Don’t legitimise the Australian Christian Lobby, Mr Shorten! – An open letter from Adamm Ferrier

Apparently I wasn’t the only person to be taken aback by the news that Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has agreed to be the keynote speaker at the Australian Christian Lobby’s forthcoming conference. When I rang his office yesterday, his very polite staffer acknowledged they’d been deluged with complaints.

I was planning to write a blog post in the form of an open letter to Mr Shorten until I came across this letter from Adamm Ferrier on my friend, Doug Pollard’s, Facebook page.  It is beautifully written and really says everything I wanted to say.  

Adamm speaks for me (except for the ‘church-going Anglican part!) and, I expect, his words reflect the thoughts of many of my readers.

If they do, you may wish to contact Mr Shorten’s office yourself.

bill.shorten.mp@aph.gov.au
(03) 93261300
twitter @billshortenmp

Chrys Stevenson

 

An Open Letter to Bill Shorten from Adamm Ferrier

Dear Mr Shorten,
aferrier
I met you once, back in 2008 when you visited the Western Hospital in Sunshine Victoria. I was impressed at the time at your integrity and earnestness. I have continued to be impressed by your integrity despite the circus of musical-chair Prime Ministers – both of whom, I might add, appeared to have every virtue as far as the public were concerned excepting team playing. One can understand the political desire to gain a majority in the lower house, but frankly, I simply don’t know what the Australian Labor Party stands for any more. The ALP might just as well change its name to “Not the Liberal Party”, rather like “Not the Nine O’Clock News” but without the irony, charm or intentional humour.

I am a regular church-going Anglican. So I feel somewhat qualified to consider the Australian Christian Lobby as nothing short of a sanitised Ku Klux Klan, and find it difficult to understand why any political party in its right mind would lend credence to this most unChristian of organisations.

If you feel the overwhelming need to court this group of right wing lunatics then by all means do so: but remember, a leopard cannot change its spots. They will never endorse the Australian Labor Party: never in a million years. Not even with your undoubted charm and charisma and boyish smile. Never, mate. Never.

One day, I hope, someone with some sense in the party will connect the dots: Australians don’t give a tinker’s cuss if people are religious, but the vast majority resent moralistic views being shoved down our throats by a self-appointed and self-righteous federal lobby group.

Only a fool would think that courting the ACL could result in an electoral dividend for the Australian Labor Party.

Exasperatedly yours

Adamm Ferrier

 

Adamm Ferrier, RN, holds a Masters degree in Health Science Administration and is a lecturer and doctoral candidate at the School of Public Health & Biosciences at La Trobe University. 

Clearly, Adamm Ferrier’s views are his own and do not reflect those of La Trobe University.

Weight a Minute! That’s Bullshit!

Transcript of  my presentation on losing weight skeptically for Skepticamp, Brisbane Skeptics Society - Saturday, 19 July 2014

This is me on Christmas DaFat Chrysy 2012. I was Size 24 and weighed over 129kg.

In August last year, I decided to lose the weight. Since then, I’ve dropped 50 kilos – a fairly consistent loss of a kilo per week over nearly 12 months.

My doctor calls me The Incredible Disappearing Woman.

I’m not a weight loss evangelist. If you don’t want to lose weight that’s absolutely fine with me.

But, if you need to or want to lose weight – I’d like to suggest that you do it skeptically.

People keep asking me, “How did you do it?”

And when I say, “Diet and exercise” you can see their faces fall, poor pets.

Diet and Exercise

“Oh,” groaned one guy who clearly thought I held the secret to demolishing the verandah over his toolshed, “I was hoping you were going to say something easier than diet and exercise.”

Here’s the billion dollar secret.  Losing weight is about maths, not myths.

You will gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn.

You will lose weight if you burn more calories than you eat.

It’s so astoundingly boringly simple. I may have to throw in a little pole dancing to make this speech entertaining.

Or maybe not ….

It’s not an exact science but, basically, weight loss can reduced to a simple formula.

Formula

It amounts to this. You need to know how many calories per day you burn at your normal activity level,  you need to boost that with some calories burned with extra exercise, and, to lose ½ kilo per week, you need to eat around 500 calories per day less than you burn.

You can go online and find a basal metabolic rate calculator.

The good news is that even if youspend the entire day on the sofa you’re still burning calories – quite a lot of them. This is your basal metabolic rate – the calories you burn just being a sloth

You’ll also find the factors to account for your normal activity level online. If you’re basically sedentary, multiply by 1.2.

I’m a writer. My activity level is somewhere between comatose and death. Frankly, I just based my equation on the sloth figure.

You’re going to have to do extra exercise. Exercise buys food calories and the object is to reduce how much you eat, not to starve or even to feel hungry. Be realistic. Work out how much extra exercise you can do and factor the calories you’ll burn into the equation.

There are roughly 3,500 calories in half a kilo. So, to lose half a kilogram per week, you need a calorie deficit of around 500 calories per day.  If you want to lose a kilo, you need to subtract 1000 a calories. But, be aware, you’ll almost certainly need to increase your exercise significantly to buy more calories to eat or you’ll be on a starvation diet.

Please, don’t eat less than the minimum recommended number of calories without consulting your doctor. 

Now, I need to make a major disclaimer here. This is not a magic formula!  The figures are a bit fuzzy because half a kilo isn’t exactly 3500 calories but somewhere between 2000-5000.

Your individual physiology and size comes into it and estimating how many calories are in the food you eat is never going to be exact.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means you may have to juggle the figures a bit to reach your weekly target.

It’s a starting point. You may find you have to eat less or exercise more. I had to do both, but I did it in consultation with my doctor. You may find you can eat a bit more or exercise a little less and still reach your goal. Good for you! I hate you!

rocket surgery

The formula isn’t a ‘magic pill’. But it gives you a no bullshit starting point.  And, for most people – not all – but most – eating less calories than you burn will result in weight loss. It ain’t rocket surgery!

Technology can help. I use two free phone apps to help me track my calories in and calories out – one is called My Fitness Pal on which I log everything I eat and all the exercise I do.

And one is called Moves – it  makes it easy to track how far and for how long I’ve walked.

churchsign

Now, here’s a revelation– FAD DIETS WORK!

Because virtually any diet that drops your calorie consumption below your calorie expenditure will make you lose weight, any diet will work – as long as you stay on it, or don’t die in the attempt.

The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar scam; not because you won’t lose weight with Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or by drinking diet shakes, cutting carbs, food combining or doing the Lemon Detox. It’s because, realistically, unless you keep paying out to these companies, few people will have the willpower or discipline to keep to their diets.

As for diet books, all the way out claims about miracle foods, super foods, eliminating toxic food groups, or other ‘weight loss discoveries are mostly complete and utter bollocks.  If the diets work they work because they limit the number of calories you eat.  The rest is gimmick.

You don’t need someone else’s diet plan. In fact, if you go on someone else’s plan you’ll almost certainly fail in the long term because it’s theirs – not yours – and you’re always going to revert to what’s familiar to you.

You don’t want to go ‘on a diet’ at all because that suggests it’s something you are going to go ‘OFF’. Instead, you need to work out a strategy for eating less calories, by modifying what you eat now.  You need to look at your calorie allowance and your current eating habits and work out what foods you can keep, what you’re willing to sacrifice, what you can keep if you reduce portion sizes, and what you can swap for lower calorie alternatives.

You will have to change the way you eat. But you don’t have to revolutionise it. It’s really not hard.

Here’s a typical day for me.*

BreakfastSour dough toast, lightly buttered with poached egg

cup of white coffee (skim milk, sweetener).

Morning teaWhite coffee (skim milk, sweetener)

LunchFruit platter AND 3-4 cracker biscuits topped with hommus

Afternoon tea: Skinny cappuccino (sweetener)

Pre-dinnerDiet Coke in a good wine glass, 30g soy rice crisp snacks

Dinner: 100g salmon fillet , home-made tomato sauce, steamed broccolini and brown rice

After Dinner(If I skipped the rice crisp snacks) White Coffee (skim milk, sweetener) and

2 squares Lindt chocolate.

But I’m not suggesting you copy what I eat. It’s up to you – not anyone else – to make your food choices – but do try to make healthy ones.

The Biggest Loser

The good news is that one of the biggest – and most harmful – myths about weight loss is that you have to go through Biggest Loser style torture at the gym to lose weight.

Going to the gym isn’t like that. And if it is – find a new gym!

That show didn’t encourage me to lose weight – it made me terrified to set foot in a gym. Luckily, I did join my local gym and I can honestly say that I lost 50kg, and got fit and strong and toned, with very little loose skin, without ever once going faster than a brisk walk, lifting more than 5kg or raising more than a light sweat.

I’m built for comfort, not speed.  I have never worked out until I threw up.  I Iost 50kg without once having to tie a tow rope around my waist and pull either an F-111, a semi-trailer or a locomotive. Occasionally I puff and pant a bit – that is the extent of my exertion.

Honestly, I’m still not fussed about exercising but I figure it’s the rent I have to pay for the new body.

Neil tyson weight

Once I started talking about weight loss on social media I started getting hammered with weight loss myths – even from my sceptical readers.

One of my Facebook readers scolded me for ignoring the fact that obesity might be due to genetic predisposition or to the inadvertent consumption of MSG.

“It’s not just about diet and exercise, Chrys!”

When I was fat, even I used to buy into what’s been dubbed, fat fatalism.  But, except in rare circumstances, it’s bullshit.

I am genetically predisposed to being overweight, I’ve had a hysterectomy, I’m menopausal, I suffer from chronic fatigue, and I have an underactive thyroid. Yet, fuck me dead, when I started exercising and counting calories the weight just melted off.

picisto-20140713061727-859915

It’s OK to be fat!  What isn’t OK is to believe that you can’t be thinner if you want to be. That misguided belief takes away your choice.

Sure, you might have a genetic predisposition to gain weight, but a 2011 study of nearly quarter of a million people showed genetics can be offset substantially with diet and exercise. And the idea that MSG causes weight gain is a myth. It’s as silly as claiming that mercury in vaccines causes autism. The only ‘hidden additive’ in food that is causing your weight gain is calories.

Many people assume I must have gone on an exclusion diet. What did I ‘cut out’ I’m asked. The assumption is that sugar and fat and carbs make you fat so they have to be eradicated in order to lose weight.  Sugar, fat and carbs are essential nutrients. They aren’t ‘bad’ for you.  In reasonable quantities they won’t make you fat. What is bad for you is too many of them.

Weight loss is about maths – calories in and calories out.  Weight loss myths abound and even skeptics fall for them. I fell for them.

Venus_and_Cupid_with_an_Organist_c1545-8_Prado

People of all sizes are beautiful. I have no tolerance for fat shaming. But, I’m a big advocate for personal choice.

And the good news is by counting calories and adding some gentle exercise you can almost certainly choose to lose weight, cheaply, relatively easily and keep it off long term. And if someone tells you it’s more complicated than that, just say, “Weight a minute – that’s bullshit!”

picisto-20140713060940-984715

Chrys Stevenson

 

* Anticipating the naysayers and food nazis out there, this is a ‘typical’ day’s eating for me only is that it reflects the kinds and quantities of food I may eat during the day. I don’t follow a ‘diet’ or a ‘plan’ so it’s not what I eat every day. Please don’t extrapolate this and say, “She eats too much [xyz]!” or “She doesn’t get enough [zyx]“

You can’t take this an assume it’s all I eat. Some days I eat more. Some days I eat less. It evens out over a week.

Sometimes I’ll have more salad, sometimes a day will include more carbs or protein or fibre or,  (shock!) fat! I try to eat a balanced diet, but I’m no fanatic.  If I’m out and about, lunch will typically be a smoked salmon sandwich on multigrain bread with lettuce and cucumber. If I go out to dinner, I try to order something low calorie but, if nothing particularly low calorie is available, I order the best I can find and perhaps eat half.  I started out feeling a bit deprived by having to choose ‘low cal’ – now I find when I look at a menu those are actually the meals I gravitate towards. I’ve lost the stomach for pasta carbonara – literally!

I no longer drink alcohol at home, but I do have a glass or two on special occasions. Moderation is the key.

If it’s a special occasion, I eat what I want (without going overboard!) and I eat lightly for the next couple of days and try to do a bit more exercise.

Recommended Reading

The Skeptic’s Diet – Steve Novella - The New England Skeptical Society blog

How I lost 40lb doing everything wrong – Eric Davis – Skeptic North

 

 

 

Christian Nation or Benthamite Society?

A transcript and video of my speech to the NSW Humanists’ June 2014 symposium on the Enlightenment are now available online.

The transcript is fully referenced with a bibliography for those who’d like to know more about 19th century British philosopher, Jeremy Bentham’s remarkable impact upon Australian society, culture and national identity.

Australia a Christian Nation? Nonsense on Stilts!: How Jeremy Bentham’s Humanism shaped Australia

 

Chrys Stevenson

The Incredible Disappearing Woman

I never had a weight problem. I had a weight solution.

12 months ago I was given an opportunity to deal with the problem I’d solved with a 50kg protective layer.  It’s a private matter, but forgiveness, love, and a commitment to just let the fucking past go was a big part of it.

With great trepidation, but an equal amount of determination, I decided the time had come to lose the weight and become ‘me’ again.

But how?

picisto-20140713061727-859915I’d lost weight previously. In the 1980s I lost about 10kg in 6 weeks on the Beverly Hills Diet. When the six weeks was up I was as skinny ‘as’ but starving!!!! I literally wolfed down a hamburger on the final day of the diet and didn’t stop eating until I put it all back on …

In the 1990s I decided that ‘fat makes you fat’ and I lost another 10kg by virtually eliminating fat from my diet. Combined with exercise it worked. But, it wasn’t sustainable. At the first hiccup in my life, the diet and exercise stopped and the weight went back on – plus another 30kg!

When you’re that weight losing weight seems pointless. I figured that even if I lost 20kg I’d still be fat so, really, why bother?

It wasn’t until I met some ‘real people’ – people I knew – who had lost 30-40kg that I began to realise that extreme weight loss was possible; that you didn’t have to have your stomach stapled, spend 12 months at a weight loss facility in China, or sign up for The Biggest Loser to shed that kind of weight.

And, having embraced skepticism, I knew that if I was going to lose weight I was going to do it skeptically.  I knew that the weight loss industry was a massive scam, and my ‘gut’ instinct was that the secret to weight loss was Keep it Simple Stupid. Still, I did some research and discovered that losing weight is about maths, not myths.

So, I applied some common sense but not particularly radical changes to my lifestyle and eating habits and, voila, we’re less than 12 months down the track and I’m 50kg lighter. I’ve gone from a size 24-26 to a size 12-14. My doctor calls me “The Incredible Disappearing Woman”.
picisto-20140713060940-984715

Next weekend, I’ll be speaking about this rather thrilling achievement at Brisbane Skepticamp in a speech entitled, “Weight a Minute. That’s Bullshit!”

The event begins at 1pm on Saturday, 19 July at the Hamilton Town Hall, Brisbane. I’m scheduled to speak at 6.20pm (but it might be a bit later or earlier depending on how the day goes).

If you’re in or around Brisbane and interested in weight loss (or in other skeptical issues – I’m not the only speaker!) it would be great to see you there. The event is officially sold out, but you can email the organisers if you roolly, roolly want to come and they’ll see what they can do. Drop my name. It will make no difference at all, but I enjoy being dropped.

If you can’t make it but you’re interested I’ll be writing more on this subject soon.

I’m not advocating that anyone loses weight. My weight served me well. It kept me alive. But, for those who want to lose weight and think they’re ready to deal with the reason why they got fat in the first place, the solution lies not in expensive diet programs, miracle foods, eliminating food groups, food combining, or other fad diets. It’s simple, easy, achievable and sustainable. Maths. Not myths.

Chrys Stevenson

 

Secular Parent takes on Scripture Union’s Peter James

“My right to swing my religious fist is being crushed by those demanding I not contact their face.” - Justin Schieber (@justinsweh)

Martin Boers

Martin Boers (@MartinBoers), Laming blog

Regular readers will know I very rarely host guest bloggers. Last week, however, I came across a post from Martin Boers, a parent of school-age children and a passionate advocate for secular education. Martin’s post is so well-written and topical I had to share it. He has kindly given me permission to reblog it here on Gladly.

On his Laming blog, Martin responds to an article in the Adelaide Advertiser by Peter James, CEO of Scripture Union Queensland, the evangelical, missionary organisation which supplies the majority of Queensland’s school chaplains. He takes James to task over his complaint that the  public debate over chaplaincy is characterised by ‘anti-religious cheap shots and mocking’.

James’ article, in turn, responds to a piece by Tory Shepherd, which asks how Australians would react to the contention there should be an imam in every school.

I’ve met Peter James. He’s a nice enough man – certainly an improvement on his predecessor, the rock-jawed and intellectually vacuous Tim Mander. But, as Martin points out, James’ thinking is as clouded and woolly as one might expect from someone who accepts the Bible as the literal truth and sees the imposition of his particular brand of Christianity as a sacred entitlement – the denial of which he interprets as ‘discrimination’ and ‘religious vilification’.

Read Martin Boers’ ‘A Reply to Peter James’ - I think you’ll agree it’s a post worth sharing.  You can link directly to Martin’s blog here:  http://lisbon2.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/a-reply-to-peter-james.html

Follow Martin on Twitter at @MartinBoers.

—————–

A reply to Peter James

by Martin Boers, Laming blog

 
Peter James is the CEO of Scripture Union Queensland and the spokesperson for the National School Chaplaincy Association. An opinion piece from Peter James appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on 26 June, which was full of poor arguments and downright untruths in support of the National School Chaplaincy Program.
This is my response to some of the statements made by Peter James in his article.Schools should allow, and be respectful of, all views.Wrong.Schools should allow and be respectful of all people.Schools should not allow or be respectful of the view that (for example) it’s acceptable to discriminate against any person on the basis of accent, gender, skin colour or sexual orientation.When it comes to matters of fact, schools should only teach things that are undeniably true (e.g. evolution) or things that are still the subject of genuine scientific research and debate (e.g. the origins of the universe), and are not obliged to “teach” every ridiculous claim that was ever made throughout history.

We do not need students to have a particular view imposed on them, but neither do we need students told their religious view is “crap’’, ‘‘snake oil’’, ‘’humbuggery’’ or ‘‘bunkum’’.Correct.

However, adults like Peter James do need to be told, for example, that intelligent design and creationism are “crap”, that the promise of life after death is “snake oil”,  that intercessory prayer is “humbuggery” and that the claim “Jesus loves you” is bunkum. As Daniel Dennett says, “There’s simply no polite way to tell people they’ve dedicated their lives to an illusion.”

Children, on the other hand, need to be taught critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning skills, rather than being taught to accept ideas from an authority figure on faith alone. By equiping students with such skills, they will come to their own conclusions when presented with the ridiculous ideas that Scripture Union Queensland (and their counterparts in other states) would have kids believe.

Quite aside from questions of anti-discrimination and religious vilification, if a school system is hostile to students’ religious views it fails to achieve our national educational goals.

Wrong.

Religious organisations are NOT being discriminated against or vilified by being denied the opportunity to preach discrimination and vilification to children in publicly funded secular schools. This is a ridiculously naïve argument, which is surprising from a former lawyer like Peter James, since by this argument it follows that any crackpot cult can claim “discrimination” if they aren’t given free and unsupervised access to children in all public schools. This claim of victimisation has been formulated in a tweet from philosopher Justin Schieber (@justinsweh) as: “My right to swing my religious fist is being crushed by those demanding I not contact their face.”.

And the scrapping of the Chaplaincy Program does NOT mean that the school system is hostile to students’ religious views. I have never seen any indication that public schools care one way or the other what supernatural beliefs their students hold, and outside of school hours parents are always free to indoctrinate their children with whatever whacky ideas they choose. In fact public schools go further than they should in facilitating indoctrination during school hours through Scripture and Special Religious Instruction, when these “classes” should be consigned to the historical scrapheap.

And I thought that school chaplaincy wasn’t about religion anyway – it’s about “pastoral care”, isn’t it? So where does religious vilification come into it?

School chaplains … help students … develop positive self-image, confidence and resilience … and support students and the school community in times of grief and loss, when some of the big questions of life arise for them.

So do all teachers and parents. But for those students who need specialised, professional support, there is no evidence that minimally qualified religious chaplains are able to give anywhere near the level of support that qualified psychologists and welfare workers can provide. The implication in this statement from Peter James is insulting to the people who genuinely care about child welfare and who dedicate their careers to this work.

It is entirely voluntary, requires appropriate parental consents …

Wrong.

I never got a note from my school asking for my consent for the chaplain at our school to talk to my children, and I’m not aware of any parent that has. Peter James may be thinking of Scripture or SRI classes, which (at our school) also do not require consent – they require parents to “opt-out” their children – but at least there is that option.

In 2012, a 30-month longitudinal study of school chaplaincy by the Research Centre for Vulnerable Children and Families at the University of Western Australia found that the role of school chaplains is overwhelmingly valued by school principals, teachers, parents, students, psychologists and professional associations.

And in May 2014, an Essential poll found that only 5% of those surveyed supported the Government’s policy of funding only religious chaplains.

So while school chaplains are now funded through to the end of 2014 with no regulation, guidelines or government oversight, really worthwhile student programs like NSW Primary Ethics continue to grow quietly – without any financial support from the government – through the hard work of thousands of unpaid volunteers who want a better future for all children.

Jeremy Bentham and Australia – A Speech to the NSW Humanists

Chrys SpeechOn Friday, 20 June, I had the great privilege of speaking at the Humanist Society of NSW symposium on the Enlightenment and the Roots of Humanism. The event was hosted by Greens MP Adam Bandt in the Macquarie Room at Parliament House, Sydney.

Also on the program were president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, well known humanist author, David Tribe, , Emeritus Professor Frank Stillwell, Unitarian Minister, Ian Ellis-Jones and treasurer of the Humanist Society of NSW, Dr Victor Bien.

My speech focused on 18th century Enlightenment philosopher and law reformer, Jeremy Bentham and his influence on Australia’s government, law, public institutions, history and national identity.

Although Jeremy Bentham never set foot in Australia his influence suffuses almost every aspect of Australian public life. In the speech I argue that far from Christianity being the dominant influence in the development of Australia, it is Jeremy Bentham who has most shaped our history, our constitution, our government, public institutions, even the way we shop! We are not a Christian nation, we are a Benthamite society.

The speech was recorded and you can watch it here.  Later, when I have more time I will finish hyperlinking the transcript of the speech and have it published.

A fully referenced transcript of the speech is online here.

If you are fascinated by Jeremy Bentham, you might also enjoy this song:  Jeremy Bentham’s Head

Jeremy Bentham Auto Icon

Jeremy Bentham

 Chrys Stevenson

Greens Weigh in on Abbott’s $37m Chaplaincy ‘Gift’

Penny WrightSenator Penny Wright (Greens, spokesperson for schools) made a fine effort today trying to get some answers from the government about Mr Abbott’s $37 million gift to chaplaincy providers (see my two previous posts).

You can watch Senator Wright grilling the government’s senate education representative Senator Marise Payne here (starts at 21:00).

Following is a media release from Senator Wright’s office.

MEDIA RELEASE

23 June 2014

Chaplains oversight gone as invalidated program continues

The Abbott Government’s response to the High Court decision will see chaplains and welfare workers remain in schools without any Federal Government oversight, says Australian Greens spokesperson for schools Senator Penny Wright.

Senator Wright said the Commonwealth Government’s explanation that chaplains and welfare workers would now be overseen by State governments was inadequate.

“The High Court decision means the chaplaincy program can no longer be funded or administered by the Federal Government – the Federal Education Department website clearly spells this out,” Senator Wright said.

“So all the guidelines, codes of conduct and complaints procedures have gone out the window.

“But because the Commonwealth has chosen not to recoup money not yet spent, chaplains and welfare workers will remain in schools until the end of the year.

“The Australian Government must not deny responsibility for this – the states cannot simply take over the Federal Education Department’s administration of the invalidated chaplaincy program.

“The Federal Government needs to explain how they will ensure the safety and wellbeing of students for the next six months.”

In response to the High Court decision invalidating the National School Chaplaincy and Welfare Program, the Coalition announced it would waive the subsequent debt on payments made to date, including $74 million for 2014 – allowing chaplains and welfare workers remain in schools until the end of the year.

——————

Chrys Stevenson

Abbott’s $37m gift to chaplaincy providers

This morning I blogged a lot of questions about Scripture Union CEO, Peter James’ claim that chaplaincy was funded up until the end of December – despite having been declared illegal by the High Court of Australia.

At the time, it was my understanding that chaplaincy payments were made quarterly and that the next tranche of funds was due on 30 June. Clearly, with the court decision falling prior to that date, that tranche, if due, should not have been paid.

It’s now become clear that, after the decision was handed down in Ron Williams’ first case and the government realised another High Court challenge was likely, they changed the funding arrangements. Now (at considerably more expense to taxpayers in lost interest), chaplaincy providers are paid yearly, in January.

So, here is the position as I understand it now.

  • Chaplaincy providers were paid, in advance, to provide a full year of chaplaincy services for 2014. That payment was made in January.
  • That money came from the $222 million the Gillard government committed to chaplaincy to cover a 3 year period; that is, $74 million per year – or $37 million per half year.
  • On 19 June, 2014, the High Court ruled that Federal  funding for chaplaincy is illegal – and that all payments made to date have been illegal.
  • Technically, that money should have had to have been repaid to Consolidated Revenue but, not unfairly in my opinion, the Finance Minister waived the debt. Chaplaincy providers would not have to return money paid for services rendered.
  • But, now it becomes obvious that not only was the debt for services rendered waived, but so was the debt for $37 million(half of the $74 million annual cost) paid in advance to fund the program from June-December 2014; money that will be in the banks of the para-church organisations but not yet spent on chaplains’ wages.

Why has this amount been waived?

Fair enough that the chaplaincy providers don’t have to repay money already paid in wages to chaplains. But, the government has made it clear that, effective immediately,  the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program can no longer be funded or administered by the Federal government. It is dead. Kaput.

Why then, has the government effectively gifted $37 million of taxpayers’ money to chaplaincy providers for services that have not yet been rendered for a program which has now been deemed illegal?

If we are as hard up as Treasurer Joe Hockey claims,  how can we afford this $37 million gift to para-church organisations to go off and do their own thing for the next six months?

It’s outrageous and irresponsible.

That $37 million should have to be repaid. The scheme is no longer operative. The money has not yet been expended on wages. The money belongs in Consolidated Revenue, not in the pockets of the para-church organisations.

Chrys Stevenson

 

Breaking: Has the government pulled another ‘swifty’ on chaplaincy funding?

Update: See update here.

There are some actions so unethical that we who don’t move within political or religious circles can hardly conceive of them. Naively, one imagines that even among politicians and fundamentalist Christians there must be some scruples. But, if information that has just come to hand is accurate, it appears there is no level to which they will not stoop.

Now, it’s the weekend and it’s hard to check the validity of everything that comes next, so a  lot of this has to be prefaced by ‘if’.

It’s come to my attention today that in a media conference after the High Court ruled that Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program was ruled illegal – for the second time – by the High Court – Peter James, CEO of Scripture Union Queensland, confirmed in answer to a journalists’ questions that funding for chaplaincy had been paid up to the end of December.

“The funding for the current year has been paid and is available for use up until December.” – Peter James around 2:15.

When Williams won his first High Court challenge against chaplaincy, the decision was handed down close to the end of the financial year, sending the Gillard government into a mad scramble to pass legislation in order to pay the sum of $16.4 million outstanding to chaplaincy providers for what we understand (but may be wrong) was a quarterly payment. This suggests that advance payments due to chaplaincy providers fall due on or after 30 June.

Assuming arrangements haven’t changed, that payment is due again on or after 30 June this year. This is almost certainly why the High Court made such a quick decision and handed down the ruling before that date – to avoid the illegal disbursement of any more taxpayers’ money.

If Mr James is correct, and his organisation has been paid what appears to be 6 months in advance for chaplaincy services before the due date, it raises the very serious question as to whether the government has deliberately set out to circumvent a High Court ruling. I am no constitutional lawyer, but it seems to me that may be illegal.

My suspicions that the government may have pulled a ‘swifty’ are raised by Attorney-General George Brandis’ eagerness to announce that the Finance Minister has arranged to ‘waive’ the debt of  $150m in illegal funds paid to SUQ.  If I am right (and, this has yet to be confirmed) this would include money paid after the Williams (2) hearing, in anticipation of a negative High Court ruling, before its due date, in advance, to cover chaplaincy services for the next six (?) months.

So is the Finance Minister waiving the debt for the disbursement of millions of taxpayers’ money which SUQ hasn’t even had a chance to use yet?

Has SUQ accepted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money paid early to avoid a High Court ruling? Will SUQ spend millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, illegally disbursed from Consolidated Revenue?

If this is the case, I’d like to know how Mr James and his organisation square what seems to be tantamount to the theft of taxpayers’ money with their so-called ‘Christian values’.

I will try to confirm what has happened over the next few days, and my bet is that if the government has pulled another ‘swifty’ on the High Court ruling, Ron Williams will be seeking legal advice. I suspect also that the justices of the High Court will be none too pleased at the government thumbing their nose at them, the Australian Constitution, and, by extension, Australian taxpayers, a second time.

Chrys Stevenson

Update: See update here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chaplaincy – What next? A word from the government

ding dongThe Federal government has made the following statement following the High Court’s decision in favour of Ron Williams’ contention that Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare program is illegal:

National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program High Court judgment

On 19 June 2014, the High Court of Australia found the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program to be invalid.

Thursday 19 June 2014

News

Following the High Court’s decision, the Commonwealth no longer has capacity to administer or control the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program.

It may be that services continue to be provided at particular schools – whether that is the case will be a matter for the individual schools and the providers of chaplaincy and student welfare services to determine.

The Commonwealth has decided to waive its right to recover payments that have already been made under the program funding agreements. In reaching this decision, the Commonwealth has given careful consideration to the range of factors that are relevant to the exercise of its power to waive debts owing to it.

The Department of Education will provide further information to schools, funding recipients and education authorities on the decision and its impact on the specific circumstances relating to each provider following further analysis of the decision.

What does the High Court decision mean for the new National School Chaplaincy Programme?

As part of the 2014-15 Federal Budget, the Australian Government allocated $243.8 million over four years to fund the National School Chaplaincy Programme.

Implications of the High Court decision on the future of the programme are being considered.

———————–

What does this mean?

It means that the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program is dead – set adrift by Abbott and his henchmen.

If the current funding arrangements mirror those of 20 June 2012 when the judgement in Williams I was handed down, substantial moneys are due to funding recipients on  30 June. In 2012 that amount was $16.44 million—which triggered the financial amendment bill required to keep the cash flowing to the para-churches.

And, it seems from this missive, that money cannot and will not be paid by the Federal government.

If schools want to keep their chaplains, it’s going to be up to them and the chaplaincy providers to find some way to pay their wages.

The government seems to have no heart for ‘saving legislation’ as occurred in June 2012 after the first Williams decision. The NSCSWP has been deemed unsalvageable. From now until at least 2015, the Federal government has washed its hands off the whole grubby, illegal affair.

What is more important is that,  from 1 July, chaplains will not be subject to the NSCSWP guidelines  - which at least, in theory prevented counselling and proselytising – because this program no longer exists. The terms under which they work will be entirely dependent upon local education policies, individual school’s policies and whatever requirements imposed upon the by bodies like Scripture Union and ACCESS Ministries.

It is notable that the Federal government and the states do not seem to have colluded to continue the program seamlessly by funding it through tied grants. That would have been constitutional via S.96 of the Constitution. But, it requires the states to agree to accept the funding and administer the program. Perhaps that has not happened.

With revelations of proselytising, inappropriate counselling, homophobia and links to homophobic hate groups, and, worse, court actions pending over criminal activities by chaplains the states would be taking on a poisoned chalice in agreeing to take responsibility for school chaplaincy. The funding recipients – particularly ACCESS Ministries – are really ‘on the nose’.

We can only speculate that, if the Federal government tried to anticipate a win for Williams by making arrangements through the states, the states were not as co-operative as the Federal government may have wished – and for good reason!

What the Federal government has now is a quarter of a billion dollar commitment to a new chaplaincy program they cannot administer themselves and for which, at least for now, there are now statutory guidelines.  If funded through tied grants to the states, it will be up to each state to either agree to a single set of guidelines (unlikely!) or to negotiate the terms under which they are prepared to accept the money (messy!).

It can and will never be a ‘national’ program again. Given this, it provides little or no political value for the Federal government and is likely to cause only headaches and political liability to the states.

The allocation of a quarter of a billion dollars to chaplaincy in an austerity budget has caused widespread outrage. Whatever the funding recipients might say, there is clearly very little public support for the program. For example, a poll by the Sydney Morning Herald, following the judgement in Williams’ favour, attracted over 19,000 responses, with 82 per cent of respondents saying the program should now be scrapped completely.

So, for now, school chaplaincy is in limbo. There is no suggestion emanating from the Federal government that they will fund it through the states and we can only speculate on why this rather ‘obvious’ solution hasn’t been implemented. Meanwhile, Abbott and his team have done a Pontius Pilate on the scheme instituted by Howard in 2006 and meddled with by the  Gillard government. It is no more and they have washed their hands of it. Williams has killed it.

Will another chaplaincy scheme arise from the ashes? Perhaps. But it will never be a national scheme and it seems very likely that the Federal government and the states have grown rather weary of this ill-conceived adventure of placing minimally qualified evangelical missionaries into state schools to deal with at-risk, vulnerable kids.

As someone wrote on Facebook recently: Bringing children and churches together – what could go wrong?

Chrys Stevenson