Media Release: 2020 Budget Sustains Wasteful Chaplaincy Funding

The federal government's commitment to funding the wasteful and discriminatory National School Chaplaincy Program continues with the confirmation of more than $60 million being allocated for the 2020-21 financial year. We believe religious chaplains have no place in our secular public schools.

The federal Labor Party must uphold the principles of secular, public education and pledge to stop the wasteful taxpayer funding of religious chaplains in public schools, says the National Secular Lobby (NSL).

In this week’s 2020-21 Budget, the Coalition government rubber-stamped $61.4 million for the controversial chaplaincy program, the funding of which has twice been ruled unconstitutional in the High Court, as part of the four-year commitment of $247 million made in 2018.

Jane Caro, an Ambassador for the National Secular Lobby, says the need for properly qualified school counsellors instead of religious chaplains has never been more evident, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The chaplaincy program is a blatant attempt to force schools that accept all comers to prioritise one religion over all others and none. It’s such a waste when you consider the desperate need for qualified school counsellors.

“According to the government’s own figures, there is an appalling ratio of 1 counsellor for every 743 students in NSW -- despite a frightening increase in mental health problems in students. Prayers won’t help but support from professionally trained counsellors actually might.”

Peter Monk, president of the National Secular Lobby, says Australia's secular majority are being let down by Labor’s ongoing support of the program, which has cost taxpayers more than $1 billion since its introduction in 2007.

“Parents can choose to send their children to religious schools, if that environment best aligns with their views. Religious chaplains have no place in state schools, especially when schools do not even have the option of hiring a non-religious person to provide this care.

“The Chaplaincy Programme remains funded purely because the LNP Coalition continually props it up and because Labor is unwilling to risk a contrary position.”

The NSL argues that religious chaplains are ill-equipped to deal with the complex issues facing young people in modern Australia, especially LGBTIQ youth, youth suffering from abuse at home or youth with psychological conditions, and that any taxpayer funding of wellbeing support in public schools should go to the provision of suitably qualified youth counsellors.

NSL Ambassador Jane Caro also sees it as an enduring symptom of the Coalition’s persistent prioritisation of funding for private, religious education over the public system.

“The $61.4 million for the so-called chaplaincy program in secular public schools was the only money allocated to Australia’s chronically under-funded public system,” she stated.

“No wonder virtually all public schools will remain below the minimum school resource standard for the foreseeable future.”