Tasmania’s Catholic Archbishop, Adrian Doyle, first voiced his desire for an exemption last year.
His ostensible reasoning was that he wants to increase the number of Catholic students in Catholic schools from around 55% to 75%.
In response, I wrote about why such an exemption would be a mistake, here:
Online Opinion and,
In the hope the rumour is untrue, but out of fear it is not, I’ve summarised this case below. I also look at how we have arrived at this point, and the issues it raises about Tasmanian governance.
1. the Anti-Discrimination Act allows anyone to apply for and be granted an exemption by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner if they can provide a good reason for this exemption. Has the Catholic Church sought such an exemption? If not, why is it seeking a legislated exemption before seeking one from the Commissioner? Why is it not playing by the rules set for everyone else?
2. many parents value the education their local faith-based school offers, even if they do not share its faith. How can the Government allow these parents to be sent to the back of the enrolment queue when many are strong financial and moral supporters of their local religious school?
3. who defines faith and doctrine? Will students be turned away because their parents are single, in de facto relationships or not regular church goers? Will students be expelled if they are found with contraception, question matters of doctrine, or ask permission to take their same-sex partner to a Leavers’ Dinner?
4. Tasmania’s strong anti-discrimination provisions have worked well for ten years to protect students, parents and school communities from prejudice, bullying, and the public disputes that can arise from them. These provisions have helped create school cultures in which individual students are respected, their diverse needs acknowledged and their differing views valued. Any watering down of these provisions will undermine the great gains Tasmania’s religious schools have made.
5. the Catholic Church has not asked for an exemption on the grounds of sexuality or relationship status. However, the exemption it seeks – on the grounds of religion – could be used to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students on the grounds that same-sex relationships violate Catholic doctrine. Many people think it is possible to be Catholic and gay. The problem are those people in positions of authority in church schools who do not.
6. the dangers of allowing religious institutions to discriminate on religious grounds, and the importance of strong anti-discrimination laws, were both highlighted by Friday’s NSW court decision compensating a same-sex couples who were denied the chance to be foster parents by a church-run agency (http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23593862-2,00.html)
7. giving religious schools preferential treatment and special rights to discriminate against people of other faiths or no faith, returns us to a time when churches held a privileged legal position in society.
1. legislative exemptions are not the way to dramatically change patterns in school enrolments. The current levels of religious affiliation in religious schools is a cultural, social and administrative issue that cannot not be altered or facilitated by changes to legislation.
2. for many years religious schools have justified their government funding on the basis that they provide all parents with a choice of where to send their children. If they wish to limit that choice they must forego their tax-payer subsidies.
3. the Catholic Church’s targets will result in state schools being called on to educate thousands of students who would have been schooled elsewhere. Has the Government planned for this?
4. senior Catholic educators in other states have expressed concern that targets smaller than the one being pursued in Tasmania will drive down enrolments and send smaller schools to the wall.
5. attempts to enroll more Catholic students in Catholic schools return us to a time when Australian society and its education system were segregated according to religion. It threatens to revive the religious and sectarian divisions which have harmed Australian society since colonial times.
6. it’s hard to see how the Catholic Church’s targets will benefit committed Christians. They will simply encourage more parents and students to pretend to religious convictions they don’t actually hold.
1. the current Anti-Discrimination review was commenced in 2005. Public consultation occurred in 2006. Why has it taken so long for the review to be released?
2. the Catholic Church made no written submission to the review during the public consultation phase. If its views are included in the final review, how were these views made known and why were they included? Why weren’t other interested parties given an opportunity to respond to the Church’s views?
3. the terms of reference of the review were restricted to “complaints handling and dispute resolution provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act”. Exemptions were not to be considered by the review.
4. when representatives of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group discussed this issue with former Attorney-General, Steve Kons, on July 10th, 2007, Mr Kons said that he had received representations from the Catholic Church, and that he did not support the amendments they sought to the Anti-Discrimination Act. As per point 1 under “school enrolments”, he saw their enrolment issue as an administrative one for them, not a legislative one for the State.
What has changed since then?
WILL A review of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act, possibly to be released this coming week, recommend an exemption allowing religious schools to discriminate against students on the grounds of their religious faith?
This is the rumour which is circulating through Hobart.
This rumour is credible enough, and its implications serious enough, to warrant a response from the Government. We must know if it is true.