Never mind the bollocks – bring on the School Chaplains

I was perhaps as surprised as annoyed to hear former Liberal party MP Ross Cameron feign disinterest in the present disquiet surrounding school chaplains, on a recent episode of The Drum.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman has made 8 recommendations that underscore failures of very basic compliance and accountability. The wider implication of Peter Garrett’s iron clad “guidelines” being fatefully porous and gouged like the side of the sinking Titanic, must raise serious concerns. But Cameron almost seeks to ridicule by “regarding it as the smallest of small beer”.

Insultingly he likens this group peppered with creationists and demon exercising fundamentalists who have “unfettered” access to small children, to Australia’s war time chaplains. He offers;

Our troops have been taking chaplains into war zones for 200 years – I’m sure they can cope with a playground.

Responding to a question on proposed increased funding for psychological services for students, Cameron doesn’t want to “create a generation of victims… life involves knocks”. Surely then, this is an admission as to the ingenuous claims of the NSCP itself. Chaplaincy promoters purport to be there to help children with the very “knocks” he alludes to. Bullying, sexual orientation, bereavement, friendship problems, study load, anxiety, etc.

But Cameron’s true bias is quickly revealed. Hot on the heels of his foot in mouth rebuttal to stated NSCP aims he continues;

… life involves knocks. I just think what you have here is the Greens who want to de-carbonise Australia but they also want to de-Christianise Australia, while I’m not there, you know, wanting to insist on Scripture being taught in a certain way or insist on a certain number of chaplains in schools… I’m not offended by it, it doesn’t bother me if it continues, I don’t think it’s perfectly done but I think it’s a net benefit.

In short he has very little idea but will take the “Greens conspiracy” angle to suit his own aims.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of chaplaincy comes from Christine Burford, a chaplain with ACCESS Ministries. Christine spoke on ACCESS Sunday, raising eyebrows and serious concerns. I was asked by the fine folk over at Fairness In Religions In School back then to put together some of the weirder stuff Christine said  It turned out there was quite a bit. Christine didn’t disappoint me and the video below is the result.

Whilst Christine dons the warrior for God persona, bemoaning “attacks” on ACCESS Ministry, I am still pondering how she’d go in a war zone, Ross.

The Devil is a “living enemy” says Christine Burford of ACCESS Ministries. Yet whilst God’s love is more powerful “be prayerful [don’t] fall into cockiness”, she advises speaking at Naringal Baptist Church on ACCESS Sunday.

Christine was “a lost sheep”, thinking independently at school and committing acts of wanton sailing by the age of 21. Fortunately, whilst in PNG in a “little thatch church” God “apprehended” Christine and “said will you trust me, now will you let me take over your life”. That was “a major significant experience”, Christine understates with absolute seriousness but now of course sees “many hands of God over my life”.

Apart from having a one way conversation with a deity who wanted to take over her life (she seemingly acquiesced), Christine also opines as to the “small groups with different world views”. Far from being just those who don’t hear God ask to take over their lives, it appears there’s a perceived attack on those who don’t hallucinate.

“We face the world… secular situations with other world views who have a loud voice and penetrate a swell, to bring unrest and undermine the work of God in schools and of course ACCESS Ministries does represent God, so it’s gunna be attacked”.  In fact Christine likens this “opposition” (of having a different world view) to the opposition to the rebuilding of the ancient biblical wall of Jerusalem. Strangely, I didn’t see that coming – seriously!

Delusion, arrogance and battle regalia aside, all thinking Australians must by now be asking just what is our government doing handing money to a group that propagates and perpetrates the type of far, far “out there” biblical fundamentalism that has wrought so much division and plunging educational standards in American schools. Whatever “values” our children are receiving it’s coming from people who dismiss any other ontology or interpretation as an attack – as unGodly. They alone hold the key to our kids salvation.

Incredibly, free thinking and moderate Christians apparently do not “represent God” in the view of ACCESS Ministries. Never mind the unbelievers of other faiths that make up an ever growing proportion in Australian society or the “secular situations” like those which are designed to protect education from exactly this type of abuse.

Who needs bollocks when we have “truth” like this?

The “weeping sore” of the National School Chaplaincy Programme

It hasn’t been the best week for the sellers of the National School Chaplaincy Programme Beta version, firmly ensconced in schools following a dishonest campaign by the National School Chaplaincy Association. Look for qualifications or a definitive role and about all one finds is the made up sales jingle by Scripture Union and other NSCA members that they are affectionately called “chappies”.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman Report, embedded below, raises serious concerns about the ill defined role of chaplains, no minimum qualifications and the non existent code of conduct or definition of proselytising. Added to this is the absence of minimum qualifications and a clear avenue for complaints. Even defining the terms “pastoral care” or “chaplain” properly has been recommended. It’s hardly surprising given that Australians were hoodwinked by a self serving 2009 review conducted by the NSCA itself that magically turned a 25% survey response rate into a 97% request for ongoing funding for chaplains. “You can’t argue with facts like that”, boasted NSCA’s Tim Mender in late 2009. Two days ago he was piping the same tune;

Chaplaincy is welcomed in school communities. They are making a wonderful contribution to the welfare of our kids, and schools are saying that in droves.

This is not true. As Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Usher succinctly observed;

There is a degree of uncertainty in the community. There are many organisations who are rather nervous about what’s happening in the schools.

A brief look at Peter Garrett’s response to the Ombudsman’s report gives away his predetermined agenda to maintain the programme. His department “broadly agrees” with the recommendations, which he stresses have already been identified by the government. His release includes;

Whenever I visit a school taking part in the scheme I am always reminded of the high level of support among principals, teachers and students, and have seen first-hand the difference school chaplains can make in student well-being. [….]

The Government is extending the scheme to 2014 and expanding it to 1000 additional schools, and we remain committed to ensuring as many schools and students as possible receive the benefits of what has been a successful and valuable program.

The government’s insouciant neglect of chaplaincy shortfalls, community needs and attitude hasn’t been missed by Dr Monica Thielking and Associate Professor David Mackenzie from Swinburne University. They’ve called for a “comprehensive independent review of student support services”. Noting the “ambiguous” and evangelism prone “pastoral care” aspect showered with praise by Garrett and the NSCA, along with the upcoming High Court challenge, their media release, School chaplains: Where’s the evidence?, includes;

The ‘weeping sore’ of the chaplaincy program would be better treated by comprehensive independent research on student support services in Australian schools. The focus of the research should be the degree to which student support services are meeting the mental health, welfare and educational needs of students. While various jurisdictions are seriously interested in improving student support, there is no national approach and there has not been a review of all of the models and programs currently operating, let alone a process of reforming our student welfare services provision for the 21st Century.

“The focus on the chaplaincy program is a divisive distraction from what really needs to be done. Whether there should be a chaplaincy program or not should be ultimately considered as part of a thoroughly conducted program of research and development on how best to support young Australians through school and into life.

The so-called “federal inquiry” clearing ACCESS Ministry of their stated mission to convert children by “planting the gospel in schools… to go and make disciples” who “without Jesus… are lost”, was a whitewash. Two days before she got the all clear, Evonne Paddison’s ominous challenge to “bring on the inquiry”, because “the one we serve is the same yesterday, today… forever and his purposes will not be thwarted!”, tells us much of where Peter Garrett’s intentions lie. It is thus right and proper to have serious concerns about the future of the school chaplaincy programme under Garrett’s auspices.

The 2010 Ombudsman investigation in the Northern Territory of a school chaplain living with a convicted paedophile – raising parental concern of trust by association – other chaplains accessing children alone at home, counselling without qualifications, having no limitations placed on “religious propagation”, poor record keeping and more is a reminder of how wrong misplaced confidence can be. Since May 22nd this year, nothing more has been heard about allegations of rape and sexual misconduct directed at a chaplain or in what context these allegations from The Secular Lobby were framed.

However, the other issue they raised with Peter Garrett was that DEEWR and Scripture Union were co-developing an evangelical bible based resource – The Daniel Quest – for use by NSCP funded chaplains. S.U. QLD had made much of this project, which was most unusual given ACCESS Ministries were supposedly being investigated by Garrett and DEEWR for evangelising. Following a complaint from a parent, both the Scripture Union QLD’s Daniel Quest and a Bundaberg school web page hosting the project vanished. Readers familiar with ACCESS Ministry will recognise this tactic.

The ACCESS federal inquiry whitewash, Northern Territory’s five fold funnies, departmental neglect, invented statistics and inflated support, DEEWR double standards and the vanishing evidence of a bible project all point to an independent inquiry into the NSCP “weeping sore” as being justified. Recent online sex talk from a female chaplain to a student’s friend, distribution of homophobic material to students, active suppression of community awareness of inappropriate and bigoted conduct, fundamentalist, creationist and anti-science agendas – all enveloped in self serving, deceptive extremism are corrosive dynamics indeed.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman reported this week on page 5, that chaplaincy guidelines state the role of a chaplain is as a;

Reference point for students, staff and other members of the school community on religious, spiritual issues, values, human relationships and wellbeing issues. This includes providing support for grief, family breakdown and other crisis situations.

This, as with the NT Ombudsman’s Report raises concern about chaplains being placed in situations where they are forced to act as counsellors. Tim Mender fails to realise many community members and parents want neither pastoral care nor chaplains acting as counsellors. His reassurance to ABC that chaplains are well trained and “equipped to know the difference”, always working with professionals in the school environment is a fallacy. As former chaplain Beau Walker claims;

I would be asked from the school to maybe go and speak to a child who had a relative pass away. The guidelines say no counselling, but what else can you do in that situation?

Written up large on the Scripture Union QLD “chappy” page is Renee’s story of helping a “student whose mum died”;

I was able to take her through a program that deals with the effects and process of grief and loss… and talk with her throughout the whole process. [….] We are on a journey and each step is getting a little less painful for her. I am so proud of her and the amazing strength she shows each day. As chaplain, I am available to students and not tied down with other jobs. I think it’s amazing that supporting students is my role! They are the reason that I’m here. They aren’t keeping me from my job – they are my job!

What is also of concern is the “out there” evangelistic beliefs and Biblical fundamentalist views summed up perfectly by Christine Burford, interlocutor with God and chaplain from ACCESS Ministries, who is proud of her “covert mission”. In the Ombudsman’s report we read of the anxiety any parent would feel in knowing they have no say as to the “unfettered” access chaplains have to children. There are no departmental guidelines as to how parents are informed of chaplaincy access to children or how they may reciprocate. There are no requirements for the department to inform parents of their right to complain to the department itself. If parents act to restrict their children’s exposure to chaplains, given the ubiquitous nature of the programme it is likely to lead to divisiveness. On page 13 of the report one reads that a Mr. Y contacted the ombudsman’s office to say;

… three days after his five-year-old daughter started school she came home and told him, ‘Today I played hide ‘n’ seek with Mr Chappy!’ This caused him some concern as he understands that the chaplain does not hold any qualifications in education, early childhood learning, counselling or psychology. Mr Y advised that he then became aware that the chaplain is a missionary of a local Christian church and that this church has an agreement with the school to use its facilities on weekends to, among other activities, conduct miracle healing sessions. Mr Y advised that this church is also part of a religious movement which believes childhood behavioural disorders are caused by demonic possession. [….]

Mr Y believes that the implementation of the Chaplaincy Program at his local primary school is starting to foster principles of exclusion and discrimination, and he also believes that chaplaincy is becoming a divisive issue within an otherwise harmonious school community.

On page 8 it’s reported that despite the application guidelines that Peter Garrett holds dear and cites as virtually impenetrable, it appears they can be easily set aside. Ms. X reports that at a school with a high number of non English speaking non Christian families a survey that painted the chaplaincy programme in a strongly favourable light was sent home with students. Many parents weren’t aware of this and there was no language translation. On balance the responses did not support the chaplaincy programme. It was implemented anyway because the school felt it was not bound by the survey results thus Garrett’s department deemed the application a success. Ms. X also believes the decision was based on the belief the chaplain would act as a school counsellor.

It’s clear that despite Garrett’s preaching about the “guidelines” over and again, they are quite poor and in need of strong review. Proper complaint handling must be implemented with parents well aware of their rights. The Commonwealth Ombudsman made suggestions to deal with the flaws of this NSCP Beta version. Improved community consultation is required before implementing a chaplaincy programme. All key participants must be accountable under the funding agreement.

Mechanisms for assessing compliance with guidelines and national monitoring are needed. Protection of children and the rights of parents must be central to administration of the programme. Best practice as to how parents voice consent should be pursued. Strict definitions of what is and is not proselytising need to be provided by the department. The Ombudsman made 8 recommendations which can be read over pages 19 – 22.

Many members of the NSCA are also members of the international group, Arrow Leadership, compelled by the ”Lausanne Covenant”. This evangelical manifesto seeks nothing less that to make ”disciples of every nation”. Notice the spelling already used by the NSCA in Australia. “Program”. ACCESS’ co-architects, Evonne Paddison and Bishop Stephen Hale are on the board. They are not playing around folks.

If anything we can take away one general conclusion. The National School Chaplaincy Programme was not, is not and will not be implicated for the benefit of schools, children or families. It exists to maintain the influence of Christianity in a secular education system. To ensure the privilege of evangelism, to dilute the influence and cultures of a multi-faith community and to combat free thought, the pursuit of reason and skeptical enquiry.

No Australian should be expected to accept that.

7:30 Report, July 27th

Transparency review of the TGA

On July 20th the Review to improve the transparency of the Therapeutic Goods Administration was published.

From an evidence point of view the only game in town is the burgeoning market in what the TGA must only deem to be relatively low risk compounds, sold to a trusting public as alternative or complementary “medicines”. Under present regulations products do not have to demonstrate efficacy. They are thus registered only on a risk basis. Evidence need not be supplied proving claims advertised on packaging. Only an assurance that evidence exists. All that brain developing, flu resisting, sexual performing, “wellbeing” heightening hokudus pokudus has the credibility of a greeting card slogan. So, how does this happen?

To register a product, sponsors use an electronic listing facility – ELF – by simply going online. Much like filling out a Facebook profile. Ingredients are selected from a drop down list. Near enough is good enough. These ingredients are already deemed riskish free by the TGA. Sponsors “self certify” under GMP requirements. Basically claiming that the goods are produced under Good Marketing Practice. Finally they tick a box indicating that they hold good evidence. Hand on heart no doubt. No checks are ever run. They pay the $600 fee and receive an AUST L number. These goods are then able to be listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods.

Results of a Post-Listing compliance review over 2009-2010 was posted by the TGA on May 11th, 2011:

Between July 2009 and March 2010, the TGA completed 110 compliance reviews of Listed complementary medicines. Of these, 31 were random and 79 were targeted.

Of the 31 random reviews conducted, the following compliance issues were recorded:

  • 20 medicines had labelling issues such as non-compliance with labelling requirements and/or breaches which may mislead consumers.
  • 12 included incomplete and/or inappropriate information on the ARTG.
  • 22 were found to have manufacturing and/or quality issues.
  • 14 did not have adequate evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines.

Concerning the 79 targeted reviews completed, the reasons for targeting and the data reviewed differed widely:

  • Label reviews were conducted on 52 medicines, of which 34 had compliance issues.
  • Information included on the ARTG was reviewed for all 79 medicines, of which 54 had compliance issues.
  • Manufacturing/quality/formulation reviews were conducted on 50 medicines, of which 30 had compliance issues.
  • Evidence reviews were conducted on 15 medicines, of which 9 had claims that were not substantiated by the evidence submitted.

Clearly then, the system can be abused and often is, highlighting the paper tiger status of the TGA, and the overburdened, under-resourced Complaints Resolution Panel. One issue that has been widely publicised followed a complaint by Dr. Ken Harvey about the SensaSlim weight loss spray. It’s now widely known that con man Peter Foster is indeed behind this global scam, with his name appearing on court documents. When Harvey’s complaint became known Ken was hit with a SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Prosecution. In this case SensaSlim sued for defamation. Under current guidelines all complaint processes must be halted until other lawsuits are finalised. This can take well over 12 months during which time profits continue to roll in. There’s very little in the review below that leads one to conclude such conduct is going to be more effectively dealt with.

Whilst there are naturally occurring OTC products of known efficacy such as Omega 3 fish oil and St. John’s Wort, efforts must be made to seek sources such as Arthritis Australia or Beyond Blue to ascertain effectiveness. In both these cases not all arthritis nor all depression types respectively, respond to either product. A tragedy that has unfolded is the partnering of Arthritis Australia with daylight robbers, Ethical Nutrients. This rather unethical company will charge $70:00 and more for a small bottle of Omega 3 fish oil.

It sits in splendid spotlit glory in a refrigerator in the pharmacy, even though it need not be refrigerated until after opening. Stalk a few shelves and you’ll find another brand for around $20 – 25:00. It’s important to realise the most common form of arthritic aches and pains is osteoarthritis. OA has not been demonstrated to benefit from Omega 3 beyond anti-inflammatory properties, and thence provision of some pain relief in some very few instances. Much is made of the reduction of enzymatic activity responsible for cartilage damage. Less is made of the fact this is not clinically significant.

Rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis inflammation has been shown to respond. Omega 3, available from a number of foods and nuts has a beneficial effect on inflammation. But that hasn’t stopped Ethical Nutrients relentless advertising campaign adorned with the Arthritis Australia logo. If you’re thinking of using these products be sure you have ongoing inflammation or in the case of depression less than moderate. Be wary who you speak to in seeking advice, and please consult your doctor. Promoters of “alternative” income sources operate just as effectively by demoting sound medical treatment.

Also, keep in mind none of these magical concoctions have ever been considered for PBS listing or are cheaper for concession card holders.

Nonetheless, one may take some comfort from recommendation seven below. It directly addresses the absence of evidence loophole, also hinting at public education. Whilst many will hang doggedly onto entrenched habits, this recommendation and the paragraph on page 53 provide a valuable tool for skeptics and evidence based health advocates seeking to educate a largely science illiterate community.

  • Recommendation 7 [Page 5]:

The TGA implement mechanisms to educate and inform the public that listed medicines are not evaluated for effectiveness by the TGA prior to market.

  • Concerns over complimentary medicines and homeopathic products. [Page 53]

The assessment by the TGA of complementary medicines (such as vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal medicines and especially homeopathic products) was raised as an important issue, in both the consultations and the submissions. Contributors were concerned that the recognition of these products by the TGA, and the AUST L number on the label, provided the public with a perception that the claims made for these products had validity.

At both the consultative sessions and in submissions, it was asserted that many therapeutic claims, or claims regarding efficacy and safety made for complementary medicines, cannot be supported from the limited scientific evidence available, while information about possible adverse effects, especially their interaction with conventional medicines, is often lacking. However, complementary medicines are not permitted to state any interactions with conventional medicines in any material that could be considered advertising.

It was accepted that the majority of complementary medicines are low-risk products, but low-risk does not mean no-risk.

Submissions claimed that many complementary medicines are heavily promoted as ‘natural’ or ‘natural alternatives’, with the implication that they are harmless. It was said that this can result in consumers not advising their medical practitioner or pharmacist about their use, and that health practitioners often do not ask about them.

Some submissions sought not just greater transparency on what an AUST L number means with respect to the TGA’s risk-based assessment of safety, quality and efficacy. They asked for changes in labelling and legislation. Some suggested that all labels, promotion and ARTG Public Summary documents of AUST L products should contain the warning, ‘These products have not been evaluated for efficacy by Australian health authorities’.

Other submissions sought changes to the evidence-based requirements for listed medicines, to more clearly distinguish evidence-based complementary medicines from those that were not. Some submissions requested universal evaluation of all therapeutic goods for efficacy, arguing that there was no such thing as complementary medicines, only medicines with evidence of efficacy and those that lacked evidence. In particular, many submissions strongly put the view that the listing of homeopathic products by the TGA be ceased, as it is perceived to provide an unwarranted or inappropriate endorsement of the products that may be no better than a placebo.


ACCC takes court action against Sensaslim for alleged misleading claims

© ACCC July 21st, 2011:

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted proceedings against Sensaslim Australia Pty Ltd (Administrator Appointed) (Sensaslim), Mr Peter Clarence Foster, Mr Peter Leslie O’Brien, Mr Adam Troy Adams and Mr Michael Anthony Boyle.

The ACCC alleges that Sensaslim and several of its officers engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false representations in relation to the identity of Sensaslim officers, the Sensaslim Spray and the business opportunities offered by Sensaslim.  The alleged conduct includes:

  • Failing to disclose the involvement of Peter Foster in the business of Sensaslim;
  • Falsely representing that the Sensaslim Spray was the subject of a large worldwide clinical trial when in fact no such trial was conducted;
  • Falsely representing that Dr Capehorn, an obesity specialist, gave unqualified support to the effectiveness of the Sensaslim Spray and the purported clinical trials;
  • Falsely representing that Michael Boyle was managing the business of Sensaslim;
  • Failing to disclose that Michael Boyle was intending to resign as Director immediately following the launch of Sensaslim;
  • Falsely representing that Sensaslim franchisees were already participating in, and profiting from, the Sensaslim franchise, that a Sensaslim franchise had a certain earning potential and that there was a “money back buy back guarantee”.

The ACCC is seeking court orders including declarations, injunctions, penalties, compensation orders, orders that Sensaslim officers be disqualified from managing corporations in the future and costs.  In the Federal Court NSW on 20 July 2011, Justice Yates made orders by consent granting leave for the ACCC to proceed against Sensaslim Australia Pty Ltd (Administrator Appointed) up to 27 July 2011.

Orders are extended to 27 July 2011 that Foster, O’Brien and Adams be restrained from taking further steps to make representations regarding the efficacy of the Sensaslim Spray where the basis for the representation is a clinical trial or scientific report, unless the clinical trial was conducted and is the subject of a scientific report which has been published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

The matter has been adjourned for further hearing to 27 July 2011.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it

So reads Matthew 16:18.

What a splendid analogue we have today with self appointed missionary and cross bearer, the Reverend Canon Dr. Evonne Paddison, receiving the blessing and permission of fellow Christian Peter Garrett. Also raised as an Anglican, if his desire was to transform from rock star to rock of foundation it has certainly been realised.

Garrett’s so-called “federal inquiry” into the proselytising of ACCESS Ministries and their stated, observed and reported intention to convert public school children has miraculously “cleared” them of doing any such thing. Backed by the insistence of devout Catholic and career Christian education whip, who recently became Victorian education minister, Martin Dixon, that not a single substantial complaint has been received, Paddison is now free to build. Of course Evonne never doubted the righteousness of her “God given open door”. The justified concerns raised and reported to ministers with the bipartisan staying power of wet tissue paper, were simply a grossly unfair “concerted attack”. As she reinforced, perhaps a little creepily at last Sunday’s Forward Together rally;

We know with absolute certainty that our message and the centre of our faith remains the same. It remains firm because the one we serve is the same yesterday, today… forever. And his purposes will not be thwarted.

In The Age today Jewel Topsfield and Dan Harrison report;

A FEDERAL investigation into the Christian group that provides religious education in Victorian schools has found no evidence that its chaplains tried to convert students in breach of government guidelines.

The federal and Victorian governments ordered inquiries after a recording emerged of Access Ministries’ chief executive Evonne Paddison telling a 2008 conference: ”We need to go and make disciples.” […..]

But federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said the investigation found there had been no breach of the guidelines and no further action would be taken. He said he had received an explanation for the comments made by Dr Paddison and was satisfied the group was not trying to convert students.

Access Ministries had recently sent a letter telling chaplains who also taught Christian religious education in schools to stop doing so to avoid any blurring of lines in the roles.

”There are very strict guidelines in place to ensure that chaplaincy service providers do not engage in proselytising or misuse their positions, and we will fully investigate any complaints,” Mr Garrett said.

Victorians and the Education Union who have voiced concerns – and voted for an end to ACCESS funding have every right to be appalled at this whitewash. The concerns raised are specific to CRE and the evangelical passion of volunteers. Volunteers who in the main have less than one days training. Manufacturing a “solution” wherein chaplains have been told to no longer conduct CRE is poppycock. More so, this raises an entirely new dynamic. Is Paddison now admitting chaplains did proselytise to children or is this just a token gesture to “avoid any blurring of the lines”? More so, it is totally dismissive of the needs of our multi-faith and multicultural society.

And intentionally so. Last month, for example, ACCESS Ministries and education department representatives were invited to partake in preparation, and contribute to genuine parental evaluation with Hawthorn West Primary’s school council. They played along only to apply pressure – after considerable grassroots effort – to withhold the survey. The stated reason? That the “survey withheld the fact that under the present legislation schools are obligated to offer special religious instruction when it is made available by providers”, suggesting that the council had overstepped it’s obligation to comply with the Education and Training Reform Act, 2006. In other words the thrust should have been “you have no choice”.

Finally, Garrett’s continued mantra of “the guidelines, the guidelines, the guidelines” being in place to prevent abuse of Paddison’s “God given open door” is laughable. Evonne Paddison is the real thing when it comes to snubbing “earthly laws”. Her aim is “to implant the gospel in every school” so that the ACCESS goal can be realised. Paddison wants to “reach every child in Victoria with the transforming love of God and His son, Jesus [and] through CRE we aim to reach 80% of primary school children by the year 2012”.

This is not a person who even considers the option of compromise, laying ownership to student issues such as “bullying, drugs and self worth… The need is great but God is greater”. The needs of students who are not Christian, not theistic, not heterosexual or not celibate are bound for the scrap heap. What’s worse is that it’s now clear ACCESS have a distinctly anti-science and anti-evolution theme to their teachings. God most certainly did not make the world and everything in it.

By 2050 when these students will be at the peak of their careers Australia’s population will have grown at a rate of 65% to an unsustainable 35 million. The global population will grow at a much smaller 38%. Land temperatures in Australia may be 5 degrees Celsius higher – with mean global rises at least 2.5 degrees. The very last thing our youngest minds need now is to be targetted by blinkered, if not arguably deluded zealots intent on pursuing demonstrably fatalistic falsehoods at the expense of anything, and anyone, else.

We recently found out her goal to “reach every child in Victoria” includes independent schools – some of her harshest critics. In the mind of a zealot like Paddison, a woman who sees herself as Jesus’ scarred disciple there must be no barriers to the divine plan she has been chosen to deliver. Despite children being at these schools for the benefits of a secular education Paddison sees it as her business to change this. Reported in an Age opinion piece two days ago, was Paddison’s pronouncement at the ACCESS rally;

Those poor independent schoolchildren – I don’t want them to miss out

Talk about overstepping obligations to the Victorian Education Act. As the opinion piece pointed out;
One of the basic tenets of the Victorian Education Act is that public education should be secular, a sentiment that first emerged in the 19th century, and was reaffirmed in the past decade when the act was reviewed.

Herein lies the sheer temerity and arrogance of Evonne Paddison and her discriminatory view that “Without Jesus our students are lost”. Whilst a few anti-theistic voices are raised to claim that this means no religion in schools, the clearly specified intention in 1872 was that no religion should dominate to the detriment of any other. No doubt a wise choice in days when Protestant and Catholic rivalries were high, but there now can be only less doubt about the wisdom of this approach. Her defence is that CRE is “entirely voluntary… that’s the beauty of it”. But of course, this is in utter dissonance to her stated goals, aims and ambition. It is in every way offensive to parents who are essentially pressured to not evaluate CRE and to remember there is no choice. Or the hundreds and more parents fed up with having their children’s minds filled with confusing debris that clashes with family, diversity and social values. There is only compulsion.

The problem is very simple. The wording of the legislation includes the word “may” offer religious instruction. It is conveniently interpreted as “must” offer RI. From here flows the ridiculous notion that it is compulsory for schools to allow these misguided and opportunistic purveyors of fantasy and bigotry into our children’s presence and thence begin misrepresenting the very world in which they live. As Paddison declared at the EFAC National Conference – 2008;

We must give our children and young people a model of discipleship that promotes belief in, and responds to the word of God. And trains them to abide in it. It teaches and models for them the love of God and how to be in a community of faith to love one another and love God’s word. We need a model that is marked by fruit bearing and involves our young people in evangelicalism and disciple making.

We need a model that points to the glory of Christ in his incarnation his work on the cross his resurrection is exultation and sees his disciples continuing that work and reflecting in in his world. We are constantly tempted to water this down in order to attract young people through our activities, our music, our fun, or whatever it is. Resist the temptation to replace substance with superficiality.

Our gospel is not in need of massaging for acceptability. It alone will transform lives and bring salvation. My view is that we have every opportunity to create new congregations through our schools ministries, as we do this we have the responsibility to fulfill the great commission of making disciples. We need to see our Scripture teachers, our chaplains, especially as facilitators of this as established Anglican churches.

We need to be missional. As leaders in the church we are called to be leaders and enablers of god’s mission for his world…. Our task is to have a biblical model of discipleship that is presented in a contextually appropriate manner… What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools. Without Jesus, our students are lost.

Our churches in the West are on a slow death march. We have the opportunity to create life. It may be uncomfortable but so what? What a commandment, make disciples. What a responsibility. What a privilege we have been given.

Let’s go for it.

Evonne Paddison is a clear and present danger to the psychological health of Victorian children. ACCESS ministries can be viewed as nothing less than a malignant and corrosive presence in our education system.

Peter Garrett must be proud that he is the rock on which this exploitation is being built.