Premier Mark McGowan has asserted that school chaplains in Western Australia’s public schools do not need to be people of faith, despite his own government’s policy suggesting otherwise.
In a letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia on 8 October, Mr McGowan repeated the claim of his education minister, Sue Ellery, that there was “no State Government requirement that school chaplains be of faith.”
However, the government’s own website states that “Chaplains may be of any faith” – which excludes persons of no faith.
During a budget estimates hearing in September, Martin Clery, a senior executive from the state’s Department of Education, said that the government’s Chaplaincy Buyers Guide defined ‘chaplain’ as being “someone of faith”.
Also, all three of the third-party service providers that recruit and place chaplains in schools require that they be from a faith background.
The RSA has been calling on the Western Australian government to remove the religious-based discrimination in the school chaplaincy program, which is funded by state and federal governments.
Earlier this year, the state’s Equal Opportunity Commission raised its concern about “prima facie religious conviction discrimination” in the chaplaincy program.
In August, the RSA sought clarification from Minister Ellery after her comments to the media that there was no requirement that chaplains hired to work in taxpayer-funded roles in public schools had to be from a faith background. Minister Ellery gave the same response in September to questions on notice in the parliament from upper house member Wilson Tucker.
In his letter to the RSA, Mr McGowan said schools could choose from three service providers that have an agreement with the department or purchase chaplaincy services from “an alternative provider of their choice”.
“In addition to schools choosing to have a chaplain, it still always remains parental choice as to whether their child has contact with the chaplain,” he said.
Mr McGowan made an election commitment earlier this year to give an extra $21.8 million to expand the chaplaincy program. He told the RSA that his government was also providing $42.2 million to support student wellbeing through more school psychologists.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Photo: Mark McGowan (Facebook)