The NSW Labor Party has announced its support for a private member’s bill, entitled the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill, from Alex Greenwich (Independent MP for Sydney) which would mean that private education authorities would no longer be exempt from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.
As it stands the bill covers admission refusal, expulsion or discrimination based on race, transgender grounds, marital status, sexuality, gender, disability et cetera. Which, you know, seems pretty fucking reasonable. However, it currently has a clause stating that it does not apply to “private educational authority.”
So, were the bill to be passed, private schools would have to be held to the same standards when it came to discriminating against students.
Greenwich says of the new bill that it will “go a long way to say to schools you cannot treat people unfairly because they are LGBTI and will give students access to the Anti-Discrimination Board to have their grievances heard.”
News recently published a story featuring ‘Letters from gay Australian students’ on how their schools tried to “fix” them. “I have heard many heartbreaking stories where students have been bullied, sent to counselling, threatened with expulsion and excluded from school events because they were LGBTI,” said Greenwich.
Which is ultimately what Labor cites as their reason for pledging support. Carmel Tebbutt, Labor’s education spokesperson has said “the vast majority of non-government schools do the right thing and do not discriminate against students. However, consultation undertaken by Alex Greenwich MP has highlighted some examples of students who have had poor experiences or been subject to bullying at school.”
Opposition to the bill within the private education community has been made on the basis of wanting to maintain ‘religious freedom.’ Chief Executive of the Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, Laurie Scandrett, has said “most private schools have a religious ethos, they stand for something, and if these exemptions were removed that would break down the ability of these schools to maintain whatever their particular ethos is.”
Ian Baker, acting Executive Director of the NSW Catholic Education Commission, has said regarding the exemption that “it’s exercised with great caution and consideration. The objective is not to punish, but to protect the rights of those families who send their child to a school based on a religious faith.”
He went on to say, “we couldn’t agree to the exemptions being removed unless we could be assured that there’s an alternative way of guaranteeing freedom of religion, which is an internationally recognised human right.”
After an automated phone poll Mr. Greenwich commissioned it was found that sixty-six per cent of respondents did not support the present exemptions, eighteen per cent did and sixteen per cent were undecided. Meanwhile, seventy-two per cent of the 1,200 Australians surveyed did not know that the exemptions existed.
Debate on the bill is not expected to be for another few weeks. However, support for its passing has been growing with petitions circulating and groups on both sides increasingly vocal about their position.
For the bill to have a chance at succeeding in the lower house it will need more than its current Labor and Greens support; there will need to be members of the NSW Coalition government backing it. The government is yet to announce its position.
Image via alexgreenwich.com