Stop funding Access Ministries, AEU tells Baillieu
15 May 2011
The AEU is to urge the Baillieu Government to withdraw all funding from Access Ministries, the biggest provider of school chaplains and religious instructors after its chief executive spoke of a mission to recruit "disciples" in the classroom.
Access Ministries delivers around 97% of all specific religious instruction classes in Victorian Primary Schools and is one of the major providers of school chaplains under the Federal Government program started by the Howard Government and now expanded by the Gillard Administration.
One of the headline acts of the new Coalition State Government in its first budget last week was to increase funding to Access Ministries for administration of the chaplaincy program by $200,000 a year — at the same time as announcing millions of dollars of cuts to public education initiatives. Total funding to Access Ministries will now be $500,000 a year.
ABC News on Thursday reported a speech by Access Ministries' chief executive Evonne Paddison, in which she told a conference: "Our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples."
AEU branch council on Friday voted overwhelmingly to call on the State Government to withdraw all funding from Access Ministries and redirect funding to programs for disadvantaged students cut in the state budget.
AEU Victorian president Mary Bluett said: "(Ms Paddison's) comments are an affront to students in a our secular government schools and a clear breach of the federal guidelines for the national school chaplaincy program."
The ABC report has already prompted the Federal Education Department to start an investigation. Guidelines clearly state that school chaplains and SRI volunteers must not "proselytise" or attempt to convert students to their belief.
Council passed a second resolution reaffirming its support for a free and secular government school system and opposing the delivery of SRI during school hours, delivered by volunteers.
Deputy president Meredith Peace said religion had a place as a subject of study in a comprehensive curriculum that acknowledged its role in the cultural, historical and philosophical development of society. But such a subject should be taught by qualified teachers, not volunteers, and embrace all religions.
"Qualified teachers are best placed to be having these conversations with our students as part of a broader curriculum."
AEU branch council resolution
Special Religious Instruction (SRI)
That the AEU reaffirms its view that government school education must remain free and secular, as stated in the Education and Training Reform Act (ETRA) 2006.
The AEU notes ETRA 2006 states:
(a) Government schools:
(i) will provide a secular education and will not promote any particular religious practice, denomination or sect; and
(ii) are open to adherents of any philosophy, religion or faith;
(b) Instruction in the learning areas in Schedule 1 is to be provided free of charge for all students (except overseas students) attending a Government school to the completion of year 12 if the student is under 20 years of age on 1 January in the year that the person undertakes instruction
Further, the AEU reiterates its view, put forward in the 2009 review of ETRA 2006, that "The separation of church and state is not a peripheral issue" and that "It should never be open to sectarian interests of any sort, religious or otherwise, to commandeer parts or the whole of public education."
In light of this, the AEU does not support the inclusion of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) in school time, currently delivered by volunteers, including those from Access Ministries.
Victoria is a multicultural society, which is reflected in the student population in our government schools. It is important, as part of a comprehensive curriculum, that students gain an understanding and knowledge of the role religion has played throughout our history and its influence on human society. As such, the AEU does support teaching about religions from a cultural and historical perspective, by qualified teachers, as part of an accredited curriculum program approved by the VCAA.
If SRI is made available to students, this should occur only outside school hours and be provided on a voluntary basis.
Council notes the comments of the Chief Executive of Access Ministries, Evonne Paddison, in particular:
"In Australia, we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples". And she further told the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion National Conference in Melbourne, "What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools."
Such comments are an affront to students in our secular government schools and a clear breach of the federal guidelines for the National School Chaplaincy Program.
Council supports an investigation into the comments and calls on Minister Martin Dixon to suspend all state funding for Access Ministries and redirect the money to restore programs to support disadvantaged students that were cut in the state budget.
Further, that we call on both state and federal governments to withdraw all funding to Access Ministries program and to make funding for the chaplaincy program open for choice by school for other welfare or support programs.
— AEU branch council, May 13, 2011