Urgent call to sign WA e-petition

Parents need to support a WA e-petition in the face of the WA government’s ideology that appears to reject international human rights

The parliamentary petition initiated by a parent in a member school has garnered over 7,500 signatures – but more are needed!

It is important that all parents sign the petition to ensure here are as many signatures as possible. This will show just how much opposition there is to these changes in the community.

This is the link to the e-petition, which literally takes less than 2 minutes to complete: – https://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Parliament/LCePetitions.nsf/petitions/22-0025

Following the resignation of Alannah MacTiernan, there is media speculation that the resultant cabinet reshuffle will mean a new Attorney-General after Christmas, which may have an impact on the direction the proposed changes take.

Less positively, some replies from the Government to constituents who have raised concerns indicating as follows –

Ultimately, the balance the Commission struck through Recommendation 79 was that the exception should be narrowed so that religious educational institutions should only be permitted to discriminate in employment and the engagement of contract workers where conformity with religious doctrine, tenets or beliefs is an inherent requirement of the role, the person cannot meet the inherent requirement because of their religious conviction, and the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. Before arriving at Recommendation 79, the Commission carefully considered submissions from religious organisations that it was essential that all staff, from the principal to the gardener, speak and act in keeping with that faith.

However, the Commission found that by requiring religious educational institutions to consider whether it is necessary for an individual in a particular role to conform with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles, the right balance could be struck between the school s religious freedom and the rights of people with other personal attributes protected by the Act not to be discriminated against because of their protected attribute in employment and work.

The Report found that under the recommended approach it would be unlikely that discrimination would be permitted when employing a maths teacher or gardener, as these jobs can be performed without conformity to religious doctrine, tenets or beliefs. However the Report left room for there to be a different consideration for a maths teacher with a dual role as student mentor.

The Commission found that under the recommended approach religious schools will not be required to employ people who are hostile to their religious doctrine or ethos.

While accurately describing the Commission’s view this response is, frankly, a little disingenuous.  The response does not engage substantively with the concerns of Christian schools and merely hides behind the Commission and its report.

To assert, as this response does, that ‘a maths teacher or gardener‘ does not need to hold to the religious beliefs of a schools as ‘these jobs can be performed without conformity to religious doctrine, tenets or beliefs’ imposes a particular view of education across all schools in Western Australia. 

In doing so, the WA government’s response denies alternative approaches to education and, particularly, the experiences and approaches of Christian schools across Australia. 

This view denies effective parental choice and is inconsistent with the rights of parents to ‘to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions’ under Article 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Australia is a signatory.

It is also worth looking at the context of the student mentor example mentioned in the Commission’s report –

‘It was suggested by some stakeholders that religious affiliation would only be an inherent requirement of a principal and chaplain, who are both religious leaders of the school, or staff who teach religious education. It would not be an inherent requirement of other positions at a school, including teaching or non-teaching staff. There may be some grey areas, such as a maths teacher who was also to be a student mentor.’

A plain reading of this makes the impact of the recommendations clear, ‘a maths teacher who was also to be a student mentor‘ is a situation where the Commission believes it ‘may be’, only may be, a ‘grey area’ – not a situation where it would be an inherent requirement, but where it may be a grey area

This uncertainty and confusion will merely result in school resources needing to be diverted from education to lawyer’s fees.

The claim in the response that ‘will not be required to employ people who are hostile to their religious doctrine or ethos‘ is also deserving of further analysis, again the context in the Commission’s report is a useful starting point.

‘Under this approach, religious schools will not be required to employ people who are hostile to their religious doctrine or ethos. Religious education institutions can ensure by contract or common law that teacher and contract workers exhibit fidelity and good faith toward the school so as to prevent a staff member from acting contrary to the ethos and fundamental principles of a school.’

Similar claims were made in relation to the ill-conceived ‘Wong Bill’ in the Commonwealth Parliament back in 2018.  After reviewing the Bill and these claims they were rejected as this approach can simply not be sustained!

A teacher and a school cannot ‘contract out’ of legislative requirements even if both agreed. 

Any such attempt via contractual obligation would be fruitless in the face of equal opportunity legislation with broad definitions of discrimination, which apply where there is any link to a protected attribute. 

Indeed, with the equal opportunity legislation purporting to protect against religious discrimination, the actions by a school to enforce religiously based requirements would be prima-facie unlawful – only protected if there was an exemption in place.

In short, contractual arrangements are no substitute for legislative protections.

Overall, the arguments provided simply reflect a set of Government ‘talking points’ not any genuine attempt to fully understand the issues and grapple with them. 

It is therefore extremely important that WA parents sign the petition below before in closes on November 25!

Act now by visiting our campaign page: ValuedVoices.org.au/protect-wa-christian-schools