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Australia’s National School Chaplaincy Program is under review and the public is invited to respond to a discussion paper through submissions that are due no later than March 18th.

As I predicted when government subsidies for chaplains in schools was announced by the Howard government in 2006, religious organisations would need to prepare for a rough ride. As has been experienced in public subsidies for aged and health care, welfare and other community work, faith based communities not only have to negotiate competing philosophies and mountains of paperwork, but put a lot more effort into transparency and accountability to a wider range of stakeholders. This is not necessarily a bad thing – we can’t rest on our laurels and the drive to improvement of services is constantly on the radar, as it should always be.

There will be opposition, much based on misconception. Google “school chaplaincy funding” and the second highest link is to a campaign against the program on the basis of “separation of church and state.” In my view, this argument relies on a misunderstanding of the Australian Constitution which sanctions against the State establishing any religion. This has never been interpreted as non-cooperation. Historically, right from the time of the First Fleet, public policy has entertained “collaboration between Church and State.”

If the law decreed that chaplaincy funding cease based on a reinterpretation of the Australian Constitution, the government, to be consistent, would need to withdraw funding from a wide range of aged care facilities, hospitals, and welfare programs as well as withdraw chaplains from military  and other services.

The best outcome, in my view, is to continue collaborative engagement with all parties bringing goodwill to the table and agreeing on the most serviceable results for the Australian community.