Monday’s shock delay in the Senate of the Labor-sponsored Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill has capped off an interesting month for Australian religious education. Had it passed, it would have sprinted into law through the newly minted cross-bench of the House of Representatives.
It was a glamorous demonstration of the government’s decreasing numbers in the House through loud parliamentary theatre. Since Monday’s surprise, however, the bill has been popping up and down in motions like a meer cat, with Labor standing fast against the government’s amendments, the Prime Minister moving his own version with a conscience vote, Labor refusing a conscience vote on Wednesday, and all versions being torn at like seagulls fighting over a chip. Whether anything can be resolved this side of Christmas is unlikely.
But parliamentary theatre is one thing, creating enduring social change is another. The massive Australian religious schooling and tertiary sector has fretted about the sudden pace: charging like a hard-left runaway wagon, from a standing start to full-blown legislation in less than two months. Schools and tertiary colleges would be legally exposed to many splendid variations of court action for teaching or hiring according to their conservative religious doctrines about human identity and sexuality.
The Labor bill would remove existing exemptions that allow religious institutions to discriminate against students or staff on the basis of gender, sexuality and marital status. For Big Secularists, I am sure this is jolly good news. For the Labor Party and LGBTQI students and staff, however, this is dangerous news.
Steamrolling this legislation could ferment into political caricatures in barbecue conversations among voters: the Coalition in favour of religious schools and religious freedoms, Labor against them.
The fact is that religious schools enrol well over a million students in this country. Indeed, Australia is being watched by academics and policymakers worldwide, because of its uniquely high proportion of religious schools, and what the OECD classifies as the highest access to school choice in the world.
那些进一步深入探讨澳大利亚统计局(Australian Bureau of Statistics)的人，会发现其他令人吃惊的社会模式。在六到七年级从公立学校转学到私立学校的人数飞跃是显而易见的。在过去十年里，维多利亚州的宗教独立学校的人数膨胀式增长，其中七年级人数平均增长了62%。除南澳大利亚州外，所有州都发生了类似的巨大变化。
About 75 per cent of Australians entrust their children to public primary schools. However, come puberty blues, many more students attend non-government secondary schools. The national average sits around 39 per cent; in Victoria last year; 43 per cent attended non-government high schools. Almost all of these schools are religiously affiliated, mostly Christian.
Those who venture further down the rabbit hole of the Australian Bureau of Statistics will find other startling social patterns. The leap from state to independent schools between years 6 and year 7 is pronounced. In Victoria over the past decade, the religious independent school population swelled, on average, by 62 per cent in year 7. Similarly large shifts occurred in all states except South Australia.
Catholic schools' populations rose about 20 per cent in year 7 over those 10 years. In other words, many parents are nervous about entrusting their teens to the state. This shift has increased steadily across three decades, contrasted with enrolment transition decreasing from state primary into state secondary.
The reasons parents make these choices, at this massive scale, are an infused cocktail. "Values" is one of the key ingredients.
In world terms, the figures are staggering. Legislative frameworks cannot be simply imported from the United States or Canada. Nor can Australia find social equivalence with the other top-five countries for non-government schools. The Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Chile simply do not compare. Australia stands as a unique case.
Given its size, complexity and uniqueness, any significant changes to funding, discrimination, and industrial law around Australia's non-government education should not be rushed. Rushing will not lead to enduring social change. Changing a social contract this large needs to be cautious and consensus-driven.
毕竟，澳大利亚宗教学校里发生的事会影响数百万澳大利亚人，包括祖母和兄弟姐妹在内，这是1300万选民中的400万选民。他们很难被动员起来，也很难被唤醒。但是， 在我们肥胖的和平时期长期沉睡的情况下，立法者如以轻率的行动惊醒这些人， 他们将自食其果。
What goes on in Australian religious schools, after all, affects several million Australians. Including grannies and siblings, this is a voter base of about four million out of a voting population of 13 million. They are hard to mobilise and slow to awaken. But perish that legislator who startles them, with rash actions, from the long slumber of our fat peacetime. They might reap the whirlwind.
Dr David Hastie is Associate Dean of Education at Alphacrucis College. He previously taught across NSW urban and rural schools for 18 years.