For release: Wednesday 7th September 2011

Funding for new secular welfare workers in schools announced today by School Education Minister Peter Garrett must come from a separate program, not from the same pool of money funding chaplains, according to the Australian Christian Lobby.

ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said Prime Minister Julia Gillard had given an election commitment that the National School Chaplaincy Program would not be secularised.

“There is no problem with the Federal Government offering schools the choice between a secular worker and a faith-based chaplain but the Government’s commitment before the election was that the chaplaincy program would retain its unique faith-based pastoral care emphasis,” Mr Wallace said.

In a video interview (commences at 16min, 27 seconds) conducted just two weeks before the election, Mr Wallace asked Ms Gillard to reassure the Christian constituency that there were no plans to change this.

Here is an excerpt:

Jim Wallace: The unique pastoral care that is given by chaplaincy is because it draws particularly on its Christian faith just as Salvos have a unique form of pastoral care drawing on their Christian faith particularly in welfare areas. Their (the Christian constituency’s) concern is very much that the program wouldn’t be secularised and that it could retain its unique flavour through its link to Christian faith. Do you see that continuing, would that be your objective?

Prime Minister: Yes I do see that continuing..... My view about the chaplaincy program is yes it would continue as a chaplaincy program with everything that that implies.

While any large government program was likely to experience some problems, Mr Wallace was concerned the Government’s move to introduce secular welfare workers on top of existing secular school counsellors was responding to a small number of aggressive secularists and the anti-chaplaincy Greens.

“We welcome Mr Garrett’s comments supporting the great work chaplains do in school communities, but believe the government has an obligation to find additional sources of funding for secular welfare workers rather than taking this from the chaplaincy program budget which was pledged before the election,” Mr Wallace said.