Alliance Representatives urged Scott Morrison To increase funding for a government chaplaincy program in schools to help address concerns that activism against global warming is causing mental health problems for Australian children.
In the Alliance party room on Tuesday, Liberal Representative Andrew Wallace compared children’s fear of climate change to the danger of nuclear annihilation in the 1970s and 1980s, and asked for full funding for chaplains at every school to help ease the fears.
Assistant Minister for Youth Luke Howarth backed the call for the program to be expanded in comments to Guardian Australia, saying climate activism is “alarming and causing mental health problems for young people” that priests can help.
Moderate Liberals interpret this push as a willingness to increase funding to appease Conservative Chamber members in the event that the Religious Discrimination Bill is repealed.
The Chaplain Program provides between 20,000 and 3,100 schools for an annual cost of $45,000 per chaplain. He was $247 million over four years in the 2018 budget.
Wallace told the party room that he had entered into federal policy to improve mental health and treat eating disorders, and praised Health Secretary Greg Hunt for his work in those areas.
Wallace spoke about growing up in the 1970s and 1980s during the threat of nuclear annihilation, commenting that children now fear they will die within 10 years as a result of extinction due to climate change.
He blamed lobbyists for greater action on global warming including GetUp and Extinction Rebellion, saying warnings of expected harms were “depriving children of hope”.
Wallace appealed to the government to provide full funding for every school to have a chaplain in response to climate concerns and the “shadow pandemic,” referring to the mental health impact of Covid-19 and the closures.
Noting that annual funding was always before the last election, Morrison said calling for the program to be expanded was an “interesting proposition.”
The coalition enjoyed an edge over Labor with religious voters in the 2019 elections, and is eager to wedge the opposition over a religious discrimination bill, which will be introduced before the end of the year.
However, it currently faces a split in its ranks with liberals, including Warren Inch and Dave Sharma, warning that aspects of the bill should be removed because it has become a sword, not a shield, for religious institutions to discriminate against others.
The chaplaincy program is highly controversial, particularly between secular groups who believe it inappropriately introduces religion in public schools, and the Australian Education Consortium who believe it should be replaced with counselors and student welfare programmes.
Howarth said chaplains make a “big difference” in public schools, particularly in communicating with children “from broken families” and facing “other difficulties in their lives”.
“I am a huge supporter of the school’s chaplains,” he told Guardian Australia.
Howarth said there was no need to fully fund existing school chaplains, as it supports the current model for chaplains who need to raise funds to pay the remaining $25,000 to support their place in the school.
But there are new schools in growth areas that do not receive funding. We must continue to grow the worship program.”
Howarth said the top priorities for young people are mental health, the environment, and job and work security.
“I personally believe, as an Assistant Secretary, that the language on climate change … is alarming and causing mental health problems for young people — and that is a major concern.”
Howarth accused “greens and independents in the liberal seats” of talking about Australia’s achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“I talk about hope and that we are doing things. I am not talking about the future of Australia and the world.”
Despite official accounts showing that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are declining, it The contribution to the climate crisis has increased over the past fifteen years, once the areas outside the control of the federal government – drought and emissions from land and forests – are excluded.
Experienced Australia Emissions cut when carbon price was introduced in 2012But it has increased emissions since it was scrapped in 2014, despite billions of dollars being spent through the coalition’s “emissions reduction fund.”
The Morrison government claims that Australia is on track to meet its target in Paris of a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, but reserves the right to use the balances carried over from the Kyoto Agreement to meet the target.
Although Morrison has changed his language about wanting to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 or preferably before then, the net zero goal is not official alliance policy and Australia is increasingly isolated on the international stage due to its unambitious goal.