Faith leaders urge PM: Don’t deal with Greens on religious schools

Giovanni Portelli Photography 2023

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli are among dozens of religious leaders who have warned Prime Minister Anthony Albanese not to turn to the Greens to pass religious discrimination reforms that will affect faith-based schools.

To do so would be a betrayal of trust, given the Greens record of opposition to religious exemptions in discrimination legislation and health provision, and to school chaplaincy programs, said leaders representing Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu schooling and faith communities in an open letter dated 27 March.

They urged Albanese to instead continue working with the Federal Opposition in consultation with religious communities and uphold his pre-election promise of providing important protections for faith-based schools.

Among the 41 signatories were the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Archbishop Makarios, President of the United Shia Islamic Foundation Hussein Faraj, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Jewish Association Robert Gregory and Eparch of the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Australia Bishop Robert Rabbat.

Also signing the letter were school leaders including Executive Director of the National Catholic Education Commission Jacinta Collins, Executive Principal and CEO of the Islamic Schools Association of Australia Abdullah Khan and Director of Public Policy for Christian Schools Australia Mark Spencer.

They expressed deep concerns at media reports the Prime Minister was considering abandoning plans to seek bipartisan support for his draft religious freedom legislation and instead negotiating with the Greens to implement recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Recommendations in its recently released report include restricting the circumstances in which faith-based schools may preference employing staff and enrolling students who hold the same beliefs.

While the Government has had access to the ALRC report since last year, it has only just been made available to those most affected by its recommendations, particularly religious schools, the letter reads.

Only a select few have seen the two draft pieces of legislation, meaning there has been no opportunity for people of faith to offer detailed feedback to the Government or the Opposition.

We consider the reluctance of the Opposition to offer support to a legislative proposal for religious freedom which isat this pointunseen and untested by faith communities to be reasonable and prudent, rather than an indication that a bipartisan approach endorsed by the faith communities is unachievable.

Further, we do not consider that any negotiation with the Greens will yield a result that provides any meaningful protections for religious freedom.

The faith leaders said they expect any proposal supported by the Greens would be unfavourable to faith communities.

If the Government chooses to abandon attempts at bipartisanship and work with the Greens, it will be interpreted by our faith communities as a betrayal of trust, they said in the letter.

We expect you to uphold your election commitment to maintain the right of religious educational institutions to preference people of their own faith, and not to compromise this to secure the support of the Greens.

We ask you to continue to work towards a bipartisan approach to this matter, in consultation with religious communities.

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