Concerns have been raised over the consultation process about the National School Chaplaincy Scheme which funds the placement of religious mentors in state and private schools.
Kevin Rudd announced a public consultation about the scheme to the Australian Christian Lobby last November, while pledging to continue the program with an additional $42 million.
However the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) has made little effort to publicise the consultation, with stakeholders selected by the Government itself.
Stage one of the consultation involving stakeholders was to result in a discussion paper, with stage two taking public submissions in response to that paper.
The paper has already been finished, yet the Australian Secular Lobby’s Hugh Wilson said his organisation was told it was still stage one it lobbied DEEWR for stakeholder status.
“ASL wrote to them in February and we had to go through a senator in Queensland just to get any response from them,” Wilson said.
“Now we have a letter saying that we will be meeting with them in May. But the discussion paper that they’ve put out should have been the result of the consultation process.”
Wilson said he was disappointed there had been no formal avenue for groups to nominate themselves as stakeholders, and encouraged anyone with an opinion to get involved.
“I’d imagine all the pro-chaplain Christian groups have — the Salt Shakers, the ACL, Pell, Jensen, they’ll all be in there,” he said.
“What I suspect is there won’t be many calls for schools having the option to put the money towards counsellors instead, because of the limited scope of the consultation.”
Australian Coalition for Equality’s Rod Swift said his organisation would have liked the chance to have been included in stage one, as it had concerns about the abilities of chaplains to counsel young people dealing with issues of sexuality. ACE is considering making a submission to stage two of the consultation.
The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby also has concerns about the program but believes these are best raised by other organisations.
NSW Greens education spokesman Dr John Kaye MLC saidt the Rudd government was trying to appease right wing Christian groups by locking the community out of the consultation.
“Shutting out the community from commenting on the continuation of the chaplaincy program might help the Rudd Government secure the support of the conservative Christian lobby in marginal seats but it is bad news for public schools that support diversity,” Kaye said.
“The minister should restart the consultation, this time with schools, communities and the community told where and how to participate and given adequate time to make their views known.”