Prepared for the Future - Tasmanian Catholic Schools' Parents Council

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Home > Archbishop > Addresses > Prepared for the Future - Tasmanian Catholic Schools' Parents Council

The theme chosen for this conference – ‘Prepared for the Future’ – is quite appropriate as the year 2017 has been a significant one for Catholic Education in Tasmania, and will significantly shape its future.

Several major issues have been a focus for Catholic education during the course of the year.

The first issue, which promoted much public comment, was the launch of what the Federal government has termed Gonski 2.0. In its wake there was a period of turbulence and concern. The new funding arrangements were announced without any consultation with the Catholic sector and they appeared to seriously disadvantage our system of schools.

There was much lobbying of the government to ensure that Catholic schools received a fair go. At the heart of our concerns was that Catholic Education in Tasmania was able to remain able to realise its core mission to provide low-fee, high quality schooling. The Catholic Church remains committed to providing for the needs of every child whatever their background.

The outcome has been reassuring. We also acknowledge that the State Government has stepped forward with more generous funding, for which we are grateful.

The second issue concerned the Tasmanian government enacting significant structural reform to education in the State, including a focus on age requirements for both commencing education and completing education. The government now requires the provision of education to Year 12 for all students but has ultimately decided not to lower the starting age for students. Both these decisions have implications for the long-term provision of Catholic education in Tasmania.

In light of the legislative and structural changes, it has been considered appropriate to review the opportunities and challenges they present for Catholic Education in Tasmania. Indeed, a review of our provision of Kinder to Year 12 education in the greater Hobart area has become essential, given the amendments being made to the Education Act.

In light of the above – and on the advice of the Director, and with the endorsement of the Tasmanian Catholic Education Commission – I have initiated a review of the provision of Catholic Education in the greater Hobart area. The review will be limited to the Greater Hobart region as it has been determined that this is the area that will potentially be most impacted by the government reforms. Our colleges in the north are relatively well placed.

This will be an independent review tasked to provide recommendations that are focused on the best interests of students receiving a Catholic education. We remain committed to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of our schools. We continue to be committed to providing particularly for the poor and marginalised.

This review will be commencing very shortly and we will have recommendations in the new year.

A third important area of work in Catholic education has been the governance review. It has become necessary to revisit the structures of the governance of our schools and colleges. The governance review has ensured that local communities are still engaged with local decisions, but there is a need in the increasingly complex regulative and compliance environments to oversee the functioning of our schools in a more centralised way. Next year we are moving to a provisional arrangement with the full implementation of the new governance arrangements in 2019.

As these issues involving education have been engaging our attention, our society as a whole has been involved in a debate about the nature of marriage. There is much at stake in this issue and it goes far beyond allowing those who experience same-sex attraction to be able to marry. As you are no doubt aware, the results of the postal vote will be known in mid-November and the government may move quickly to pass legislation.

The Church has good reason to be concerned about possible effects of any change in the definition of marriage. Firstly, it is a direct intervention by a government to change the meaning of what is, in fact, a natural reality. Traditionally, legislation around marriage respected its meaning and sought to protect its nature. Governments understood that stable marriages are in the best interests of the state. This is a dangerous intervention and sets a dangerous precedent.

If the government goes ahead and changes the definition of marriage it will have immediate effects for our Catholic schools. As Catholic schools we teach Catholic doctrine on matters like the meaning of marriage. If the law of the land is changed then there will be pressure for our schools to change our teachings. We cannot do this because this will threaten the integrity of our Catholic identity and mission.

I will be following developments very closely and I am committed to preserving Catholic teaching as outlined in authoritative documents like the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

As we have witnessed, there are activists who are seeking to introduce programs which radically rewrite the meaning of sexuality, gender, relationships and marriage. The Safe Schools program is insidious and dangerous to the welfare of children. A change in the law will give activists more courage in pursuing their ends. We cannot allow any of this damaging material into our Catholic schools.

I will be taking steps next year, as part of what I am calling the Matrimonium Project, to develop solid teaching on sexuality, gender and marriage which will be implemented in our schools.

In changes being mooted in the Northern Territory under the name of ‘modernising’ anti-discrimination legislation, the freedom of faith-based schools is being threatened. For example, the discussion paper proposes that one “exemption that could be removed is section 37A that permits religious schools to discriminate against employees on the grounds of religious beliefs, activities or sexuality”.

This is a sign of what is to come in Australia. Our schools will be denied the right to choose staff who will adhere to Catholic teaching and whose own life gives authentic witness to a Catholic understanding of sexuality. If our schools are to retain their role of providing education in the Catholic faith then we cannot allow such intrusions in our sacred trust. It is worth remembering that our schools exist because parents requested that the Church provide schools which enshrine the Catholic faith and provide sound Catholic teaching to their children.

In our nation, freedom of religion has been an accepted fact, but it is not protected in law. Groups are using anti-discrimination laws to deny religious freedom. What is needed in Australia is a law to protect religious freedom. Exemptions are not good enough. They suggest that we are disharmonious with society and are just being tolerated as different. It is too easy for the exemptions to be removed – and this has already been mooted.

We must insist on the fundamental human right of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. These rights exist prior to other rights concerning personal identity, and should be respected in a society such as ours.

I commend the healthy engagement of schools with parents. It is most important for it shows that both parties are putting the needs of each student first. The engagement of schools with parents – and parent groups - provides an environment of responsiveness to the needs of families and expectations of parents in the Catholic education of their children.

However, we are moving into new and uncertain times concerning the Catholic identity of our schools. We must be vigilant as we move forward. I believe we will be sorely tested in the time ahead as we seek to preserve the Catholic identity of our schools. I look to parents to support me in this effort.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, 19 October 2017