Global Post: The Australian government’s slash and burn approach to fiscal management doesn’t appear to have stretched to the God Squad.
The right-wing conservatives have so far announced cuts to aged care, education, the environment, science and hospitals, plus introduced controversial new fees for doctor’s visits.
Yet Prime Minister Tony Abbott — a staunch Catholic who opposes gay marriage and once described abortion as “the easy way out” — has somehow managed to find $226 million for a school chaplaincy service designed to support the “emotional and spiritual wellbeing” of students. That’s like the US government allocating about $2.2 billion, relative to the size of the economy.
The program — already the subject of parent-led High Court challenge over religious funding in the secular state school system — used to allow schools to use the money for a church-backed chaplain or a secular welfare officer.
However under Tony Abbott, that all changes, with the government outlawing funding for secular support, raising the ire of teachers’ groups and gay rights organizations and outraging schools forced to lay off welfare officers and youth workers.
Questions — first aired back in 2011 — have resurfaced about the role and effectiveness of church chaplains, with critics arguing that it’s hard to justify $226 million for a program that has never been independently evaluated.
Angelo Gavrielatos, president of the Australian Education Union, called the funding “completely misdirected” and said it had come at a time when funding for kids with disabilities was being cut.
“We have a situation where there are 100,000 students with disabilities not receiving the disability funding they need,” he said. “There is more being spent on school chaplains than there is in dealing with the needs of students with disabilities … surely that is a higher priority?”