CHRIS BONNOR. Ruddock review kicks up a storm

If short term reactions are any guide it seems that many of those who submitted to the Ruddock review into religious protections might have some cause for regret. While it is early days, it is likely to throw a timely spotlight on religious school enrolment and employment discrimination. Such discrimination already applies unevenly across Australia, but an emerging question might be why it should exist at all.

The essence of the review’s recommendations was reported in the SMH on Wednesday October 10th. According to the report it seems that the review has dismissed the notion that religious freedom in Australia is in “imminent peril”. The suggestion instead is to make changes to federal anti-discrimination laws to give religious schools some guarantee of the right to turn away gay students and teachers.

It suggests that the review panel thought that streamlining existing practice might placate the dogs of (religious) war.

But early reactions indicate that the door is opening to a wider debate about enrolment and employment discrimination. The horses are already running, albeit in different directions. Within hours Liberal minister Alex Hawke said that such discrimination was absolutely acceptable: “in Australia you have choice of schooling”. Scott Morrison stressed that the review’s key finding wasn’t a change and that what was reported were just proposals. Both Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek rejected expanding any such discrimination.

As the SMH reported, Mr Morrison was asked: “So you’re comfortable with a school expelling a student because they are gay or lesbian?” The Prime Minister replied: “It is existing law.”

It’s almost as if last year’s plebiscite didn’t happen and that regardless, other discrimination against the LBGTI community can remain enshrined in legislation and even expanded. The reality is that events over the last 12 months have exposed longstanding discrimination (on the basis of sexual orientation) by many religious schools as an unwanted anachronism.

Widening the discriminatory powers of religious schools raises a host of questions. There will be a big debate: in the coming weeks those  that sought greater discrimination may well be reminded how important it is to be careful what you wish for.

Even without any expansion, the existing framework of discrimination is now questionable for another reason. They date back to an era when private schools were indeed substantially private and the idea of excessive government regulation was not on many agendas.  But now, most religious schools are funded, by governments, at levels close to the government funding of public schools. In financial terms most religious schools are effectively government schools.

So how is it appropriate that governments allow discrimination in some of its funded schools? Why should some schools be permitted, on the public purse, to cultivate their preferred ‘environment and ethos’ by excluding even more of those they don’t want?

Apologists for expanding discrimination will parade the usual comments about the desirability of school choice. But even just confirming existing discrimination would further mock the already farcical state of school choice, Australian style.

It has only been available to those who can pay the money, pass a test or push the right buttons. Now we have a whole LGBTI community, otherwise strongly supported in last year’s plebiscite, who won’t and shouldn’t accept discrimination by taxpayer-funded private (?) schools.

They can have a wedding, they can even have a wedding cake, but when it comes to one-third of Australia’s schools they needn’t even bother applying.

Chris Bonnor is co-author with Jane Caro of What makes a Good School.





Chris Bonnor is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development. Thanks to Dean Ashenden for assistance in the preparation of this article.

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7 Responses to CHRIS BONNOR. Ruddock review kicks up a storm

  1. Avatar John Thomas says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with Jim Kable.

  2. Avatar J Knight says:

    This nonsense is summarised in the two quotes:

    “Why should some schools be permitted, on the public purse, to cultivate their preferred ‘environment and ethos’”


    “Now we have a whole LGBTI community, otherwise strongly supported in last year’s plebiscite…”

    Christians and the general public are expected (and generally happy to do so) tolerate what a generation ago was outrageous. Not because they necessarily agree with such lifestyle choices, but, they no longer care to legislate these ‘new found freedoms’ away.

    As for the emboldened left, and let’s give them credit for a century of infiltration of all the major institutions, they now wish to “cultivate their preferred ‘environment and ethos’” and adopt a neo-Calvinst approach through the parliaments of the world.

    The irony… it’s all too much for a public that can just as quickly change its view on groups that abuse liberties.

  3. Avatar Peter Mansour-Nahra says:

    The debates in Australia about Religious Freedom so far have neglected to analyse the very concepts of “religion” and “church”, with the general public discussion simply assuming that religion exists as some special entity in our society. Before legislation is passed giving privileges of exemption from society’s anti-discrimination laws, religion, religious belief, and church have to be defined in legal terms. There is a historical trail of various definitions (e.g. which can be enlightening.
    However, for the current debate, I would raise a number of issues. First, generally speaking, religion and church claim a central role in the field of morality, with their consequent concern for moral failure, or sin. It is the domain of personal behaviour. They accept they cannot discriminate on race One must question why “religion” is obsessed with sex, wanting to discriminate against gay people whose sexuality is now considered to conform to society’s norms.
    Religious people, or church members, are able to sin morally by sex, by theft, by brutality and violence, by cheating, by lying and a host of other wrong behaviours, and many do – yet there is no call for them to be dismissed.
    It needs to be emphasised that homosexuality is firstly a matter of “being”, just as race or skin colour are matters of “being”. Homosexual behaviour, which some churches regard as sin, is different from just being gay. A gay person has not sinned by “being”; yet religious institutions want to reject them for “being”. Therefore one must conclude that they are seeking an exemption on the grounds of homophobia alone.
    This raises another question, which is that a Church-based religion is a public organisation in society, and has to conform to its laws. Should it be required to demonstrate, either by creed or practice that it is ontologically different from other organisations – i.e. that it’s “charter” comes from a source outside society, such as a God or spiritual power? Then it would have to prove that this “source” actually demands the rejection of certain people and their behaviours, such as same-gender sex.
    So Chris’s point about government funding is very much at the heart of the issue. If any group is allowed to discriminate against anyone for simply being, it would be destructive of social cohesion. It should not get government support, nor be allowed to discriminate. If, as the PM said – it is already law, then it should be repealed.

  4. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Excellent analysis of something this LNP bullshit choice Ruddock review has kept hidden for months knowing it will be hugely unpopular come Wentworth by-election and the fast approaching national election in any case! Payback all commonwealth money ever received – any school or system which wants to implement and/or continue discriminatory practices – and receive nothing more ever. Oh, and remove tax-free status – and any other benefits granted by governments on the basis that church or “faith”-based schools have hitherto been entitled to receive. A far better option might be to simply nationalise all private schools receiving government funding and declare them them state institutions open to all. Clear the boards – cut the sense of ‘privilege’ and ‘entitlement’ they foster with their striped dresses and blazers and boaters! It’s time for democracy in this land – not class and separation – a kind of apartheid in our schooling – how hideous!

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