthCARE hired Christians because they “align with our values” and said chaplains were also required to attend a church, unless they lived in remote regions.

At a meeting on 20 September, councillors voted 6-3 to give $40,000 directly to public schools instead of YouthCARE, which had received more than $500,000 from Bayswater ratepayers in the past 10 years to fund Christian-only chaplains.

Councillor Giorgia Johnson (pictured) argued it would not be right for council to continue funding religious-based discrimination through YouthCARE.

“We heard very clearly last week … that YouthCARE is not an equal opportunity employer. They do discriminate on the basis of religion. Not all faiths can be employed by YouthCARE. So, absolutely, giving the schools the choice on this matter is in line with, I think, what their communities would expect.”


In welcoming the council decision, RSA president Meredith Doig said West Australian education minister Sue Ellery should also review the millions of dollars of state money provided to YouthCARE.

The McGowan government gave YouthCARE an extra $21.8 million as part of a pre-election commitment early last year. On its website, YouthCARE says it is the “Department of Education’s ‘Preferred Provider’” of school chaplains.

“Now that one council has pulled its funding from YouthCARE, the McGowan government really needs to explain to taxpayers why it thinks it is right for its preferred provider of pastoral care in public schools to only employ Christians,” said Dr Doig.

“School communities in Western Australia have made it loud and clear in recent weeks that they do not want this religious-based discrimination in their schools.”

The motion put by Bayswater council mayor Filomena Piffaretti provided for a report to be prepared for an upcoming council meeting recommending that council direct funding to schools in order to ensure “equity and transparency in the distribution of funds”. Previously, the funds that went to YouthCARE ended up servicing just four of 13 public schools in the local government area.

One of the school communities in the Bayswater council area has, in recent months, sparked a state-wide revolt against religious-based discrimination in the hiring practices for the taxpayer-funded school chaplaincy roles.

After the Maylands Peninsula Primary School community voted overwhelmingly to remove the religious requirements from its chaplaincy position, the school’s Parents & Citizens (P&C) group succeeded in getting all of the state’s P&Cs to reject the current federal and state model of funding chaplains through religious labour-hire firms.

Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner John Byrne has raised concerns about the practice of restricting chaplaincy positions to Christians, saying it constituted “prima facie religious conviction discrimination”.

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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

Image: City of Bayswater

All the more reason.