Australian priorities

Australia is not a particularly religious nation, and they’ve got the same problems we all do—a sagging economy, and essential demands for social programs that ought to be met…but compromises have to be made. Here, though, is a compromise I can’t understand: the Labor government has decided to throw away huge sums of money on something ridiculous.

That something else is school chaplaincy. Last week the Gillard government pre-empted its own review and increased the program’s funding by more than a third. The total cost to the taxpayer now stands at $437 million.

What are these chaplains supposed to do? It seems to be a sinecure for god-wallopers, who get a privileged position in a school, and $20,000 per year for…it’s not clear.

The Government knows chaplains are evangelical Christians, not mental health experts. This is why departmental guidelines prohibit chaplains from counseling students. They also ban chaplains from providing educational and medical services, as well as from proselytising. All of which begs the question: what exactly are we paying chaplains $20,000 each to do?

I’m not the only one wondering. As a report on the program reveals, many chaplains are unclear about their role. A majority admits they do deal with student mental health and depression issues, student alcohol and drug use, physical/emotional abuse and neglect, and suicide and self-harming behaviours. What most don’t do is refer to appropriate professionals when out of their depth.

If you’ve got problems in the schools like the ones listed above, it seems to me that hiring someone incompetent and untrained will not solve them.