The Greens have slammed the federal government’s renewal of funding for the national school chaplaincy program, saying LGBTIQ students would be better supported by secular counsellors.
In Tuesday night’s Budget, the federal government announced that the program would be continue to be funded $245.7 million over the next four years.
“$245.7 million for religious chaplains in public schools is unacceptable and puts LGBTIQ+ students in danger,” Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice said on Wednesday.
“Public schools are secular institutions and are no place for religious chaplains.
“The school chaplain program should be scrapped and the $245.7 million funding should be redirected to providing public schools with trained, secular counsellors, and inclusive anti-bullying programs like Safe Schools, not chaplains who may be pursuing their own religious agenda.”
The chaplaincy program was allocated $247 million in funding over four years in the Coalition’s 2018 budget, to place 3,000 religious chaplains in schools to provide pastoral care. The chaplains are strictly forbidden from proselytising in schools.
“The renewed [National School Chaplaincy Program] will have a greater focus on supporting students and school communities affected by bullying, in particular cyberbullying,” the 2019 budget papers read.
“An independent evaluation of the NSCP found it to be highly effective in boosting student wellbeing.”
But the program has drawn criticism from secular groups and the Australian Education Union, which said last year the money needed to be invested more broadly.
“Our schools need these funds to invest in programs such as school counsellors and student wellbeing programs in schools,” AEU president Correna Haythorpe said.
Labor education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek suggested last September that if elected, Labor would allow schools the choice between a chaplain or secular counsellor through the program.
“If elected, Labor will open up the program to give schools the option to choose either a professionally qualified secular student welfare officer or a chaplain,” she said.
“We believe that principals and school communities are best placed to understand their students’ needs, so Labor will give schools a choice about the services they need and the staff they hire.”
Last month, the Greens pledged to scrap the school chaplains program as part of a suite of LGBTIQ election policies and invest the money in “secular, unbiased and inclusive support for students through counsellors and antibullying initiatives.”