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Greens concerned about possible school chaplaincy guidelines breach

The Australian Greens are concerned by reports a ministry in Victoria may have breached federal guidelines covering the chaplaincy programme in public schools.Access Ministries has been accused of trying to convert students into "disciples", contrary to federal regulations.

"We await the review of Access Ministries by the Federal Education Department, something Peter Garrett has indicated will happen because the federal guidelines as 'crystal clear' on proselytising in schools," the Greens' education spokesperson, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, said today.

The government announced in the budget this week that the National Schools Chaplaincy programme will cost $222m over the forward estimates and be extended to cover as many as 1,000 more schools.

"We argue it should be up to schools to decide how they want to use that money, not the department," Sen. Hanson-Young said.

"Schools should be getting qualified counsellors to properly assess the various needs of students. What are chaplains qualified in?

"Different schools have different needs. There should be two main criteria for counsellors - an ability to service the needs of a particular student community, and that their qualifications are relevant to the position.

"$74 million a year has already been allocated in the budget for the chaplaincy programme. The government could replace the chaplains with a student support programme to give students the services they need, and that counsellors are qualified for.

"A school may decide they want to retain their chaplain or instead hire a qualified counsellor or youth coordinator or someone who has experience liaising with different service groups. Ultimately, it should be a school's decision."

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