AACS represents the interests of member schools on a range of issues that impact on the delivery of authentic Christian education in Australia. At the core of our work is conveying our views and lobbying for change in relation to legislation, educational policies, budget initiatives and the administration of government programmes. Our work involves visits to politicians and bureaucrats, submissions to parliamentary inquiries, appearances before parliamentary committee hearings as well as negotiations with peak bodies.
Provided below are a summary of recent inquiries and submissions made by AACS on behalf of member schools.
Following a referral by the Attorney-General, the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) conducted a wholesale review into the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld). The QHRC released a Discussion Paper in November 2021 and called for submissions to be made by March 2022. AACS responded made a submission in March 2022.
This reform proposal considers options for responding to recommendations made by the ACT Law Reform Advisory Council (LRAC) in its 2015 review of the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) ('Act'). Most of the LRAC recommendations for change to the Act have already been implemented. However, recommendations in the areas of coverage, exceptions and positive duty remain outstanding. The Justice and Community Safety Directorate released a Discussion Paper in October 2021, to which we have responded.
At the instruction of the WA Attorney-General, the Law Reform Commission of WA is conducting a review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA). The Attorney's instruction specifically referenced the exceptions that Christian Schools rely on to build faith-based communities for our children. The Law Reform Commission has provided a Discussion Paper to which AACS made a submission.
AACS provided feedback to ACARA about the proposed revisions to the Australian Curriculum. Christian school teachers were also encouraged by AACS to provide their own feedback about specific subject areas on the proposed curriculum revisions through an online survey.
AACS welcomed the opportunity to provide a submission in response to the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute’s (TLRI) community consultation into ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’ (SOGI) conversion practices. where we outlined our significant concerns about the practical implications of the recent introduction of conversion practice laws in Qld, ACT and currently under consideration by the Victorian Parliament for our staff and parents.
The South Australian Government indicated its intention to amend the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 so that Christian schools will be prevented from relying on the religious exception to anti-discrimination laws, although they have an existing separate exception specifically relating to hiring practices. AACS provided a submission to the consultation.
Christian schools are committed to educating all students wanting a Christian education, including those with disabilities. To meet this challenge and successfully support students with disabilities we recommend the Government consider how it might increase resources for training and support of staff in this area. AACS provided a joint submission along with Christian Schools Australia and Adventist Schools Australia into the 2020 Review of the Standards which you can read below.
The introduction of Mark Latham's Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 aims to protect religious freedoms in New South Wales through amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). AACS strongly supports this bill because in the current climate of antipathy towards people of faith we believe a greater level of legal protection for freedom of belief and religion is required. Freedom of belief in a society means having a broad range of educational options through which such beliefs can be expressed. Choice in schooling provides parents with the opportunity to choose a school that is religiously motivated or one that is not. As an association of schools that operate within a multicultural and pluralist society AACS is committed to ensuring that all communities have the freedom to express themselves and live according to their beliefs.
In our submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee’s inquiry into funding models, AACS reiterated our desire for a consistent, needs-based, sector-blind school funding model for Australian students and their families. We are grateful that the school funding model is well on the way toward a more detailed collection and analysis of parental income through the first iteration of the Direct Measure of Income (DMI) model to determine Capacity to Contribute (CTC) scores.
AACS commends the Government on its improvements to the Religious Discrimination Bill in response to feedback provided in consultation with the Australian community. It is a step towards our main priority: ensuring that parents retain the ability to educate their children at schools that accord with their faith. The Bill provides that there is no religious discrimination where a religious school engages in good faith in conduct that is in accordance with the beliefs and teachings of their religion. This allows us to maintain our schools’ distinctive culture, ethos and pedagogy. The AACS submissions are below:
AACS collaborated with Adventist Schools Australia (ASA), the Associated Christian Schools (ACS) group and Christian Schools Australia (CSA) to lodge a submission to the Queensland Parliament’s Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee. Our submission makes it clear that our groups consider a bill whereby the government mandates a school counsellor’s response to a particular student, regardless of their clinical opinion and under the guise of banning vaguely defined ‘conversion therapy’ – is dangerous and unjustified.
On 22 November 2017, the then Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, announced the appointment of an Expert Panel to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion. The Panel received more than 15,500 submissions to the Religious Freedom Review. In our submission, AACS requested that the common understandings of religious freedom protection within human rights law be re-affirmed, that areas of ambiguity be clarified, and that more substantive religious and associational freedoms protection be afforded to all religious schools.
In its submission to the Department of Attorney-General and Justice of the Northern Territory in response to its Discussion Paper ‘Modernisation of Anti-Discrimination Act’ (September 2017) argued strongly against the proposals which would lead to the removal of religious and associational freedom presently enjoyed by educational facilities, students and their parents in the Northern Territory.
AACS encourages school leaders to cultivate a positive relationship with their political representatives to ensure they experience the character of our schools and know the contribution they make to the intellectual, economic, social, cultural, moral and spiritual capital of the nation. Local members and senators are open to invitations to visit schools in their electorate and provide an opportunity to highlight the distinctives of Christian education, the importance of parental choice and any local issues. AACS is available to brief school leaders on current issues that you may like to raise with your representatives and prepare you for hosting a school visit or a meeting in Canberra. You can find the contact detilas of your local Member of Parliament here.
School visits to the Nation's Capital provide many rich learning opportunities for students, including a tour of Parliament House, and AACS can assist with advice and support to set up meetings with your local member while you are in here. The Australian Parliament's School Visit Program provides a unique opportunity for primary and secondary schools to gain a first hand appreciation of law-making and democracy in Australia.