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

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.

Peter Garrett accepts ACCESS Ministries “self certification”

Yesterday saw the release of a much needed review into the transparency of our Therapeutic Goods Administration. It was needed for many reasons. One deeply concerning issue is the sheer volume of “alternative” ineffective concoctions making grandiose claims without public awareness that there’s no scientific evidence to back these claims.

Products adorning the shelves of all pharmacies claiming to “boost immunity”, “ward off fatigue”, “improve sleep” and so on, do not, under current legislation have to prove they are effective. They must more or less comply to a list of relatively risk free ingredients and the sponsors must merely “self certify” that there is evidence that they work. With these trivialities out of the way, Dr. Hokus and Professor Pokus are free to scoop as much money from a gullible public as they wish.

On the positive side one must “opt in” to the notion that Essence of Moonbeam will improve cognition and memory. We are not obligated by medical legislation to buy these products simply because we’ve walked into a public pharmacy – usually in pursuit of pharmaceuticals. There’s no charismatic charlatan shoving colourful books at our children indicating in comic format that a dose of Liquid Liveliness or a particular ritual meditation will see a cadaverous little Johnny up and springing about with his friends. It isn’t compulsory that children be followed to the dispensary by someone arguing that medications are really drugs and we all know what happens to Drug Users! Warning that the “pharmacist is a friend of The Underworld Gangsters”.

No volunteers are proselytising that natural preparations are the path to true health salvation. The way to live a long and happy life. Certainly there’s nobody leading our children aside and telling them if they don’t spend up big on snake oil horrific things will happen to them. They aren’t fed exciting stories about the poor child on antibiotics for chronic bronchitis who followed a friends advice and switched to Himalayan bark mold and now enjoys robust health. Our children wouldn’t have to endure stories about a poor wandering Herb Gatherer who, 2,000 years ago discovered the secret to all our health woes and died a terrible death for our stupidity in pursuing rational treatments or for seeking evidence. He stood up against the horror of science and reason and for that died. But came alive again and went to a Magic Garden filled with healthy herbs.

Or that “He” now still watches over everyone paying close attention to exactly what we do or do not take to care for our vital essence, chakra vitality and quanto-kinetic energy vibrations. If we use the unproven remedies, children aren’t told that we go to the Magic Garden forever and ever. Or that if we use the evidence based medications the wicked pusher doctor – trained in the evil of medicine – prescribed for us we go to the Never Ending Nightmare of sickness and suffering. They wouldn’t be told it’s “for our own good” and that the CEO of Big Placebo and the dead wandering Herb Gatherer loves each and every one of us. In fact they have always loved us – even before we were born.

They aren’t told that the CEO, the Herb Gatherer and a Magic Chakra are actually a Trinity of one, but also individual and separate beings at the same time. Or told the Chakra came to earth to make a mummy for the Herb Gatherer on the instructions of the CEO. The Herb Gatherers daddy, Harry the Homeopath isn’t his real daddy then, but that’s okay because the Magic Chakra is also the CEO of Big Placebo and can make any decision.

Imagine the absurdity of our children being told by these volunteers in the pharmacy that to merely exercise a choice over product selection – indeed even think about doing that – was actually committing a special sort of bad stupidity. A stupidity called “sin” that must be undone by going and performing a series of pilates postures under a full moon whilst a strangely dressed reiki practitioner slaps dead fish upon people chanting incomprehensibly. Until that’s done the dead Herb Gatherer and the boss of Big Placebo are deeply saddened by their “wicked” thoughts and the fact they will go to the Never Ending Nightmare. But a few postures later and the odd welt smelling of dead fish and the Magic Chakra within them is all fixed and they’re back in line for The Magic Garden.

If we politely stress that whilst we respect the “natural” approach, but that we have our own views on supplements we aren’t told that “the will of Big Placebo will not be thwarted”. If perchance such a bizarre scenario unfolded time and again as we visited the pharmacy effecting our children’s peace of mind and indoctrinating them in lifestyle ideas we as parents find dangerously unacceptable and demonstrably false, we would be confident a complaint would lead to a proper review of events.

In this modern age of reason it’s unthinkable that the federal health minister would accept this conduct is acceptable and insist present guidelines are enough to dismiss our concerns. Or argue that it is compulsory after all and guidelines stress that volunteers for Big Placebo can’t persuade children about the Magic Garden. It says so in the guidelines! It’s all about “values” for healthy herbs – and who would be against a healthy herb garden?

It’s incomprehensible that another “self certification” from Dr. Hokus and Professor Pokus claiming that no, none of that is true, would be acceptable. The mind would boggle if they argued that in fact they had been “under concerted attack”, without actually offering any reason as to why anyone would attack them in this way – other than this is what happened to the Herb Gatherer who warned his followers would suffer the same fate.

That is of course, unless this entire sorry charade is not about bogus medicinal products but religious education. If Doctor Hokus is Evonne Paddison, Professor Pokus is Bishop Stephen Hale and the federal health minister is actually federal education minister, Peter Garrett.

And so it has come to pass. The well documented proselytising of ACCESS Ministries is of no moment to Peter Garrett. A mere Self Certification of adhering to guidelines is all Paddison was required to offer. There need be no evidence that proselytising is not occurring as a promise of effectiveness and perceived low risk seems to suffice. No wonder Evonne Paddison was so confident a mere three days earlier at the ACCESS Rally.

Paddison’s speech here:

Or direct download.

The Age reports today Christian group cleared of urging students to convert, by Jewel Topsfield and Dan Harrison;

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.”

The remarks appeared to breach guidelines that ban chaplains and volunteers who teach special religious instruction in Victorian government schools from proselytising.

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.

Full story here.

The TGA review states under Recommendation 7: [That] The TGA implement mechanisms to educate and inform the public that listed medicines are not evaluated for effectiveness by the TGA prior to market.

I would venture to suggest that this is exactly what should apply to the evangelistic lessons provided by ACCESS volunteers. False promises and grand claims adorn what is ineffective hokus pokus and is quite likely to interact with reality producing a nasty side effect. This monopoly has never been evaluated for effectiveness prior to being marketed to impressionable children. Any “evidence” is provided on a self certification basis by Evonne Paddison. It has all the credibility of a Facebook profile.

But just what risk does this deception and manipulation of children as “disciples” carry with it?

Chaplains in schools: how Australians were misled with false statistics

Following revelations on ABC Lateline of a creepy sex focused chaplain, lurking on the internet, who wanted to “spank” a student’s mate one may wonder just how this intellectual absurdity has gotten as far as it has. Well, I’ll get to that. The present programme – which is not wanted by the majority of schools – only exists through mischievous sleight of hand and simple lies fed to a gullible media.

It’s indeed an intellectual absurdity and a thunderously immoral abuse of students and tax payer monies that former High Court judge Michael Kirby recently said was ”offensive to the historical Australian principles of education”. He also described development of religious schools, to the detriment of public schools, under the Howard government schemes as, ”most inimical to the development of Australia as a harmonious society”.

Howard’s ill thought out attempt to resurrect God in education was doomed to fail and outrage Australians in exactly the manner it has. Christianity in Australia today includes multiple expressions. Unfortunately those most likely to succeed in political lobbying hold bizarre, out there views of persecution and missionary duties peppered with bigotry and discrimination. Let’s stick to chaplains, which all started in October 2006 under John Howard who promised $90 million for three years. Before one could say, “Thou Shalt Not Steal”, it had boomed out to $165 million.

As the glorious day of expunging the programme drew close in 2009 The National School Chaplaincy Association populated by the most aggressive proselytising evangelists, hatched a plan for survival. They decided to survey school principals where NSCA employed federally funded chaplains worked, and by hook or by crook would use the results to commit the Rudd government to further funding. Straight off the NSW Education Union wanted nothing to do with the survey:

NSW Education Dept. Statement

Now, there were 2,712 schools with NSCA member federally funded chaplains at that time. In terms of the available sample to be surveyed by the NSCA it follows 2,712 = 100%.

Here’s where the deception begins. Only 1,626 schools with NSCA employed federally funded chaplains were sent the survey. Why? What criteria were used for inclusion and exclusion? Nonetheless much less than half of The Chosen – 688 responses from principles – were returned to the NSCA. That’s only 25% of of the qualified sample of 2,712, across Australia. Just how much weight can such a small sample carry? Not to worry. Their final report is self congratulatory, impossibly positive and rather vague. There are entirely subjective accounts of case studies and a bullet list rating out of 10 for how chaplains assisted development of students, relating to morality, community, social inclusion, peer relationships and other roles professional counsellor’s should be managing. Regrettably the report did not set off the alarm bells about what was clear psychological meddling with students development, to the satisfaction of Christian educators and lobbyists.

The highest score – 8.6 was “for providing an opportunity for students to talk through issues”. I kid you not. They were even afforded a 7 for “improving relationships between students and their families”. Chaplains “deal with a wide range of issues, but most frequently with behaviour management and social relationship issues… [and] also deal with ‘big picture’ and spiritual issues as students raise them. In the case studies, there were no occasions reported where chaplains had pushed their own beliefs…”. All this from a returned survey sample of 25% of schools with federally funded chaplains. You can download the NSCA Report here. After more non evidence based claims (refuted by Australian psychological experts) that chaplains serve some vital role in helping with family breakdown, bereavement and more, the final paragraph reads;

Ninety-eight per cent of principals said that chaplaincy is important and want government funding to continue. Many principals want the funding to be expanded to ensure all schools can access the program and that large schools, schools in low socio-economic areas and other schools with high needs can have greater access to the services of chaplains. Chaplaincy is a unique service that is proving to be of great value to students, staff, parents, and their schools. It is proving effective in offering care, building the social skills of students, and encouraging responsible behaviour. It is of great long-term value to the wellbeing (sic) of Australian communities.

Time to roll out the spin on what may have been a 24.5 % positive response [A miraculous 98% of the 25% of all schools with NSCA federally funded chaplains who returned the survey]. First up was NSCA member and head survey author Reverend Philip Hughes who told ABC’s PM programme on October 13th, 2009 that 97% of school principles supported chaplains in schools [Audio: 2 min 30]. Not long after Alex Somley federal Liberal member for Fairfax QLD “referred the PM” to the impending end of the NSCP which was “supported by over 95% of the participating principles in Australia.”

On October 30th, The Australian Christian Lobby’s Chief of staff, Lyle Shelton employed that irksome online news video caper of self congratulation that the ACL have used to distort and mislead for years. The Edith Cowan University (where Rev. Philip Hughes was based) was “commissioned”, Shelton claimed, by the NSCA to survey schools and found 97% of principles were in favour of these great male and female “chappies” saving kids from the toils of reality.

On November 12th, then Deputy PM Julia Gillard was reported in Fairfax as saying the government would consider funding for the chaplaincy programme. The moral guardians in the Australian Christian Lobby leapt to NSCA defence and on November 20th, 2009 published Christian Lobby highlights role of chaplains in helping young people at risk – written by their PR manager no less. As all this had been unfolding Rudd was being pimped and primed for his appearance at the ACL’s National Conference in Canberra. The  November 21st 2009 conference went well for the Christian Lobby who immediately published Christian Lobby welcomes Rudd Government support for school chaplaincy:

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today welcomed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s clear support for the school chaplaincy program and the Federal Government’s decision to extend funding for the program until the end of the 2011 school year. ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said the Prime Minister’s announcement to the ACL National Conference in Canberra today was warmly welcomed by the many church and denominational leaders in attendance, as well as grass-roots Christians.

“Mr Rudd spoke of his clear and long-standing commitment to the school chaplaincy program, dating back to its beginnings in Queensland. He has a strong appreciation of the valuable role chaplains are playing in helping both school students and their families in a wide variety of situations,” Mr Wallace said.

“We congratulate the Government on its commitment of $42 million in funding over the 2010 and 2011 school years – representing an extra year’s funding over what had previously been allocated.

“The Prime Minister indicated today that during that time the Government plans to consult with the community as to how best to shape chaplaincy and pastoral care programs for the period beyond.

But that still wasn’t good enough. A mere five days later, November 26th, Peter Dixon Liberal Senator for QLD tabled a pro chaplain petition which read in part, “Figures show that 97% of school principles who have engaged a chaplain, strongly support the programme and recognise the benefits for their school communities”. The same day in the Senate Liberal Senator for QLD, Brett Mason accosted labor Senator, Kim Carr. “Given that over 2,700 schools have chaplains and over 97% of those schools think that chaplains have had a positive influence on their school, why has the Rudd government chosen… [to only promise funding for one year]”.

Later, Liberal senator for Tasmania, a co-architect of Howard’s initial three year scheme, Guy Barnett, threw all caution to the wind offering, “2,700 schools have a chaplain…. a survey was undertaken recently and 97% of the principles of those schools said ‘Yes it is a programme worth keeping and we really appreciate it’“. My what an extraordinary coincidence! They all happened to say just that? But just when you thought it couldn’t get more patently absurd, Barnett says, “This government… [have] already done one review and they know the results are fantastic, a 97% result – you cannot get much better than that”.

November 26th 2009 was a darn good day for the 24.5% of apparently positive results received by the NSCA as part of their review of their own gig. It was shouted high and low that school chaplaincy was a programme beloved by 97% of principles. What’s more, Labor now seem to have done the survey and appeared to have been sitting on this glowing – or should that be “fantastic” figure. So surely they must act on this revelation – even if facts did show it to be a most unscientific 24.5% garnered by the national chaplaincy body that stood to gain the most, thus having the greatest conflict of interest.

Eventually, Tim Mender of Scripture Union QLD made it onto Sunrise claiming… you guessed it. “The proof’s in the pudding. Recent research said that, er, 98% of school principles that had a school chaplain wanted this funding to continue because of the positive effect they’re having on the school community and you can’t argue with those facts”. Facts? Angle it any way you wish dear reader, but this is bald faced lying. Mender was privy to the survey in it’s entirety and almost certainly played a hand in how to “market” it to appropriate lobbyists.

Well, we know Gillard deposed Rudd in June 2010. As late as July 27th 2010 National Federal Member for Fisher Peter Slipper, was laying into Gillard offering, “Even the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described school chaplains as the ‘glue’ that holds school communities together. “A lack of continued support for this project would simply be another Labor backflip.” Twelve days later Gillard promised $222 million to “boost” the number of chaplains. We’ll never know Rudd’s full intention on funding chaplains past 2010. He was a critic of the Liberal style religious right “hijacking” of values when in opposition. It’s unlikely but perhaps possible that he’d have kept a better reign on it than presently. Certainly the disgraceful mantra of adhering to “guidelines, guidelines, guidelines” from Peter Garrett in defence of both chaplains and evangelising religious education volunteers is almost laughable.

These guidelines are being trampled upon, our children and education system exploited by the religious right and the separation of church and state – apparently safe under present “guidelines” – is a mockery. It is axiomatic the entire system needs a thorough overhaul. Chaplains must be removed from the public education system and religious education must be kept outside curriculum hours.

I’m 97% sure that’s a sensible idea.

Peter Garrett defends the present system in response to the above video