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May 15, 2014

Forget chaplains, what could you do with a quarter of a billion dollars?

With a quarter of a billion dollars being pumped into the school chaplains program despite the rest of the budget being under the pump, we wonder what you could do with the money ...

At a time of budget austerity, when even the aged pension is under attack from a government desperate to fix its “budget crisis”, when the unemployed will be refused assistance for six months at a time, when students will be burdened with punitive debts for higher education, all but the most important programs came under the microscope, surely?

Well, not quite: as we reported in our budget-night coverage, there was one program that not merely emerged intact but was given massive new funding: the school chaplains program. That little initiative, established by the Howard government and left mostly intact by Labor despite a High Court challenge, was given an extra $245 million over four years …

Moreover, the government stripped reporting and administrative requirements from the program, “to allow funding recipients to better focus on delivering chaplain services”. If only that relaxed approach could be applied to all governments grants — just hand over the money, let them get on with it, who needs to check if the money is actually being spent meeting the goals of the program?

And, by the way, remember that to fund this program, the government is borrowing an extra quarter of a billion dollars, which means it will also face higher interest charges — about $12 million over forward estimates, we suggest.

But we can think of a number of programs that would be a better use of a quarter of a billion dollars than sending chaplains into schools — and we think readers can too. Here’s some starters:

  • Restoring the $146.8 million cut from science agencies, including $111 million cut from the CSIRO;
  • Funding the $170 million that higher degree students will be required pay under a new “student contributions” component of the Research Training Scheme;
  • Restoring the $87.7 million stripped from redundancy payouts for employees of bankrupt firms covered by the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, under the guise of “aligning redundancy payments to national employment standards”;
  • Partly restoring $407.6 million in savings from reduced water buybacks — the government prefers to fund uneconomic private irrigation infrastructure rather than water buybacks, despite the Productivity Commission repeatedly demonstrating funding irrigation infrastructure was far less cost-effective at addressing water over-allocation than buybacks;
  • Paying for 3% of the cut to foreign aid over coming years; or
  • Restoring the $53.8 million cut from the Partners in Recovery program for people with severe and persistent mental illness.

And the interest could pay for:

  • Restoring the $3.3 million Australian Animal Welfare Strategy Program dumped by the government — who cares about animal welfare, right?;
  • Partly restoring the $21.7 million saved by the abolition of the Australian Climate Change Science Program, “merged” with another environment program as part of the government’s purging of any mention of climate change; or
  • Reversing the $10 million cut to the Bureau of Meteorology, which annoyingly keeps showing that Australia is getting hotter.

Send your suggestions for what other programs you think might be better off being funded than the school chaplains program to boss@crikey.com.au. We’ll send the suggestions to the Treasurer …

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28 comments

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28 thoughts on “Forget chaplains, what could you do with a quarter of a billion dollars?

  1. Trevor Coombes

    Setting up equivalent tax payer funded, in-school proselytisation programs, for Imams, Hindu Archakas, voodoo witch doctors and any unemployed priests we can find laying around.

  2. morebento

    I believe they have also removed the option to use the funding for a social worker. It is now mandated to be used for a chaplain. Also I have read that they must now be part of a mainstream religious group?

    Society is becoming less and less religious, and if you look at the breakdown it is the Anglicans and Low Church Protestants who are losing out. So they must do something, indoctrinate some kids is a start.

  3. El Tel

    As Bernard Keane said just before the budget, don’t listen to what they say, see who benefits. This loony religious tea party mob aren’t merely satisfied with transferring wealth from our most vulnerable to big business and high income earners, they are intent on transferring wealth from the poorest to the church as well

  4. John Clapton

    My understanding is that “additional” means funding for a new program, not funding over and above existing funding (which runs out this year). I saw a document this morning in which it said this funding was for 2900 position rather than the existing 3500 positions, which is effectively a 20% cut in the program. I might be wrong.

  5. Malcolm Street

    morebento – you’re correct re. removing the funding for non-religious staff according to The World Today on ABC radio.

    Bernard – says it all that they’re putting money into promoting religion in public schools and cutting it from science…

  6. aswann

    Why do we pay people whose quest it is to propagate untruths and undermine modern society? Politicians i mean.

  7. Stuart Coyle

    I propose $245M over 4 years to fund compulsory moral philosophy courses for all politicians.

  8. Luke Helbling

    Errr, ARENA and Renewable Energy Corporation. Two programs that were, most importantly to society, economically viable let alone positively influential to science, education, industry as well as Australia’s international prestige and future soft power

  9. Paddy Forsayeth

    I have not, in my life time, ever heard of an atheist joining a religion, although there may be a tiny few. Religions thrive on the indoctrination of children plain and simple. It took western societies about the last 300 years to attempt to prise the fingers of the clergy off the levers of power and have had considerable success. The separation of religion and State is embedded in most western politics. However Abbott et al. have taken a step back to earlier times and would have more of our children exposed to religious brainwashing. This school program and others like it should be banned.

  10. Yclept

    They could fund this by taxing the corporations that don’t pay tax now – that would be the churches.