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.”