Chaplains in limbo after High Court rules funding unconstitutional

Ballarat schools are uncertain whether the High Court’s ruling of federal funding for school chaplains being unconstitutional will lead to job losses. 

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Phoenix P-12 College, Ballarat High School and Canadian Lead and Delacombe primary schools are among the public schools in the area with Access Ministries chaplains on staff, whose salaries are paid by specific funding from the federal government. 

Phoenix P-12 principal Scott Dellar said he had not heard anything yet indicating funding would be stopped for chaplain Alison Vinson.

“We don’t believe her job is at risk,” he said. 

An Access Ministries spokesman said it would not address the decision, directing inquiries to its peak body, the National School Chaplaincy Association. 

“Having ruled out the current funding model, we now look to the Commonwealth to put in place an alternative funding solution,” National School Chaplaincy Association secretary Peter James told Fairfax Media. 

“That could well be a system of grants via the states and territories – an alternative which the High Court acknowledged was possible in 2012 and again in the course of this hearing ... with the government behind the program and, in fact, bipartisan support for the program, I’m confident that some form of funding will be put in place.”

Specifically, the High Court ruled the federal government’s payments to Access Ministries’ Queensland equivalent, Scripture Union Queensland, unconstitutional. 

The legislation provides for up to $24,000 a year for schools and the Coalition government has bumped this up to $72,000 while also removing the option for secular support workers like counsellors, psychologists and social workers to be hired instead of chaplains. 

Ballarat Australian Education Union organiser Erich Sinkis said the union did not support the placement of religious support staff in public schools. 

“Obviously, the AEU welcomes the decision. We don’t support the chaplaincy program. Schools need expert, qualified, professional assistance for their students in areas such as psychology, speech and welfare,” Mr Sinkis said.


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