In order to assist Catholics in casting their vote at the upcoming federal election, the Archdiocese of Sydney provided parties with a list of questions relating to a number of important issues for Catholics in this election. Their responses are provided here in full.
What is your party’s position on the right of religious schools and other religious institutions to retain faith-based exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation in relation to staffing, enrolment, curriculum and other policy matters?
The Greens support legislation to enshrine the protection of religious belief. However we also believe that actions (including teachings) must be limited when those actions interfere with the right of Australians to live free from discrimination, even when those actions are based on religious doctrines, tenets and beliefs. This would include actions in relation to the hiring and firing of staff and the enrolment or expulsion of students. We believe that there are sufficient safeguards already contained within our anti-discrimination laws to protect to protect religious teachings, and we believe that where potential conflicts between religious beliefs and the right to be free from discrimination exist they should be considered under a comprehensive charter of rights.
The Morrison Government’s commitment to striking an appropriate balance is clear in our proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. We have sought to overturn exemptions introduced by Labor so we can make clear that discrimination against students is not acceptable, while at the same time ensuring religious educational institutions can teach and maintain rules consistent with their faith.
The Government recognised that parents need to be informed and empowered in a way that allows them to exercise their rights to make informed decisions regarding when it is appropriate to exclude their children from any particular teaching in a class that is specifically inconsistent with that family’s morals or religious beliefs. It is also a feature of the Australian Federation that classroom attendance policies are primarily a matter for the States and Territories.
If re-elected, a Coalition Government will take a national leadership role by developing model Guidelines to form the basis of a national framework that regularises and makes clear parents’ and guardians’ rights to request the removal of a child from a class that contains instruction on religious or moral matters, to ensure their rights are consistently understood and applied in all Australian schools, regardless of jurisdiction.
Labor respects the right of all Australians to practise their religion freely. In our platform we declare: “Labor supports the appropriate protection of the religious freedom of all people.”
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, made our position on the rights of religious schools very clear in Parliament when she stated: ‘schools are also entitled to have rules that ensure staff – and I’m quoting one of the organisations that wrote to me – don’t “deliberately and wilfully behave contrary to the values of the school.”’ (Hansard, 16 October, 2018, p.35).
Labor is not proposing to amend the indirect discrimination provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act that allow educational institutions to impose reasonable conditions, requirements or practices in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed.
At the same time, Labor is committed to reducing discrimination in Australian society where it can be done in a responsible way that respects freedom of belief and conscience.
We do not believe that freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination are mutually exclusive.
To that end, Labor believes that students and teachers and other staff of religious schools should be protected from discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality and other attributes covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. We believe this can be done in a way that protects the right of schools to continue to operate in accordance with their religion.
We support the right of faith-based schools and institutions to hire, enrol and educate in line with their values without interference by anti-discrimination legislation. We will remove laws against ‘offence’ and ‘insult’ from all federal legislation.