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Ron Williams

Secular Public Education Limited is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, and is registered as a charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. Our primary charitable purposes are promoting or protecting human rights, promoting or opposing changes to laws, government policies or practices, and advancing education.

While advising and advocating for parents, caregivers, concerned citizens and relevant organisations Australia wide, we are actively pursuing change to government laws and policies regarding religious instruction and federally funded religious chaplains in Australian public schools.

It is also our belief that many of the same federal and state government laws and policies are in breach of, and may be challenged under, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We are proud to announce that the development of our flagship project, Faith, Philosophy, and Fable – a history of human contemplation, has commenced. Supported by exciting and engaging modular and P-12 graded multimedia resources and materials, FP&F will explore human contemplation from the earliest known manifestations some 300,000 years ago. From Middle Paleolithic burial rites and rituals through the anthropomorphic ‘Lion Man’ figurine of c. 38,000 BCE, to the Sumerian deities of the 3rd millennium BCE, Mesopotamian mythology, and the development of eastern and western philosophies and belief systems, Faith, Philosophy, and Fable – a history of human contemplation will comprehensively observe the astonishing history of human thought—the how, when, where, and why.

Ron Williams
Managing Director
Secular Public Education Limited 

 



No taxpayer funded religious National School Chaplaincy Programme beyond 2018

As plaintiff in Williams v Commonwealth I & II, I direct this petition to Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham on behalf of Australian parents, caregivers, and concerned citizens who believe that the nation’s public schools should be completely secular. Furthermore, we consider the presence in public schools of the exclusively religious Commonwealth-funded National School Chaplaincy Programme to be extremely inappropriate, and a blatant breach of the separation of church and state.

Although Commonwealth funding for the controversial National School Chaplaincy Programme will cease at the close of 2018, Fairfax reported in March 2018 that Liberal MPs had petitioned Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham to extend the National School Chaplaincy Programme permanently beyond 2018 at an increased cost of $75 million per year.

Since its introduction by John Howard in 2006, the National School Chaplaincy Programme has cost Australian taxpayers almost $700 million.

John Howard: $160M, Kevin Rudd: $50M, Julia Gillard: $222M, and Tony Abbott: $244M.

The National School Chaplaincy Programme has never demonstrated, or ever been required to demonstrate any measurable outcomes whatsoever.

The June 2014 High Court decision in my favour ruled that:

“Providing at a school the services of a chaplain or welfare worker for the objective described in the FMA Regulations is not a provision of "benefits to students" within the meaning of s 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution.”

This ruling prohibited direct payment by the commonwealth to religious chaplain employers including Scripture Union, Access ministries, and Generate ministries.

However, not to be outdone, In August 2014 the Abbott government announced that the High Court’s June section 51 ruling would be circumvented by laundering prohibited direct commonwealth payments to the church ministry employers of chaplains via individual states and territories.

This would be the same constitutionally “of no benefit to students" chaplain programme as before, except for two disturbing points.

  1. Commencing in 2015, employment of non-religious secular youth workers would cease.

  2. The commonwealth would completely abandon all previous responsibility for administration and oversight of the National School Chaplaincy Program.

Consequently, since January 2015, at a cost of $60M per year, the federally funded National School Chaplaincy Program has exclusively employed religious chaplains and can regularly be observed operating as a fully functional evangelical ministry within Australian public schools.

The programme has been allowed to operate completely unfettered by state or federal legislation, without any enforceable constraints, disciplinary procedures, or any form of central guidelines, code of conduct, or complaints process.

All responsibility for the administration and oversight of this federally funded and conceived religious programme, has been left to Australia’s individual states and territories, each with their own, often ambiguous policies.

And here is the problem. Under the post 2014 arrangement, where individual state and territory chaplain complaint processes exist, schools are encouraged to resolve all grievances at school level, suggesting that resolution be sought between the principal and the school’s chaplaincy employer such as Scripture Union or Access ministries. It is almost impossible for complaints to go beyond this closed loop.

This was confirmed in April 2018, when the Guardian reported that since the commonwealth abandoned, apart from funding it, all responsibility for the National School Chaplaincy Programme in 2015:

  • No state has kept records of chaplaincy complaints.

  • No state records the faith or denomination of the thousands of federally funded religious chaplains across Australia.

Describing how the current National School Chaplaincy Programme would operate, then Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on ABC JJJ:

“Well, the chaplaincy programme was established under the Howard government as a chaplaincy programme, and Julia Gillard changed it to chaplaincy and social workers or school counsellors. Our view is that school counsellors or social workers should be provided by state and territory governments should they choose to do so, but we want to return the chaplaincy programme to its original intention, which is one that involves a religious element. We think that school counsellors and social workers are properly the responsibility of state governments, and our chaplaincy programme should be exactly what it was supposed to be, which is a chaplaincy programme.”

Therefore, if the roles of ‘school counsellor’ and ‘social worker’ are not duties of federally funded religious chaplains, the majority of whom are provided by evangelical church ministry organisations, it could reasonably be concluded that their sole purpose is to be messengers of their faith.

Mr Birmingham, we strongly suggest that more funding be directed to states and territories to provide an urgently needed boost to the number of professional education department-employed social workers, school counsellors, school psychologists, and student guidance staff working tirelessly in our public schools.

Surely our children deserve no less.


 

RONALD WILLIAMS v COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA & ORS

[19 June 2014] HCA 23

Today the High Court unanimously decided that legislation enacted by the Commonwealth Parliament which purported to provide legislative authority to make agreements for the outlay of public money, and to make payments under those agreements, is invalid in its operation with respect to a funding agreement between the Commonwealth and Scripture Union Queensland ("SUQ"). By that agreement, the Commonwealth was to pay SUQ to provide chaplaincy services at schools in Queensland.

In December 2010, Ronald Williams brought a proceeding in the High Court challenging the payment of money by the Commonwealth to SUQ for SUQ to provide chaplaincy services at the state school Mr  Williams' four children attended. In 2012, the Court held that  the funding agreement between SUQ and the Commonwealth, and the payments made under it, were not supported by the executive power of the Commonwealth under s 61 of the Constitution.

Soon after the Court made orders in that proceeding, the Parliament enacted the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Act (No 3) 2012 (Cth) ("the FFLA Act"). The FFLA Act amended the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (Cth) ("the FMA Act") and the Financial Management and Accountability Regulations 1997 (Cth) ("the FMA Regulations") to provide legislative support not only for the making of agreements and payments of the kind which were in issue in the first proceeding, but also for the making of other arrangements and grants.

Mr Williams then brought a fresh proceeding in the High Court against the Commonwealth, the relevant Minister and SUQ, challenging the validity of the relevant provisions of the FMA Act and FMA Regulations inserted by the FFLA Act. He challenged the validity of those provisions both generally and in their particular operation with respect to the payment of money by the Commonwealth to SUQ under the then funding agreement. Both the agreement and the payments made under it were said to be made under the "National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program".

The Court held that, in their operation with respect to the challenged funding agreement and the challenged payments made under that agreement, none of the challenged provisions is a valid law of the Commonwealth. The provisions are not, in their relevant operation, supported by a head of legislative power under the Constitution. Providing at a school the services of a chaplain or welfare worker for the objective described in the FMA Regulations is not a provision of "benefits to students" within the meaning of s 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution. The Court further held that the Commonwealth's entry into, and expenditure of money under, the funding agreement was not supported by the executive power of the Commonwealth. The making of the payments was therefore held to be unlawful.