Anthony Albanese Faces Political Bushfire Over Faith-Based Schools

Anthony Albanese faces a potential political bushfire involving millions of school students and their parents, courtesy of an aggressively progressive Law Reform Commission proposal. The proposition is aimed at restricting the right of faith-based schools to employ teachers sympathetic to their beliefs and ethos. It is a longstanding, at times bitter dispute where politics and policy on religion, education, workplace laws and gay rights collide and politicians line up in ideological order and face inevitable pain seeking a balance between rights. Scott Morrison suffered at the last election because he failed on religious anti-discrimination laws and the current Prime Minister faces a similar damaging dispute. After the election, Labor publicly identified the need to reassure religious groups they were not automatically opposed to faith-based schools and Albanese gave credit to the Catholic Church for his education.

Religious and faith leaders representing more than one-third of Australia’s school students have reacted strongly and quickly to a proposal that they believe would place “severe limits” on faith-based schools’ longstanding right to “preference people of their faith in the selection of staff”. The Law Reform Commission has proposed that faith-based schools be allowed to preference teachers who would support the school’s ethos only in a role where “religion is a genuine requirement” while in all other subjects teachers would not have to share the school’s beliefs, ethos or even have to support those beliefs. The religious schools argue this would defeat the creation of an ethos, put a new and uncertain test into employment law, increase litigation and deter schools from hiring a candidate of the same religion in preference to other candidates.

This view is shared by all the religions, which also fear a teacher could be removed only if the school could prove they “actively undermined” the religious ethos of the school. The faith leaders have told the Albanese government that the proposed reforms “fail to provide real protections for religious schools to effectively operate and teach according to their beliefs”. They accuse the Law Reform Commission of exceeding the terms of reference. For some within Labor, the proposal to create a hierarchy of rights, particularly in relation to gay rights, will be part of what being in government is about. But governments also have to govern for all, and no government can possibly ignore what millions of Australians support.

Source: Article written by journalist Greg Sheridan of the Australian Newspaper

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