In the days preceding last Saturday’s by-election for the Victorian seat of Batman, voters in the electorate received an automated call that essentially backed the Labor candidate. The call told them that Malcolm Turnbull had slashed funds from schools, the Greens wanted to strip funds from Catholic schools, but Labor would restore hundreds of millions in school funding cut by the Liberals to both Catholic and state schools. The call went on to tell voters that the future of schools was dependent on their vote in the by-election.
The call was arranged and funded by Catholic Education Melbourne.
On one level, I have no issue with the Church getting involved in politics. Part of being a good Catholic is being a good citizen, including exercising our vote in a thoughtful manner so as to uphold the common good. But I do wonder how anyone thought that backing a federal Labor candidate would achieve that end. Yes, Labor appears to have promised more money to Catholic schools. But that promise means absolutely nothing if Labor is not also committed to the freedom of Catholic schools to operate in accordance with a Catholic ethos. And they’re not.
If the next election returns a Labor government, Catholic schools might have a bit more money, but they will need it in order to pay for cases brought against them by a dedicated LGBT anti-discrimination commissioner. Catholic schools will have to fight to keep Catholic teachers in, and gender fluidity out of, the classroom.
The current policy platform of the Labor party states that the party is “committed to making sex education inclusive of all sexualities and gender identities”. It’s in Labor’s policy that kids should learn about various forms of sexual activity and gender fluidity. It would be contradictory if they allowed a school, even a Catholic school, to not teach that stuff to students.
When the Marriage Act was being amended last year to include same-sex couples, two MPs proposed an amendment that would allow parents to remove their kids from sex ed classes that conflicted with their faith or moral beliefs. This would have had the effect of giving parents the choice to not have their children exposed to radical programs such as Safe Schools. Not one Labor MP voted in favour of that change, because all of them were required, as a bloc, to vote down any religious freedom protections proposed.
I would think that the desire to push gender ideology into the classroom would have been more of a concern to Catholic education officials than funding. Because what’s the point of a wealthy Catholic school if its students are being taught ideologies that go against Catholic teaching?
It’s not just what is being taught in the classroom; it’s also the staff who teach it.
The current inquiry into religious freedoms being headed by Philip Ruddock has received numerous submissions, including from the official ‘yes’ campaign, asking for the winding back of existing protections that allow Catholic schools to preference for employment those that live in accordance with the Catholic ethos. There has been no comment by Labor about these requests, but if we look to previous comments from senior Labor MPs, it appears that Labor agrees with the winding back of existing protections. Less than 18 months ago, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said that Labor’s position is that exemptions offered to religious bodies should be reduced, not extended.
What does this look like in practice? A Catholic school would not be able to decline to employ a gender fluid teacher, or one in a same-sex marriage, or even one that was an avowed atheist. As I have mentioned before in this column, if you can’t employ Catholic staff in Catholic schools, they become indistinguishable from the public system.
One would think that the ability to maintain existing hiring policies would be more of a concern to Catholic educators than funding, but this did not rate a mention in the robocall (or anywhere else that I can see.)
It’s not just about what’s happening in the schools. There are other reasons why any Catholic agency, irrespective of its ministry, should be reluctant to publicly back the Labor party at this moment. Federal Labor has committed to funding an abortion clinic in Tasmania after the last privately-run clinic in that state closed, with Labor estimating that this will enable an additional 250 abortions to be performed annually in that state. Electing a federal Labor MP in Batman has brought us one step closer to this reality. We hear often that Catholics are not single-issue voters and, in some respects, this is true. But if we were to be “single-issue voters,” then surely the deaths of 250 unborn children is one of the “single issues” that should sway our vote. Surely 250 unborn children a year is worth more than the promised cheque for $250 million promised by Labor.