Government to cut 583 secular welfare officers as revamped Chaplaincy program takes funding from real needs in schools

5 June 2014

The Federal Government will end the jobs of 583 secular welfare officers in schools as it uses its $245.3 million Chaplaincy program to push religion into public schools, Senate Estimates revealed last night.

AEU Deputy Federal President Correna Haythorpe said that the Chaplaincy program was a misuse of funding that could be spent on more urgent needs, such as support for students with disability.

“The Chaplaincy program is a case of the Government’s wrong priorities. They are unable to deliver a promised increased disability loading from 2015 to support students in urgent need, yet they are able to find $245.3 million to spend on chaplains,” Ms Haythorpe said.

"We have 100,000 students with disabilities not receiving the support they need, as well as shortages of speech pathologists and other support staff. This must be a higher priority than chaplains.”

“This government is also ripping billions out of schools by not honouring the 5th and 6th years of the Gonski agreements and ensuring that up to 20 per cent of schools will not meet minimum resource standards.”

“Its insistence on extending the Chaplaincy program confirms what Education Minister Christopher Pyne said last week, that this is a government that does not feel a responsibility for funding government schools.”

Ms Haythorpe said that Senate Estimates had confirmed that 583 secular welfare officers, about 20 per cent of the Chaplaincy program, will not be funded in 2015.

“If the Abbott Government is determined to keep funding its Chaplaincy program, then the secular option must remain,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“The take-up of secular welfare officers clearly shows that there are many schools who do not think a religious chaplain suits their needs. Schools should have the flexibility to apply for a secular welfare officer.

“Removing funding for secular welfare officers – many of whom have already built relationships with schools and students – shows that this program is part of an ideological push to get religion into public schools.”

“In Estimates last night Parliamentary Secretary for Education Scott Ryan was unable to say how a religious chaplain would perform differently to a secular welfare officer.”

“It was also confirmed in Senate Estimates that the Government plans to ‘streamline reporting’ requirements. We are concerned that this will further remove accountability for chaplains funded by the program.”

Media Contact: Ben Ruse 0437 971 291