Perspectives/ Crispin Hull on Children, Chaplaincy & Climate Change

The crass insensitivity of some conservative Federal Members of Parliament sank to a new low in the past week.

Andrew Wallace and Assistant Youth Minister Luke Howarth, citing psychological damage to children that they said was caused by what they called exaggerated alarm over climate change, called for a boost to the school chaplaincy program.

Others in the Coalition supported or joined them. It happened in the party room, so full details are not known, but enough has leaked out because of inter-factional rivalry in the party that former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says has no factions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison took the concerns on board. He would, given his religiosity. And he might have to appease the religious right with some form of sop if he cannot get enough support for “religious freedom” legislation to allow religious organisations to use the law as a sword to discriminate against minorities rather than only as a shield to protect religious people from being discriminated against.

In short, the psychological health of young Australians is being used as a bargaining chip by the Liberal Party factions.

This should be called out. These ignorant and intellectually challenged MPs completely misunderstand the problem. The children are psychologically upset not because of the climate crisis per se, but because they see Australian conservative politicians in power as doing nothing about it.

If the young people saw a concerted effort and detailed plan to deal with global heating here and across the globe, they would have some psychological comfort. Their justified anguish about their future is caused by the Coalition’s lack of action.

Adding chaplains does not alleviate that anguish. It merely adds to it. It says nobody is listening to young people’s concerns.

Global heating is being caused by human action and it requires human action to fix it. Appeals to a white-robed bearded man in the sky and putting on a few extra chaplains does not cut the mustard. It is a insult to the intelligence of young Australians.

It says that politicians do not understand the problem and have no effective response to young people’s justified alarm and concerns. That is aside from it being a waste of $250 million over four years that would be better spent on climate action or teachers.

The anguish is not being caused by those sounding the alarm bells and calling for action to put out the flames. It is being caused by those adding fuel to the flames or denying that there is a problem or refusing to do enough quickly enough if there is.

If Coalition MPs are worried about the mental health of young people, they should address them by changing their climate policies to give them hope.

Not only this. The chaplains are not qualified to give advice to children who are suffering psychological trauma. The Bible is not a textbook on adolescent psychology. Indeed, unqualified chaplains are more likely to do harm than good.

The chaplaincy program pays utterly unqualified people to spout mumbo jumbo to children – it is a form of child abuse.

Indeed, the other thing about the chaplaincy arrangement is this: the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse tells us that in addition to fears about global heating young people should have equal fear of the purveyors of religion in schools and in the community. It is madness to imagine the latter can ever be an antidote to the former.

Worse, the chaplaincy program is designed as a leech upon all the mums and dads in the public-school system because it requires some homegrown funding to be reached before the federal funding for the chaplain kicks in. So, these schools waste effort on misguided sausage sizzles to get a bit of money together to qualify for a chaplain.

My advice to those public schools would be: do not raise the money. Do not qualify for the chaplaincy. You are not missing out on anything. In fact, if the money you raise through sausage sizzles is quarantined from the chaplaincy program you will be protecting your children against religious propsganda. Save your sausage sizzles for your library or computer programs.

By the way, the Labor Party is equally culpable. It allowed itself to be disgracefully wedged on this. Chaplaincy was a Howard invention. The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Governments should have cut it dead, but instead they continued to fund it.

But a reckoning is coming on both fronts. We can only hope it is not too late. This week an Australian Conservation Council survey revealed majorities in all electorates want greater action on climate change. And a Foundations for Tomorrow survey showed 93 per cent of people under 30 want stronger action on climate.

These trends suggest the Coalition will lose more votes over climate than it can hope to gain by taking donations from fossil industries and using the money for their campaign at the next election.

And more climate-aware young people have come on to the electoral rolls since 2019.

Labor should heed these trends and strengthen its climate policies.

On the religion front, new research reveals that the increase in religiosity between 2000 and 2007 has been reversed between 2007 and 2019. The research by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris reported in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs shows people became less religious between 2007 and 2019 in 43 of the 49 countries studied, including the US.

“The decline in belief was not confined to high-income countries and appeared across most of the world,” they report.

The gender and sexual norms that the major world religions have instilled for centuries to maintain high birth rates are no longer needed in modern society, they say. And fears of a collapse of social cohesion and public morality are unfounded. Less religious countries have less corruption and lower murder rates.

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 4 September 2021.

Crispin Hull BA, LLB (Hons) | Property Convenor  |  ANU School of Legal Practice Lawyer of the Supreme Court of the ACT, on the Register of Practitioners kept by the High Court of Australia