Need for more school counsellors ignored

Waine Donovan
Country Organiser

High Court rules

The Abbott Government will seek a new way for the school chaplaincy program to continue after Ron Williams from Queensland won his second High Court challenge over the validity of the Commonwealth to fund school chaplains.

When Mr Williams won his first challenge in 2012 the Commonwealth passed a law in an effort to continue to fund a range of grants and programs, including school chaplains, but in a unanimous decision on June 19 the High Court ruled it was invalid for the Commonwealth to use that law to fund a chaplaincy program, because the Commonwealth does not have the power to make laws that provide benefits to students.

"It always seemed totally inappropriate that a program could be put into public schools on no other basis than the largely unqualified people that were going in, with the only proviso being that they be religious," he said after Thursday's ruling. (ABC News)

The Federal Government cut funding for 583 secular welfare officer positions in schools in the Federal Budget, but budgeted to fund religious chaplains to the tune of $245.3 million over five years.

The secular positions previously represented about 20 per cent of National School Chaplaincy Program funding. Federation has opposed the entire chaplaincy program since it was first implemented by the Howard government. Funding would be better spent on increasing the number of school counsellor positions in public schools.

A school counsellor’s guidance does not come from a religious foundation but is based on extensive training.

One would question the qualifications of religious chaplains in dealing with issues faced by same-sex attracted and gender questioning youth.

Studies on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) students show that they have higher rates of suicide and depression than their heterosexual counterparts. Anecdotal evidence from some schools has shown GLBTI students have experienced difficulties from some chaplains based on their religious beliefs.

Young people who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity are entitled to access non-judgemental counsellors who provide advice and guidance that does not come from a religious foundation.

Sir Henry Parkes, the architect of the public education system, advocated for a public education system “making no distinction of faith, asking no question where the child has been born, what may be his condition of life, or what the condition of his parents, but inviting all to sit side by side”.