Ron Williams outside the High Court.
Ron Williams outside the High Court. Contributed

Govt resurrects controversial chaplaincy program

SCHOOLS have been invited to apply for funding as the government attempts to resurrect its controversial chaplaincy program.

The $244 million scheme had stuttered after a High Court decision in June ruled it invalid, but the Coalition breathed new life into it this week, handing over the administration to states and territories.

Successful schools will receive $20,000 to facilitate the program with $24,000 allocated if the school is remote.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott was criticised when he announced the funding in the Federal Budget in May with many feeling the money could be better used elsewhere.

Another bone of contention is that the government insists the funding only be used for religious chaplains, having removed the option that the scheme could also cover secular welfare workers as it did under Labor.

While the National School Chaplaincy Association welcomed the government's decision, saying chaplaincy made a positive difference in the lives of students, Labor was not of the same opinion.

"It is an unjustifiable disgrace that hundreds of schools will lose valued, hardworking and qualified counsellors as a result of the Abbott government's ideology being rammed down the throats of school students across Australia," said Labor's education spokeswoman Kate Ellis.

Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos said the school chaplaincy scheme would "undermine the secular traditions of public education" and that it "was a misuse of funding that could be spent on more urgent needs, such as support for students with a disability."

Ron Williams, the Toowoomba father who fought and won the High Court case, told the ABC today he may challenge the program for a third time.

He is also calling for a senate inquiry into the program.

"I think it's all pretty disgraceful, the callous arrogance being displayed by the Federal Government on this," he told ABC's AM program.

"They seem to regard it as some bizarre kind of game of whack a mole or something that every time the High Court makes a decision, the next part in the game is to try to circumvent it."

Western Australia and Queensland have already put up their hand for a share of funds for the program.

Queensland Education Minister John Paul Langbroek told the ABC he is satisfied with the funding condition that chaplains are not allowed to try to convert students.

"There are strict rules in place to ensure that chaplains don't evangelise. It is important to acknowledge the work that chaplains do in schools, and the support that they provide to our students is invaluable," he said.



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