Happy Wednesday! This week the Religious Discrimination Bill is being considered by the Coalition and may be introduced in the House of Representatives within the next two sitting weeks.
Labor will be forming a subcommittee to review the Bill (which they have not yet seen). It would be a good idea to pray for the constitution and wisdom of that subcommittee.
We should also pray for soft hearts on the Senate crossbench, as they face intense advocacy from non-religious groups against religious freedom.
Please take note of the highly significant decision by AISNSW, ISV and AISSA to leave the Independent Schools Council of Australia within 12 months – summarised in an article below – and their intention to set up a new body.
Recent AACS activities have included the National Press Club lunch where the Attorney-General Christian Porter spoke on the Bill, and we are hopeful that some important changes to the draft bill have been made before introduction.
We also travelled to the Blue Mountains to address the Mountains Christian College association meeting. In Melbourne, AACS held its board retreat, attended the Religion in the Public Square Conference and the CEN ‘Tone from the Top’ Governance conference. At this latter event, AACS updated the group on current politics and possible long-term approaches to difficult issues.
On Thursday, 28 November, we will join the Minderoo Foundation at Parliament for the release of their annual report and be meeting with various other people on current issues of concern for our schools.
Entries for our Poetry and Essay Competition are streaming in – thank you to the teachers for helping their students submit work. The closing date is 20 December, so if you’re looking for end-of-year activities for students – why not the writing competition?
Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line if you wish to bounce ideas off us or to request an AACS presentation at a school function. Also, don’t forget to let us know when your school is coming to Canberra for the PACER program – we would love to talk to your students and try to organise a special guest or two to meet them.
Have you liked the AACS Facebook page?
Help AACS to expand its online presence by liking the AACS Facebook page and posts. We are keen to inform people what Christian schools are all about and convey positive stories about our communities. Please forward the links through your school networks too at https://www.facebook.com/aacs.net.au/. Even better, if you have material, photos or quotes to share – please send them through!
ISV, AISNSW and AISSA to leave Independent Schools Council of Australia
As a result of the recent ISCA governance structure review, it has emerged that ISV, AISNSW and AISSA are to leave ISCA and have given 12 months’ notice of their withdrawal.
We will continue to try to obtain information on what the new structure will look like, but a new constitution is being drawn up as we speak. Our initial understanding is that AISNSW and ISV wished to have more say from an executive director level than what the current ISCA board structure allowed.
A new standalone and competing body will provide its own Commonwealth advocacy to schools in addition to local services, and local members will not be affected (as ISCA was an association of AIS, as this new body will be).
It will also likely mean that staff will lose their jobs at ISCA’s headquarters in Canberra.
The breakaway group argues that they want to provide a stronger education and research voice for independent schools and is concerned by international organisations beginning to help schools become for-profit and forfeit government funding. Therefore, they want to be competitive with their offerings.
I believe that there may also be some personality politics at play and suggest that we remain circumspect for now, especially until we discern the intentions and capacity of the new organisation.
AACS will be assessing the revelations and how best we can ensure Christian education is supported into the future by whatever school representative bodies exist. We have requested information and meetings in addition to our preliminary conversations.
We are unaware as to whether the breakaway group has consulted any of our schools in New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia. Still, please let us know if their representatives have spoken with your school or principal.
We are aware that it will cause several headaches for certain interstate systems straddling two organisations.
For your prayer list!
Call for Summer ‘Brains Trust’
Are you a principal, board member, student, staff member, parent or alumni with a knack for words? Have you got time this summer to pen from a paragraph to half a page of your thoughts about your school experience?
AACS would love to read your reflections and stories as it will help us provide examples in our face-to-face advocacy and submissions of real stories from Christian school communities. Some topics to aid your thinking are:
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Collective pearls of wisdom
- Local community involvement
- Something that happened that made you proud of your school
- Why do you love your school?
- What challenges did you overcome with the help of your school community?
- Someone you looked up to and why?
- What was it like starting a school from scratch? Why and how did you do it?
- How have you lovingly dealt with students and families who are facing challenges?
- What is your vision for your school community?
- Why did you choose to send your child to a Christian school?
School Funding Update
In light of the lack of finalisation of the Parental Income Test – Direct Income Measure of Capacity to Contribute, schools in 2020 are expected to be paid the best of either their 2011, 2016 or DIM SES.
Initially, all schools will be paid according to their 2011 SES, with any catch-up payments to be paid later in the year if the 2016 SES or DIM is instead found to be more advantageous for the school.
The Choice and Affordability Fund is expected to commence in July 2020, but there is no finalisation of the breakdown of funds between the states. Local AISs will likely use these funds to prioritise helping schools if they are transitioning down, as well as for programs.
Drought-affected areas are likely also to be a priority. This may offset the expected risk of disadvantage to regional schools from moving from the current SES to the DIM score and as it is likely that it will reveal a higher capacity to pay when data is gathered from the front door of a student and not the just surrounding area. This is still being worked out and there may be concessions available.
Register for the National Day of Action Against Bullying
Registrations are now open for your school to participate in the National Day of Action Against Bullying on Friday, 20 March 2020. Further details can be found at: https://bullyingnoway.gov.au/NationalDay
What is ‘conversion therapy’ and how does a ‘ban’ relate to Christian teaching and pastoral care?
The Victorian and ACT Governments have declared that they will soon ban ‘conversion therapy’. Given hormonal treatment and psychological aversion therapy were part of harmful and discredited conversion practices carried out by both secular and religious people many years ago, you might ask what exactly exists today in Victoria and the ACT that they want to ban?
As it turns out, and in the words of Mark Sneddon from ICS, “teaching, prayer and pastoral counselling of many religions based on their belief in faithful monogamous sexual relations within marriage and celibacy outside heterosexual marriage”. Which, unfortunately, are being put on the same par as the terrible practices of the past and will affect schools in what they teach and how they look after students.
The Victorian Government is relying on a Health Complaints Commission Report, that in turn, draws from a Human Rights Law Centre/LaTrobe University report.
The Health Complaints Commission Report defines conversion practices in a way that is far too broad:
- any practice or treatment that seeks to change, suppress or eliminate an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,
- including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.
Furthermore, the Human Rights Law Centre/LaTrobe University report sees the following as “conversion practices”:
- Church and other religious teachings that homosexuality is sinful;
- Pressure to stop acting on a person’s same-sex attraction (e.g. live celibate);
- Attributing ‘same-sex attraction’ to childhood, developmental or family issues.
- Prayer and counselling based on the above.
- The ‘welcoming but not affirming’ pastoral posture of some religious communities to welcome LGB people into fellowship but not affirm their sexual practices as consistent with the teachings of the religion.
Sneddon sensitively asserts that “teaching, prayer and pastoral counselling may be objectionable to some people and in some cases may have been insensitive and caused pain, but they are not “conversion practices” in any ordinary sense of that term. They are common worldwide religious teaching and practices based on religious worldviews about human sexuality and human society.”
“Being exposed to different worldviews which conflict with one’s own can be a painful experience. But the correct response is a greater sensitivity to others and an acceptance that each of us has a right to disagree with or ignore worldviews we don’t like, but not a right to use the law to ban other people from expressing and living by worldviews we don’t like.”
The Human Rights Law Centre/LaTrobe University report is not a solid basis for lawmaking as ICS explains, “While it interviewed 15 people who identified as victims of conversion practices, it did not seek to interview any person who identified as benefiting from conversion practices or any person living celibate with same-sex attraction in accordance with the religious worldviews or any provider of conversion practices. The report does not attempt any even-handed analysis of conversion practices.
In essence the government proposal and those reports try to build from a few discredited practices and seek to outlaw entire religious worldviews on human sexuality.” [Emphasis added]
When the matter of banning ‘conversion therapy’ was raised in New Zealand, a select committee concluded that it required more information before the Government legislated on the issue. “In particular”, the report declared, “thought must be given to how to define conversion therapy, who the ban would apply to, and how to ensure that rights relating to freedom of expression and religion were maintained”.
Our joint submission to the Victorian Government is attached here: Joint_SubmissionCTVic
Project 111 – Review of the Equal Opp Act 1984 (WA)
The Law Reform Commission of Western Australia is currently reviewing the state’s EO legislation. This review will include an examination of religious exemptions in discrimination law, whether to include terms such as ‘vilification’ and a positive duty not to discriminate, an investigation of the powers held by the EO Commissioner and other related matters.
The Commission will release a discussion paper next year and a call for submissions and public consultation will follow.
AACS has begun liaising with WA MPs and schools on the matter. We will be heading over to WA in the new year and gather AACS Principals together for a meeting to help prepare.
Terms of Reference
The Law Reform Commission of Western Australia is to provide advice and make recommendations for consideration by the Government on possible amendments to enhance and update the EO Act 1984 (WA) (“the Act”) taking into account Australian and international best practices regarding equality and non-discrimination.
In carrying out its review, the Law Reform Commission should consider whether there is a need for any reform, and if so, the scope of reform regarding:
- the objects of the Act and other preliminary provisions;
- the grounds of discrimination including (but not limited to) introducing grounds of gender identity and intersex status;
- the areas of public life to which the Act applies;
- definitions in the Act including (but not limited to) discrimination, harassment (including a requirement for disadvantage in a definition of sexual harassment), impairment (including a requirement to make reasonable adjustments for persons with an impairment), victimisation, services and employment;
- the inclusion of vilification, including racial, religious, sexual orientation and impairment vilification;
- the inclusion of a positive duty not to discriminate on grounds covered by the Act;
- exceptions to grounds of discrimination including (but not limited to) those for religious institutions;
- the burden of proof;
- the functions and investigative powers of the Commissioner for EO including (but not limited to) the functions of the Commissioner (either personally or by counsel) assisting complainants in the presentation of their case to the State Administrative Tribunal (“SAT”);
- requirements around the referral of complaints to SAT;
- the role and jurisdiction of SAT under the Act, including the requirement for leave if the complaint is dismissed by the Commissioner;
- interaction with the Commonwealth Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 and with other relevant Commonwealth laws or proposed laws;
- any other element of the Act or other laws relevant to equal opportunity and non-discrimination; and
- any related matter.
Teaching school hub model expands – call for candidates
Following on from the success of the AACS member school, St Phillip’s Christian College Teaching School, Alphacrucis is about to establish a second partnership hub called the Sydney Teaching School Alliance. School include St Andrew’s Cathedral School, The Scots College, William Clarke College and Blue Mountains Grammar School. Applications for teacher-trainee places for 2020 have opened.
This involves onsite clinical practice training, half-tuition sponsorship and part-time employment as a teacher’s assistant.
Call for student artwork for AACS website
If schools have some high-quality photos of student artwork they would like to send in for our website, please do!
At a recent AACS workshop at Cattai, NSW, Principals and Board chairs practised addressing their school communities on the matter of religious freedom and how challenges to employing Christian staff would impact their school. A Board Chair shared the following dot points with us and they are a concise summary that you may wish to tailor for your community and staff should you want to.
Skeleton Address to Association Meeting
What?: Our school exists to build character in children, rooted in God’s Word, and to point them to Christ.
So What?: Without Religious Freedom, specifically to employ our staff, we cannot do this:
- Teachers could no longer discipline with grace and gospel;
- The curriculum no longer points to God in every element;
- ‘Religion’ becomes an add-on, an optional extra feature;
Then what?: If this happens, and our staff are no longer all Christians who share our beliefs, then:
- We become hypocrites, segmenting faith from life;
- We lose character building;
- We lose teachers as role models;
- We stop being a community of shared values;
- In the end, we become no different.
- Our mission is failed.
2020 is looking to be a massive year for Christian education and should you feel comfortable in letting your school community know of the option to donate directly to AACS in your newsletter, please contact Alithea at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Donations will help AACS with media monitoring subscriptions, additional staff at critical points, legal advice and general resources that will all help us to advocate for our schools, mainly as issues are arising at the state and territory levels.
Melbourne Declaration Revision
AACS made a short-form submission on the updated draft of the Melbourne Declaration to feed into the final draft to be presented to COAG ED Council in December.
Please see below:
The Declaration should explicitly support the presence of a wide range of educational philosophies to foster freedom of thought and belief, meet student needs and respect parental leadership, values and choice in choosing the best education for their family. The Declaration should also identify an overall purpose for education (i.e. to develop good and self-sustaining citizens) and should include clear overarching principles of what a quality education imparts, for example:
- The ability to think critically, conceptually and reflectively
- Factual content knowledge to enable well-informed opinions to be developed and to make critical analysis possible
- Curiosity and the tools for engaging intellectually with a topic
- Well-honed communication skills in writing, speaking and listening
- An appreciation of art and culture
- The ability to formulate an argument and coherently debate an issue
- Personal ethical standards
- Research, information gathering and discernment skills
- The ability to solve problems with consideration of a wide range of factors
- The ability to work together in a team and be respectful of others
- Tools to self-regulate one’s behaviour when engaging in difficult tasks