An academic says proposed laws to strengthen protections for religious schools would see Australia in breach of a UN convention on child rights.
David Roy, a lecturer of education at the University of Newcastle, says the current “silence” for the continuing discrimination of the disabled by those who have been outspoken on this issue, suggests “an element of hypocrisy”.
“There is no need for these laws. Indeed with Australia being a signatory to the 1989 UNHCR 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1994UNESCO Salamanca Statement, the existing laws are in breach,” Roy told The Educator.
Article 2 of the Convention states that signatories should not discriminate against children, “irrespective of his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”.
The Convention states further, in Article 28 (d) that: “signatories recognise the right of the child to education and – with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity – they shall … make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children”.
Roy said the existing laws protecting religious schools run counter to what should be expected of a modern democratic society.
“To deny children an education because of who they are, based on ethnicity, financial status, gender, disability or nationality undermines the very principles of education,” Roy said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently announced that Independent and Catholic schools will be prevented from expelling LGBTQI students and teachers under new laws.
The PM’s announcement was prompted by a leaked recommendation from the Ruddock review which suggested that laws allowing religious schools to refuse gay students and teachers be made consistent across Australia.
Less than a week later, outspoken crossbench senator Derryn Hinch threatened a motion to strip funding from private schools that exclude gay teachers and students.
A Fairfax-Ipsos survey released on Sunday night found that 74% of all eligible voters reject any laws that would allow schools to discriminate based on a student or teacher’s sexuality, relationship status or gender.
Catholic Schools NSW (CSNSW) – which represents the state’s 595 Catholic schools and their 255,000 students – said that while it opposes banning gay students, the issues as they relate to staff “are more complex and require careful consideration of all legal and employment-related matters”.
Roy says that while the leaked recommendation was alarming, there several legal challenges that would make such a law from being passed highly unlikely.
“There are several challenges with this proposition. Already, all types of schools [public and independent] can discriminate against certain student minority groups – in particular, children with a disability,” Roy told The Educator.
“However, if this is placed into federal law, it will open the precedent to increase discrimination for all. That said, I see many legal challenges to this which makes it unlikely to be passed.”