As an advocacy and government relations organisation AACS represents the interests of member schools to government on a range of issues that impact on the delivery of authentic Christian education in Australia. At the core of our work is conveying our views and lobbying for change in relation to legislation, educational policies, budget initiatives and the administration of government programmes. Our work involves visits to politicians and bureaucrats, submissions to parliamentary inquiries, appearances before parliamentary committee hearings as well as negotiations with peak bodies. Provided below are a summary of recent inquiries and submissions made by AACS on behalf of member schools.
The introduction of Mark Latham's Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 aims to protect religious freedoms in New South Wales through amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). AACS strongly supports this bill because in the current climate of antipathy towards people of faith we believe a greater level of legal protection for freedom of belief and religion is required. Freedom of belief in a society means having a broad range of educational options through which such beliefs can be expressed. Choice in schooling provides parents with the opportunity to choose a school that is religiously motivated or one that is not. As an association of schools that operate within a multicultural and pluralist society AACS is committed to ensuring that all communities have the freedom to express themselves and live according to their beliefs.
In our submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee’s inquiry into funding models, AACS reiterated our desire for a consistent, needs-based, sector-blind school funding model for Australian students and their families. We are grateful that the school funding model is well on the way toward a more detailed collection and analysis of parental income through the first iteration of the Direct Measure of Income (DMI) model to determine Capacity to Contribute (CTC) scores.
AACS commends the Government on its improvements to the Religious Discrimination Bill in response to feedback provided in consultation with the Australian community. It is a step towards our main priority: ensuring that parents retain the ability to educate their children at schools that accord with their faith. The Bill provides that there is no religious discrimination where a religious school engages in good faith in conduct that is in accordance with the beliefs and teachings of their religion. This allows us to maintain our schools’ distinctive culture, ethos and pedagogy. The AACS submissions are below:
AACS collaborated with Adventist Schools Australia (ASA), the Associated Christian Schools (ACS) group and Christian Schools Australia (CSA) to lodge a submission to the Queensland Parliament’s Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee. Our submission makes it clear that our groups consider a bill whereby the government mandates a school counsellor’s response to a particular student, regardless of their clinical opinion and under the guise of banning vaguely defined ‘conversion therapy’ – is dangerous and unjustified.
On 22 November 2017, the then Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, announced the appointment of an Expert Panel to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion. The Panel received more than 15,500 submissions to the Religious Freedom Review. In our submission, AACS requested that the common understandings of religious freedom protection within human rights law be re-affirmed, that areas of ambiguity be clarified, and that more substantive religious and associational freedoms protection be afforded to all religious schools.
In its submission to the Department of Attorney-General and Justice of the Northern Territory in response to its Discussion Paper ‘Modernisation of Anti-Discrimination Act’ (September 2017) argued strongly against the proposals which would lead to the removal of religious and associational freedom presently enjoyed by educational facilities, students and their parents in the Northern Territory.
AACS encourages school leaders to cultivate a positive relationship with their political representatives to ensure they experience the character of our schools and know the contribution they make to the intellectual, economic, social, cultural, moral and spiritual capital of the nation. Local members and senators are open to invitations to visit schools in their electorate and provide an opportunity to highlight the distinctives of Christian education, the importance of parental choice and any local issues. AACS is available to brief school leaders on current issues that you may like to raise with your representatives and prepare you for hosting a school visit or a meeting in Canberra. You can find the contact detilas of your local Member of Parliament here.
School visits to the Nation's Capital provide many rich learning opportunities for students, including a tour of Parliament House, and AACS can assist with advice and support to set up meetings with your local member while you are in here. The Australian Parliaement's School Visit Program provides a unique opportunity for primary and secondary schools to gain a first hand appreciation of law-making and democracy in Australia.