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Darwin Bishop will ‘seriously consider’ closing schools if Labor changes laws

Adam Wesselinoff
Adam Wesselinoff
Adam Wesselinoff is Editor of the Catholic Weekly.
Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin at St Mary Star of the Sea Cathedral.

Bishop Charles Gauci of Darwin has said he will “seriously consider” closing the NT’s Catholic schools if the Territory’s Labor government presses ahead with proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws that would strip schools of the right to hire employees based on faith.

“Now, it doesn’t mean that every teacher is a Catholic or even a believer, but we certainly have a firm policy that the principal, the deputy, the director of religious education, are practicing members of our faith community,” Bishop Gauci said on Darwin’s Mix 104.9 Radio on 16 November.

“Look if I cannot have a faith school to be a genuine faith school, where it’s respectful of everybody, where we give people an idea of other people’s beliefs as well … If I cannot have that, then of course what’s the point of having them?

“We would have to close them, I think, seriously consider closing them and then all the kids would have to go to the State schools.”

Labor’s amendments to the NT’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 would repeal section 37A, which currently allows faith schools to discriminate on the grounds of religious belief or activity, or sexuality, and is in good faith to avoid “offending the religious sensibilities of people of the particular religion”.

The repeal of section 37A is likely to pass the NT’s parliament when it sits next on November 22-24.

Bishop Gauci said he had spoken “very strongly” about the draft released some months ago, but has been “totally ignored”. He also wrote to members of the NT parliament with his concerns and received only one response.

He has since made public his 11 November letter to NT Attorney-General Chanston Paech expressing his “profound concerns”.

“The great deal of uncertainty that these proposed laws have already created will mean that much of their interpretation will be left to the Courts and at great expense to those who are caught up in them,” Bishop Gauci wrote.

“They represent a collective erosion of religious freedoms at a higher level and to a greater extent than any other Australian State or Territory Government.”

He told Mix 104.9 radio host Katie Woolf that he wants to “sit down and talk properly and amicably and point out these concerns properly.”

“I’m taking this very, very seriously. It’s really questioning whether we are going to be viable in all of our schools. And we have plenty of them, giving a great contribution to people across the NT,” Bishop Gauci said.

“I repeat: more than half the students to come to our schools are not Catholic, but they value what we present and what we hold. So it’s a very major concern.”

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