The NSW Parliament is currently considering two pieces of legislation proposed by One Nation’s Mark Latham.
These bills are the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 (the Parental Rights Bill) and the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 (NSW).
If passed, the Parental Rights Bill in particular will have a big impact on teaching and the work of schools.
Notwithstanding that, religious figures and some school employer representatives have leapt forward to support the Bill, without necessarily scrutinising the detail. (Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta is a notable exception to this position, as is the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney, for different reasons.)
Teaching unions have expressed opposition to the Bill. Both the IEU and the NSW Teachers Federation made submissions to and gave evidence before the Legislative Council Committee inquiring into the Bill.
What is the Bill about?
The Bill has two key objectives. The first is called ‘parental primacy’, that is, to ensure that parents and not schools are responsible for teaching children about core values, such as ethical and moral standards, political and social values and matters of personal wellbeing and identity, including gender and sexuality. The second objective is to prohibit the teaching of ‘gender fluidity’ in schools.
The Bill proposes a range of measures to achieve these objectives.
The Education Act already states as a fundamental principle that “the education of a child is primarily the responsibility of the child’s parents”. However, the Parental Rights Bill goes much further in giving parents a key role in school curriculum in both government and non-government schools.
All schools would be required under the Bill to ensure, as far as possible, that the education provided is “consistent with the moral and ethical standards and the political and social values” of parents. Further, the education provided must respect the “liberty of parents … to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”.
Precisely what this means in a society where parents have diverse religious, political and social views is unclear.