Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 27 November 2018) . . Page.. 4879 ..
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR COE (Yerrabi—Leader of the Opposition) (4.46): The Canberra Liberals want to see a city and society that is respectful and compassionate. We want a legal framework that supports people and organisations in the choices that they make and a framework that facilitates tolerance and diversity.
The legislation proposed by the government is broad and, by the Chief Minister’s own comments, is in response to very few complaints. Of course, in my time in the Assembly, I have visited many non-government schools. The vast majority of these, if not all, have a strong faith tradition that not only underpins their ethos and culture but was in fact the motivation for these schools being established in the first place. From what I have observed, non-government schools have been places of encouragement, tolerance and compassion. In addition to the religious and faith traditions, these schools have students and families from a multitude of faiths and ethnic backgrounds, and they provide learning environments that families have deliberately chosen for their children.
I am not aware of any instances where a student has been suspended or expelled due to their sexuality. In fact, I know of several faith-based schools that have provided enormous support to students struggling with their sexuality or gender, and I imagine that there are many other cases of support that have been provided by non-government schools that we do not know about, where complete discretion and compassion have been provided. They may not brag about these; they may not tell these stories, but I know that the non-government schools of Canberra provide exceptional service and pastoral care to Canberra students. I am not aware of any cases where a student has been suspended or expelled from a non-government school for these reasons.
Apart from the example given by Mr Barr in his presentation speech, I am also not aware of any employment issues regarding staff that have been struggling with their sexuality or gender. Again, I know of schools that have greatly assisted staff during such times. I am not aware of any cases of dismissal of staff by schools for this reason. I think it is extremely important that we do not demonise our non-government schools or their staff in the ACT. I say this not to belittle the issue; quite the opposite. The school principals I know and speak to are professional, respectful and tolerant, and they deliver exceptional pastoral care to their staff, to their students and to the families of the staff and students, too.
Regarding the legislation, I was disappointed to hear, in a briefing that I received from the government, that nobody from the government had consulted with any school or any school representative body prior to the government presenting this legislation. Once again the ACT government’s own guide to community consultation has not been followed—once again. Of course, in the ACT there are very clearly defined stakeholders representing schools in Canberra, and it would have been very easy to have reached out to them for their wisdom and expertise. In fact, there are relatively few non-government schools in Canberra. It also would have been very easy for the government to have reached out to each school in the sector.