ACT News

Christian groups call on ACT and SA to accept school chaplains

The largest provider of school chaplains in the ACT is campaigning to push the ACT government to accept the federal government's school chaplain program.

In late August, Senator Scott Ryan, Parliamentary Secretary for Education, was forced to redesign the $244-million religious-only scheme so it was administered by the states after the High Court ruled its design invalid in June for the second time in two years.

Campbell High school chaplain Steve Lindner.
Campbell High school chaplain Steve Lindner. Photo: Melissa Adams

The deadline for the state and territories to accept or reject the funding is this Friday, so there has been just a fortnight for negotiation.

While WA, Victoria and Queensland are set to accept the terms, ACT Education Minister Joy Burch has said she would not administer the scheme unless it included an option for secular workers, a view echoed by her South Australian counterpart.

Former Oasis Community Church pastor Steve Lindner has been a school chaplain since 2008 at Campbell High School, near the Defence Department at Russell.

He works alongside a youth worker, a psychologist and a defence support worker, and said it was the ability for students to choose that made the support at the school so strong.

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"Having that diversity of people, male and female, means we are able to provide a broad range of advice to students," Mr Lindner said.

He said students - and staff - who came to see him "set the agenda" for the sessions and he often referred students to the psychologist. "My job is to be a listening ear instead of trying to promote some sort of ideology," Mr Lindner said.

Mr Lindner is part of School Chaplaincy ACT, part of the umbrella Queensland-based Scripture Union - a major national and ACT provider of school chaplains, which is also the group behind the National School Chaplaincy Association.

The NSCA is lobbying the ACT and South Australian governments to accept the religious-only program. 

NSCA spokesperson Peter James said since it was the only option on the table it was "mystifying that the territory government would deny this extra element of care, in schools that have asked for it". 

Mr James said the move could mean job losses and an end to the chaplaincy program altogether, and said that Ms Burch's positioning on the issue "defies logic".

Ms Burch said she would stick to her guns and demand the "choice of a faith-based or secular worker" in the scheme in a letter to Mr Ryan this week.

She said she hoped negotiation would allow the scheme to continue in its present form.

Ms Burch said she was also concerned the federal Government proposal would equate to a $180,000 cut, funding only 47 ACT schools of the current 56 - meaning at least nine support staff would be left without jobs. 

Mental health academics have expressed concern over the funding of the program, saying it jeopardised dollars for other evidence-based schemes.