ANTI-DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012
Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - Mr President, I thank the honourable member for Elwick because she has summed it up very well. I also thank the leader for the briefing we had this morning. It cleared up many things in my mind. Seeing some of the amendments that we have, it certainly provided some comfort to me on some of the issues I have with the bill.
I support most of this bill and while I accept we must always retain freedom of speech, I do not think anyone deserves to be bullied, abused, intimidated, insulted, humiliated or offended either physically or mentally. Unfortunately bullying, and particularly cyber bullying, has become much more widespread over recent times.
We are becoming an extremely litigious society and, as I said this morning, what offends some does not offend others. I guess it will be up to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to determine which way it goes. I am sure most people saw the Skywhale. Yesterday comments were made by one of my fellow aldermen. It was seen as offensive by many, judging from the emails I have received. Others were not offended at all, so it comes down to the fact that some things will be offensive to some and not to others. I have concerns about different sections in the bill and I believe most of them will be addressed by some of the amendments that are coming before us. I believe it is important that all faith-based schools have the ability to choose enrolments, irrespective of class numbers. As we heard in the briefings, some faith-based schools keep what could be considered emergency places for families that may relocate to Tasmania mid-term, for example, and I do not believe that should be to their detriment.
In my electorate of Launceston there are several faith-based schools and I had the privilege recently to visit the John Calvin School. It appears to be a very well run faith-based school - a small number of children, but backed by the parents and their church. The John Calvin School Tasmania is run by the Free Reformed School Association (Tas) Inc., and membership is restricted to communicant members of one of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia. I was told that their faith is the cornerstone of the school. Should they be forced to take Catholic students, for example, or agnostic students, it would change their ethos. People choosing to send their children to that school do so knowing the ethos of the school and parents undertake to follow that ethos.
Catholic schools are similar, but I believe they are a little more inclusive. They have a policy of accepting Catholic students from Catholic schools first, followed by Catholic students from non-Catholic schools, then non-Catholic students from Catholic schools and finally non Catholic students. If amendments are not made to the bill students could be taken on a first-in, first-served basis and this could lead to some Catholic students, perhaps because of a lack of financial funds, not receiving a Catholic education simply because a non-Catholic student had their name down first. It is important to note that ability to pay is not a criterion for Catholic schools. While it is essential that the majority of students are able to afford their Catholic education, no Catholic student would be turned away because of an inability to pay. In fact, we have been told that around $200 000 is written off by the larger Catholic schools every year.
It was mentioned by the member for Elwick, and I thought she covered it very well, the fact that students receive funding, and the state does not provide funding to run private or independent schools. I also add that if these schools were not available, the state schools would be totally unable to cope with the influx of students because of the number of extra students they would have if there were no independent and private schools. Our democracy is absolutely dependent on freedom of speech, which allows us to, without fear, speak out about injustices that may have been perpetrated by individuals, organisations or various levels of government. Personal opinions must never be restricted, but there needs to be a balance. Obviously people cannot abuse or intimidate or insult or offend by what they call 'freedom of speech'. That is where we need to find the fine line.
I appreciated the briefing this morning by Mr Croome. It was informative to hear about the number of people in those situations, whether they are transgender, homosexual, or lesbian, who are constantly abused and called names and harassed. We should be looking to address some of those issues. No-one, whatever their situation, should have to go through that.
I also accept the comments from the member for Windermere - at some stage everyone is bullied. It does not matter who you are; it could be a child at school who is a little quiet and feels they are abused. I went to a Moonbeam function on Saturday night and they were raising money for Angel's Goal. A young girl spoke, because she and her father have started an anti bullying organisation. She told how she believed she had a serious illness because of the symptoms she had, but it turned out it was all to do with bullying. The bullying had caused so many symptoms. It was not an illness per se, but her symptoms were simply caused by the bullying she received at school from other students, because of what she said was her body image.
It is really sad when we get people bullying at schools and on the internet. I have been told that internet bullying has really come into its own now, with mobile phones and people sending photos. So many young people do not realise the photo they take and send to someone privately can hit the web. Facebook can be a great thing, but Facebook can also be a terrible tool in the wrong hands. There are so many different areas we need to look at now.
I look at this Anti-Discrimination Act, and it does not matter how broad it is or whatever we do to it, it would never be able to cover every eventuality. The concerns are, as has been mentioned already, that sometimes it will be used as a political tool, it will be used for the wrong reasons and those who are accused, for whatever reason, will have to prove their innocence, which certainly makes it very difficult.
Of course, discrimination can be either appropriate or unjust. Recently with the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, I was told constantly that I was being discriminatory by voting against same-sex marriage. The fact that I believed it was a federal issue did not matter. I could say I was discriminated against because I had a Facebook page set up against me with all sorts of comments, but I left that Facebook page there because I thought those people have a right to put their comments, even though most of the comments were intimidating, insulting, humiliating, offensive and abusive. A lot of the comments really were, and I could very easily have gone to the Anti Discrimination Commissioner and said I feel really upset because the people's names were there. But I believe they had every right to make their comments. I have my ideas who created 'my' Facebook page for me, with my photo.
Mr Finch - I deny it.
Mrs ARMITAGE - I was looking at you. But it had my photo and many people actually thought it was my page. That is just an example that discrimination can be in many different forms and we can look at discrimination in many different ways. You can discriminate or you can be discriminated against and that is one of the concerns I have with a bill like this.
There are deficiencies in the current act and I will support this bill because I believe some of the deficiencies can be overcome and the bill can be improved. I believe that some of the areas need to be addressed and as much as we can, we need to improve it. I will look to the amendments that we have. I thank the members who have spoken because they have said many of the words that I would have liked to have said, which has shortened my speech considerably.
Mr President, I thank the leader for the briefings; they were very informative and I thank those who briefed us as well.
Wednesday 21 August 2013
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012
Mrs ARMITAGE - Mr Chair, I will be supporting this amendment. I have heard the members for Elwick and Western Tiers saying the concern is that the government has already told us they will not accept any amendments. Well, we have already made one amendment, so if they are not going to accept any amendments, they are not going to accept the one we made before lunch. I do not believe that fear of refusal should be a reason for not doing the right thing, and it is the right thing to have the member's amendment before us.
I can speak from experience. I attended a large faith-based school. My children first of all attended a small faith-based primary school, and then a large faith-based high school. My husband attended Friends School, which is another faith-based school in Hobart, and I believe they have the right to discriminate - well, it has been called reverse discrimination.
It is important that all faith-based schools have the ability to choose enrolments, irrespective of their class numbers. One of the problems we had with the government's amendment was that many faith-based schools keep what are considered emergency places for families relocating to Tasmania, perhaps at mid-term, for example. I do not think that should be to their detriment. So, if they keep a couple of places, all of a sudden they are not full, so how do they discriminate?
In my electorate there are several faith-based schools and I had the privilege to visit John Calvin School, which appears to be a very well run faith-based school backed by the parents and their church. The John Calvin School is run by the Free Reformed School Association (Tasmania) and membership is restricted to communicant members of one of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia. It is their faith that was the cornerstone of this school. Should they be forced to take, for example, Catholic or agnostic students it would change their ethos.
Mrs Taylor - Why would it change their ethos?
Mrs ARMITAGE - For the parents who run that school, one of the commitments is that the children go to the church on Sunday and perform everything of the faith. Catholic parents sending their child - unless they are prepared to change their religion - if they change their religion, yes, they can go to that school if they are prepared to undertake the followings of that church. But if I were to send my children there as Catholics I would expect my children to go to a Catholic church on Sundays. It would not be relevant to the John Calvin School or the Free Reformed Church.
If you send your children to a Catholic school you expect them to have some religious teaching.
Mrs Taylor - Absolutely. And if you send your children to that school you accept that your children will take part in the teaching.
Mrs ARMITAGE - And they do not refuse anyone willing to follow their preaching. But they would then need to follow that preaching and go to their church and become a member of their church. I visited them and this is the understanding that I had. I agree with that. Catholic schools are probably a little more inclusive. They have a policy of accepting Catholic students from Catholic schools first. Second are Catholic students from non-Catholic schools, then it is non-Catholic students from Catholic schools and finally non-Catholic students. A Catholic parent might want to send their child to St Thomas More's and be told, 'No, we are sorry; it is first in, best dressed. Our school is full with non-Catholic students.' If the parent were told this when their child already attended a Catholic primary school -
Mrs Taylor - That is why my exemption would cover that.
Mrs ARMITAGE - But you cannot just cover one. Your exemption is only if their class is full. Is that right?
Mrs Taylor - That is what you said.
Mrs ARMITAGE - No, I did not say that, sorry. It could happen that I want to send my child to that school and the class is already full because they have taken people who have come in before me on the list. I am a Catholic and my child cannot go to the Catholic school. My child has been going to a Catholic primary school since prep, so I naturally assume that my child will go to the Catholic high school but other people have put their names on the list first and all of a sudden my Catholic -
Mrs Taylor - Why would you leave it to the last minute?
Mrs ARMITAGE - I might relocate. If I have relocated, under your amendment, the amendment of the government, they cannot keep places because if they keep places they are not full. I do not believe that it is appropriate.
The member for Pembroke's amendment is the one that I am going to support and I would hope that the government supports it.
It is probably opportune to read into Hansard - I have permission to read this letter from Tony Crehan of Independent Schools Tasmania on 12 November to the Attorney-General regarding the proposed amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998:
Your letter indicates that 2008 consultations were used to inform the Final Report. That is correct but the Final Report (Recommended Position Paper) issued in September 2009 did not specify the extremely limited circumstances for exemption now proposed. Position 38 of the Final Report and the Summary of suggested positions issued at the same time reads as follows:
'Amend the Act to allow discrimination on the basis of religious belief, religious affiliation or religious activity in educational institutions conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion in so far as the policies of that educational institution provide for preferential admission to those students who also adhere to the particular religion. The exemption should not extend beyond the point of admission.'
Under the now proposed Section 56B a school must not only apply to the Commissioner for in principle exemption but can only apply that exemption if there are more children seeking admission to a year group than there are places available.
This exact amendment may have been negotiated with Catholic authorities but you have been ill-advised if you understand that other interested schools systems were kept informed of the progress of the negotiations. There was no communication from the Commissioner or any other government representative before the amendment bill was finalised and announced.
Since then, briefings have taken place and, whilst they have clarified the procedural implementation of the proposed amendment, they did not resolve the concerns of our religious affiliated member schools about the limitation to 'oversubscribed' year levels. The proposed limitation would prevent such schools from carrying out the purpose for which they were established - to provide education to members of their faith according to the ethos and practices of their particular religion. Furthermore, it would leave them in no position to offer places in that year group to members of their faith who subsequently apply for enrolment.
On behalf of these schools, we respectfully request that the Government reconsider its policy position and provide a more general, less limited exemption.
I have spoken to Mr Crehan and he was quite happy for me to read that into Hansard. I am a Catholic, but I do not believe that we should only be making an amendment or a law for the Catholics.
Mrs Taylor - It is not an amendment for the Catholics.
Mrs ARMITAGE - I am of that faith and I am practising that faith but I still believe that the other faith-based schools should also be able to choose their students. As the member for Apsley said, some schools are very small and some would not be viable. I also hear the member for Mersey who says that -
Ms Rattray - They wouldn't meet the criteria.
Mrs ARMITAGE - Exactly.
Ms Forrest - Some would not survive if they didn't take students who weren't of their faith.
Mrs ARMITAGE - The fact of the matter is that they all take students who are not of their faith. All the Catholic schools take some students not of their faith; they have a percentage that they take. The member for Mersey mentioned the amount of money that goes to students and I accept that but they are students irrespective of whether they are in faith-based schools or in the public system. Students attract a certain amount of funding to help with their education. I would like to see the state system cope with the influx of students if the private schools did not exist. I will not be declining to support this on fear that it will not get up. If for some reason this anti discrimination bill does not get up, it will be up to the government.
If the government cannot see and take note of even the letter from Tony Crehan, who points out the final report of the position paper that they refer to themselves, then they will lose some of the gains they are going to get through this bill. That is a shame because there are some gains in this anti-discrimination bill for all people. If the government sit on their high horse and say they will not accept this, they will not put this through, they will not vote with the Liberals to make sure that all faith-based schools have the ability to take faith-based students first, then they are the losers because there will not be a bill. It will go back and yes, it will be illegal for some of the schools to do what they are doing now and there may be some problems. The government will also lose; they will lose some of the gains they have in this bill so I hope that commonsense will prevail and that they will see this amendment for what it is, and that they will not say, 'No, we won't accept it' but that they will see that it is actually a good amendment and for the good of all schools and all students and I hope that it passes. I will be supporting the amendment.
Mrs ARMITAGE - Mr Chair, public schools take anyone. Private schools are formed for that very reason, particularly with faith-based schools - they prioritise on religious orientation. I take exception to the comments from the member for Mersey saying they could use it as a shield to discriminate against students' sexual orientation.
Mr Gaffney - I think I said that is what some community members have spoken to me about, so it is qualified.
Mrs ARMITAGE - Having been involved with many schools, private and public, I do not believe any school, teachers, headmasters or anyone I have spoken to would discriminate on sexual orientation. There are gay members in many of these schools who are quite known and they are accepted just like anyone else.
Mrs Taylor - But do you think Muslims might send their children in as bombers?
Mrs ARMITAGE - I do not believe I said that. Excuse me, member for Elwick, you said I said it.
Mrs Taylor - No, I said, 'Do you believe', but obviously you don't. I'm sorry. The question was raised earlier.
Mrs ARMITAGE - I certainly made no comment about anyone sending anyone in as bombers. I have said that public schools are for the public and private schools include many of the religious-based schools that have been set up for religious-based students to attend. I do not believe religion is a mask for refusal on other grounds. That would be absolutely terrible if it was, and I do not believe it does happen.
Ms Forrest - You don't believe it happens?
Mrs ARMITAGE - No, I do not. I have never seen it and I do not believe it happens, and I do not believe by passing this amendment it will encourage it. I do not believe there is any reason for students to be denied access to a school. If a student were of the religion of the school and had a certain sexual orientation, I do not believe they would be refused. Why would they if they met the other criteria? If a Catholic student went to a Catholic school with a space and they came first and had the priorities, they would not be refused and I do not believe they would.
I mentioned to the member for Windermere that not everyone gets everything they want in life. He was saying about his son who wanted to go to St Brendan-Shaw. There are many things I want and many things my children probably want. If you apply for a job, sometimes you get it and sometimes you do not. There are disappointments in life.
Just because a school gets a certain amount of money out of the public purse, as does the state school for students for their education, does not mean because I pay rates and taxes and that school is in that area where I live, my child must be able to go there. I do not believe that is a right. There are certain things we can have and certain things we cannot and if we do not teach our children that they will not get everything they want, I hate to see what sort of adults they are going to grow into.
My children know that sometimes they are lucky and get things and sometimes they do not. They went to a Catholic school and I wanted them to go to a Catholic school. I baptised them Catholic and sent them to a Catholic primary school, which meant they had priority to go to a Catholic high school. Had I sent them to a state primary school, I knew they would not take priority over students at a Catholic primary school. I made that choice when I sent my children to school knowing where I wanted them to have their education. If I want them to go to a Catholic high school and have priority, I will send them as Catholics to a Catholic primary school.
Mr Gaffney - You had the right to send them to a public school, though, didn't you?
Mrs ARMITAGE - Absolutely, I did, but I chose to send them to a Catholic primary school so they would have the ability to go to a Catholic high school. I had the right to baptise them Catholic, Anglican or whatever I wanted. I wanted my children brought up in the Catholic faith, as I had been, so I chose that path.
The member for Windermere had the choice to bring his children up as Catholics and send them to a Catholic primary school and then they would have had priority. We all have choices that we make in life; they lead to different paths and I do not think it comes down to our saying, 'Just because your children didn't go there and I made these choices and you made those choices'. At the end of the day we still have the same choice - we take paths, we make decisions and because we take those paths and we make those choices along the way we had different outcomes and everyone has different outcomes from the choices they make in life, whichever way they go.
I will be supporting the amendment. As I pointed out before, if the government chooses to throw it out, then be it on their head that they throw the whole bill out plus all the pluses and gains they have made.
Ms Forrest - All schools should be non-compliant and outside the act.
Mrs ARMITAGE - As I said, they are now. The government can choose to accept this. They do not have to say they are not taking any amendments. They can look at it and accept it. They can take the pluses and minuses, as they did with the forestry bill and they can get these gains but they are not really happy with that. Personally, I would have liked to see the whole bill go to a committee - and I am not terribly in favour of committees but I have seen some very good work from committees; but with so many committees going at the moment it just was not somewhere that we could really be putting every bill to a committee.
I support the amendment before us. I believe this is the way we should go. We should not be saying that this is a mask for refusal on other grounds. What is before us is refusal or priority on religious grounds. That is the reason these schools were set up - for those very reasons. We can all find discrimination in so many different areas and it does not matter where you look. We can say someone is discriminated against, and we can all be discriminated against, but somewhere along the line we have to take some responsibility for decisions we make. Parents who want their children to go to a Catholic-based school or a faith-based school, whichever religion it happens to be, then you make those decisions and you make sure that your child is of that faith and there will not be a problem. Anyone can go to these schools if they are of that faith and they follow the path. It all depends on the path you take.
I will be supporting the amendment before us.