Labor confirms it will allow schools to hire secular workers under chaplaincy program

Former Coalition education minister Alan Tudge has warned Labor’s plan to give schools a choice of secular pastoral care workers will “effectively end” the use of religious chaplains in some schools.

The new education minister, Jason Clare, confirmed on Friday the Albanese government intends to give schools a choice of whether to hire a religious or secular pastoral care worker through the $60m-a-year program.

In April Guardian Australia revealed that Labor had told Christian groups it had “consistently supported” the chaplains program but was “committed to give schools the option to choose either a professionally qualified secular student welfare officer” or chaplain.

Schools are currently required to hire chaplains with an affiliation to a recognised religion. Although the program bans proselytising, secular groups, the teachers union and whistleblowers have said it gives religion a foothold in schools to recruit students to church groups and speak about religion, if asked.

Clare told the Canberra Times: “I’ll work with the state and territory education ministers on these changes over the next few months so that it’s ready to go for when school starts next year.”

“I don’t think this is controversial. I think this is common sense,” he was reported as saying. “We want qualified people to be doing this sort of work.”

Tudge said that Labor is “well aware that schools will come under pressure from activists not to employ chaplains, regardless of how effective they have been”.

“Labor has always resisted the schools chaplains program. They have an ideological objection to have religious workers in a school despite their effectiveness.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Just Equal, welcomed the move, with its spokesperson Brian Greig warning that students cannot be “assured of appropriate care” if they confide in religious chaplains about sexuality or gender identity.

“It is also deeply worrying that many chaplains are sourced from religious organisations which may have a long history of opposing LGBTQ+ equality and which have condemned homosexuality and transgender identity as wrong and sinful.”

Independent MP Bob Katter said Christians were “under attack” and it was “shameful … to see the Labor movement, which was effectively founded by a heavyweight Catholics’ movement, to be turning viciously on their own in passing a non-Christian regime upon Australia”.

In April Guardian Australia revealed the nation’s second-biggest schools chaplaincy provider imposes a code that discriminates against staff based on relationship status and sexual conduct, banning “cohabitation” and “sexually intrusive” behaviour.

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