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Serpents in the classrooms

By Hugh Wilson - posted Thursday, 9 October 2008

An innocent enough story in The Courier-Mail on August 23, 2006 marks the beginning of a very low point in Education Queensland’s less-than-good performance, one which Ed Qld has yet to overcome.

Peter Beattie, the out-going and self-proclaimed “media tart” Premier, had chosen to announce his $10 million plan to pay Queensland tax dollars to employ “chaplains” in schools. The site of his announcement, for obvious political advantage, was Highfields State School, just a hymn book throw from Toowoomba, the buckle of the Bible belt.

Kerry Shine was running as the ALP candidate in Toowoomba North again, but this time against Toowoomba’s self-declared Moral Crusader, Lyle Shelton. Lyle had resigned from his post as Toowoomba City Councillor to take the challenge up to Kerry Shine. How better to buy off Highfields and Toowoomba North’s evangelical, Pentecostal, Baptist, AOG, Church of Christ, and Toowoomba City Church electors, than a few dollars in the ever present Queensland Pork Barrel?


According to The Age, June 11, 2006, John Howard and his education minister, Julie Bishop, had approved a plan to install school chaplains some months before it was finally launched, on October 29, 2006. Their plan started at a mere $90 million, but was later to balloon to $165 million.

Whether Beattie stole the plan from Howard, or Howard was emboldened by Beattie, is a moot point. Two years later, the bare facts are these: $175 million of unaccountable tax dollars are being fed by two ALP governments straight into the hands of Australia’s “Religious Right”. And in Queensland, particularly, these tax dollars are enriching Hillsong Church as their many “programs” are bought and run in state schools, with the full approval and endorsement of Premier Anna Bligh and Education Minister Rod Welford, not to mention Rudd’s deputy, Julia Gillard, the pay-mistress of the Commonwealth scheme, the National Schools Chaplaincy Programme (NSCP).

Gillard’s NSCP Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) staff possess a very slim grasp of what goes on in state schools, and lack both the ability and desire to police the scheme. They are very quick to cast blame to the states when things look “dodgy”. Examination of Senate transcripts by The Fourth R*, Queensland’s only “evangelists” for secular state schooling, during questioning by Senator Lyn Allison of DEEWR staff, clearly show the Senator being mislead on one of her questions. Such is the integrity of DEEWR in this matter.

In Toowoomba, the employer of state school chaplains, Scripture Union (SU), has benefitted enormously from the one third allocation of possible NSCP monies to the state. Nearly $60 million of chaplaincy funding has swamped SU in Queensland, who have responded by employing more staff and getting bigger offices. From a mere 200 chaplains prior to the NSCP there are now 500. SU calls this largesse, a “Downpour”. Indeed, a downpour of tax- free, tax dollars.

In a blindingly obvious conflict of both DEEWR policy and Ed Qld policy, the stated aims of SU are to evangelise to school students and bring them closer to Jesus; to convert to them to Christianity, in lay terms. It is unlikely that anyone in Ed Qld or DEEWR has dared to ask to see the job description of the SU chaplains, and these are very hard to find since SU withdrew them from their web site. We, at The Fourth R, have read it and assure readers that we have pointed out the conflict to Welford, with no response to our correspondence.

A recent enquiry to DEEWR from The Fourth R, requesting a breakdown of the denominations of the 500 or so chaplains in Queensland, showed just how slack DEEWR are. Although their own policy, at 4.4.1, requires school principals to state the denomination of the chaplain on the application form, or risk not receiving the $20,000 funding per chaplain, a full 407 chaplains were listed as “other”, and DEEWR stated that this was the best they could do. DEEWR do not police the NSCP applications; they only “process” them.


An examination of school web pages, at random, across Queensland, reveals that neither the Ed Qld’s own requirements for both Religious Instruction (RI) and chaplaincy policies, nor DEEWR’s requirements for their own “chaplaincy” policies, are met in full, or even in part by many school principals. Although this has been pointed out to Minister Gillard, Premier Bligh, Education Minister Rod Welford and his Director General, Rachel Hunter, nothing is done to ensure a state wide crackdown on policy avoidance is undertaken and school principals are disciplined; just as recalcitrant students would be.

Just recently, The Fourth R had to resort to exposing the Commonwealth Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, on ABC TVs Q&A program, hosted by Tony Jones. Our question concerned the gendered and very sexist set of “values” being taught during RI at Toowoomba State High School. This RI programme had been written by, or with, the school chaplain, funded by Gillard, and delivered a different set of sixteen values to girls to the nine values boys were taught. Following Q&A, late on the Friday afternoon, Ed Qld changed at least the outward appearance of the values, from “boys” and “girls” to “A” and “B”, with some of the more pernicious “values” seemingly dropped (go here and navigate to the A-Z index via the directory, then to go to R and hence to RI and Chaplaincy. This takes you to the “post Q&A exposure” doco they now use).

The “values” on offer were straight out of the AOG-Hillsong “aspirational” set of life-values that, at least in the Toowoomba Ed Qld region, can be found echoed on the Toowoomba City Church web page at the “Healing Room”. This particular web page has been taken down, for some unknown reason, and is no longer on open display but with the miracle of Google, a cached page is still there to be read and wondered about.

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About the Author

Hugh Wilson is a parent of three teenage boys educated in Toowoomba state schools. Hugh has advocated as both a local P&C and Darling Downs QCPCA regional executive member for Education Queensland to bring some accountability to both the RI and chaplaincy programmes in Toowoomba and Qld schools. Hugh is a PhD candidate researching the role of religion and faith in Australia's foreign policy during the Howard era. Hugh is a supporter and advocate of secular state schooling, and honest government.

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