Wednesday 26 June 2013

Hansard of the Legislative Council



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, as we have heard, this bill comes after a fairly long process to review the 1998 act. It has been a particularly thorough process and I am comfortable with the result.

I believe we all agree that conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules our fellows is tantamount to bullying and is to be condemned in any just and civilised society. I reject the notion that prohibiting conduct that offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of their religion is a restriction of free speech. I believe it is no more a restriction on free speech than prohibiting such offensive action against a person on the grounds of their race or their sex.

In Australia we seem to be going through a period where public insults are common, where bullying in schools and work places is rife. We have heard about cyber-bullying and where public offensiveness and vilification is material for the media on an almost daily basis. I find that depressing and offensive. In respect of some other people's comments, I believe it is up to governments to demonstrate to the public that it is unacceptable in whatever way they can. Sure, I hear about the opportunity for education - haven't we been along that path? - as well as the government trying to set the standard and to say that this is unacceptable.

There are several parts of this bill that make for greater consistency and how the act may be applied, including the foreshadowed amendment to section 55 in reference to section 17. I feel it is vital, for example, that fair reporting of a public act does not contravene section 17. Likewise, a public act done in good faith for purposes including in the public interest.

The original bill sought to give limited exemptions from the Anti‑Discrimination Act for religious schools regarding admission. That did not pass in the lower House but I see no reason why it cannot be reinserted by us if that is what members want. I want to read into Hansard a letter I received from Erik Hofsink, who is a highly-regarded principal of the Launceston Christian School in my electorate which I regard, in an education sense, as a huge success story. I say that because of the way that parents and the community have responded to what they are trying to achieve at the school. I remember some time ago, 10 to 12 years ago, there were something like 80 pupils, just a very small number of pupils and it is now up to 650. It is very impressive when I go to the school assemblies, and I am involved with the school to a certain extent. I quote Erik Hofsink's letter -

As a school we respectfully ask that you provide assurance to faith-based schools such as ours to continue receiving strong support in operating within our own faith community as a matter of freedom of religion.

In our society, faith communities which build and establish good schools should probably not be instructed by Government to go beyond their interests unless these schools are comfortable to do so. Some schools similar to us have 'open' enrolment policies; whereas schools such as ours appreciate the freedom to operate enrolment based on a partnership between home and school supporting families' common values and beliefs. Even if those beliefs are not shared, it doesn't give license to freedom of religion to be undermined or threatened.

As you are well aware, Launceston Christian School has always contributed well to the community. We are respectful and appreciative of the privileges that we enjoy and we don't take them for granted. We respect what others believe and in return are keen for others to respect our alignment between home and school in terms of our beliefs. Even though we are not an exclusive school, we have for many years sustained the preference for a partnership platform with those from the Christian faith. Our curriculum and world view is based on the Christian faith and that has nothing to do with 'excluding outsiders'. Rather, it is based on the assumption that in Australia we should permit, for example, a Christian (or Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic community) to establish, build and take responsibility for the education of their own children.

Kerry, I am sure you will agree that this is the simplest manifestation of religious freedom.

Finally, isn't the role of the state government to ensure an acceptable standard of education, ensure proper qualifications of teachers and oversee the safety of students etc? If so, I believe that a decision for faith-based schools to be given their due right to freely associate in associating with and practising their faith, as well as providing their children with quality (and faith-based) education is in the best interest of the freedom that we as Tasmanians are entitled to.

That letter from Erik Hofsink was well considered. I am a supporter of the way the Launceston Christian School conduct themselves in my community.

I believe it is wholly appropriate that the commission may directly bring to attention a case of discrimination even though a person may not have come forward for various reasons. I am in agreement with that. I also fully support the concept of early resolution. Let us not muck around with these things, let us find the easiest and quickest course to make sure we bring these issues to be highlighted.

Mr President, behaviour that offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on grounds stated in this bill is bullying and is to be condemned in a civilised society. I certainly support the thrust of this bill.