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Parliament throws ‘chappies’ a lifeline

Phil Smith, Chaplain at Unity College in Caloundra. Photo by Osker Lau

FEDERAL Parliament has acted swiftly to secure funding for the nationwide school chaplaincy program, passing enabling legislation through the Senate on 27 June.

The move follows the High Court ruling on 20 June that the direct-funding model for school chaplaincy was not valid.

Rev Dr Wendi Sargeant, The Uniting Church Queensland Synod representative on the Religious Education Advisory Committee, describes the High Court decision as a "great victory".

"The full bench of the High Court decided that there is no impediment to the idea of chaplaincy in our schools; on this point they were unanimous."

The national chaplaincy program was set up in 2007 and later modified to allow schools to choose either a chaplain or a non-religious student welfare worker.

Schools were given until 9 December last year to decide whether to re-sign their chaplain, and the response indicated widespread support for local "chappies", with 98 per cent continuing in their role in 2012.

More than 500 chaplains are employed in over 600 Queensland schools, with 80 per cent of high schools having a chaplain.

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations announced funding in May for nearly 250 new chaplaincy positions in Queensland, many in remote communities.

This follows an Australian Government commitment in September last year to fund up to 1000 new chaplaincy and student welfare worker positions nationally in 2012.

"Chaplains do a great job caring for vulnerable children and young people, providing a listening ear and walking alongside them in times of both crisis and joy," said Ms Sargeant.

Photo : Phil Smith, Chaplain at Unity College in Caloundra. Photo by Osker Lau