Last May, I wrote about chaplaincy services in government schools and many rioters joined in the debate, on both sides of the equation and for the most part it was a healthy discussion.
On 19 June, and for the second time, the High Court has ruled legislation to enable the payments to the Scripture Union Queensland by the Commonwealth for the express aim to fund chaplaincy services was invalid.
Did you know that the federal Government defunded school for counsellor services in this year’s budget. So let’s not pretend that schools can get the so-called best of both worlds. The federal Government justified this position by saying that the States could fund those services themselves if they wanted to.
The previous Labor Government allowed secular welfare workers to be funded under the scheme but the Coalition reversed the decision and will pay only for chaplains. Pretty clear to me what they intended to happen.
Let us remind ourselves where this started. The program was initiated under the Howard Government in 2006, and later extended by the Rudd Government. Schools received up to $20,000 each under the program to employ chaplains. Under this program chaplains were to provide counselling support but were banned from proselytising their faith. [yeah right!]
The new ruling by the High Court is interesting in that it upheld the case from Mr Ron Williams, a parent in Queensland. But the national body for school chaplains says that it believes that the program will survive despite the Court’s ruling, saying that payments can continue as state grants. They are right! The High Court did not rule this out.
The ruling declared invalid payments directly to bodies other than the states for these purposes and said that the legislation, intended to address the original rejection by the High Court, as invalid. It ruled that the payments made under the Financial Management Act, were unconstitutional within the meaning of s51 (xxiiiA) of the Constitution.
But here’s the rub. The legislation to enable payments to bodies other than the states was the invalid bit, not the program itself. This means that the Commonwealth can make payments to the states, under whatever provisos it likes, to enable the program to go ahead.
Let us see what the PM said about the ruling. He said “We particularly want the chaplaincy program to continue. It’s one we invented. It’s one we supported. It’s one we took to the election.” [I don’t remember that but hey, would he tell a porky?]
It is clear that he will find the way to force chaplaincies on schools, having defunded the counsellor programs, previously funded through the states. So, here’s my prediction.
The Commonwealth will provide the $250 million to the states for the program as designed by the Coalition, but with the sting that if the states don’t implement the program, there will be funding detriments applied to their grants in other areas. In other words, fiscal pressure will be applied to the states to comply. It won’t be that hard though because Labor, to their shame, have said they are supportive of the program but so far have been silent on the defunding of counsellors.
On the one side are parents like Ron Williams, backed by the states, saying they agree with the AEU and want “expert trained school counsellors, psychologists and welfare workers” and on the other are proselytising pollies, the National School Chaplaincy Association and the Scripture Union of Queensland (SUQ). Doesn’t the name SUQ give it away actually?
Yeah, well I’m on Ron Williams’ side but have seen this bullying stuff before. This is not the beginning of the end of the matter; it is the end of the beginning.