I make no secret of it, I think spending $222m of tax dollars to fund proselytising, dodgy chaplains in Australian public schools is atrocious.

Here’s some things the recent funding expansion could have been spent on that don’t violate parental right to a free, secular education in our public schools.

Qualified (Real) School Counsellors

Apparently the reason we need chaplains is because we don’t have enough counsellors to go round. Well, in 2010, across Australia, there were 6,743 government schools and as far as I can see from the salary figures for Australian school counsellors that would get us 3083 school counsellors or 2658 senior counsellors.
Let me do the division: that would be around 1 new counsellor to every 2 schools. Just the new counsellors alone would be a 1 to 751 ratio. If you look at the figures for 2008 ratios they’re:

  • ACT 1: 850 (1 Assistant Manager, 5 Senior Counsellors, 45 FTE positions for School Counsellors)
  • NSW 1 : 1,050 (678 Counsellors 113 DGOs 1 PEOs ie 1 per region across the state)
  • NT: 1:2500 when all positions are full  (19 School Counsellors, 2 Senior. School Psychologists, 8 School Psychologists – however, rarely are all positions filled)
  • Qld: 1:1,300 in secondary schools (about 350 combined GO and SGO positions)
  • SA: 1:3779 for GO,  1:1944 for ECP (GO – 43.4 FTE in the field in 2008, with 3.1 FTE in specialist positions. ECP – 8.9 FTE in the field)
  • Tas: 1 :1,800 (36 school psychologists, 8 senior school psychologists)
  • WA: 1:1200 to 1:2000
  • VIC: no data.

So you can see that those numbers are all blown out of the water (in a good way) if the money had gone to that. Of course the money could go toward the Northern Territory’s problem with hiring staff or to address the states with most urgent need. Or, hell, it could just go to paying the existing ones better pay so more staff are easily found and retained. For a government supposedly concerned about mental health it would surely make sense to hire qualified counsellors with that money rather than preachers who are only really there for a small percentage of the kids who are genuinely religious enough to need to talk to a religious ear.. and even then: only for certain types of advice (e.g. “I think I like my best friend in a sexual way” might not go down too well with an evangelist who thinks gays are sinful or unnatural).


Despite Access Ministries actively trying to turn kids against teachers and toward Chaplains via propaganda teachers are the lifeblood of the school and are the real educators.

Teacher ratios in public schools are a problem thanks to the decade or so of the Liberal government under Howard systematically dismantling public education in favour of private education. You remember that right? Back when Abbott was just a RU486 hoarding health minister who couldn’t separate his faith from his ministerial responsibility.

Anyhow, $222m of wasted chaplaincy money could pay for 2220 teachers on a pretty healthy old $100k a year. Or let’s say we pay for a bunch of teachers on $70k, that would get public schools an extra 3,171 teachers.

As of 2010’s ABS figures there are 183,725 teachers.

So we could give them all a $1200 bonus for putting up with the less than desirable funding arrangement that neglects them in favour of funding for extra indoor swimming pools for private schools.

Renewable Energy for Schools

I’ve talked in the past about my view that government buildings should all have solar installations on the roof.

Divided amongst all the schools you could prepare a “renewable energy for schools” programme which would be a lump sum payment of $33k to purchase solar panels for the rooftops of the new school halls. This would help in many ways: it would reduce the electricity bill.

Solar panels could be on school halls

Solar panels could be on school halls


According to Origin energy’s FAQ a 1.5kW system starts at $4k. So let’s say $1k worth of extra cost. So every school could be a 9-10kW solar installation.

So that’s 6743x10kW = 67430kW = 6.7 MW distributed power station. Sure the real yield would be lower that that and you only generate for X hours per day.. But it’s a definite start toward freeing us from fossil fuel dependency.

School Gardens

Instead of learning the “historic fact” from a Christian Chaplain about how all of mankind was forever cursed and kicked out of the garden of Eden each school could get a $33k grant toward creating and maintaining a school garden. The garden could be used to encourage healthy eating or used as an ongoing fund raising device. The added advantage would be education going home via the kids as to what is actually in season, leading to better choices at the super market. With $33K you’d be able to do some serious gardening.

Simply planting some trees might also be a good use of the funding which would offset some of the emissions for heating/cooling the school.


The money could be used to supply a free apple or orange to every kid in the public school system every day for 20 weeks.

Apples for the students instead! No stories about snakes and gardens needed.

Apples for the students instead! No stories about snakes and gardens needed.

Or perhaps a decent sized fruit salad for half that time.

That’d surely help with the obesity rates and encourage healthy eating.

Books or Technology

Public schools, having to make do with giving away 2/3 of the federal funding to private schools, are lagging behind in adoption of technology like smart boards and computing facilities.  Schools could have $95 worth of extra spend per student on books or technology. So for every 10 students you could fund a laptop. So that’s two extra computers for every classroom. For a small school of 200 students that would be a computer lab. For every 50 students you could have a brand new smart board put into a classroom.

For the price of funding one god fearing chaplain at a school (at $20k of tax dollars) you could give an entire classroom of 20 kids a set of laptops for the year.

If you wanted to splash cash around you could pay a commercial IT consultant, Engineer or Scientist to come in once a week at consulting rates for 20-30 weeks to teach kids about technology rather than bronze age mythology. Which type of inspiration is likely to lead to a career that isn’t complete nonsense and sponging off Govt public schools violating our (supposed to be) secular education system?

Could hire a bunch of roaming consultants to educate the teachers in the technology they have as I know first hand just how little assistance teachers are given. Hell, I was the school technology expert all the way through my schooling from about year 3 onwards (I used to get called up from class in primary school by the high-school teachers to go help fix the clunky Microbee network). Although that was a useful life skill, I now do that with enterprise integration architecture problems.

Disadvantaged students

There are lots of kids in financial, emotional, physical or other disadvantage. I don’t have figures for these, but I guess I’ve touched on the special schools funding.

Let’s assume we can assist students via hiring people at $25/hour (minimum wage is lower, but let’s not be cheap with our chappy cash bonanza). That would pay for 1,184,000 days of paid helper time. So spread over the schools that would be 175 extra days per school, or 35 extra working weeks of hiring someone to come in. So spread that over a few part time people and you’ve got yourself a magic amount of extra assistance with reading, writing etc.

To give you the background: many public schools rely on volunteers currently. Now wouldn’t it be great to pay those people? If we paid $18-20/hour we’d get even more time out of people. Those people would not be there to convert by stealth, preach about nonsense (or in one instance at least of a chaplain grooming children).. No, they’re there to help without preaching.

This would also be a benefit to give people a good part time source of income, particularly mothers/fathers who have their kids at the school and who aren’t working elsewhere.

What else?

What else could the money have gone to that’s school/education related?

15 Responses to “What could the $222m Chaplaincy funding have paid for?”

  1. on 26 May 2011 at 01:29Nathan Lee

    Hey, was just going through Reddit and saw that you have the exact same name as me. for curiosity sake your middle name isn’t James is it, other wise that would just be weired.

  2. on 26 May 2011 at 22:59Susan

    Nathan, this is fantastic. Send it to the SMH and get it published!

  3. on 18 Jul 2011 at 10:34Bernard Fudge

    Hi Nathan, thanks for bringing some perspective to this insane waste of money.
    Keep up the good work!

  4. on 18 Jul 2011 at 14:52Nathan

    Thanks Bernard, it makes me a bit ashamed to see our leaders completely violating secular education in this way and denying parents a secular public education.
    Also fear it will lead to psychological damage to kids either through the proselytising itself, the lack of training they have or through continuing the long standing church tradition of covering up child abuse amongst its hierachy.

  5. on 30 Jan 2012 at 11:31Riikka Kuronen

    Just a question, have you actually met a chaplain and seen their qualifications? I am a chaplain at a college and have a cert 4 in Youth work and will have a Diploma soon – I also pay taxes towards many things I do not agree with. I can understand the concerns but you are actually dishonouring the principals of the schools who help hand pick an individual and everything chaplains do in the school it to support their own agenda not their own. We are trained to refer students who need specialised assistance and I have never and don’t know of any chaplain personally who has used the position to proselytize it is in our guidelines. Infact I know of teaching staff or other staff push THEIR own beliefs (which hasn’t bothered me) I think there is unfair and nasty actions against the chaplaincy program and wonder if it more about personal negative experiences. The pay is not great – and many christians do this role because of conviction not self gain. Many extra hours are often put in and schools know and appreciate it. I am sorry you feel so negatively toward chaplaincy.

  6. on 31 Jan 2012 at 20:18Nathan

    So Riikkaa – perhaps you can tell me why you need religious qualifications if you never proselytise? It seems to me if we believe you – that you should not be religious and should be secular. You like to pretend that you’re somehow not religious, but chaplains ARE religious because they are a gateway for the evangelical organisations to sneak religion into public schools (perhaps because religion has been dropping followers thanks to education and a drop in superstition).

    As for your assurances that you never push religion – perhaps you can define precisely what that means? I suspect that, like the chapliancy providers, you don’t regard spreading the word o’ the lord as pushing religion. Nor is inviting other religious groups into the school under false pretences or casually mentioning god/jesus etc at various times. Or do you lead prayers in assemblies and regard that as not “pushing” religion.

    I never met a chaplain when I was going through public school – that’s because it is a recent destruction of our secular education system such that there is now no secular public school system as a result. Now that might be fine for you as I’d guess you attended a religious school anyhow – but you have no place either counselling (oh, sorry – referring if you decide it is beyond your capacity- which you are also not required to have any training whatsoever in identifying this – unlike everyone else at the school that deals with children) or being on the payroll. Religious groups also have no place receiving ANY money from govt sources – it’s bad enough we’re funding religious schools to the tune of billions of dollars every year.. The constitution is quite clear that it is not to pass laws establishing a religion – that’s exactly what you are doing by entering schools and proselytising/preaching by stealth. It also says no religious qualification for a commonwealth position – which is also what chaplaincy demands.

    It’s rather disturbing to hear all the bad things that are happening as a result of chaplaincy and that there is a shortage of funding for real counsellors (you have been described as “dangerous” by those with actual qualifications beyond ability to stealth convert souls in schools). Anyhow, look forward to hearing what you think is pushing and not pushing religion.

    In the mean time – I hope our politicians come to their senses and kill your program – you can go work in a church if you want to preach – schools are for educating and thinking, not superstition and cheap-unqualified dangerous counsellors who aren’t real counsellors. Like I said – fund any of the things I talked about is useful – the money spent on you is somewhere between dangerous and useless.

  7. on 02 Feb 2012 at 20:25Riikka Kuronen

    That’s just plain nasty – I don’t judge the way you live and are supported in our community by the government – as I stated the government funds many thing I don’t personally agree with. The reason they do ask for religious qualifications is that we can meet a demand for the many Christian staff and students that attend public schools not to convert others! What you are saying is that Christians have no right to attend public schools – churches orginally stared school historically! I do not lead prayers, I do not casually drop the words God or Jesus – maybe there are those that do but I don’t and I know many like me. I have many close friends who are deeply religious in the schools with a different faith and we share very similar values and it is not a concern to them that I am a Christian. I spend time with staff and students that are agnostic or give no thought to religion. There are hundreds of good stories of Chaplaincy but media do not get money or recognition as much from these rather sensationalise on the bad – how many secular issues are there with public and private school teachers… should we not spend our money on them either??? I did not want to argue with you maybe present a logical arguement to say that I am sorry you have such a negative view and hope that you could possible open your mind and heart to believe there are genuine and effective workers in public schools called chaplains. I certainly do not take my wage lightly I appreciate that it is your taxes that pay for my role and I strive to benefit my school and not take advanage of it. As far as what is pushing and what is not pushing religion – I don’t even understand your question – ask my collegues and students I work with if I push religion, I have never been told that I do. Because Chaplains are not attached to any program or class we are available to provide “first aid” in crisis or provide longer term support with anxiety or difficult circumstances with either befriending students or give practical assistance in many ways. I have done this prior to my formal training in schools as a teachers aid to some degree but time was always the factor. Schools do appreciate the extra help even if you cannot see that right now. I suggest you visit and speak with some Principals about what they think before you try and present what sounds like a one sided arguement based on limited personal experience, bad media and hearsay.

  8. on 03 Feb 2012 at 21:21Nathan

    So again, I’ll ask – why do you need to be christian rather than secular if all you are really good for is Christian students? You do realise that a secular support worker can service ALL students (including christain students) because, unlike Christian chaplains, they are to remain neutral in matters of religion and are specifically not allowed to take sides. You know, like the teachers, counsellors, support staff, volunteers, canteen ladies, cleaners etc all do.

    Howard put you lot in there to try and win votes from evangelical nutcase ACL bunch. Gilllard expanded it for futile vote buying of that mob who weren’t going to ever vote for the ALP anyhow.

    >What you are saying is that Christians have no right to attend public schools – churches orginally stared school historically!

    Firstly: No, that’s not what I said at all, Christian students have always been welcome in public schools – they somehow managed to survive without a paid preacher on staff before the NSCP kicked in. Secondly: I don’t give two hoots what happened hundred years back, that churches scam billions a year out of the govt and avoid billions in taxes each year means that the churches owe the Australian tax payer – they’re a net drain and have been since year dot. Churches never pay their share of the tax burden, so don’t even start. Churches continue on some pretty negative things that I’d be happy for them to be forced to give up like misogyny and homophobia.

    So perhaps you need some reading comprehension skills. Christian students are of course welcome in public shools, as are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bahi, Mormon, Ralian, Scientologist, Atheist/Agnostic, Bhuddist, Aboriginal faiths etc etc.. The list goes on. Well, they were equally welcome, they are now not so much if they aren’t Christian. What you do is make all other religions (aside from christian) LESS welcome in the school because you are specially paid by the taxpayer to push/reinforce/stealth proselytise Christianity in public schools which are supposed to be SECULAR so that they don’t support one made up fairytale belief structure over another.
    Unlike the NSCP Christian chaplains (and make no mistake – it is an almost 100% evangelical christian chaplaincy program): secular staff (e.g. like everyone else at the school who is meant to keep their religion to themselves) can service all of those faiths. You however, are not there to support the spiritual needs of anyone except one religion and perhaps bring your unique brand of Christian insanity to bear on any other situation you can (or make sure that the kids don’t deviate off the christian path due to all that fancy science stuff like evolution and the like that shows creationism to be complete crap).

    So back before churches started infiltrating our public schools – people had the option to go to a school where they would specifically not have religion mixed in. This meant that non-mainstream religions didn’t have to worry about their kids coming home with Jesus showbags or asking to be baptised (lest they go to hell). You’ve now destroyed that option. Congratulations. So all this is doing, and you know damned well (and your leaders have said they want to convert kids), is spreading the evangelical reach beyond the religious schools and into public schools where you have no place.

    People can go to a church in their own time (they seemed to be able to do this back when I was a child) or they can go along to scripture once a week. You (Chaplains) are not necessary for people to pursue their religion. Schools are for learning – not nonsense/stone age barbaric rubbish of the type you lot teach (I mean who seriously would suggest that murdering a child is a way to attone for sins which is the core christian philosophy).

    >how many secular issues are there with public and private school teachers

    I don’t think you know what “secular” means. Perhaps go look it up – you might realise why it is important to have “free public secular education” in a society.

    >we are available to provide “first aid” in crisis or provide longer term support with anxiety or difficult circumstances

    Well you should not be doing that. You are not qualified in the slightest to do so. It is DANGEROUS that you even think that you’re there to do that. This is what has caused the NT ombaudsman to issue a damning report for exactly that sort of thing. You might think that you are an expert, but you’re not and worse than that – you’re taking money from the pool to hire qualified people who do actually know what they’re doing.

    >Schools do appreciate the extra help even if you cannot see that right now.

    So why do you need to be religious to help out again? Can’t you see that a secular helper would service not only the christian students but all students without the favouring of one religion over another?
    Also: perhaps you can look at where a large chunk of the education budget goes that means that public schools are underfunded – religious schools. Without these reigious drains on the funding we could spend an extra 20% on public schools (which do not discriminate based on religion, sexuality etc like the religious schools do).

    Anyhow – schools will be better off with the money wasted on you going to someone who isn’t there to evangelise (something which you would have committed to as part of signing on with the evangelical Christian NSCP providers that provide nearly all the chaplains).

  9. on 04 Feb 2012 at 15:13Riikka Kuronen

    I was not out to argue but present an argument because it disappoints me to hear your bitter undertones in your post, but your response clearly shows you are attacking not arguing. Obviously you know better than the government and the Education department leaders and have no chance of possibly seeing that chaplains could be real people with feelings and just as qualified and helpful in schools as a secular worker and you do not understand the original purpose of chaplaincy. Sorry to have wasted your time

  10. on 04 Feb 2012 at 19:56Nathan

    Riikka: if you don’t want to address either the content of the things I’ve presented in the blog post or have a back-and-forth where one person puts forward ideas and refutes the others.. Then why are you here?
    You want to say the chaplaincy program is great: fine.. I’d expect that since you’d have to go get a job and proper qualifications if you wanted to go near kids normally as an employee in a school.
    That’s fine, but it isn’t adding anything to the debate to say that as a chaplain you love the program and think you’re doing a good job. Great. Now what – are you going to refute anything I’ve proposed as being more useful use of the money? Are you going to get around to explaining how a secular support worker isn’t superior in EVERY SINGLE WAY except for indoctrination/proselytising/converting (which I say have no place in schools).

    I’ve never said Chaplains don’t have feelings or don’t think they’re doing valuable work – they do. It’s another fallacious argument you’ve injected instead of answering the rather simple question: why not a secular/non-religious version of chaplain so that it can support all students rather than just Christian ones.
    You’ve said they are just as qualified as a secular one would be (assuming you’re talking an untrained, off the street person with no counselling/psychological/tertiary or any training that would suggest you are able to handle at risk children): yes, and additionally the secular one can service non-Christian students’ needs. So the secular option is superior as I’ve said.

    If you’re going to keep ignoring my responses or you just want to have your bit: great – I don’t censor anything on my blog except spam – you are free to disagree. But I’d rather you debate the topic than make inane statements about how great something is.

    As for “Education department leaders” – this wasn’t an education department decision – it was a politician-to-appease-the-ACL decision. The teachers federation for instance has said they hate the idea. The education department has to do what the parliament has directed via laws/acts etc – they can’t voice their disapproval – but I know a lot of teachers and they hate the idea. Then there’s the Australian Psychiatric Association who have gone further and said it is not only bad – it’s dangerous. This agrees with the NT onbaudsman by the way if that counts as a govt department.

    As for the original purpose: it was to appease a vocal, well funded, minority evangelical Christian lobby group. As for the purpose as far as the providers (e.g. Access Ministries) well the head of access ministries talked about the opportunity to make desciples. That’s the original intent because religions are losing followers and getting to kids is how you try and stop that.

  11. on 05 Feb 2012 at 18:31Riikka Kuronen

    Perhaps I don’t quite understand what you are trying to say, I am not by nature someone who debates issues etc. I was just concerned about the manner you and others who made comments in your blog about issues you probably have not personally gone to see first hand – it’s fine to say you think that money could have been spent better but your reasons for why you think chaplaincy is not worth it are a bit misguided in my opinion.
    You say we could have more counsellors in schools instead but have you ever considered that there are many students who don’t necessarily need or want to see a councellor but would benefit from someone befriending them and councellors don’t have time to spend with a student who may need a few days support during a crisis. Young people also can feel more confident to speak to someone who is not seen as an “authority” figure. I have also had many conversations with staff and parents about spiritual issues – never has anyone said they cared that I was a christian I have spoken with witches, athiests, muslims, budhists, hindus etc. and many have become good friends and have said they have appreciated the support I have provided either to them or their children. I don’t focus on the spiritual aspect but people DO want to talk about it so I am happy to do that, respecting completely their views and careful not to undermine their families beliefs etc. – I think a chaplain can support the school in practical ways but have the added aspect of being identified as someone who talks about spiritual issues if a person chooses to. Some may see this as “dangerous” just as doctors think natural health is hog wash and physiotherapists think chiropractors are dangerous… that is a matter of opinion.

    you said : For a government supposedly concerned about mental health it would surely make sense to hire qualified counsellors with that money rather than preachers who are only really there for a small percentage of the kids who are genuinely religious enough to need to talk to a religious ear.. and even then: only for certain types of advice (e.g. “I think I like my best friend in a sexual way” might not go down too well with an evangelist who thinks gays are sinful or unnatural).

    this statement is completely out of line… for starters certain types of advice?? I talk to students about all kinds of issues and I love my GLBTI students and staff… why wouldn’t a student talk to me about being gay, lesbian or bi – infact that is an area I love to work with I have connected with local service providers (not christian if that makes you feel better) I can refer students to as well. I resent your judgement that chaplains are evangelists who think gays are sinful or unnatural!!! I dont!! I have not always been in a “bubble” I was young once and have been exposed to drugs, alcohol, abuse and many other issues the young people face – you must have a limited view of christians which is disapointing and I like I said I am sorry you can’t see the benefits I am obviously not out to discredit everything you said just trying to help you see there are some decent chaplains and it’s not as bad as you and some others portray in my opinion. That is all…

  12. on 05 Feb 2012 at 18:38Riikka Kuronen

    Oh and just for the record… trained councellors have their own beliefs they can push onto young people as well and can be dangerous! A piece of paper doesn’t make a professional trustworthy person.

  13. on 05 Feb 2012 at 19:24Nathan

    So you’ve skipped over my point (again): why not a secular support person (now as you don’t seem to know what it means: that can also be a christian/muslim/scientologist etc but who is not permitted to put forward religion during their role) that is not a Christian chaplain?

    Is there anything that they will not be able to support/assist kids with that a religious based position can? I put to you that a secular position can service far more students and has far less problems attached by omitting the religious doctrine side of things.

  14. on 06 Feb 2012 at 06:04Riikka Kuronen

    Secular and Christian is not something I think about I don’t push my faith so why should someone elses faith matter to me? Your question doesn’t make sense to me. People can talk to me if they choose to – that is their right and many people do talk… I am not allowed to initiate. There is provision for secular workers under the chaplaincy program but most schools have chosen Christian workers. As I mentioned in my previous post a piece of paper doesn’t make a trustworthy professional just as a secular worker would not necessarily make a better support to kids. Sure there could be chaplains who are not as effective as a secular worker – just because someone says they are christian doesn’t mean they are a good example but the point is that the service providers who initially started the program are christians and a lot of the training, support, admin etc is funded by the local churches the government doesn’t cover the whole chaplaincy funding. Our service provider and Principals have provision to discipline or remove a chaplain if they are unsuitable or disobeying the guidelines. If you can find a secular group to provide this great! (I would have no problem working for a secular provider… afterall I have worked for the Dept of education for the past 10 years!)

  15. on 07 Feb 2012 at 16:38Riikka Kuronen

    by the way I really like your ideas of how to spend the money in schools – there are some really big needs out there for sure!

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