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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 27 November 2018) . . Page.. 4880 ..


I think that faith-based schools should be able to provide education in an environment that is consistent with their faith. Religious freedom and parental choice mean that the Islamic school should be able to deliver a school consistent with the Islamic faith. It means that Catholic schools should be able to deliver a Catholic-based education. It means that Christian schools should be able to foster a Christian ethos, and so on.

In the legislation that has been put forward by the government, they are removing section 33 of the Discrimination Act. The removal of this section risks undermining our non-government sector. At present, section 33(2) states:

Section 18 does not make it unlawful for a person … to discriminate against someone else in relation to the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first person so discriminates in good faith to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

That section, section 33(2), is a very important section that provides for religious freedom in our education sector. Why is the government seeking to remove that section? I understand that clause 33(1) may well be problematic or inconsistent with what the government is seeking to do by way of students and staff. But to remove 33(2) and not replace it with another clause that enshrines religious freedom in our education sector is a very disappointing step in the wrong direction for the ACT.

Section 33(2) ensures that religious schools can deliver faith-based education. The removal of this section is not required in order for the government to address the hiring and firing issues, or suspension or expulsion issues. And if it is in any way in conflict, they should have replaced it with a slight revision, while maintaining the fundamental premise of 33(2).

Why did the government remove this clause, perhaps unnecessarily? Either it has inadvertently been removed or the government are seeking to go much broader than what they stated in their presentation speeches. There is no reference, there is no justification, in the explanatory statement for why it is that they think religious freedom should be removed from the Discrimination Act, why it is that enshrining religious freedom in ACT legislation is bad, because that is the only conclusion that can be drawn as a result of this removal by the government.

The removal of this text takes away an explicit right for schools to undertake activities in accordance with their faith. There are concerns that the removal of this section may bring into question whether schools can require that a student participates in religious activities at the school. For instance, under what the government is proposing, could a student or their family object to being required to study RE or attend other faith-based classes? Could a student or their family object to hearing the call to prayer at the Islamic school? Could a student or a family object to reading or listening to prayers? Could a student or a family object to reading or listening to recitations of the Koran, the Bible, the Torah or other religious texts? Could a student or a family object to attending chapel or other religious services? These are very serious questions, and the


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