READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE (6 March 2014 by Konrad Marshall and Ben Butler)
The main provider of religious instruction in Victorian state schools is under financial pressure and currently being propped up by the federal and state governments.
Financial statements from Access Ministries, the chaplaincy organisation that also delivers 81 per cent of religious instruction in primary schools, show that they received almost $20 million in government grants between 2009 and 2012.
Despite this support, the group recorded successive losses in those years of $248,683 (2009), $17,000 (2010), $483,000 (2011) and $235,815 (2012), according to documents lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
The Council for Christian Education, which trades as Access Ministries, works in cooperation with Christian churches and spends “every day of the school year” – it claims on its website – “modelling God’s love with over 200,000 young Victorians”.
Education Department figures show that the popularity of SRI has declined rapidly in the past two years. In 2011, 130,100 students received SRI, but by 2013 the number had fallen to 92,808 – just one third of all Victorian primary students.
Elwood Primary School was the latest to drop the activity from their timetable, confirming this week that SRI would not be offered in 2014 – a decision made by the principal on “organisational grounds” and due to a lack of interest.
The decision is consistent with Education Department advice sent to schools last week, which noted that SRI should be provided only when there are sufficient staff to supervise those children not receiving instruction.
Education Minister Martin Dixon is currently working on an eagerly anticipated “ministerial instruction” to clarify the level of discretionary power principals have to remove SRI from schools. The clarification is expected shortly.
Given the recent financial results, the overall drop in the popularity of SRI, and the looming ministerial direction, 2014 could potentially turn into an annus horribilis for Access Ministries.
The company’s most recently filed financial statement notes that expenditure has grown, while “market demand” for their publications has shrunk. Income collected through their popular chaplaincy program has also dropped.
The group remains positive, however, and this week opened the new “Access Ministries Training Institute” for religious vocational training and higher education. The launch was attended by Mr Dixon.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Access Ministries CEO Dr Evonne Paddison said the organisation expected to make a small surplus in 2013 – a year in which they received an additional $4.1 million from state and federal governments.
Dr Paddison said such funding was always directed to the correct programs.
“We have in place rigorous controls and systems to ensure that we not only comply with the requirements of government funding, but also honour the wishes of our donors,” she said.
In an earlier response to recent coverage of the SRI debate, Dr Paddison posted a message for supporters on the company website under the heading “What can you do?”
“Can you please . . . not believe everything you read or hear through the media,” was one instruction.
Other suggestions included contacting local MPs, contacting Mr Dixon, contacting schools, and prayer.