On Saturday, 23 March the people of NSW will go to the polls in what has been predicted to be a tight election. As spending promises from the major parties keep spiralling upwards and each looks for a ‘gotcha’ moment from the other leader we have summarised below the key issues directly impacting Christian schools in NSW and where the parties stand.
The Opposition Leader, Michael Daley, made increased education funding a key feature of the formal ALP campaign launch. He pledged, see here, to bring NSW Government school funding to 100% of the School Resourcing Standard (SRS) by 2027 at the cost of an additional $2.7 billion.
Labor has also indicated it would maintain the present agreement, the bilateral agreement signed last year with the Commonwealth government, in relation to funding non-government schools. This would bring ‘under-funded’ schools up to 100 per cent of SRS by 2023 and ‘over-funded schools’ down by 2029.
The Government, in signing the bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth government last year, is obviously also committed to recurrent funding targets outlined in the agreement.
The Government has also committed to increasing capital funding to the non-government sector. The Premier and Education Minister announcing that non-government schools would receive $500 million over four years from a Coalition government to build new classrooms.
Labor has not announced an increase in capital funding, but will support the construction of new non-government schools by exempting these schools from any developer levies, see here. Currently, non-government schools may be required to pay a levy under s. 7.11 (formerly s. 94) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW). The Opposition has indicated that it believes imposing these levies on non-government schools is unwarranted, because schools are community infrastructure. No costing was provided for this commitment.
Support for Religious Freedom
While minor parties will not form Government, and determine funding policy, they may well determine whether amendments to anti-discrimination laws are passed. In Victoria during 2016 bills to remove exemptions for Christian schools and to make radical changes to birth certificate legislation both lost by one vote in their Legislative Council. Closer to home, in November 2017, the euthanasia bill was defeated by 20 votes to 19 votes in the Upper House – one vote changing would have made all the difference.
A wide range of parties were asked the following question – What is the party’s position on the right of religious schools to retain faith-based exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation in relation to staffing, enrolment and policy matters? There responses, published here, are outlined below –
Animal Justice Party
While the Animal Justice Party does not currently hold specific policies relating to this topic, the party does maintain ‘equality’ and ‘rationality’ as two of the key values our policies are based upon. Therefore, the party would support the exemption being properly reviewed, in that we can see fairness in the diocese’s preference to prioritise the employment of teaching staff and the enrolment of students of the Catholic religion, however, we would be concerned about any policies that exempt the diocese from anti-discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability, race, marital status, pregnancy or sexuality.
We support the ability of religious schools, universities and other religious educational institutions to maintain their protections under anti-discrimination legislation in relation to staff, enrolment and policy matters
Australian Labor Party
A Daley Labor Government will conduct a full review of the NSW Anti Discrimination Act.
Christian Democratic Party
The Christian Democratic Party believes that our right to religious freedom deserves to be protected in New South Wales. Ministers, Churches, schools, charities, faith-based organisation such as aged care facilities, and chaplains must be able to continue living out their faith and belief in the public sphere.
On Thursday 24 May 2018, The Rev. The Hon. Fred Nile MLC introduced the Anti-Discrimination (Religious Freedoms) Bill 2018 which aims to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of a person’s religious beliefs or religious activities; to prohibit public authorities and officials from subjecting faith-based entities to detrimental treatment on the ground of faith; does not prohibit chaplains from doing their work.
The Christian Democratic Party believes religious schools have the right to retain faith-based exemptions form anti-discrimination legislation relating to staffing, enrolment and policy matters. We will continue to represent these schools.
We do not support discrimination of this kind. The Greens will be campaigning to remove exceptions that allow for private educational institutions, religious organisations and small businesses to legally discriminate.
In the meantime, religious school that discriminate against teachers and students based on their sexuality or gender identity should not receive a cent of public funds.
The health and welfare of our State’s children is the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government’s priority. No child should be made to feel inferior, or inadequate.
The Commonwealth Government has announced that the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) will conduct an inquiry into religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law, including those relating to educational institutions.
The NSW Government will carefully consider any ALRC recommendations, once they become available.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation
The exemptions should be retained.
Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party
The party recognises and supports the importance of employing staff in religious schools that share the belief systems of that school.
The responses of both major parties in relation to religious freedom are less than encouraging – although the NSW Government is at least seeking to be informed by the consideration of these matters at the Commonwealth level. The commitment by the Opposition to ‘conduct a full review’ of NSW legislation in this area is of considerable concern.
As noted above the outcomes of legislation regarding ‘social’ issues often come down to one or two votes in the Upper House. This reinforces that how people vote in both houses of parliament matters a great deal. Each vote should be considered carefully. There is nothing to stop people voting for different parties in each house, it may indeed be sometimes quite prudent.
In the current social and political climate, it may be very wise to vote for a minor party with a strong commitment to religious freedom in the Legislative Council (Upper House). To ensure that your desired preferences count, you can number more than one group ‘above the line’ or, if greater granularity is desired, number at least 15 candidates ‘below the line’.
You can download a study a copy of the Legislative Council Ballot Paper here.