By Victoria Stone-Meadows
City of Casey Council is reconsidering a fresh proposal for chaplains in community spaces, despite council officers initially rejecting the proposal in a report presented to council on Tuesday 16 May.
Councillor Amanda Stapledon presented an alternative recommendation at the council meeting on Tuesday night that will see council again meeting with chaplain service provider Korus Connect.
The original recommendation from council officers in the report suggested council not undertake the planned chaplaincy program through their youth and children services program.
“The extensive range of support already provided by council and the expertise of council staff officers do not support the introduction of chaplaincy services into council’s child and youth programs,” council officers noted in their report.
The recommendation also suggested that council refers residents seeking chaplaincy services from the City of Casey directly to Korus Connect.
However, Cr Stapledon suggested instead that council members, officers and interested community groups have a second meeting with Korus Connect to “outline a broader initiative and funding model.”
Cr Stapledon said the introduction of chaplains into community spaces and groups would be a worthwhile initiative for council to investigate funding avenues for.
“A chaplain is really well placed in community groups and part of the community,” she said.
“We can look at a number of interested community groups to jointly fund this instead of the ratepayer, and I would like to do more work on this.”
The new alternative recommendation was passed by council without dissent.
The proposal for council to fund and place chaplains in community spaces such as sports groups and shipping centres was first raised at a council meeting in December 2016.
After meeting with Korus Connect in January this year, it was revealed that employing chaplains in community spaces would cost council up to $71,525 per chaplain annually.
At the council meeting, Cr Stapledon said she would also like to see a chaplain employed by council for council staff, and to change the title of the role to avoid polarised views in the community.
“There is an alternative name of ‘community support officer’ and I think we should use that name in order to be consistent with other groups,” she said.
“They are not there to preach; they are there to help people, and they know the right people to refer onto, so a chaplain can be a great confidant.”
Cr Stapledon did not highlight which community groups in the municipality had expressed interest in being a part of the program; she did say Westfield Fountain Gate had shown enthusiasm for the program.
Westfield Fountain Gate were contacted for comment, but did not respond by deadline.
Councillor Wayne Smith lent his support to Cr Stapledon’s alternative recommendation and spoke of his positive experience dealing with chaplains in his work as a bail justice and through his own schooling.
Ousted Casey City Councillor Steve Beardon was outspoken in his opposition to the chaplaincy program during his time on council and has again lashed out against the proposal.
“All too often, chaplains are reflective of thinking stuck in the past- the type of thinking isolated to right-wing bible-belt preachers, spruiking harsh rules outdated and unwanted today,” he said.
“Casey needs to recognise all faiths through Casey Multifaith network, not ride roughshod over these committees established to advise on these issues.”
“I was part of the council who set up Casey Multifaith Network in 2006 specifically to separate councillors from religious interference and to establish the network as the primary advisory committee on these issues, and I suggest councillors do that in future.”