Chaplaincy – What next? A word from the government

ding dongThe Federal government has made the following statement following the High Court’s decision in favour of Ron Williams’ contention that Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare program is illegal:

National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program High Court judgment

On 19 June 2014, the High Court of Australia found the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program to be invalid.

Thursday 19 June 2014


Following the High Court’s decision, the Commonwealth no longer has capacity to administer or control the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program.

It may be that services continue to be provided at particular schools – whether that is the case will be a matter for the individual schools and the providers of chaplaincy and student welfare services to determine.

The Commonwealth has decided to waive its right to recover payments that have already been made under the program funding agreements. In reaching this decision, the Commonwealth has given careful consideration to the range of factors that are relevant to the exercise of its power to waive debts owing to it.

The Department of Education will provide further information to schools, funding recipients and education authorities on the decision and its impact on the specific circumstances relating to each provider following further analysis of the decision.

What does the High Court decision mean for the new National School Chaplaincy Programme?

As part of the 2014-15 Federal Budget, the Australian Government allocated $243.8 million over four years to fund the National School Chaplaincy Programme.

Implications of the High Court decision on the future of the programme are being considered.


What does this mean?

It means that the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program is dead – set adrift by Abbott and his henchmen.

If the current funding arrangements mirror those of 20 June 2012 when the judgement in Williams I was handed down, substantial moneys are due to funding recipients on  30 June. In 2012 that amount was $16.44 million—which triggered the financial amendment bill required to keep the cash flowing to the para-churches.

And, it seems from this missive, that money cannot and will not be paid by the Federal government.

If schools want to keep their chaplains, it’s going to be up to them and the chaplaincy providers to find some way to pay their wages.

The government seems to have no heart for ‘saving legislation’ as occurred in June 2012 after the first Williams decision. The NSCSWP has been deemed unsalvageable. From now until at least 2015, the Federal government has washed its hands off the whole grubby, illegal affair.

What is more important is that,  from 1 July, chaplains will not be subject to the NSCSWP guidelines  – which at least, in theory prevented counselling and proselytising – because this program no longer exists. The terms under which they work will be entirely dependent upon local education policies, individual school’s policies and whatever requirements imposed upon the by bodies like Scripture Union and ACCESS Ministries.

It is notable that the Federal government and the states do not seem to have colluded to continue the program seamlessly by funding it through tied grants. That would have been constitutional via S.96 of the Constitution. But, it requires the states to agree to accept the funding and administer the program. Perhaps that has not happened.

With revelations of proselytising, inappropriate counselling, homophobia and links to homophobic hate groups, and, worse, court actions pending over criminal activities by chaplains the states would be taking on a poisoned chalice in agreeing to take responsibility for school chaplaincy. The funding recipients – particularly ACCESS Ministries – are really ‘on the nose’.

We can only speculate that, if the Federal government tried to anticipate a win for Williams by making arrangements through the states, the states were not as co-operative as the Federal government may have wished – and for good reason!

What the Federal government has now is a quarter of a billion dollar commitment to a new chaplaincy program they cannot administer themselves and for which, at least for now, there are now statutory guidelines.  If funded through tied grants to the states, it will be up to each state to either agree to a single set of guidelines (unlikely!) or to negotiate the terms under which they are prepared to accept the money (messy!).

It can and will never be a ‘national’ program again. Given this, it provides little or no political value for the Federal government and is likely to cause only headaches and political liability to the states.

The allocation of a quarter of a billion dollars to chaplaincy in an austerity budget has caused widespread outrage. Whatever the funding recipients might say, there is clearly very little public support for the program. For example, a poll by the Sydney Morning Herald, following the judgement in Williams’ favour, attracted over 19,000 responses, with 82 per cent of respondents saying the program should now be scrapped completely.

So, for now, school chaplaincy is in limbo. There is no suggestion emanating from the Federal government that they will fund it through the states and we can only speculate on why this rather ‘obvious’ solution hasn’t been implemented. Meanwhile, Abbott and his team have done a Pontius Pilate on the scheme instituted by Howard in 2006 and meddled with by the  Gillard government. It is no more and they have washed their hands of it. Williams has killed it.

Will another chaplaincy scheme arise from the ashes? Perhaps. But it will never be a national scheme and it seems very likely that the Federal government and the states have grown rather weary of this ill-conceived adventure of placing minimally qualified evangelical missionaries into state schools to deal with at-risk, vulnerable kids.

As someone wrote on Facebook recently: Bringing children and churches together – what could go wrong?

Chrys Stevenson


20 thoughts on “Chaplaincy – What next? A word from the government

  1. Matt Martin

    Chrys this is wonderful news. Congratulations to Ron Williams, yourself and the other activists who worked so hard to get this dreadful programme spiked.

  2. Glen Mcbride

    Sounds hopeful – but I’ll keep fingers crossed ________________________________________

  3. g2-5bba245eb6db01d36e28de6648a6336a

    Brilliant brilliant brilliant work by all conceded in this endeavor !

  4. palmboy

    I watched ABC “The Drum” with great interest, as Ron Williams talks about his court case. Watch Ron say how the Chaplain’s job description stating they “connect children with the church” was used as evidence, plus the decision specific to this 2nd challenge – that Chaplaincy does not offer a benefit to students.

    In the video Ron says the finding that Chaplaincy does not offer a benefit to students, has put a “separate lid” on the Chaplaincy program. I look forward to learning more about the implications of this particular point.

  5. Louella

    Thanks for this explanation of the govt’s statement.
    PS I heard Janine Walker refer to Ron as a hero on ABC612 yesterday. So true. 🙂

  6. Robster

    Gosh! Who’d have thought. Mr. William’s win on this seems to have been a complete and through win. Congratulations have to be offered to Mr. Williams and his family. Is there any concern over safety for the family? There is quite a history of flabbergasted Christians threatening those with the temerity to take them on and win. They can’t be trusted and must be watched carefully. I’m talking law enforcement, without wishing to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, this is a major loss for the dark forces of christianity, with one ruling, the loss of their major source of potential victims and they won’t take it quietly as ultimately it means the end, in this country at least, of their influence. Like a murder of crows, they will get together to stop the march forward. I’d have thought, with Baby jesus, holy spook and god/Big Al/Mad Mo on side they’d have won, but no. Another example of just what a dismal failure god (and team) really is/are.

  7. Jayel

    I would love to be jumping for joy about this but can only manage very cautious optimism. You don’t know how much I want this to be the case but I know only too well how much both major parties and the Qld government love their little chappies.

    In the meantime, I just came across this very thorough treatment of the two High Court challenges. In it it says that Ron himself is a lawyer. Is that true?

  8. Jayel

    Chrys, in his press conference Peter James says, “The funding for the year has been paid and is available for use up until December.”

    What do you make of this?

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      If so, it seems the government anticipated the decision and paid money out before it was due, knowing that payment may be deemed illegal. It means SUQ has accepted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, aware that it may be found to be an illegal payment. It is effectively stealing from taxpayers. So much for Christian ‘values’. Will seek confirmation – and legal advice. I can’t see that an early payment to circumvent the court could be legal.

  9. Jim McDonald

    What the contemporary politicians, who have cosied up to the lobbying of church organisations, have not grasped nor acknowledged is what the founding fathers certainly did: that failing to quarantine secular schools from religion leads to the sectarianism that blighted social life in colonial times. Sectarianism likewise blighted society in the middle of the last century – just ask any Catholic who lived in the 1950s and 1960s.

    There was in the chaplaincy program a sectarian monopoly and the provider organisations such as the Scripture Union favoured not the traditional churches but the envangelical and pentecostal types. Non-religious advisers were squeezed out by the providers and Federal Labor and Liberal Governments. Never mind that a significant proportion of children come from families with neither set of christian beliefs but other religions, and that another significant ptoportion of children come from families that do not subscribe to religious belief at all.

    That this government – subscribing to a tea party political philosophy that grew from arcane American religious moral instrumentalists – might seek a way around the High Court’s decision evidences the basic objective they have brought into school classrooms. By moral instrumentalists I mean those who believe that anything that advances the religious objective and punishes those who fail socially and economically has moral worth [the ends justifiy the means]. This goes some way to explaining the serial lying and deceit that characterises the Abbott Regime. The self-righteousness of such church people is part of an ideological system of justification for conducting a moral war against non-christians with a program to recruit children, hidden behind the secular rhetoric of support for children.

    The principal assumption of these people is that they have a monopoly on morality. The dissonance between their stated religious objectives and their protestations of codes of behaviour that contradict their mission proves an ethical black hole exists at the core of the chaplaincy program. Chaplains do proselytise. They do it openly and under social program guises and, in the process, generate a sectarian divide, which wold horrify most members of the 1890s Constitutional Conventions.

    1. Mike W

      Unfortunately our founding fathers forgot or chose not to encode language preventing such horrors into our constitution. Too many people wring their hands and mutter about separation of church and state in this country without realising that we live under the Australian constitution and not that of the US.

      1. M D Fisher

        S. 116 of the Australian Constitution:

        The Commonwealth of Australia shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any public office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

        Article VI sect 3 of the US Constitution:

        ….no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

        First Amendment to the US Constitution:

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

        The differences between the wording of references to religion in the US and Australian Constitution are minor. The main difference is the interpretation by the judges of the High Court. The reason Australia allows subsidies to religious schools and has allowed chaplains in the schools while these acts are against US law does not lie in their constitutions but in the different way the US and Australian courts have interpreted their constitutions.

        David Fisher

  10. S D

    You know what would be great for our youth? Giving organisations like Headspace, which work with youth in a unbiased manner in their best interests. Allocatting them funding to be in schools, and assist our young people.

  11. Pingback: Stage 1 is DONE! Plus Frightbats, World Refugee Day and High Court wins! | Love versus Goliath : A Partner Visa Journey

  12. Paul

    Christian Values? Look at the history of Christianity. Look at the values of the Catholic Priests and the Salvation Army Officers. Christian values = do whatever you like. Confess (but not to the police), clean slate, go out and do it again. Secular, non religious, humanist values are what society needs.

  13. Tina

    This was not a dreadful program as Matt Martin comments. I was a Student Welfare Worker under this program working in 3 disadvantaged High Schools, dealing with very serious and sensitive topics that are constantly coming up in Schools. Schools had the choice of Social Welfare Worker or Chaplain and depending on the demographic, chose to suit that school. I am completely gutted as being the middle person to make the link between seriously at risk young people and specialist external services, this has now disintegrated, thus putting back added pressure on the school system, our children’s learning and leaving vulnerable children to “hopefully” be picked up in a overflowing problematic education system! Shame on this Government in destroying a program that was statistically and on a grassroots level was making profound change!!! SHAME on you Tony Abbott!!!


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